May 25, 1996 Friona, TX Chase By Sam Barricklow


A Detailed Chase Account of the Saturday, 25 May 1996 
Chase near Friona, Texas - by Sam Barricklow

Preparing for the Chase

Saturday, 25 May 1996, was the first full day of my 
yearly one week chase vacation.   I left work about 3 
p.m., made a brief stop at Texas Towers (a Ham radio 
store) in Plano, Texas then headed northwest on the 
"highway to heaven", otherwise known as U.S. Highway 
287.  The new 70 mph speed limit helps, but it is still a 
long, long drive from Dallas to the caprock and Amarillo.

For the past dozen years or so, I have made it a point to 
meet and chase with two of the most experienced, 
knowledgeable and colorful storm chasers in the world, 
Al Moller and Chuck Doswell.  Over the years- Al and 
Chuck have provided me with a tremendous wealth of 
information about and insight into the complexities of 
forecasting, storm structure, photography and storm 
chasing.  (We are all three very opinionated and rarely 
agree, regardless of the topic, which makes the 
experience that much more enjoyable.)

Al and Chuck started their annual three to four week 
chase vacation on the 24th of May.  Al called me at 
work Friday to say they were scheduled to meet 
Joe Nick Patoski, who writes for Texas Monthly Magazine, 
in Amarillo Saturday morning.  It was my intention to 
rendezvous and chase with them again this year.

From past experience, I knew that Al and Chuck like to 
sleep in while waiting for the morning computer progs to 
generate, for the leftover morning convection to dissipate 
and to allow the atmosphere to begin destabilizing by 
heating up a bit.  They usually arrive at the nearest NWS 
office between 10 and 11 a.m. each morning.   I am a 
morning person who cannot easily sleep past 6:00 a.m., 
regardless of how late I stay up.  As a result, I frequently
arrive at the NWS by 9:00 a.m. or earlier to analyze the 
available data before Al and Chuck arrive.  

When Dave Hoadley is in town, he has often already been 
to the office when I arrive, determined his target and 
departed.   Occasionally he may still be there, hurriedly 
grabbing the latest surface map before rushing out the 
door to his car and down the road.  Unfortunately, I 
didn't see Dave this year.  I always enjoy trying to 
decipher his unique and complicated, but amazingly 
effective forecasts.

There were several chasers already at the office when I 
arrived.  The pattern today looked like the proverbial 
"no-brainer" forecast.  A surface low was in southeastern 
New Mexico with a sharp dry line extending south.  It was 
forecast to move slowly north-northeastward.  A 500 mb 
short wave was approaching from the west.  The best 
700/500 mb delta Ts were above and east of the dry line.   
The vertical wind shear was forecast to be more than 
adequate for supercells.  Rich moist air was in place with 
more juice flowing in across Texas from the Gulf of 
Mexico.  And, the target area was on the magical cap rock 
of the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico. Who 
could ask for anything more?

The only negative factors were the relatively cool 
temperatures and overcast skies that covered most of the 
central and northern panhandle.

Chuck and Al were running a bit late, arriving around 
11:30 a.m.  A consensus had already developed among the 
chasers on  hand, but Al and Chuck went ahead and did 
their usual thorough analysis.  They work as a team, dividing 
the analysis chores between them, each concentrating on and 
analyzing different parameters and levels of the atmosphere.   

Around noon, award winning video producer and 
chaser Martin Lisius arrived along with Texas 
A&M meteorology student Jason Jordan, a fast coming 
forecaster from the Fort Worth NWSFO.

The "take the puppy home" Sales Pitch

Before leaving the NWS, I presented Al and Chuck with a 
new two meter amateur radio that I purchased in 
Plano, Texas on the way out of Dallas the day before.  Al 
had gotten his amateur radio license a few years ago, but 
he had never bought a radio.  He spent his money on 
photographic equipment instead.  During past chases, I 
had loaned Al a walkie-talkie, but its limited range made 
communications difficult unless we were in close 
proximity.  So I decided to try the "take the puppy home 
and see if you like it" sales technique on them, hoping Al 
would see the utility of having a real radio and then buy 
it from me.  (It worked!)

The Target

Clovis, New Mexico was chosen as the target.  Clovis was 
located northeast of the deepening surface low and in 
sunshine just west of the cloud deck where maximum 
instabilities might be realized.  All favorable factors 
should peak near or just east of Clovis during the 
afternoon.

