5/23-28/97 chases by Bill Reid

From: "William T. Reid" (73551.2512@CompuServe.COM):
Subject: finally --- a chase update!  May 23 to May 28, 1997

Hi everyone!!

I have finally sat down to type up my latest chase adventures.  It is Thursday
morning, May 29, 1997, and I'm in Amarillo at Charlie Sill's.  There is a slight
risk of severe wx today---downgraded from a moderate risk (per yesterday's Day
2).  There was tstorm activity through the Panhandles last night, and it is slow
to clear this morning.

I believe the last time I wrote was in Garden City, a week ago!  I was very busy
the following 4-5 days, and I didn't open my own laptop to receive or write
e-mail for 4 days.

May 23, Fri ---- left Garden City, KS, for Dodge City with Dean Cosgrove and
Doug Sheets.  We thought Pratt, KS, might be a hot spot, but stuff started going
up rather early in the NE TX Panhandle.  We could see it when we got to
Cimarron, KS.  We went south, and there were tstorm warnings for Lipscomb
County.  It appeared that a line of stuff went on NE of there.  I called Jason
at Ch. 7 in AMA (Charlie's station) from Forgan, OK, for help.  He suggested
that I stay with the NE Panhandle stuff, and perhaps slip down towards Pampa.
We got down to a high lookout just N of Canadian, TX, and watched almost-severe
storms fire around us and above us for about two hours.  Nothing was worth
chasing---too many storms, too much rain.  It was icky.  Tim Samaras drove by on
his way from Denver, and we watched The Weather Channel on his satellite dish.
He continued south, and we caught Jason on the 6 p.m. news on my little TV, and
saw new activity out W near Clayton and Dalhart.  We went west on Hwy 281 --- a
beautiful road with gorgeous farm countryside --- just N of the Canadian River.
Doug and I took pictures of the storms over the canyon near sunset --- very
pretty.  The storms to the W never got very strong.  Outflow from the E
Panhandle storms caused new activity over AMA which we watched from Cactus (N of
AMA).  Since Doug wanted to be back to Nancy's at Denver the next day, and since
NE CO showed svr promise the next day, we drove all the way back to Dean's in
Fort Morgan (actually, Log Lane Village ---- so Dean doesn't correct me!).  We
arrived at 4:30 a.m., and Doug called Greyhound and caught a bus to Denver at
5:30 a.m.  I finally got to sleep after dropping off Doug in front of a lonely
fix-it place/bus stop at 5:30 a.m.  The sky was getting bright.

May 24, Sat.---  This was a fun day.  Dean and I were up around 10 a.m., and the
outlook for svr was still good.  We left Ft. Morgan around 1:30 p.m., as a
strong cell was already approaching Last Chance, to the south.  We took our own
vehicles separately, as I wanted to head towards Amarillo for Bary's picnic on
Sunday.  Dean and I briefly watched the cell near Last Chance, but I was not
impressed enough to stay with it.  The 19Z Day One discussion had said that
upper energy was better in SE CO, so I headed S and SE.  I left Dean behind,
though he said he'd probably wind up down south, too.

