May 25, 1996 Chase by Gilbert Sebenste

Chase Summary, 5/25/96: Friona 2: The Dusty, Dirty Sequel

After a fairly decent night's sleep at the Ramada Inn in Amarillo after a
fairly exciting day the day before, the Weather Channel and everyone else
was getting excited over a potential severe weather outbreak for today.

We went into the Amarillo office at about 9:30AM and started forecasting.
I was so busy watching the Weather Channel (and trying to find items I had
lost in my suitcase), that I missed breakfast. Oh well. Hope the gang at
WSFO AMA realized I wasn't growling at them!

We brought them donuts and a 12 pack of Coke, and then we got down to
business. Oh, my....

Was it this easy? A deep cutoff low in Arizona was forecast to begin
opening up and lifting out into New Mexico today. Overnight, the dryline
moved westward into eastern New Mexico, while that pesky stationary front
remained oriented west-east across the panhandles of OK/TX. Meanwhile,
a strong low level jet had and will continue to advect moisture into
eastern NM and west Texas today. At 12Z, AMA had an 850MB dewpoint of 15C.
I'm impressed! CAPES will be up around 3K J/KG, and storm-relative
helcitities will be around 350 J/KG. In fact, we couldn't point to one
negative at all, except for timing. It looked like everything was going to
come together at the right time, but of course, nature often spoils that.

Winds of 40 knots from the southwest at 850 and 50 knots at 700, and
upwards to 80 knots at 500, and 100+ at 300 indicated good speed shear.
Directional shear wasn't perfect, but it was still very good, thank you,
with winds 120/130 at the surface, and 210-230 degrees at 500, south of
AMA. Convergence of the winds at the surface were obvious: near Clovis, NM.
That, with an expected bulge in the dryline south of there, is where we
were going to "play". All of this analysis came about in about 30 minutes.
When it's that good, be afraid. Be very afraid. It looked like this was
going to be a really big show.

Well, we left the office and headed south on I-27 to US 60 towards Clovis.
The good thing here was that they also had a NOAA weather radio station, so
we could get some information there. We ate lunch at Wendy's at noon CDT,
and got out and stopped at a Texaco at 12:45PM. We then learned of a
tornado watch until 6PM CDT from SPC for eastern NM and western TX. Storms
were starting to fire on the north end of the dryline in far northeast New
Mexico, near the surface low.

We decided to stay put. After all, the dryline was west of us, and although
we could now start to see towering cu's fire, they still needed something
to make them break through an inversion that was evident on the early
morning AMA sounding. But what we really needed was satellite and radar. We
didn't have a laptop, so we were kind of blind to what was happening. Then,
Scott Olthoff hits a grand slam with an idea: Let's head over to their
Holiday Inn, grab a soda from their bar, which likely has a TV. Out here,
you need cable to get AMA TV, so they probably have THE WEATHER CHANNEL

We get back on 60 and head for the Holiday Inn. We hit the bar, which is
completely empty. But the TV's are on! Well, we changed the channel and
found what we were looking for. A bartender shows up and we'll take Diet
Cokes, thank you! And The Weather Channel seems to know where we are. They
show high-res visible and radar pix centering on Clovis!!!!

There are the storms developing in northeast NM. And they are building
south along the dryline. Hmmm. I wonder what other chasers are doing? I
decide to call Greg Stumpf on his cell phone. I did promise to let him know
what was going on with us. At 2PM CDT, I head for the pay phone.

Well, Greg is on 60 heading toward Clovis himself. And in his rear view
mirror is a slew of chasers! He lets me know that about 15 minutes after we
had left, massive chaser convergence occurred and everyone had the same
idea. Clovis is the hot spot! 

I informed him where we were, and if we were still around when he made it
to Clovis, drop by and get some wx info. I also talked to Martin Lisius and
one of his partners that day, Jason Jordan, who took down the info I had
gotten from TWC. "This is getting REALLLLLLY interesting", I thought to

We watched the satellite pix as an apparent bulge on the dryline, almost on
cue, was developing south of Clovis. I went out in the parking lot and
watched the CB which had developed on the tail end of the line of storms
off to our west. Those really didn't look impressive. After about a half
hour, I join my colleagues back down and slurp down the rest of my watered
down soft drink.