The Drive to the Dryline

Al, Chuck, Joe Nick, Martin, Jason and I departed at the 
same time, but in three different vehicles.  The new radio 
allowed Al and Chuck to participate in an extended 
discussion with me, Martin and others during the drive to 
Clovis.  We commented on the still visible storm damage 
along the highway southwest of Canyon from last year's 
June tornadoes, as well as the thick choking smell of 
manure flowing from the numerous feed lots along the 
way.  (The locals call it the "smell of money".)

The sky was solidly overcast.  We strained, looking west 
for breaks in the overcast and glimpses of towering 
cumulus.  The sky's appearance began to change when we 
passed through Friona for the first time.  A few breaks in 
the overcast appeared with small dark bases visible to 
the west.  At Bovina, the atmosphere began to bubble.  
Towering cumulus was developing in all quadrants.  We 
continued west toward the dry line and clear skies, expecting 
more substantial convection to develop further west.  At 
Farwell, on the Texas side of the border, a young CB with 
a short anvil became visible to the west through scattered
 low clouds  The low clouds were almost totally gone by 
the time we arrived in Clovis, New Mexico.

Selecting the Right Storm

There were two problems.  First, the most mature of the 
three or so young CBs developing from southwest 
through northwest of Clovis was moving into an area with 
a poor road system.  Second, even though the 
southernmost updraft in the complex to the northwest 
had a rock hard appearance, something just didn't 
look right.  It was still very multi-cellular, sending up one 
puff of fairly intense convection after another.  And, 
glaciation seemed to be occurring too early.  This storm 
was still young and had promise, but there were too 
many negative factors in both its appearance and its location.

The Decision to Go Southeast

I stopped briefly to chat with Martin, Jason several other 
chasers at a gas station.  Martin said that Gilbert 
Sebenste was watching The Weather Channel at the 
Holiday Inn.  Gilbert reported that radar showed a storm 
developing ahead of the dry line southwest of Muleshoe, 
Texas, southeast of Clovis.  Looking in that direction, we 
could just make out an anvil.  

Al and Chuck had gone a little further into town to a 
truck stop to make a "pit stop" for drinks and other 
refreshment.  While  proceeding to the truck stop, I 
passed at least 15 chase vehicles, including Warren 
Faidley's armada as well as several students (I assume)
 who were driving sub-compacts.  After a brief discussion 
with Al and Chuck, we decided to go after the storm to the 
southeast.  Al, with his "high contrast" vision could see 
hints of hard convection under the south end the anvil.

Intercepting the Storm

We drove southeast on highway 84 past a rain shaft just 
south of the highway.  A rain free base located several 
miles south of the highway came into view as we skirted 
the northeast edge of the rain area.  We parked by a field 
just east of the small town of Lariat, near the intersection 
with farm to market road (FM)1731.  At least six and 
maybe as many as eight chase vehicles stopped within a 
quarter mile of each other, gathering near the entrances 
to two freshly plowed fields.

Our First Observations and Impressions

The storm looked rather benign at first.  The rain free 
base (RFB) was absolutely flat, but the edge of the rain 
shaft was sharp.  A rain foot developed and extended out 
underneath the RFB.  Soon scud formed at the edge of the 
rain area above the rain foot and rushed underneath and 
then up into the RFB.  A shallow lowering formed briefly.  
More scud rushed out of the rain area.  This scud began 
to slowly rotate underneath the RFB.  It then began to 
rain on us.  My attention to the RFB was broken for several 
minutes as I jockeyed my scanner, looking for severe 
weather reports on local public safety channels.  

The rain tapered off and everyone jumped out of their 
vehicles to observe, photograph, video and discuss the 
storm and to formulate our next move.  The updraft base 
to the south had flattened again and resumed its benign 
appearance.  This base apparently represented a "hot 
spot" at the south end of a multi-cell complex where cells 
were developing, breaking away and moving northward 
with the upper level flow.

As is so often the case, it was difficult to perceive that a 
rotating updraft was developing and passing just to our 
west.  Observation of the developing updraft was 
hindered because of light rain moving overhead and 
northward.  Shortly, it was to become clear that a cell in 
this multi-cell complex was moving downstream, 
intensifying and ROTATING.  

Soon, evidence of intensification could be seen in the 
form of a developing inflow band.  This band appeared as 
a slightly darker linear feature that extended eastward  
three or so miles from the RFB along the bottom of an 
unbroken cloud deck.  This feature was initially quite 
difficult to discern.  As a result, the chasers disagreed on 
its significance.

While the discussion ensued, the still relatively small RFB, 
then located a mile or two to our northwest, developed a 
somewhat circular appearance.  Several shallow, but 
slightly lowered and curved cloud bands were evident in 
the small RFB.  In addition, lightning frequency increased 
in and near the intensifying rain area immediately north 
and northwest of the RFB.