When I hit Route 40/287 SE out of Limon I could see two very strong storms to my
SE.  One soon had a tornado warning with it --- that was the one farther south
in Prowers County.  I focused on the cell in Cheyenne County, near Kit Carson.
Soon after exiting Kit Carson to the east on U.S. 40, I came under the giant
storm tower.  The updraft base was churning away, but didn't look especially
organized.  I stopped just short of some very interesting funnel cloud activity
about 10 miles E of Kit Carson.  I tripodded the camcorder, and watched a
rotating funnel reach about 2/3 the way to the ground about 1 mile to my E.  It
was rather small and narrow.  Another funnel cloud did the same just to my W!  I
thought for sure that the one to my E would touch down, but it didn't.  The
storm drifted NE, and now its base was much more organized, with an RFD punch
(dry slot) coming in around the south side of a decent lowering (wall cloud).  I
passed the only other chaser I saw on the entire trip (except for Dean ---- I
think Dean is a chaser) halfway between Kit Carson and Cheyenne Wells.  The
storm looked ready to tornado (If I may use that noun as a verb).  I wanted to
get closer, which meant using a dirt road northward.  The road was a little wet,
but still firm, and I headed straight for the rotating wall cloud.  After about
5 miles,  the wall cloud was just N of me.  Some rain and nickel-sized hail was
falling and the road was getting bad really fast.   Even in 4-wheel drive I had
very poor traction (which wasn't surprising, given previous experience and
dirt-road horror stories).  I carefully made an 8-point turn-around, and found a
semi-dry dirt road east (Road V, I think).  The storm still looked nasty, but it
refused to drop a tornado.  I blasted N on U.S. 385 to cut it off.  I sat in
small hail and watched the thing die just to the west --- shoot.  Meanwhile,
new, even stronger storms were a little ways to the NE.  I caught I-70 E out of
Burlington, and tornado warnings were being issued for a storm about 10 miles SW
of St. Francis, just to the north of me.  Spotters reported a rotating wall
cloud, and I could see a very white/very low lowering against the black mass of
storm in that direction.  Unfortunately, I was coming into an area of very heavy
rain W of Goodland.  This Goodland storm had a svr warning with it, and I slowly
lost sight of the "white lowering" to the north.  I couldn't see how the
tornadic storm to the north could hold together with such cold rain-cooled air
just to its south.  Dean was on the northern storm, and he says that he MAY have
seen a narrow tornado.  It was very rain-wrapped.  Both storms became somewhat
disorganized and unexciting E of Goodland towards sunset, though I did have a
very pretty sunset in a farm field N of Edson, with occasional lightning in the
storm to my north.  Towards late dusk, I saw a cone-shaped funnel illuminated by
lightning off to the NE --- it was about 3/4 the way to the ground.  Oh well.
It was 10 p.m., and the Dodgers were on CBS radio!  I listened to them wallop
the Braves 10-3 as I drove to Amarillo down Kansas Road 27, with lightning
flashing in storms to my east and southeast.  What could be more enjoyable?  I
arrived at Charlie's at 4:30 a.m., and got 4 hours sleep again.  Friday and
Saturday had been a LOT  of driving, and now the BIG weekend stuff was about to
blow up.

Sunday, May 25 --- I wanted to attend Bary Nusz's chaser picnic in AMA, but was
scared to death that Amarillo would be way too far west when things started
firing E of the dry line, which was in W OK.  It was clearing really well, too,
so, with the very strong short wave approaching, clear skies, and very moist
air, I thought that it might be an early (pre-2 p.m.) show.  Todd Lindley, a
friend who works at the AMA NWS, called at 9 a.m. to see if Charlie (or anyone!)
was chasing.  He had just finished the midnight shift at the wx office, and his
normal chase partner, John Holsenbeck (I think he's normal, at least), a
forecaster at the AMA NWS, had to work until 4 or 5 p.m.  I told Todd that I
would love to hook up, as I couldn't risk waiting for the picnickers.  I met
Todd at his home in Clarendon at 11:30, and we took off ENE on U.S. 60 from
Pampa into OK. 

There were two areas to consider this day --- the surface low near Medicine
Lodge, KS, and the dry line with associated old outflow boundaries in
south-central OK.  We chose to play the low in S-C KS, because a year ago
(almost exactly to the date in 1996!) in a similar situation we missed the
Sublette tornado, near the low, and got stuck with yucky storms in OK on the dry
line.  Todd used his cell phone to stay in contact with John at the NWS ---this
was great!  John kept us up-to-date on the tornado watches and surface
parameters, etc.  A great-looking storm exploded SW of OKC around 3:30 p.m.  We
could see it to our SSW from about Fairview, but we let it go.  We wanted to
stick to our forecast area between Alva and Anthony.  Towards 4 p.m. we were
very concerned----tornadic storms were along I-70 in KS -----way to the north,
and we were in mostly clear skies with ugly small cumulus near the OK/KS border
around Manchester.  We had passed Howie Bluestien and Warren Faidley and a lot
of other chasers in NW OK, waiting around for the storms to go up.  It looked
like it might be a futile wait.

