May 24, 1996 Chase By Gilbert Sebenste

Chase Summary, May 24, 1996: The first time in history when car
problems HELPED us!

After busting the day before, waiting for a cap that would never break
along a stationary front in northern Kansas, Karl Schulze, Scott Olthoff,
Ed Mlozik and I spent the night in Salina wondering what tomorrow would
bring. Unfortunately, we were short of data, but we knew this: Supercells
had occurred in upslop flow (no, that's not a spelling error) in Colorado
over the past few days, producing spectacular storms with weak tornadoes.
That was our initial target area (eastern CO), before things began to go
south. 

Karl's car had been vibrating hard when we got up to 65 MPH, so we decided
to pull into a Midas to see what the problem was. Uh-oh. A new tire rod
is needed, and two tires have been shot as a result. Also, we had to get a
particular problem out of the way--the air conditioning fails when the
temps go above 80. This is NOT a good thing.

Well, at 11:30AM, we pulled out of Midas with a new tire rod. Then we
stopped at another place to fix the AC. After a quick charge, we then
needed to find a place that sold tires. We stop at Russell, KS, where a 
mechanic quickly puts two on. Whew! Well, we are AOK now with the car, and 
Karl threatens to blow it up if anything else happens to it! Well,
jokingly, of course, but there's no joke with this: it's 1:30
PM, and 4 hours to the Colorado border. With not much window of opportunity
to stop and get weather data, I call NIU for some weather data, and Scott
calls UIUC for some there. We find out their system had crashed, so there's
no upper air data. But from what they have both NIU and UIUC conclude that
southeast CO/southwest KS is the place to be.

We decide to head west out of Russell and turn south on 83 near Oakley. But
just as we reach this conclusion, we hear of a huge tornado watch for
Kansas and the TX/OK panhandles!

Well, after much discussion, we decided to take 183 south out of Hays.
We have a long way to go to reach OK, but we are determined to make it.

At 3:44 PM, we are now hearing about an HP supercell at Perryton, TX. It's
only moving at 15 MPH to the northeast, and we think we can catch it! We're
still a considerable ways from the KS/OK border though. We decide to take
183 to KS SR 1, which turns into OK SR 34 south of the border, to get down
there. We can start to see the anvil of the storm to our south, as well as
an east-west boundary of clouds. It's a stationary front, being pushed
well south by a dome of cool Canadian high pressure off to the north. Cool,
indeed. Back home at NIU, temps barely make it into the 50's, with lows at
night in the 40's, under a cloudy, drizzly, rainy sky.

At 4:20PM, we cross the KS/OK border on 34, heading south. By this time,
the sky to our south begins to turn black, but no visible features are yet
visible.

At 4:26, the tornado warning for Ochiltree county, TX, which includes the
city of Perryton, is extended. We're pretty excited as the sky continues
to grow darker under the anvil.

4:30PM: we turn west on US 64, and head for Buffalo. Still can't see
much of the storm.

4:45PM. We're two miles east of Buffalo. Finally, we can see some awesome
mammatus under the anvil, and as the radio reports of large hail and funnel
clouds come in, we hope we're not too late!

We hang around the intersection of US 64 and US 283 for a while. We realize
that the storm is in an area of poor roads. Well, at least on our map. Wish
we had "The Roads Of Texas" at this point. In any event, the storm breaks
up and dies over the next hour. But a line of storms is forming, and we
know that we have to get to tail-end charlie. We decide to head south on
283, towards Shattuck, OK.

At 6:06PM we turn west on US 60, and at 6:15PM we hit the TX/OK border.
At 6:17PM, I look at my map of radio stations. Well, there's a warning out
for the counties west of us, but what's farther south? The stuff we're
looking at looks like lining-out, outflow dominated slop. I look at Tim
Vasquez' radio frequency map. Ah, KGRO in Pampa. Let's turn it on.

As we do, I hear a voice on there. He's describing a brief tornado
touchdown near Skelleytown, about 15 miles west-northwest of Pampa, heading
towards Pampa! "He" is none other than Darryl Sehorn, who won an award
for his famous broadcast from their big tornado the year before. His voice
and his description of what is going on leaves chills down my spine.
"Pampa's going to get hit again!!!", I think to myself.

At 6:55 PM, we cruise into Miami. We head north on TX route 283 to get a
better view of the storm. This is the first time I've chased in this area
before, and although the terrain is beautiful, why is it so hilly? I look
at my road map for clues, but there are none. Then it hits me. The Caprock!
Well, we find the crest of a small hill and get a fair view at this HP
supercell. We see the updraft to our northwest, wrapped in rain. The south
side of the storm looks interesting too, with a strong downburst noted on
the far southern region of the storm. But the view is not as good as we
want. We head back south on 283, jog around, and then go north on 282.
That's better, now we're on top of the hills of the Caprock. We get a good
view, take some pictures and video, and then head south into Miami
for a quick gas stop.

As we're fueling up, I realize that if you do a plot of "chaser
convergence", there would be a massive bullseye in and around Miami.
Everyone is shuffling around trying to catch the best view. We see a
KFOR-TV truck from OKC watching the storm. What are they doing way out
here? Oh, well. Ah, Paul Sirvatka and his team of 14 chasers are on this
one, good, good.

After the quick stop, we head towards Pampa. They're getting hit with
gusty winds, and at 7:34PM we see a gustnado cross the road and head
southward from U.S. route 60, just southeast of town. Darryl is wondering
if the high school graduation is going to be pulled off in town. It is,
but it will be a makeshift indoor event. Then, they get hit with golfball
sized hail. A graduation they'll remember, I am sure.

Unfortunately, the storm has gusted itself out. Totally outflow dominated,
it blasts Pampa and the surrounding countryside with hail and high winds.
We meet up with Paul and his crew, and we decide to eat at a steak house on
the south side of Amarillo. We drop south to I-40 and head west. 

After a great meal, we hear the thunder outside. But something is about to
go wrong.

The waitresses knew we were storm chasers. One of them calmly walks over
and informs all of us that there's a tornado on the ground a mile and a
half south of us. Yikes!

We run to the bar. An Amarillo station is showing what has to be one of the
best hook echoes I've ever seen to our east. A storm that is upon is 
has another meso to our south, and is blasting Palo Duro Canyon with
softball size hail! Everyone quickly pays, and then we run outside. Oh, my!

We are being blasted with 60 MPH winds at the restaurant. Darn if I can't
remember the name, but it's right next to The Waffle House and close to
"The Big Texan", close to the airport. We get in our cars and vans and then
suddenly pea to marble hail starts falling in very heavy rain. We have no
choice: get west on I-40 and pray our windshields don't get busted up!

We do head west and after a few stones that rattle our nerves, we break out
into instant clear and moonlight. Whew. Well, we head for the Ramada Inn 
and call it a night.

Tomorrow though, looks interesting. We'll stop by the Amarillo office for a
briefing. Who knows, maybe we'll get lucky.

Lucky?

(TO BE CONTINUED)

Gilbert

*******************************************************************************
Gilbert Sebenste                                                     ********
Internet: sebenste@geog.niu.edu    (My opinions only!)                 *****
Owner of the Storm Chaser Homepage                                     ***
URL: http://www.stormchaser.niu.edu/chaser/chaser.html                       **
Netscape users: http://www.stormchaser.niu.edu/chaser/chaser2.html           *
*******************************************************************************