Saturday, June 3, 1995, was another wild ride for chasers in West Texas, as severe thunderstorms fired along a stationary convergence line from about Silverton to Childress. There were several tornado warnings, based on both radar and eyewitness observations. To my knowledge, though, there have been no large and damaging tornados in West Texas today.
The place to chase was a pretty easy decision today. During the early afternoon much of the Central and Northern Texas Panhandle had low overcast, with strong east winds and temps in the mid 60s. Down south at Lubbock, the temp was in the low to mid 90s and skies were clear, with south winds veering to southwest and the dew point dropping into the 20s. There was a surface low in SE New Mexico, and awesome surface moisture convergence from about Plainview to Childress.
Bary Nusz, Rob Allison and I drove south from Amarillo around 2:30 p.m., and observed a building cumulonimbus cloud above the Silverton vicinity as we broke out of the low overcast near Tulia (along I-27). We headed east past Silverton and off of the caprock, under the low overcast, with occasional glimpses of the cloud towers. We learned of a radar-indicated (possible or developing) tornadic storm 18 miles SE of Memphis while we were approaching Turkey, Texas. That put the storm less than 20 miles away to our northeast. We were under low and dark bases, and could not see good cloud structure at the time. We stayed on Road 86 from Turkey to Estelline, and we were soon under the influence of an extremely intense mesocyclone! This was the "bear's cage" for sure!
We emerged from rapidly-moving rain curtains to see a massive, rotating updraft. This updraft was wider towards its top than it was near its base--kind of shaped like a big and squat wedge tornado might be. There was no tornado in this bear's cage, though. Low stratus clouds sped (just 100s of meters above the ground) in towards the center of this circulation at an incredible pace. Surface winds were sustained at about 40 mph, and dust was picked up off of dry fields and carried up into the whirling cloud base. There were several occasions within about a 20 to 30-minute period where we felt a large tornado was only seconds away from forming, but it never happened. We observed tremendous, tight rotation with funnel/scud cloud material hanging about halfway between the surface and the low cloud base. It was almost like the entire three-to-four-or-five-mile-wide meso was an F0 tornado. Trying to get tripoded video was an adventure with these winds and with rain curtains always seconds away.
We were real lucky with the road we were on, which stayed with the meso quite closely. There were only a handful of chasers along this stretch of road, but when we emerged out at Estelline along U.S. 287, it was chaser city. We were out of the "bear's cage" at Estelline, and we had a decent view of this HP-cell's structure. There were a couple long inflow "stingers" sticking out to the northeast. There was a shelf-like fringe circling much of the heavy precip area, with much rising and cyclonic circling motion in this fringe area. There were several more oppotunities for tornadic development, it seemed, as low clouds would stream in from opposite directions and converge towards a parent circulation---but we did not observe a tornado with this storm. The cell appeared to be a bit more linear near Childress, and we decided to head back west towards southern Briscoe County (near Silverton) where new storms continued fire. We learned of a couple funnel cloud and tornado reports near Childress after we had left that town, but these may have been just weak tornados or gustnados (at least we hope they were!). I estimate that there were at least 40 to 50 chase vehicles (and dozens of other "just passing through-types") being "chased" by the cell from Estelline to Childress.
A tornado warning was issued for the Silverton and Quitaque area as we approached those towns from the east around 8 p.m. VORTEX was on this new development, and radar indicated a meso. The meso never intensified (enough), though, and again we did not observe any tornados. We had extremely strong and dusty outflow winds, and a gustnado, too, between Quitaque and Turkey. Gusts were likely above 60 mph, and we observed a toppled power pole and several large tree branches down. Sunset was awesome--with billowing dust clouds, dark and ragged green cloud bases, rainshafts, hailshafts and lightning bolts.
Just another wild Turkey chase day in West Texas. I've gotta wash the dirt outta my eyes, ears and hair now.