Arthur Witt's 4/17/95 TX Chase

Personal chase summary for 4/17/95

Monday was the last day of my scheduled tour of duty at the Fort Worth NWSFO (for those interested in NSSL activities this spring, see the NSSL Web page at http://www.nssl.uoknor.edu). Greg Stumpf arrived around 1 pm to take charge of NSSL operations. I decided to stay at the NWSFO for a little while longer to watch the developing severe weather situation. By mid-afternoon, the NWSFO was starting to get crowded, so I felt it was time to leave. However, instead of simply heading home to Norman via I-35, I decided to take a slightly longer (but potentially more interesting) route home, via Hwy. 81. I left Fort Worth around 3:15 pm, heading northwest toward Wichita Falls. As I approached Bowie, I had to decide whether I should continue farther northwest to Wichita Falls, or go north on Hwy. 81. Considerable low cloudiness made scanning the sky toward the west difficult. Since I had not planned on doing any storm chasing while in Fort Worth, I didn't have my NOAA Weather Radio with me (boo, hiss), and I didn't hear of any storms nearby from commercial radio. So, I chose to go north on Hwy. 81. I was somewhat surprised to encounter one of the VORTEX mobile ballooning vans in Bowie (the old FC van). At this point, I thought that there might indeed be some storms around, so I headed back south out of Bowie to take another look. I still couldn't see any TCU or CBs, so I turned around again, and headed north. After I got a few miles north of Bowie, I saw a large CB to my northwest. I was also now able to find a radio station out of Wichita Falls, and only a few minutes later, heard: EBS, Tornado Warning for the area west of Wichita Falls. At this point, I started to regret not going northwest to Wichita Falls. I continued north, and as I approached the intersection of Hwys 81 and 70, I could see the southern edge of the storm to my due west, so I kept on heading north. When I got to Comanche, I could tell that I'd gone far enough north, and so headed west on Hwy. 53. A short distance west of Comanche, I saw another VORTEX mobile ballooning van go by me, heading east (I thought, this must be the VORTEX target storm). I continued west to Hwy. 65, and then went south about 0.25 mile. It was now around 5:45 pm, and I pulled off onto the side of the road, facing south. Looking southwest, I saw a large, rotating wall cloud. For those familiar with the VORTEX field experiments, in relation to the storm, I was located about where PROBE1 should be in a ROT-S scenario. I watched the wall cloud for about 10 minutes, and got out of my car to take a look overhead, and to get a sense of the wind direction and speed. The wind appeared to be blowing from the east at about 20 - 30 knots. At around 5:55 pm, the wall cloud appeared less well-defined, and with precipitation rapidly approaching from the west, I decided to head back to Hwy. 53, and go east. As I turned to head east on Hwy. 53, I glanced to my right, and saw a cone shaped tornado forming to my south. I quickly turned around, and went about 0.1 - 0.2 mile south on Hwy. 65, watching the tornado cross the road a few miles in front of me. The time was 5:57 - 5:58 pm. The condensation funnel of the tornado was only visible to me for about 20 - 30 seconds, but, looking toward the south, the contrast was excellent. I then saw several VORTEX mobile mesonets go past me, heading north. My reaction was: What??!!, those mobile mesonets must have just driven through a tornadic mesocyclone!! I only wish I could have been able to listen to all the VORTEX radio traffic - must have been very interesting (and probably very chaotic). Less than a minute later, it started to rain, so I headed back to Hwy. 53, and went east (in retrospect, this was a very dumb thing to do!). I shortly encountered PROBE2 on the side of the road, and went about 0.25 mile farther east, at which point I pulled off onto the side of the road, for fear of driving straight into a rain-wrapped tornado. There was a car in front of me that kept on going - I wonder what happened to it. I quickly got hit by very strong winds from the west (estimated at 50 - 60 knots, enough to cause considerable rocking of my car). After a minute or two, the wind started to let up a little, but then the tennis-ball size hail started to fall. My car got hit around 6 times (ouch!!). However, I was very lucky that none of the giant hailstones hit a window or windshield. After about a minute, the giant hail stopped, and after another minute or two, traffic began to pass me, heading east. I waited a few more minutes, and then continued east. I encountered debris across the road only about 0.25 - 0.5 mile east of where I stopped (boy, was I glad I stopped when I did). Continuing on toward Comanche, I saw lots of wind damage (trees blown down, some roof damage). I also saw a car in the ditch on the north side of the road (maybe this was that earlier car in front of me that kept on going). As I moved into the west side of Comanche, I came to a quick stop because, get this, I saw a large metal drum rolling down a side street, which ultimately crossed the road just in front of me (there was a VORTEX mobile mesonet behind me at the time - they should also have seen this). I then turned into a parking lot, and got hit by another blast of high wind (estmiated at 40 - 50 knots), which lofted a lot of gravel into the side of my car (ouch again). The high wind quickly subsided, and I noticed that PROBE3 had stopped along the roadside across the street from me. I also noticed that one of their car windows was shattered, so I went over to find out what had happened, and to see if everyone was alright. Luckily, no one was hurt. I then watched a long caravan of vehicles go slowly past us (there was debris on the road just to our west), including a number of VORTEX vehicles. I was finally able to listen to some VORTEX radio traffic (via PROBE3), and found out that VORTEX ground operations had been terminated. With the storm moving rapidly to the northeast, I decided that I'd seen enough for one day, and headed home to Norman, via Chickasha.


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