Bill Reid's May 12-14, 1996 Chases


From: "WILLIAM T. REID" <73551.2512@COMPUSERVE.COM>
Subject:      Three, Three, Three Busts in One!

The previous three days (Sun, Mon, Tue; May 12, 13, and 14) have been fun chase
days for myself, as I have been on storms inside tornado watch boxes each day.
But, alas, something was missing each day, and long drives have resulted in
nothing more than a few brief moments of excitement, and lots of neat cloud
photos.

On Sunday, May 12, Bary Nusz, Rob Allison and I bolted north out of Amarillo
just before 5 p.m. as cumulus towers well north of town began to grow
considerably.  Just a few miles out of town we learned that the good-looking
storm cell due north of us had a warning on it!  In addition, a tornado watch
for most of the Texas Panhandle had just been issued---YES!  Most of the surface
and upper air weather parameters were on the weak side:  there was a weak
surface low in extreme southwest Kansas, and a dry line extended south of the
low from about Boise City, OK, to Adrian, TX.  Panhandle temperatures were in
the mid 80s with southerly winds, under 20 mph, and dew points were in the mid
to upper 50s.  Upper flow was not especially strong, but was from the northwest,
so turning with height was favorable for storm rotation.

We neared Dumas, and the storm cell which was (supposedly) severe near Cactus
was now just to our northeast.  It looked pathetic.  The updraft was kaput.  A
mass of ugly anvil and light rain showers remained.

But wait!  There was another storm cell shooting up to the tropopause to our
northeast!  This one was exploding fast, and it appeared that we were about an
hour away, thanks to Highways 207 and 15, which headed directly to the storm.
The time was about 6:30 p.m.  The storm looked more and more impressive as we
passed through Spearman and Waka.  The updraft was hard and strong, producing a
nice back-sheared anvil.  As we neared Perryton, however, a couple of the
flanking line towers had popped up.  It appeared that we had several cells lined
up, and none of their rather high bases were organized very well.  The updrafts
were not spectacular, and lightning was very infrequent.  Well-----it looked
like our presence had killed another storm.  This called for drastic measures,
but time-tested measures, nonetheless.

We knew what it would take for redevelopment to occur:  We went to the Dairy
Queen in Perryton for some fries and hamburgers.

After 20 minutes in Dairy Queen, we stepped outside, and, wha-la, there was a
very dark updraft base just north of town!  It came complete with a ragged and
dramatic vault region and even a small lowering.  Gusty south winds through town
were feeding this LP (low precip) updraft base.

We drove a couple of miles north of town, and several chasers drove by in the
opposite direction.  We found the reason why a minute later, as small hail bagan
to fall.  We drove south and west a couple of miles and set up the cameras, but
something was wrong again.  The base was looking smaller.  The updraft was
weaker.  Ugh.  A weird appendage angled out of dying storm base and extended
about one-third of the way to the ground.  We saw some dust kick up beneath this
feature, and there may have been some rotation in the "funnel."  Maybe a
tornado, maybe not.  It only lasted a minute or so.  (A very brief and weak
tornado had been reported north of Perryton earlier, about the time we were
exitting Dairy Queen.)

New updrafts went up southeast of Perryton, and a teeny-tiny, but spectacular,
LP updraft rapidly formed and dissipated just west of town.  By then it was
sunset, and it was clear that no massive tornadic thunderstorm was in our near
future.  Why couldn't these things hold together?  Too much shear?---too little
surface moisture?--not enough upper-level supprt?---probably a little of
everything.  We took Highway 70 home through Roberts County, and were treated to
a little lightning display north of Pampa.  The tornado watch continued, but
this was just another fuddy-duddy.


On Monday, May 13, Chris Peterson met me in Amarillo.  He has driven to the High
Plains from Duluth, MN, for a two-week chase vacation.  Low clouds covered most
of the Panhandle during the morning, and by mid-afternoon most had eroded away
south and west of Amarillo.  A warm front was situated east-west south of
Lubbock, and winds at upper levels were not very strong and out of the west and
WNW.  The best surface moisture convergence during the early afternoon was down
south near the front, south of Lubbock.  Another area of weak convergence was up
around Dalhart.  NWS discussions weren't particularly excited about the
prospects for severe weather in the Panhandles, as a warm layer of air aloft
around 10,000 feet was spreading over the state.  This cap would inhibit
afternoon convection.

Around 4 p.m. Chris and I drove southwest from Amarillo to Hereford.  This was
an area of negative surface moisture convergence, but at least it was free of
low clouds.  We soon learned of severe thunderstorm warnings in the hot air way
down around Midland, and then a tornado watch was issued for much of West Texas
south of the Panhandle!  We surged south on U.S. 385!