We continued north on Kansas 14 towards Kingman, and storm towers finally
started to go up ---- a lot of them!  Too many!  Tornado warnings were issued
for the Kanapolis Lake area to the north, and meanwhile we had a heck of a time
deciding where to head.  We tried to head north out of Nickerson, NW of
Hutchinson, but we couldn't find the road north, even with the Kansas Gazeeter!
That stupid town is turned all around!  We were hailed on and rained on in
Nickerson, and severe tstorm warnings were all around us, it seemed.  The storms
looked unorganized and outflow-dominate ---- the worst.  We decided to try to
get a look at the Ellsworth County tornadic storm which was heading into
Mcpherson County, so we zig-zagged on local roads around Windom to do just that.
During this time the smaller storms were dying, and the bigger storms were
strengthening.  It was close to 7 p.m., I think, and we finally had a decent
view of the McPherson storm to the north.  It looked bad --- real bad ---- that
is--- real pathetic.  It was outlowing all over the place --- not tornado
conducive.  Todd and I were in cool, rainy conditions, and our spirits were low.
There were more big storms to the south, however, so we headed south out of
Buhler, east of Hutchinson.  The skies to the east were wicked and crazy, but
not really organized.  Tornado warnings started coming in for storms south and
SW of Wichita.  We had to get south FAST!  Between Buhler and Haven, just north
of U.S. 50, Todd yelled out "TORNADO!" and pointed to the ESE!  I glanced over
there and saw it briefly, but then a line of trees obscured everything.  Another
quarter mile south we had cleared the trees and we had a great view of  the
tornado!  It was beneath a nice updraft, but was not really in an area where you
might be looking for a tornado, though the clouds were very chaotic over there.
I stopped the Pathfinder along the right shoulder and grabbed the camcorder,
while Todd jumped out to snap photos.  The tornado was relatively long and thin,
an elephant's trunk, and was 5 miles away (as we figured later --- this tornado
wrecked two farm houses in Burrton.)  The contrast against the storm clouds was
rather poor, and the video a little shaky as I zoomed in --- but the tornado was
still spectacular.  The tornado drifted north a little and kinked itself from
straight and narrow to right-angled and narrow.  I considered tripodding the
camcorder, but the tornado appeared weak and transient.  I might end up with
very little video if I spent a minute to tripod.  It turned out I was right ---
the tornado weakened rapidly after two-minutes (max) of videoing at 7:39 p.m.
Todd managed to get a good photo of the tornado, and my video is okay.  We were
a lot happier now!  We headed east down U.S. 50 into Burrton, where the sirens
were going and a rotating wall cloud just to the east appeared ready to drop
another.  We were in rain on the west side of the rotation, and we gave up on
the wall cloud as it appeared to weaken to the NE.  Lots of chasers were
watching the action along U.S. 50  just  E of Burrton.  Todd and I feel that the
outflow from the dying McPherson County storm to the N helped to spin up the
Burrton tornado.  Now we wanted to hit the next storm to the south.

A magnificent, highly-sheared storm tower loomed above us just to our east, west
of Sedgwick.  We went east towards the storm's base, which had an obvious
circular look to it.  We could see another awesome storm to the south --- the
tornadic storm in Sumner County.  A low and turbulent base was just to our north
when we reached I-135, so we took the interstate north and exited at route 196,
west of Whitewater.  A rotating wall cloud was just to our north as we headed to
Whitewater.  Funnels descended and we were tripodded and in position for a
memorable event, but nothing descended to the ground.  It was just after sunset
during this time.  Another ropy funnel descended to our SSE as we headed back
west to I-135 in the dark, but it couldn't reach the ground, either.  All during
this time we were hearing about a large tornado with the storm south of us.  We
did not know what was happening in Oklahoma!

It was 10 p.m., and Todd and I grabbed food at Wendy's in Wichita.  We watched
the local TV show beautiful tornadoes --- all of which were much closer to our
original forecast area along the OK border.  Oh well again.  Todd was inclined
to get home to Clarendon, so we went S to OKC and W on I-40.  I was very sleepy
as I dropped Todd off in Clarendon at 4:30 a.m., so I dropped myself onto his
couch and went to sleep!  I got up at 9 a.m. and went on to Charlie's at AMA.
Another 4 hours sleep!   

May 26, Monday.  The tornado outlook continued excellent on Monday, this time
just east of I-35 in OK.  I was dead tired, though, and I was not really
interested in fighting the hills, trees, and haze of E OK.  I stayed at
Charlie's and helped Kinney and Keith find the juiciest storms in E OK via
telephone.  They witnessed incredible supercells that evening, and Kinney caught
the end of a tornado, too!  Keith had less luck Monday, but he had seen two
great tornadoes in OK on Sunday.  His Monday night lightning video is
outrageous!  A zillion flashes per second!