I stare intently at the screen as the latest visible image as it pops on
the TV. The dryline is as visible as it ever gets, as well as the bulge.
The towers are starting to grow. They show the radar as the storms are
building south, and one starts to go up near Hobbs, just a little cell,
out ahead of the main line. Suddenly, I hear, "Gil, Gil!!!". I was paying
so much attention that I didn't notice the gentleman standing to my left.

"How's it going? What's going on?" "Doing fine!" We give him and his
partner the low-down. Greg has a great map, "The Roads Of Texas",
and after we watch TWC for a few more moments, we decide it was time to go.
Greg doesn't mind if we tag along, and we know we'll need his road map for
the best chance of seeing anything. But we will later realize his
experience in driving in the area in past storms will help us to succeed
more than we could have on this day. Whoops, getting ahead of myself!

At 2:52PM CDT we leave the Holiday in and head east on US 60, then north
out of Clovis on County Road 202 to catch tail end Charlie. The chaser
convoy is ahead of us: Lisius, Moller, Doswell, et al. The storm doesn't
look bad, but...

At 3:12 PM CDT we pull off to analyze the situation. We feel the storms
along the dryline are not that impressive, but far more importantly,
there's now a storm southeast of Clovis, out ahead of the dryline, that is
rapidly developing! Through altocumulus, we can see the anvil blow off to
the northeast. Greg likes it, and so do we. It's also moving into an area
with a much better road network than the other storms, which is a MAJOR
plus! We decide to break off our chase with the storms along the dryline
and go after that isolated storm. We turn around, head back south on 202
through Clovis, and then east on US 60.

At 3:35PM CDT the storm is off to our south, and starting to look
impressive as we cross the TX/OK border heading east on 60.

At 3:48 PM, we are at the intersection of Texas roads 1731 and 3125. We
turn south on 3125 to watch a good downburst. We watch the storm over the
next few minutes as weak rotation under the rain free base develops. Since
the storm is still coming at us, we need to head north, and at 4PM, we turn
around and do so.

At 4:09PM, we're north on 1731. We see chaser convergence: Al Moller,
Martin Lisius with Dr. Herbert Fiala and his team. We head north of 60, and
head east on a dusty road and pull off to the side at 4:15PM.

4:15PM. From my camcorder as we're sitting on the side of the road. Greg is
on the north side, we're parked on the south, looking northwest as the
mesocyclone is really organizing and a wall cloud develops very rapidly:

(Greg, walking over to our car): "Low level mesocyclone is spinning up
right in there, right behind the dust. Unfortunately, terrible for
pictures", he groans. This part of Texas hasn't seen any significant
rains in over 6 months. The inflow is picking up dirt in a well defined
inflow band off to our east, and it is beginning to totally wrap around
and obscure the rapidly developing mesocyclone.

"Look at----ohmygosh!" The wall cloud is so low now that it appears to be
on the road itself off to our north. "This is just like Friona on June
2nd...the exact same place!". That storm was also wrapped in dust. Time is
now 4:18PM. At 4:19, the cry of "Cold air--RFD!" could be heard. At that
point we watch a mid level funnel briefly make an appearance to the east of
the main area of rotation. Greg is now back in his car plotting the next
move. Just then, Tim Samaras and a German TV crew hop out of their van, and
he's excited!

"We just were in there!" he announces to us. The mesocyclone is really
wrapping up now. There's no doubt about it to me. This one's going to go!
But will we see anything? Tim says even up close, it's wrapped in dust and
hard to see. We'll just have to do our best and go for it!

We go east and get on a paved road, Texas 214 at 4:30PM, and head north.
at 4:35, we can see the mesocyclone again. It's low, and there is strong
mid level rotation.

