The past week has been very eventful for me -- stormchase speaking. I finally have a chance to write up a little summary.
Last Monday, June 5, 1995, was a long and rather frustrating chase way down into the BIG COUNTRY, as they call the area around Abilene. Charlie Sill and I left AMA around 2 p.m. for Silverton, where a tornadic storm was indicated. A tornado was reported near South Plains as we drove towards the impressive-looking, supercellular storm. As we approached the storm from the west, near Floydada, we saw Martin Lisius watching the storm. He had videoed the cone-shaped tornado near South Plains less than an hour earlier, but it quickly wrapped in rain after forming. The cell was moving SSE or SE at about 30 mph and off of the caprock---into a poor road network (at least compared to the caprock's road network). Tornado warnings continued with the storm, and we struggled to get in front it. Poor road judgement led us east towards the precip core at one point, with the next road option about two miles into heavy hail. A truck came out of the core with a couple huge softball-sized craters in the windshield. We turned around to take another road south. We sped through Spur, Clairemont, Roby, and Sylvester and finally were in decent position around sunset, but we never saw a tornado. There were a lot of nasty-looking cloud bases and dusty-inflow winds, and the base took on a smooth-laminar appearance at sunset, but no cigar. We became part of a five-car caravan including Martin and his wife, a chase team from Idaho/Colorado, Bobby Prentice and a friend, and a salesman who hopped onto the storm when he saw it from Plainview. Charlie and I were very reluctant to continue with the storm once we got to Spur (around 7 p.m.), but how can you abandon a tornadic storm once you've gone so far already? Charlie had to be back to work at AMA at 5 a.m. the next morning. We got back home to AMA around 2 a.m. Martin got some of the mammatus and gustnado video from this storm on TWC the following day. What I remember most was getting eaten by mosquitos near Sylvester at sunset. Winds weren't strong enough to blow 'em away, and I had to put my raincoat/windbreaker on to keep them off of me. They even would land on your clothes and try to bite through jeans and t-shirts. That was like adding injury to frustration. Dozens of mosquitoes met there maker, however. At least I got some some pretty pictures and video.
Tuesday, June 6, was a day of rest---though I was drooling over a very isolated cell which was going up in extreme W KS around 5 p.m. This cell fell apart, though, and I was happy that I had stayed put.
On Wednesday, June 7, 1995, I had a tough time deciding whether to make the drive up into E CO, where severe looked likely, or to let that pass and to wait for Thursday's activity, which looked to be very promising near a triple-point (forecast to be) in W KS. I've had good luck in CO, and the discussions were talking up severe and tornados there, so at 1 p.m. I was on my way by myself towards someplace in E CO. When I got to about Lamar near 5 p.m., a severe tstorm watch was in place for most of E CO north of Lamar. I was hoping that strong to severe storms near Denver would march eastward out onto the Plains, where I would easily intercept them. The problem was that these storms were slowly moving NE and NNE, into Weld County. By 7 p.m. I was around Last Chance and I could see the now tornadic storms about 60 miles to my NW. They were the only game around, so I continued north and west. I finally got to Fort Morgan and Wiggins around 8 p.m. MDT (about a half hour before sunset), and tornados continued to be reported with the storms just NW of me. I could see some very low appendages along the cloud base, but contrast was terrible. I drove north towards Goodrich, and inflow winds from the east became extremely strong---perhaps 40 mph sustained. I could see tremendous turbulence and rotation in the cloud bases a few miles to my west, but contrast continued to be poor. I taped from the car and later tried to get some tripoded footage, but it got pretty hairy as winds were screaming and very low and black scuddy funnels approached. I sped east to get safe, and saw Tim Samaras and several other chasers/storm spotters. By now it was past sunset and very dark, and the storm drifted off to the northeast, drenching Morgan County. By the way, the South Platte River was running very high through the area, and flood warnings were all over the place. I haven't had a chance to see my video yet, but I'm certain that I got some tornado footage--though it is probably not particularly obvious due to the poor contrast. It's another one of those cases that seems to be plaguing me this year-----I'm on tornadic storms and I'm shooting video of something which may or may not be tornadic----either the contrast is bad, I'm too far away, or the funnel isn't all the way to the ground, etc., etc.
Thursday, June 8, looked very promising. I made a huge mistake, though, by sleeping in too late and getting out of Fort Morgan around 11 a.m. The triple point was supposed to be in W KS---maybe 3 to 4 hours away, but as I left town TWC showed it near DALHART, TX----AAAARRRGGGHHH!!! I was quite perturbed around 2 p.m. when, near Lamar, I learned of the tornado box for the TX and OK Panhandles. Why couldn't the convection wait until 6 p.m.??? A large tornado hit Pampa, TX, around 4:45 to 5 p.m., but I was barely into the OK Panhandle, near Hooker. Martin Lisius and others got awesome video of the large Pampa tornado---with great backlighting, etc. (The Pampa tornado destroyed a few dozen homes and businesses.) I was aiming for a tornadic storm approaching Canadian, TX, and held my breath as I went through a core of heavy rain and very strong winds. Hail stayed less than marble-sized, thankfully. That was in Ochiltree County, south of Perryton. I quickly broke out of the precip to see a churning (though rather high-based) sky, a little north of Canadian. Towards the east a funnel cloud reached halfway to the ground, but it didn't last long. At Canadian I heard reports of a tornadic cell moving NNE through Wheeler County, to my south, so I had to decide whether to core punch a little or to come around the west side of the storm. I chose the latter, and while near Briscoe I could see a rain-wrapped "area-of-concern" to my east. I didn't know it at the time, but this "area" contained the mile-wide wedge tornado which was bearing down on Allison, TX. I saw rain curtains, low scud stuff and rotation, but I never thought that I was looking at a tornado. The tornado wiped out at least one (once) sturdy farmstead, with the family surviving while huddling together and holding on to each other. Numerous cattle were killed, and large trees were stripped and uprooted. This is one storm where a decision to play it safe may have saved my life.
