Bill Reid's May 9, 1996 Chase


Bary Nusz and I had a long, fun, eventful, but disappointing chase from Amarillo
on Thursday, May 9, 1996.  Here is my account, written about 24 hours later,
from memory----times are approximate.

A weak front (or boundary) bisected the Texas Panhandle from about Dimmitt, TX,
to Beaver, OK.  This weak area of low pressure at the surface separated rather
dry west to northwest winds (40-ish dew points) on the west side from moist
(low-60s dew points) southerly winds on the east side.  Afternoon temperatures
reached well into the 90s throughout the Panhandle, and morning skies were
clear.  The boundary was somewhat stationary, and a dry line extended south of
this low pressure trough from about Lubbock to Midland.  Upper winds from the
WSW were moderately strong, about 40 to 50 knots at 500 mb, and weak upper-level
"disturbances" were forecast to move through this flow.  Surface moisture
convergence during the late morning was greatest in the extreme northeast Texas
Panhandle, according to plots made on WeatherGraphix software.  I was looking
for more of a southeasterly component to winds at Childress, Altus, and Gage to
help me pinpoint a "hotspot," but all I found were south winds.   Capes and
helicities in the warm sector were favorable for supercell formation down here
in Texas, but morning discussions from the Storm Prediction Center appeared to
favor Kansas for severe.  With this in mind, and with the best surface
convergence up near Lipscomb County in the northeast Texas Panhandle,  I decided
that northwest Oklahoma, around Woodward, would be a good place to be late in
the afternoon.  (Bary and I were not interested in chasing well into Kansas!)

My Pathfinder was not interested in chasing on this day, as near silence
accompanied the turning of the ignition key at noon.  It was now a stationary
chase vehicle----the worst kind possible.  Fortunately, Bary's Subaru was
rearin' to go, and we were headed ENE on U.S. 60 towards Pampa by 1 p.m.
Amarillo was in the dry air, and we finally found moister south winds around
Miami.  Small fractured and stunted cumulus were observed as we entered Oklahoma
on U.S. 60, and these evolved into turkey towers near Shattuck, Oklahoma, around
3:30 p.m.  We noticed better cumulus congestus to our northeast about that time,
but suddenly our trusty Subaru was acting a bit strange.  It felt like we were
driving on Jell-O.  We had just come off of dirt road, and now we had a flat
tire.  (We were briefly off of the main road to access a nice hilltop vantage
point.)

Great.  Building congestus within 25 miles, and we've got a bum wheel.  (This
reminded me of that time back in May 1992 when I got a flat on the way to a
tornadic supercell near Monahans, Texas!)  Bary and I had the Subaru's temporary
spare on in record time, less than 10 minutes.  It didn't say, but I bet that
bicycle tire was capable of 45 mph!  As we entered Fargo, our congestus was
hanging in there and growing considerably.  Other cumulus were getting their
tops blown off, but this activity to the northeast looked like the real McCoy.
Bary bought some Fix-a-Flat in Gage, but that failed to stop the leak.  I
spotted an auto/tire repair joint in Fargo, and to our glee we had a wonderful
young lad working on our flat in nothing flat!  In 15 minutes and for six bucks
we were back on the chase, with four real, air-tight tires!  We were lucky that
the flat occurred early enough in the chase, while businesses were still open.
An anvil was streaming off of our storm now, but fortunately it (the storm!) was
not moving quickly.  We headed north out of Woodward, and the dark base was dead
ahead.

As we reached east-west route U.S. 64, ten miles south of Kansas, our storm had
a classic-looking structure:  a large (and rather high) rain-free base, a hard
and tilted updraft and a beautiful flanking line and anvil.  At this time,
around 6 p.m., a Tornado Watch Box for Kansas had been a couple of hours old,
and a Tornado Box for Western OK and the SE TX Panhandle was just being issued.
As amazingly long lightning bolts descended from the edge of the anvil to our
east, we stopped at the junction of 64 and 34, south of Lookout.  The storm was
creeping eastward and getting larger, and Bary found a familiar establishment
which specialized in yummy sandwiches.  I was too excited to eat!  We could see
other storm activity not too far to the WSW, but our storm had perfect,
unobstructed and unchallenged surface inflow from the south-southeast.  We
learned of a storm with a warning back at Pampa---rats!---but this one had great
potential.  (Radio station FM 101.1 out of Woodward is excellent in this area.)

Between about 6:30 and 7:00 p.m. we sat and watched as lightning and inflow
increased.  The base drew in smoke from a lightning-set fire.  The east side of
the updraft was nearly vertical and a vault region was quite evident.  But then
things started to fall apart.  Just when we felt some rotation and a perhaps a
wall cloud should be evident, sprinkles and cool surface air invaded our
location, about five miles south of the storm.  Our pokey updraft was getting
rained on by a storm to its WSW!  We scooted west a few miles to get a better
look at this miscreant, but saw nothing special.  Our storm briefly revived with
a spectacular surge of its tilted updraft, but then cool air arrived in earnest
and the base became a mushy mess.  Severe warnings for Woods County, OK, and
Comanche and Barber counties in Kansas were issued, as several sport-utility
hailstones engaged the land, but Bary and I were deeply subdued.  Then the knife
turned----tornado warning for Wheeler County in Texas.  Oh, the pain, the pain.

Emotionally sick to our stomachs, we headed south, west, south and west again to
see if we could catch a glimpse of this tornadic storm before dark.  It was on
our way home, so what the heck.  Near Arnett, OK, we encountered stiff outflow
from the south.  Reports warned of baseball-sized hail approaching Cheyenne, to
the south, as the storm hovered near Reydon.  As we crossed the Canadian River
on U.S. 283 we had enough light to see that the updraft of this
no-longer-tornadic storm was now rather small and weak.  What fabulous precip
core there might have been was now see-through.  The lightning crawlers
suggested what we already surmised, this storm was dying.  A new storm north of
Canadian now looked stronger than this one!  

We boldly cast ourselves into the dying storm's "core."   We sacrificed the
vehicle and its windshield to small raindrops as we headed west into Texas on
Highway 47.  Call us thrillseekers!  Our spirits were briefly lifted as we drove
through the damage path of last June's monster tornado just west of Allison.
Man, those trees had a rough go of it!  We shared a "high five" when we learned
that the tornado in the Wheeler County storm (that we had missed that day) was
only a weak F0 --- probably a gustnado.   Doug Black of Amarillo got close-up
video of this "gustnado," near Mobeetie, which The Weather Channel has been
airing this Friday evening.  In addition, chaser Todd Lindley was on the
storm---he shared his photos of its gorgeous, rotating updraft with myself,
Bary, Doug and Charlie Sill in the line to see "Twister" today.
Congratulations to Doug and Todd!  If "Twister" was a bit of a disappointment
for me, it must have been a real let-down for them!

William Reid
Woodland Hills, CA
CompuServe 73551,2512