April 23, 2000 - The Easter Sunday Tornado Outbreak in Northwestern Louisiana

I left Mesquite after Easter lunch with my family. The Texarkana region was my original target.

Shortly after passing Greenville on I-30, it became obvious that the broken line of storms was building south quickly. The Hunt County storm was racing off to the east and was unreachable. I could see a young storm building to the south near I-20. A quick call to Al Moller at the FTW NWSFO confirmed that this storm was at the southwest end of the broken line and already had a meso signature on radar, as did most of the other storms along the line. A change in plan had to be made.

Shortly after I called Al on the cell phone, I checked into a local SKYWARN net. Soon after, Carson Eads checked into the net. They had left the Metroplex. around noon and had left the Hunt County storm.

Bobby Eddins, a chaser from Fort Worth, was farther east on I-30 and had also decided to turn south. A change in storm motion and structure made it pretty obvious that we all needed to go south.

Nathan, N5REL. a SKYWARN spotter from Sulphur Springs decided to chase with us in his pickup truck. He knew the roads in east Texas as well as in the Shreveport area, which would later prove to be a huge help.

We skirted several mesos on the trip south through the Piney Woods. The first damage seen was at Douglassville, Texas, where an awning over the gas pumps at an Exxon station had been damaged along with several trees in town, east of the station. I called the FTW NWSFO to report the damage and also received an update on the southern storm's progress from Al Moller. The storm was near Longview and had a strong meso. Shreveport NWS was about to issue a tornado warning for the storm.

Farther east, while passing through Atlanta, Texas, a shed meso was seen, exposed just west of the dark rain core. It produced several short funnels as it spun down and slowly dissipated.

Carson and Tim were about ten minutes ahead and entered the northwest side of Vivian, Louisiana while in a rain core as a rain wrapped tornado developed and moved ESE down LA highway 1 ahead of them. They were on the western side of the circulation. The recipe core of the storm was still over Vivian as Nathan and I arrived about 10 minutes behind Carson and Tim. Trees had been felled along with power lines. It appeared that most, if not all, of the power lines were downed by falling trees. Damage to homes was limited to minor roof damage or damage due to falling trees. The damage path ended near the center of town.

I called Al at the FTW NWS to report the damage in Vivian. (I also reported this and other damage and sightings to The Weather Channel, always after calling NWS.) Moller relayed my reports to the Shreveport NWS. Al reported that a strong meso with a TVS had moved across Marshall, Texas and the storm was headed toward the Shreveport area. (Al couldn't understand why it was taking so long to drive through the Piney Woods from I-30 to I-20!).

After clearing the obstacle course in Vivian, we continued down LA highway 1 toward Shreveport. NWS was reporting a TVS south of downtown via the Shreveport SKYWARN net.

I discussed intercept strategy with Carson and Bobby as we neared Shreveport. We considered taking the loop around northeast and eastern Shreveport in an attempt to flank the storm. Tim and Carson took this route. However, on the way into town, I turned on my portable TV and was able to see real time radar on Shreveport's channel 3. The meso was south of downtown with the core already covering the eastern part of the city. Numerous reports of 2 inch diameter hail were being made by local spotters on the SKYWARN net.

I had already done enough core punching for the day and decided to continue south, find I-49, pass west of the meso and then look for an east road somewhere farther south. This is where Nathan's help was critical. He was able to navigate through downtown Shreveport to I-49 with minimal delay.

Al called while we were in the downtown area. He was disappointed that we hadn't been able to see the tornado. Al reported that another cell had formed south of the Shreveport storm. He said it already had a strong recipe gradient, a meso and that Shreveport was about to issue a tornado warning for the storm.

The Shreveport storm blocked our view. I relayed Al's report on to Carson, Tim, Bobby and Nathan. The intercept target now changed from the Shreveport supercell to the new storm farther south. We felt that we might just have time to drive down I-49, flank the storm and arrive east of the meso.

Carson and Tim also gave up on flanking the Shreveport storm. They turned back west on I-20 and got to I-49 as we were just south of downtown, still on highway 1. By the time that we got on I-49, Carson and Tim were about 5 minutes ahead of us.

I saw no evidence that the tornado had crossed I-49.

Now south of the Shreveport storm, we could see the northwest flank of the Mansfield storm. As we approached, it appeared to be in a down phase. It also became obvious that we would have to punch the core to get south of the storm. It was nice having Carson and Tim as the "point team" ahead of us, to sample conditions in the core. ;-) The storm had a somewhat multicellular look to it, with several overlapping, but discrete cores lined up along the northern flank.

As we neared the edge of the recipe core, Carson reported that they encountered heavy rain, then small hail, then 1 1/2 to 2 inch hail, then a baseball size hailstone and a broken windshield. Shortly afterwards, they stopped in town to get gas. Suddenly, Carson reported, "Tornado! Real close, moving southeast". They followed the tornado east on a side road. We didn't hear from them again for at least 15 to 20 minutes.

