There are few things I enjoy as much as sitting on the front porch while a good summer thunderstorm rolls through. That’s one of the trappings of being Weather Freak Boy.

Last night promised to be a good one — until the cell that was bearing down on New Castle prompted a tornado warning, based on the radar returns the National Weather Service guys were watching. I was still ready to watch from the porch, but after checking the radar on the Weather Channel and the NWS Pittsburgh site, it became clear that the storm was going to pass north of Butler.

When you take the certification class to become an NWS spotter, instructor Rich Kane cautions his students about chasing storms in western Pennsylvania. In the plains — where most of that ungodly tornado footage is shot — it’s an easier task; you can see for miles, and the roads are often set up in grids, which makes it easy to calculate where you are in relation to the storm. Here, the hills and winding roads diminsh a spotter’s sight lines; you won’t get as good a look at the storm, and you might find yourself in its path with nowhere to go.

I considered all this last night, but I thought I could drive up to Clearview Mall for a good vantage point — a pretty wide-open view to the north, but still a good distance from the actual weather.

The Wife rolled her eyes when I said I wanted to drive up to the mall to take a look. She’s used to this kind of behavior.

I could see what looked like a wall cloud — backlit by lightning — dangling over Route 8 as I headed up the hill. When I got to the mall’s back parking lot, I noticed I wasn’t the only Weather Freak Person in Butler; a small-but-steady stream of cars pulled through, some stopping, to watch for a while.

After a few minutes, I drove further north on Route 308 — but never really saw much, because of the exact limitations Rich told us about in the spotter’s course. Still, I shot some pretty cool stuff — the still above, and the video below. I don’t know about any damage from the storm, and I don’t think the NWS has confirmed whether a tornado touched down anywhere. But I’m glad I drove up — you don’t get to see an evil-looking storm like that very often.


  1. I will never doubt your storm tracking abilities again as you provided better coverage over all of the major news outlets last night. And thank you for not cutting into Big Brother!


  2. Great picture. I am interested in the NWS certification. Is there a website I can visit to get more information?

    I am OSUFAN on twitter.


  3. Dan: That’s easy to do, but you’ll probably have to wait until spring to do it. Follow the NWS Pittsburgh link in the post, and look for the Skywarn link in the sidebar of the home page. There isn’t much there now, because the classes are usually held throughout the region in the spring (although I seem to remember an occasional autumn class in Allegheny County). It’s free, so the only commitment you make is two or three hours on the evening you attend. For your trouble, you get pretty intensive instruction on the weather problems specific to Pittsburgh and a thorough background on what the NWS staffers need from their local spotters. You also get an ID number and contact info specific to the spotters in the area; the public is free to report weather info, but the reports from certified spotters carry much more weight with the NWS. Definitely give it a try next spring; I need to be re-certified soon, so maybe I’ll see you there.


  4. Hmmm – from my experiences in Chicago (mountain biking with Dirt Merchant) – a group of cars with only 1 male per car parked somewhere different, such as a state park outside Chicago, or say, a mall parking lot after it closed, is well, possibly suspicious –

    DM and I used to treat the situation like finding snakes – make lots of noise so that you don’t surprise them and always remember, they are more afraid of you than you are of them.

    Cool shots though – was that leading cloud in front of the wall moving at all? We’ve Got Cows!


  5. My parents and my sister and brother-in-law live about a mile north of the Clearview Mall on Sunset Drive — right in the path of that tornado.

    They’re a bit lackadaisical about tornadoes, apparently, as they all went to various exposed spots to watch the storm’s progress.

    My sister had been elsewhere earlier in the evening, and she was heading home just about when you were in the parking lot. She saw that storm and thought, “I wonder if that’s a tornado,” as she continued to drive toward it and home.


  6. Next time I’m driving near a big storm I’ll remember to pay special attention to the other drivers. They may be busy videotaping.

    Highland Golf Course out east might have been in the eventual path, and without the lights of the parking lot.


  7. Kewyson: It was dark enough that it was hard to tell about motion. I wouldn’t have been surprised.

    Cindy: I thought about your family being up there when I drove north. Did they see anything I didn’t?

    Anthony: Good thinking — that would have been a perfect spot last night. Next time…

    HP: You would have had fun last night…


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