In the world of storm chasing it's always best to keep sharp and always be ready for the unexpected. It's amazing to think how quickly atmospheric conditions can change and how rapidly storms can intensify - and the chase last Thursday was certainly no exception to the rule.
After having chased with a friend of mine Drew from River 94.9FM the last few chases and getting on some weak but half decent storms, I felt kind of dejected about how storms this season so far have been well below par in terms of quality and structure. I was in two frames of mind on Thursday whether to head out to chase or not. Was it going to be another average chase or not? I already cut pretty hardcore into the chasing budget for the week but yet another opportunity presented itself.
I had a look at the forecast analysis earlier that morning and nothing really seemed to stand out and scream 'Supercells', however there was a southerly wind change advancing up the southeast coast and southern coastal waters during the afternoon that perked my interest. The setup was certainly favorable for thunderstorms, but to what extent remained to be seen. I thought to myself it might be a day of 'radar chasing'; that is staying at home and watching it on the PC. There was a decent NE wind component (coming in over the coast during the day) with quite warm temperatures ahead of the surge. By 1pm, isolated thunderstorms had developed just south of the Border Ranges which over the next hour-and-a-half consolidated into a line of thunderstorms stretching from Miami on the Gold Coast inland to Killarney.
By 3pm, two separate storm cells began to emerge as they started to ride the southerly change, however started to 'fill in' quite quickly. As the thunderstorm was located just south of Beaudesert at the time, I decided to bite-the-bullet and head out and chase. I set off for South Maclean (near Greenbank) and start scouting for a location. In the back of my mind, I knew these thunderstorms were going to intensify further and last quite a while as the change was expected to reach the Sunshine Coast during the evening. I arrived at a location just to the south of Greenbank and could easily see the developing Gold Coast thunderstorm and SW towards the Boonah Cell at 3:20pm.
Getting out of the car I could feel the warm, moist inflow at my back facing towards the storm and observed the thunderstorm produce some stunning cloud-to-ground lightning and general consolidation. By 3:30pm, the thunderstorm was really starting to intensify further and ride the sea-breeze front (northward movement) and head towards the Brisbane CBD. I contemplated the idea of heading NW towards Ipswich as there was also consolidation on the western flank of the line inland. In the end, given the time of day and the traffic that I'd have to endure, I decided it was best to head straight N towards Archerfield where I knew the safe bet would be for an unobstructed view of the storm. Here is how things looked just as I left South McLean.
By 4:05pm, I had arrived at the Archerfield Airport with a clear view of the storm to my SSW. The front on this beast was very intense and dark. It was a given that hail was present from the radar reflectivities. It was at this very point in time where the inflow picked up significantly and the storm began to almost scrape the ground rushing towards me. It was also the time where I thought that the Brisbane CBD and southern suburbs of Brisbane were going to get a significant impact and the outcome is not going to be a good one. This is how the storm looked from Archerfield facing SSE just before it hit.
At 4:20pm the thunderstorm slammed me with full force. The winds were intense. Initially, the winds started out not too bad with gusts to around 70kph but quickly accelerated to over 140kph within a minute or so. The shipping container blew over flush with the ground which anchored itself to a street light. Knowing this wouldn't budge I inched our vehicle forward using it as a wind break. (Photo: Container used for refuge).
A semi-trailer truck pulled over in front of me however he was side onto the wind. The storm blowing S to N to the truck faced E to W. I couldn't believe the gusts we were getting at this stage, I'd estimate close or over 150kph from previous situations I've been in. The semi-trailer (15m in front) then disappeared in the whiteout conditions of the cyclonic winds. It was at this very point where I felt a little worried but maintained my focus and wound the drivers side window down and filmed without getting wet due to how horizontal the winds were. We started to get pelted with 5cm hailstones but due to the wind break the majority were missing the vechile. The winds I was experiencing and the conditions at the time felt far more significant than the Gap Storm I chased on November 16th, 2008.
The following six minutes were very intense. Constant roar and observing windows smashing in the buildings across the road. The sound of the trees snapping in half and then a huge rumble noise as the semi-trailer blew over onto a stationary vechile. I knew this was starting to get too dangerous and I drove across the road and used a building as a wind break. No sooner as I arrived, another downburst of large hail and a vortex that spun up next to our vehicle and headed NW over the roofs of businesses displacing 20ft and 40ft containers ajacent to my location. (The next day I discovered 40ft. containers toppled like a jenga stack). I decided this was it and let the storm pass.
Once the conditions eased up I took in the full scale of what just happened. I quickly jumped on the Bureau site and looked up the Archerfield Airport AWS observations and saw the recorded 141kph wind gust. To my SE there were four airplanes flipped on the runaway, a semi-trailer with a crushed vehicle to my W, tree's snapped in two to my N, powerlines down, smashed windows and bits of building guttering and metal stuck in trees. I knew this was huge and Brisbane was about to cop a direct hit. I made sure that everyone that I saw around my immeadiate area were safe then continued on.
Hazard: Residents should be staying away from situations like these.
It was game over by this point, flash flooding from 71mm or rainfall and total gridlock at 5pm. 75,000 people across the southeast were without power at this point. No traffic lights, nothing. After resigning to the fact that the chase was done and dusted, I did a quick interview on location on River 94.9 and advised the residents to stay well clear of live downed powerlines littered across the southern suburbs (as illustrated above). It took me about an hour-and-a-half to get back home from Archerfield to Springwood afterward. I wanted to personally thank my chase buddies that kept in contact with me and checked on me afterward, knowing my location. It's that kind sense of 'community' that's great about the chasing community.
Once I arrived back home I ended up going through our footage and submitting our vortex/tornadic footage to a team of professionals including the UQ Research Team. It was concluded the violent winds I captured at approx. 4:30pm was infact a microburst vortex or a spin up. I had a great response from the networks too with Ten Eyewitness News Queensland and the Seven Network showing our footage. Congrats also to a friend of ours Jodie as well for having her images on 7News and in The Courier Mail.
It's amazing to think that when the think the chips are down and people from around the southeast are practically begging for a storm for rainfall, the unexpected happens. Personally, after chasing the few days prior, I was not expecting to chase a storm that would be so intense and so significant. It goes to prove that you should never turn your back on Mother Nature.
Moorooka Church Hail Damage. It amazing to fathom how much destruction this thunderstorm caused across parts of the southeast. This storm produced hail stones to the size of softballs, cyclonic winds, left 105,000 residents without power after 642 powerlines were downed, flooded roads and damaged peoples property, cars and homes. As of writing this, the insurance bill alone from this damaging supercell is tipped to reach over $150 million dollars.
The real heros in these situations are the hard working SES and Emergency Services, Energex and the Police that assist with the traffic. The most damaging storm in three decades for Brisbane will forever be etched in the history books.
It just goes to show that even for a storm chaser perspective, the unexpected happens. Initially when I set off to chase I didn't think two hours later I'd be staring down the barrell of one of Brisbane's most significant thunderstorms. That's why it's imperative to be 'storm ready' this season and for the most part people have been pretty good wih preparing. Thanks to all the people on our social media page that share thier images with us LIVE so we know what's going on and where during these times, it really is appreciated and does help with the overall situation.