Backing up a little bit, just before we entered the core, I could see an intense recipe shaft ahead, it appeared to me that the core of the shaft was moving to the east of the highway. I decided to punch through, hoping that the worst of the hail had already past. We encountered heavy rain, then hail to 1 1/2 inches in diameter, with a few scattered 2 cinchers, but nothing any larger. Whew!

While in the core, we came upon a line of 20 or so vehicles that were stopped in the roadway. Several cars and pickup trucks had stopped in the middle of the highway under an overpass, totally shutting down the interstate. Fortunately, the Louisiana Highway Patrol happened upon this scene. They parked their vehicle under the overpass at the side of the road and proceeded to direct people to move on.

Carson's report suggested that we would exit the core west of the meso. Assuming the mesocyclone had already passed over and to the east of the highway, I had expected the wind to be from either the north or northeast.  However, the rain and hail was blowing from the east. The easterly winds increased as a dark updraft base became visible ahead. Al had reported that the storms were backbuilding and that several mergers had occurred previously.  I wasn't sure what exactly was happening.

Upon exiting the core, I immediately started scanning the low updraft base ahead and to the west. A medium size lowering came into view about 1 1/2 miles west of the highway. It was rotating rapidly. A long sinuous funnel formed quickly and rapidly extended to ground. I could get a good look at the tornado only intermittently due to the tall trees that lined the highway.

We were driving south, the storm was reported to be moving either east-southeast or southeast, so we kicked up the pace a little to make sure that we got ahead of the tornado before it crossed the highway. A few tens of seconds later, another lowering developed fast to my immediate southwest. It was within 100 or so yards of the highway and was only a few hundred feet off the ground. Within a few more seconds, small limbs, leaves and other debris started rising up from the forest to meet the lowering.

After a few tense moments, we stopped a mile or so farther down the highway to take a look. To our north, about 1/2 mile distant was the edge of rapidly rotating meso. I could clearly hear the rush of the "waterfall". Funnels were forming on the west side of the meso, moving around the south side and dissipating on the northeast side. One of the series of funnels produced an intense, but brief debris whirl about 1/8th of a mile to our north, right on the northbound side of the interstate. Bobby and I both got video of this whirl. The meso was low, getting closer and the waterfall sound was getting rather loud. Rotation was intensifying and I was concerned that a large tornado was about to develop. We quickly drove south another two miles or so before stopping again.

The meso had crossed the highway behind us. At this time, I noticed that there were at least two other distinct and separate mesos. A second meso was about four miles north-northeast of the nearby meso and a third meso was trailing about three to four miles to the north-northwest. The nearest meso continued its multiple vortex organization, producing several small to medium size tornadoes sequentially along its southern edge.

The northeastern meso was the largest by far. An RFD intrusion developed shortly before a large tornado formed. The roar of this tornado could be clearly heard from an estimated distance of 5 to 8 miles. The northwest meso also produced a significant tornado, west of the interstate. It stayed almost stationary, lasting for 3 to 4 minutes.

I'm not clear on what happened to the "nearby" meso, but I suspect it was entrained into the large meso, which quickly became the dominant feature. The RFD intrusion grew as the tornado assumed a position north of the intrusion, somewhat similar to the appearance of the 1995 Dimmit storm. However, on this storm the occluded area of the meso was comparatively short when the tornado formed. The storm's southeastward motion accelerated.

Carson made contact again via ham radio about this time and caught up with us shortly afterward.

We drove south on the interstate in an attempt to get another look at the tornado. However, rain wrapped around the western side of the meso, obscuring the tornado.

On the return trip north to Shreveport, the trailing line produced a nice lightning show.

Total distance traveled was about 600 miles.

00042321.jpg (42668 bytes) Fallen trees and power lines in Vivian, Louisiana, north of Shreveport.

These images are video freeze frames that were save to floppy disk from a Sony TRV-900 mini-DV camcorder.   Video of this event is available through Storm Stock