At 4:38, I see a clear slot wrap partially around this one, as a brief
funnel develops and quickly lifts. A new, much more impressive wall cloud
is just to the north of that one, and we quickly approach it, as the
activity is no more than a few miles off to our west-northwest.

4:40PM. Heading north on 214, we cross Texas road 86 and the small
community of Hub. As we do so, this wal cloud produces several funnel
clouds, and the whole base is just a merry-go-round off to our west. We
pull off to the side and watch as it produces the funnels, then lifts.

At 4:42, yet another wall cloud is now organizing to our northwest as the
one to our west occludes.
4:45PM--this wall cloud is now large, low, and rotating. We pull off to the
side of the road again to watch the activity. Dirt, kicked up by the
leading edge of a rear flank downdraft, scoots from west to east across
the road ahead of us.

4:50PM. We are heading north again on 214 when suddenly an impressive
gustnado forms to our north and heads east along the leading edge of an
apparent RFD. It looks great for at least two minutes, moving harmlessly
into a farm field. We pull off the side of the road to watch. As we do
that, I see something off to our west. Another gustnado, and this one's
heading right for us!

4:51PM. "Go, Scott, go!" Greg and our car zip northward and get nicked by
the northern edge of that gustnado, as debris smacks my window. Winds are
about 50-60 MPH as I watch the debris fly by. But then, I glance back
northwestward at the mesocyclone. I can't believe my eyes. A funnel is
dangling from the looks like it could be hitting the far west
side of Friona!

4:52 PM "Tornado!" Al Moller (on amateur radio, in a vehicle ahead of
me) and I almost shout simultaneously as it touches down. The funnel itself
dissipates, but quickly reforms into a multiple vortex tornado a few miles
to our northwest. We pull off and head northeast on 60. There's no way
we're going to get stuck in a town! The tornado is in sight for about two
minutes before I lose it in town. Once we leave, it is too far away and
dirt wrapped to be visible.

Now, we have to get east and north. Here, unfortunately, is where my notes
are bad since I have not much idea of where we are. Gotta get that Roads of
Texas map quick. If any of you were close to us and know where we were,
chime in.

As far as I can tell, we take 1172 north, and through various other dirt
roads, see a tornado north of Friona for about 30 seconds at 5:15PM. 
I estimate 4-5 miles north of town, not 10-15 as I mention in the video.
It's easy to lose track of where you are in the middle of nowhere...

At 5:20PM, we head east as we leave Greg and his partner behind temporarily
as he fixes a window problem. We then head north on 2298 (that I can
confirm), and at 5:26, off to our west, a third tornado briefly touches
down for about 30 seconds, as the mesocyclone once again comes into view. 

It lifts, and we jog east. At 5:28PM, I get mad because I see a TV station
with a huge satellite dish on it's roof, in the distance, parked off the
side off the road. "That's crazY", I thought. But as we get closer, I
realize it's NOT a TV's the Doppler On Wheels! A crew is
watching the dying meso off to our west.

At 5:43, we are heading north on TX 1057 after another jog east. We then
turn west on an unknown road and then turn north on Texas road K.

5:53PM. We're still on K< heading north. At this point, I wish I had a
camera mounted in the front window. BANG! A lightning bolt strikes a power
line just down the road!!!!

Well, we turn west on a paved road, which I believe to be Texas road 1058,
at 5:55PM. As we do,it's obvious that the base is shrouded by rain. I look
close, and suddenly I see a tornado in the rain to our north!
No one else can see it, as I am trying to show everyone where it is. But
hills and a house get in the way. We get past it and then it comes into
full view. A big cone at 5:56PM!

We pull off and watch it rope out. It becomes a needle at 6:03PM, and then
it dissipates after leaving a brief cloud of dust on the ground after the
funnel can no longer be seen. What a show!