Bary called me at 9:30 p.m. ---- he had just received a call from Chuck
Robertson, who was practically inside of a tornado in E OK just an hour or two
prior!  I believe Chuck's video of a tornado (with nearby flying debris) was
shown on The Weather Channel on Tuesday.

On Tuesday I finished a report for work ---- it was nice having a
non-storm/non-driving day.  On this day a massive, deadly tornado struck near
Austin, Texas.

Wed, May 28 --- Keith and I teamed up, and we met Todd at the NWS office in AMA.
I dubbed my Burrton tornado footage onto a tape for him.  We chatted with Warren
Faidley, who was analyzing surface data.  The outlook for supercells was decent,
as NW upper flow and low-level moisture were good. The heating was awful,
though, as midday storms in the Panhandle had kept temps under 70 all afternoon
at AMA.  A big storm was noted on radar in SE CO/SW KS, moving SE, at 3 p.m., so
Keith and I headed for that.  There was some clearing finally near Stratford,
and the storm came into view near Texhoma.  It was a huge HP
(high-precipitation, for you Californians) storm, and it appeared to be
elongating.  This is not good.  At the same time, we hear of tornado warnings
for new cells just WSW of Amarillo!  Ugh!  We had driven 120 miles north to see
garbage!  Well, we had only two options ---- stay with the ugly messy mass to
the N and NE, or try to catch the cells way to the SSW before dark.  We went
back south.

We could see the radar-tornado-warned ("88-D-nadic" in Dean-lingo) storms to the
SSE from Amarillo, but they looked rather mushy.  We stopped in at Ch. 7, and
Jason said that there was terrific rotation (70-mph in and 70-mph out) on the
one in Lamb/Castro County.  He had a chaser on it, though, who reported hail but
no tornado.  It was a high-based LP storm.  New stuff was going up W of
Hereford, so Keith and I left Ch. 7 at 7:15 for those cells.  Around 8:15 p.m.
we were 20 miles east of a newly warned (88-D-nadic) storm, which was SE of
Bovina and moving SE.  We were headed west on 145, right for the rain-free base!
There was even a lowering for a few minutes, and it appeared that dust was
getting kicked up underneath from outflow or inflow.  We mis-calculated our
storm-intercept location, and wound up going too far west and getting into the
precip (with small hail) as the storm continued moving southeast.  The storm had
a beautiful, laminar, rotating updraft base on its southwest end, which we were
looking at in rain and hail towards the SW.  We blasted south finally to
Muleshoe to get out of the precip, and came upon several chasers and the
Sub-Vortex vehicles, which were going the other direction!  The base still had a
laminar look, but was kind of horseshoe-shaped with some precip falling through
it.  It did not look very promising, and it was moving along the path of the
Lamb County storm and its cool surface remnants.  Soon we heard a report that
the Vortex-folks had observed one-inch hail north five miles north of Muleshoe.
We had just missed that stuff!   A new tornado warning was issued for our storm,
despite its poor looks in person, and we stayed just southeast of it.  Light
rain continued, so we could not get good video or photos.  At Sudan, the storm
was moving mostly south, and we found a little dirt side-road WSW of Sudan.
From here we would watch the storm drift N to S in front of us --- to the west.
Lightning ripped out of the anvil several times -- it was awesome!  The base was
a mess, though, and it began to rain and hail on us.  The lightning started a
brush fire about a mile to our southwest, and it lit up the storm base, causing
an eerie orange glow!  That was great!  The time was about 9:30 p.m., and I
wanted to get off the dirt road before it got too wet.  I had only stopped about
100 feet from the highway.  I began to back up to reach the pavement, when, you
guessed it!...one wheel slid off into the shallow shoulder area.  I put the
truck into 4-wheel drive and tried to go forward, but I only slid farther off of
the road.  What was next?  Baseball hail or a tornado?!  Fortunately, a vehicle
stopped as I flashed my bright lights, and he was able to pull me out as I
4-wheeled it in reverse.  It was no problem --- I may have been able to save
myself simply by trying reverse.  Keith and I got back to Amarillo at midnight.

Another round of severe later today---hopefully I'll be able to recount these
chases a little more promptly.  It will help if I'm not getting to bed at 4

William Reid
Woodland Hills, California
CompuServe 73551,2512

Return to Reports Page