As we reached Lamb County we could see thunderstorm tops to our southeast.
Warnings were in effect for Borden and Scurry County---yikes---those counties
were still about two hours away.  We were again fortunate with the road network:
U.S. 84 led straight to the activity.  Chris' portable television came in very
handy though Lubbock, as programming was interrupted frequently for radar
updates.  Heavy storms were indicated south of Post, Toasties, uh, I mean Post,
Texas.

Impressive cumulonimbus towers loomed near and east of Post as we approached the
town.  No tornados had been reported yet, however.  We had a few things working
against us now:  sunset was near, the road network east of Post stinks, and the
storms were drifting away from us.  It appeared that U.S. 84 led into a hail
shaft near Post, so I elected to steer Chris west and south of town, and then
south on Road 669.  We had a pretty sky to look at as the sun illuminated the
back ends of the "cb"s.  We were able to see the base of the storm closest to
Post---it was rather high and dark, but otherwise non-descript.  Mid-level
clouds showed some curvature, but general rotation was absent.  Spotter reports
via the scanner were few and subdued.  We drifted towards Fluvanna to watch the
sporadic lightning, and then headed home to Amarillo.  Even though the Tornado
Watch extended north nearly to Plainview, no storms occurred north of the
activity that we chased this day.

Tuesday, May 14, was another day of high hopes and big letdowns.  The "Mexican
Plume," the warm air cap at mid-levels of the atmosphere, was spreading over
much of the South Plains, and zero thunderstorm activity was forecast for West
Texas, western Oklahoma and southwest Kansas.  The best area for severe was in
Eastern Kansas and Nebraska, too far for me.  Chris Peterson decided to head
north and northeast from Amarillo at noon.  He might get lucky late in the day,
and Nebraska looked like the best state for severe for the next couple of days
anyway.  At 4 p.m., a Tornado Watch was issued for much of the Panhandles and
into southwest Kansas!  Holy Kamoly!

What the heck happened?!!  Well, earlier discussions had mentioned an
upper-level disturbance approaching the region during the afternoon, and the dry
line was lingering west of Amarillo.  Around 3 p.m. there were towers going up
in almost every direction!  The temperature was almost 100 degrees, and the cap
was being broken!

Charlie Sill and I were quickly on a cell just south of Amarillo.  It was
getting bigger, and we were in the southern portion of a tornado watch box that
had just been issued---what more could a chaser ask!  We videotaped a moderately
strong downburst just south of Canyon, as dust spread out in all
directions---that was neat.  We took Road 285 to Wayside and got into a little
light rain.  The base remained high and somewhat unorganized, and other little
cells menaced with our big one.  We observed several whirls way up in the cloud
base just east of us, but the storm remained non-severe and drifted ENE at 15
mph.  We were on its rear end, and we had to decide whether to head north or
south on Highway 207 to keep pace.  We decided to go south to Silverton to stay
out of precip and to retain our decent view of the updraft area.  As we came off
of the caprock ENE of Silverton on Road 256/70, it was obvious that the storm
was struggling greatly.  We were just south of it, and our humidity was 16
percent!  The temperature was around 90F, and our storm looked like many I've
seen in the Mojave Desert in summer -- ill-defined with a lot of virga.  The
base had a mish-mash of rain around it, too.  Why wasn't this storm sucking in
lots of 60F-dew-point air east of it?  Was it too close to the dry line, with
hot dry air choking it off?

Charlie and I noticed a better-looking base near the front end of the storm as
we approached Memphis.  Now it had more of short squall-line look to it, but it
was still rather weak and unspectacular.  The time was about 8 p.m., and about
an hour of daylight remained.  Charlie wanted to get what video we had back to
Channel 7 in Amarillo for the 10 p.m. show, though.  Since the storm showed
little signs of becoming severe or tornadic, we kissed it good-bye at Memphis
and headed back to Amarillo on 287.  The storm intensified a little near
Childress, but never really got its act together during its five hours of
existence during daylight hours.  Unlike last May and June, when many storms
that I chased went severe and remained severe for several hours, storms this
year on the High Plains are having a very tough time reaching and maintaining
severe characteristics.  Obviously, the current warm ridge over the southern
Plains States is not especially favorable for the kinds of storms we chasers
would like to see.  Let's get that jet stream farther south!

By the way, Chris Peterson found himself under a building storm near Liberal,
Kansas, on Tuesday, and followed it east until dark.  He was treated to several
spin-ups at close range---probably gustnados.  Good job, Chris!

William Reid
Woodland Hills, California
CompuServe 73551,2512