Well, we head back east on 1058 and then head north towards Vega on US
385 at 6:19PM. Now, we have a problem. The meso is heading over the
Caprock, where there are no roads. And we've lost a lot of time getting to
the storm thanks to that. We won't make it as it crosses I-40 into no-mans
land a few minutes later. But then a familiar voice comes over the amateur

Several cells are developing west of Lubbock. The rotation in our
supercell is weakening, and there's no way he can catch it. He's going to
head south on 385 and try to catch those. He, of course, is Al Moller.
Greg hits the brakes and pulls over at 6:27PM, and we quickly assess the

"Did you guys hear that?" "Yes, we did." "This storm is going into a bad
road network. Want to go for those near Lubbock?" You bet! They are
in unspoiled air, with CAPES to 4000 J/KG and LI's to -12. Better helicity

We turn around and head south on 385. The storms, however, are moving much
faster than I expected, and in a different direction. These guys are moving
due east about 30 knots...instead of the northeastward movement at 25 I had
anticipated. We listen to radio reports as the storm splits,
and produces rain-wrapped weak tornadoes. We take US 385 to US 84 east,
and then we stop just outside of Lubbock at about 8:20PM.

The storms have now moved east of Post, and although we can see the huge,
well defined and rock-hard convection of the storm, there's no way we can
catch it before dark. We talk to Greg about what we can do for hotels for
the night. It's the Saturday on Memorial Day weekend, everyone is on a
"chaser budget", and all of the cheap national hotel chains are booked
solid tonight.

"Well, why don't we have dinner and think about it?". Just then, the
weather radio goes off. Another severe thunderstorm is developing rapidly
southwest of Lubbock, and is heading straight for town! Greg is dead from a
lonnnng drive from OKC, and has to laugh. He wants to sleep, but his mind
overrides him and says YOU MUST CHASE. And we do! We take off and head
around Lubbock on the SR 289 spur. I turn the camera back on, and begin to

"It's 8:30PM now. The problem is, the sunset is only 15 minutes away, and
there's a great view of it (panning out the window, then I turn back at the
storm)". Then, the tape runs out. Yikes!

I grab another I have on standby and quickly put it in. Turning on the
camera and rolling again, I apologize for the problem. As I film looking
southwest, I am about to say something about it when all of a sudden...


We look at each other. That was no kiddie-size hailstone that just hit the
top of our car. Scott Olthoff hits the gas and we blow south. We're still
under the anvil getting this? I look out the window and see a large white
streak off to our west and southwest. "We've gotta get past this!" I
narrate. No kidding, Dick Tracy.

Thankfully, that's the only hail stone we get hit by. We get southeast of
the storm, pull over at 8:45, and watch it head northeast into Lubbock.
Karl flips on his amateur radio and we listen as spotters report golfball
size hail and larger falls on small towns to our west, and just southwest
of Amarillo. But there's no sign of rotation, and it is definitely not
evolving into a supercell. Greg wants to see the size of the hailstones,
however, and after we are sure the core has passed off to our north, we
head west and encounter marble sized hail which has covered everything.

After that, we head back to Lubbock, now searching for a hotel. After much
searching, at 10:30, we find two hotels close to each other and we'll meet
at Denny's to talk about tomorrow. We'll have to beat this second storm
coming in fast though!

We organize our stuff in our hotel room and suddenly I look up at the TV.
We're under a severe thunderstorm warning, it;'s now about 10:00PM, and we
realize....hey, that thing has a V-notch, and it's heading right for us! Oh
no, here we go again!!!

It's too dangerous to chase a city at night, and this one is on us before
we can even get anything together. It produces 9 inches of rain on parts of
the south side of the city, dropping baseball hail. Then, I notice the
storm on TWC radar composite turning right!!!! After producing a hellacious
rain over the city, and marble hail on our car, we watch as it moves away,
eventually producing a spotter report of a tornado as the supercell moves
east of Lubbock to Slaton an hour later.

Well, our phone is toast thanks to the storm, and Greg didn't leave his
name under the room. We go to his hotel, find him leaving for Denny's, and
then go and have my second meal of the day at midnight. We're excited about
the prospects for looks even better than today!

Or does it?



Gilbert Sebenste                                                     ********
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