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00042336.jpg (14673 bytes) After driving through Shreveport, we passed the supercell that had just put down a tornado several miles south of downtown, we got our first look at the "tail end Charlie" storm to our south.
00042338.jpg (13739 bytes) Looking ESE, this storm was between the Shreveport storm and the Mansfield storm.  Storm chaser Gene Rhoden videoed a tornado that this storm produced.
00042339.jpg (13277 bytes) Note the two distinct recipe shafts located to the left of the main storm tower.  This storm had a multicellular appearance.  Later we would find that it was a complex and chaotic multi-mesocyclone supercell complex.
00042340.jpg (36232 bytes) Some drivers decided to take refuge from the hail by stopping in the middle of Interstate 49, completely blocking the highway.  They did this with a tornado warning in effect for the area, putting themselves and the motorists behind them at great risk.
00042341.jpg (13855 bytes) Officers of the Louisiana Highway Patrol arrived on the scene and directed the motorists who were blocking the highway to move on.
00042342.jpg (16415 bytes) The rain let up, but the hail intensified, blowing across the highway from the east.  We got our first look at the storm's dark updraft base.
00042344.jpg (19879 bytes) When a strong mesocyclone is present, the wind and rain circulates around and toward it, typically in a counterclockwise direction.  Since we were north of the updraft base and we had an east wind, I suspected that a meso was either to my immediate south or southwest.
00042345.jpg (17770 bytes) My suspicions were quickly confirmed when a funnel developed a mile or so west of the interstate, just south of Mansfield.   The storm was reported to be moving ESE, so I continued south to avoid the tornado.  
00042346.jpg (15296 bytes) About another mile or so past the first tornado, a second tornado developed within 100 or so yards of the highway.  Looking west, the funnel was visible through and opening in the trees that lined both sides of the highway.  Although not visible in this image, at the time I could see small limbs, leaves and other debris being lofted by the tornado.
00042347.jpg (16732 bytes) The trees at the side of the highway made it difficult to keep the tornado in view as I continued to drive south to get away.
00042348.jpg (18205 bytes)  Bobby Eddins and I stopped at what we felt was a safe distance.   Looking north, the first tornado, which had gotten considerably larger, was visible above the tree line.  The second tornado was a product of a rotating cloud base/mesocyclone that had formed south of the original tornado.
00042349.jpg (18898 bytes) Several funnels formed sequentially on the west side of the rotating base and intensified as they moved around to the south side of the circulation, then dissipated on the northeast side of the circulation.  It was like watching a merry-go-round of funnels.
00042350.jpg (17137 bytes) Looking north over Bobby Eddins' left shoulder, suddenly a debris whirl developed under and slightly ahead of one of the larger funnels.
00042351.jpg (16158 bytes) The tornado was on the northbound side of the interstate.  We were in the vicinity of mile marker 164.
00042352.jpg (16502 bytes) The "waterfall" sound that is typical of strong mesocyclones and developing tornadoes was clearly audible and was actually getting quite loud.   The leading edge of the meso was approaching quickly.  I was suspicious that the entire meso might be about to fill in and become one large multiple vortex tornado.  We jumped back in our vehicles and drove south quickly.  As we departed, strong west winds buffeted my van as small limbs and leaves flew across the highway.
00042353.jpg (17867 bytes) Bobby stopped before I did and videoed an elephant trunk shaped tornado that developed from a third mesocyclone that was located several miles NNE of the one we had just left.  It's the lowering on the right side of the image.
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00042355.jpg (21131 bytes) Looking NNE, there are two separate distinct mesos in this image.  The meso in the foreground is the one that produced the tornado on the interstate.  It was still  producing tornadoes.  They are difficult to see due to the dark background of the more distant and larger mesocyclone visible just above the horizon.  If you look closely at this and the next two images, you can see a tornado from the nearer meso.  The tornado is a little lighter gray than the dark distant lowering. 
00042356.jpg (20240 bytes)  
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00042359.jpg (14398 bytes) Rear flank downdraft (RFD) started cutting into the more distant meso and can be seen as the bright area on the left of this zoomed in image.  A large tornado was about to develop.
00042360.jpg (12491 bytes) But, the meso that produced the first tornado spotted upon exiting the rain area has intensified and was producing a significant tornado.  The tornado is located just to the left of center, on the horizon.
00042361.jpg (17521 bytes) Looking north and zoomed in, this is an image of the tornado from the "original" mesocyclone.
00042362.jpg (17631 bytes) Still zoomed in, I swung the camcorder back to the developing large tornado.  If you look closely, you can see the both sides of the large funnel.
00042363.jpg (11559 bytes) A few tens of seconds later, the RFD was cutting deeper into the meso.   At about this time, I could hear a distinct roar coming from the direction of the tornado.
00042364.jpg (16010 bytes) The storm accelerated to the southeast, so we moved farther southeast.  The RFD had increased its penetration into the meso even farther.  I don't know if the tornado was still there or not when this image was shot, but I suspect that it was.
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00042366.jpg (20647 bytes) We met Carson Eads farther south and got a look at his windshield.  Carson said that most of the hailstones were golf ball or smaller in size, but one large stone the size of a baseball hit right in the middle of his windshield.
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00042368.jpg (13713 bytes) Another line of storms formed behind the broken line of supercells that we had been chasing.  We passed through them on the way back to Shreveport, and stopped briefly to video lightning.
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Copyright 2000 - Samuel D. Barricklow - All rights reserved.

Video of this event is available through Storm Stock

Click HERE to see Bobby Eddins' report on the tornadoes.  Bobby got images of an elephant trunk shaped tornado that I missed.

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Last revised: November 28, 2008