5/29/97 TX/OK chase by Mark Plate


From: Mark Plate 
Subject:      Thursday, May 29,
              1997 chase summary...i.e. Texas panhandle chase becomes northwest
              Oklahoma chase

The last day of my storm chase vacation actually became the best
day...edging out Memorial Day for top honors...the Sunday before Memorial
Day we busted...due mostly to chaser stupidity... :) Enough said on that
one...now back to the May 29th summary...

I left Tulsa, OK around 10 am headed southwest down I-44...the Turner
Turnpike. This was a difficult day to pick an exact target area, although my
look at the 00z model runs and early morning data suggested somewhere in the
Texas or Oklahoma panhandles would be best...possibly southwest Kansas, but
confidence was lower that far north due to more limited instability. I
continued west out of Oklahoma City on I-40, stopping in Shamrock, Texas for
lunch at the Dairy Queen.

After calling back for current data, I proceeded west on I-40 to Amarillo.
At this point, I was not overjoyed by the ongoing developments. A thick
canopy of cirrus covered most of the panhandles and the only game in town
was a tornadic storm approaching Dodge City...far from where I was. I
decided to take Highway 287 north to Dumas then Highway 152 to Stinnett then
Highway 15 to Perryton. Basically I was just driving around praying and
hoping for something on what looked like a potential bust day...at least I
was getting a good tour of the Texas panhandle.

At Perryton, I called back for data again. There were only 2 storms of
significance anywhere...one was in Clark County, Kansas, and the other was
moving into northern Texas County in the Oklahoma panhandle. Neither storm
was terribly impressive by this time though. Moisture convergence was
bullseyed just north of Perryton, favoring Beaver County, OK for potential
thunderstorm development. However, the thick cirrus was not helping matters
or causing me any great reason to get excited.

I decided to take HIghway 83 north out of Perryton into the Oklahoma
panhandle. When I reached the intersection of Highways 270/3, I had to make
a decision...head west towards the Texas County storm or head east and hope
for development in Beaver/Harper Counties. Because a light rain had started
to fall on me already out of the anvil from the storm to the west northwest,
I decided that the inflow into this storm would probably not be real good,
and besides I was not impressed with how the storm looked visually, so I
decided to head east on Highway 270 where I saw what looked like a little
tower trying to go up to my east.

I continued east on 270 through Elmwood, OK, and between Elmwood and
Slapout, I saw 2 CG lightning strikes to my northeast. A quick call back
confirmed that a new storm was developing in western Harper County, but was
not too impressive yet. Meanwhile, the storm just north of Guymon in Texas
County had really strengthened and now had a 65 VIL with some rotation. But
I was committed to going east, so I hoped that western storm would not do
anything.

Near the town of Slapout, a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for
Harper County for a severe storm 4 miles northwest of Laverne moving
southeast. As I entered Harper County, the storm became more clearly visible
to me and by the time I reached the intersection of Highway 270 with Highway
283, a well-defined wall cloud was visible just north northeast of my
location. I noticed some rotation with this wall cloud, but nothing terribly
alarming.

With the storm moving southeast (actually south southeast), it was going to
be difficult to stay ahead of it, and smart decisions had to made on what
roads to take. I took Highway 283 south for about 10 miles until reaching a
county road east of Gatesby. I took this road east for a few miles and just
made it to Highway 48 in time as the storm was about to overtake me. I went
south on Highway 48, noting that the structure of the storm had changed
little in the previous 20 minutes or so. After going through Gage, I
realized my best option was to continue south on Highway 48 into Arnett, and
then take Highway 60 east.

This meant I had to leave the storm for awhile, but it was necessary if I
was to stay ahead of it. A tornado warning was issued for Woodward County
during this time. I reached Arnett where I turned east on Highway 60 and
made a quick stop for gas before continuing east on 60 to the town of
Harmon. I continued east out of Harmon and looking north I saw a very
ominous looking wall cloud which appeared to be very near the ground.

Needing to get a better look, I went about 3 miles east of Harmon on Highway
60 and then turned north onto a dirt road for about 1 mile until I reached a
relatively higher location which afforded a better view. The wall cloud was
very impressive with a lot of rotation and still appeared to be very near
the ground.
The time at this point was 8:43 pm. However, I saw no evidence at this point
of a tornado, but I would not be surprised if there was a bit of damage in
the fields in this area.

The wall cloud then broke up a bit, but considerable rotation remained in
this area. I went back south on the dirt road to Highway 60 and then went
east another 2-3 miles before stopping again on another dirt road just south
of Highway 60. A quick glance to the north northeast at this point revealed
a well-developed tornado on the ground no more than 1-2 miles immediately to
my north northeast...this would place the tornado in far southern Woodward
County. The time was 8:54 pm. The tornado was visible for about 30 seconds
before a rain and hail core wrapped around the back side of the tornado and
eventually blasted me with hail up to golfball size about 2-3 minutes later.
During this time, a pickup truck pulled up alongside me, and the driver got
out of the truck and walked over to me saying "that's a tornado over there,
isn't it?" I replied, that yes it was, and that seemed to make his day that
he had seen the tornado.

Once the rain and hail hit me, I pulled back onto Highway 60 and headed west
to get out of the hail core, which I accomplished within 1 mile. A couple
other chasers were pulled off the side of the road about 2 miles west of me,
and I'm curious as to whether they had seen the tornado or whether the rain
and hail core obscured their view of it. I continued west on Highway 60 into
Harmon and waited there for the main core of the storm to totally pass south
of Highway 60 so I could begin the journey back home. Their was no viable
way to continue the chase since it was getting dark and north/south roads
were few and far between due to the proximity of the Canadian River.

I returned home on Highway 60 to Seiling, then Highway 270 to Highway 51,
then Highway 51 all the way back to Tulsa, driving through light rain nearly
the entire way home. I reached Tulsa at 1:30 am, completing my chase
vacation on a successful note. Upon checking storm reports later, I found
that the Texas County storm weakened upon entering the Texas panhandle, but
that 2 other storms had formed near Stinnett, Texas, and near Amarillo.
Several tornadoes occurred after dark to the south of Amarillo, so my
initial target area ended up OK, but not until after dark.

Mark

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