I had driven about 1200 miles by myself in two days and wanted a rest day, but Martin called at 9 a.m. and said he thought today (Friday, June 9) could be great, maybe up near Medicine Lodge, KS. I said, "forget it---that's too far," but I agreed to meet him at the AMA NWS office to look at data. He showed me video of the Pampa tornado---it's just awesome, as I said! Marty Feely, Herbert Fiala, Martin, and I read discussions and looked at maps -- it looked like SW OK and NW TX---perhaps Childress to Altus, would be the spot today--not Medicine Lodge. Outflow boundaries, the dry line, and very juicy air were converging near Childress around noon. I decided to go. Martin and Herbert (who comes from Austria to chase---yes, the Austria in Europe) and Rob Allison and I converged at the tail-end Charlie storm base southwest of Vernon around 3:30 p.m. The Altus area was already full of tornados from the next storm up the line, and our srorm was strengthening and organizing. The storm slowly moved east and started to develop good rotation SW of Vernon, and lightning activity picked up incredibly fast. We were in danger under this electrical base, with numerous circulations, inflow jets, etc., so we headed east fast. On the way I have my video camera pointed towards the base to the north and I mention how incredible the lightning is---one second later a lightning bolt fills the frame---maybe a half mile away, with a loud boom---about two seconds later another bolt descends and hits the ground only 50 or so yards to my north, with an almost instantaneous crash!! I got it on video, too!! The bolt is so close that, on a frame-by-frame sequence on the video, it is slightly blurred and burned into the tape. It appears on only one frame, with the next frame showing faint beading. The bolt is blurred because I was going about 40 to 50 mph---and the shutter speed was likely 1/60 of a second----too slow to allow a sharp image of something so close while travelling at that speed. We found a safer spot and watched a couple of debris-cloud/dust spin-ups, and a spotter nearby reported these to the proper authorities. We had to move east again, but about 10 seconds later Rob saw a tornado behind us! I quickly tripoded the camcorder and I got about 10 seconds of decent, good contrast footage of a dusty tornado about three miles down the road west of us. There was a faint condensation funnel associated with this tornado. I then got some overall storm structure video, but unfortunately the tornado weakened pretty rapidly and the show was over within a minute. We went back to 287 to get a little south of Vernon, which was in the path af this developing, now tornadic, storm. Very black, wide and threatening funnels hung over Vernon, but the town escaped disaster. We decided to take U.S. 70 into OK instead of staying in TX. The storm looked a lot more disorganized and HP-ish as we stayed in front of it along U.S. 70 and into Grandfield, OK. We were a little disappointed as we got gas and food in Grandfield---and we had basically given up on the cell. A clerk in the little store there said that she gets nervous when we (i.e., stormchasers) come through town. About 10 seconds later the town's sirens went off! The storm had re-organized in about ten-minute's time, and was now showing a much more classic structure, with a good-looking wall cloud. The base was just SW of town. We decided to stay away from the precip by going a little east of town. We sacrificed a lot on contrast while doing that, however. A couple of tornadoes appeared to be on the ground SW of town for several minutes, though our poor contrast against the dark precip area makes it difficult to see much. We were perhaps 4 to 5 miles away. I wish we had tried the "west of town option," in hindsight. Grandfield was not struck by these tornados, to my knowledge. We closed out the chase day at sunset by watching another very threatening base (in front of an HP cell) bear down on Burkburnett, TX. This spun up some gustnadoes, and at dark we got the heck out of the way of the storm's fury by taking I-44 up towards Lawton. Rob and I got back to Amarillo around 2 a.m
I thought for sure that I would not chase on Saturday, June 10, but the southern TX Panhandles were in moderate risk area, and at 1 p.m. Bary Nusz was here to pick me up for another chase---Swisher County was already under a tornado warning! We drove south under dreary skies with upslope east winds to Swisher County----no storm. We headed to Hale County which had a tornado warning---but couldn't find an updraft. There was a lot of low cloud stuff and rain and lightning, so we decided to continue south to find warm air. We went south past Lubbock and we were still in the cool air, with NE winds of 30 mph! Lubbock had been 89 at 1 p.m.---at 3 or 4 p.m. they had about 60 degrees. Towards Tahoka and La Mesa we were driving though billowing dust clouds with numerous gust-front "gustnados." This was the leading edge of the southward-plunging cold front/outflow boundary. Several times we stopped in the warm air---94 degrees---just south of this wedge of dust---and watched it descend upon us. It was very interesting to watch---but not good for the insides of the car, the cameras, or the contact lenses. Cloud towers were going up along this haboob-front, but it was a dusty mess as we threw in the towel at La Mesa. We decided to eat the Pizza Hut there, thinking out loud that the best way to get a storm would be to ignore the atmosphere for a little while. It worked!! About 5 minutes after ordering, the sky darkened in the west and lightning began zapping away. While waiting impatiently for the food Bary and I kept checking outside---the mid-levels had striations, rain was getting closer, the cloud base better organized---hurry up pizza! We ate up and stepped into moderate rain. The storm was not severe, though, and we drove home, butting up against those darn, chase-killing NE winds.