The Decision to Chase THIS Storm

The discussion intensified.  Should we chase this storm or 
go farther south to clear skies, higher temperatures and 
better instabilities?  The choice was not yet obvious.  
What to do?  I took the blatantly non-scientific approach 
of pulling a quarter out of my pocket, flipping it and 
announcing that heads we go north, tails we go south.  It 
was heads!  We went north up FM1731.

The Chase

The chase was on, but by the time a decision was made, 
the RFB was several miles farther north.  We had to 
recover quickly.

Martin and Jason went farther east before turning north
and were moving rapidly north on FM214.  We maintained
radio contact on 146.520 MHz as we pursued the storm
along parallel tracks.  Just south of the intersection 
of FM1731 and FM3333 Carson Eads, N5LTN, popped in on 
the ham radio.  Carson reported that he and his team 
could see a substantial wall cloud.  Tim Marshall, 
Gene Rhoden and Bruce Haynie were with Carson.  Michael 
Cohen, KB5KAR, and Steve, a chaser from the east coast 
were following Carson in separate vehicles.  They were 
east of the storm driving north on a DIRT road! Steve 
was driving a compact rental car with low ground clearance. 
Soon Carson reported that Steve had gotten stuck in deep soft, 
but dry sand.  Mike stopped to help.  The chase was over 
for them.  Carson and his crew continued north.

We got our next look at the quickly intensifying wall 
cloud about the time Carson checked in.  The RFB was 
rotating hard with fast upward motion just below and 
and at cloud base.  The RFB had grown from the 1/2 mile 
diameter when last viewed, to approximately three miles 
across at this point.  The storm had made a rapid transition
 into the classic supercell category.  

The First Tornado

As we prepared to leave, a small needle shaped funnel 
quickly appeared.  Its weak circulation touched the 
ground briefly before abruptly dissipating.  The first 
tornado occurred approximately 2 miles east of FM1731, 
just south of FM3333.  Al asked for someone with a cell 
phone to contact the NWS and report the brief 
touchdown.  A tornado warning was needed for this 
storm.  Al commented that "A pretty major event may be 
about to happen".  My adrenaline started to pump! .

We continued north to Bovina and then turned east on 
highway 86, approaching the western edge of the large 
rotating RFB and wall cloud.  Golf ball-sized and smaller 
hail littered the road in and east of Bovina.  Dense hail fog 
slowed us momentarily just east of town as we drove under 
the rear flank downdraft (RFD) clear slot.  The bright 
foreground under the RFD coupled with the dark shadows 
beneath the RFB still concealed the core of the updraft.

Traversing the RFD

The cloud motions were wild and chaotic along the RFD/RFB interface.  The
descending RFD winds tore at the edge 
of the updraft, ripping off cloud tags and shoving them 
downward.  More wild motions underneath the south end 
of the RFB and the adjacent flank were coming into view. 
It was difficult to tell where the rotating RFB/wall cloud 
ended and the flank began.  We were forced to slow to a 
crawl while the most intense updraft seen so far crossed 
the highway ahead.  Suddenly, the updraft rate accelerated
violently approximately 300 to 400 yards east-northeast 
of my location.   

The extremely rapid upward motions appeared 
completely linear at first but, within a few seconds an 
abrupt and sudden change from linear to circular motion 
occurred.  One might assume that a landspout type 
vortex stretching process may have been occurring.  
Rain curtains that appeared to be in the immediate 
vicinity of this intense updraft along with dust directly 
underneath at the surface did not exhibit rotation prior to
rotation appearing at cloud base.  Rotation appeared to 
begin at cloud base first and then extend to the surface.  
A shallow circulation could have existed at the surface 
first, or somewhere between the surface and cloud base,
but I saw no evidence of it.  

Although again weak, the second tornado was observed 
to touch down briefly approximately 200 yards north of 
highway 86, approximately six miles east of Bovina in an 
open field.

Driving Deeper into the Shadows

Perhaps the most dramatic and risky part of any chase is 
going from the sunlit area near a storm into the dark shadows 
underneath the updraft.  This is especially true for the 
more massive classic and HP supercell configurations.  

As we drove deeper into the shadows under the RFB and 
flank, a large low and ragged wall cloud slowly emerged
from the shadowy darkness approximately three miles 
to our north.  A new RFD slot was developing rapidly, 
cutting into the RFB immediately south of the monstrous 
wall cloud.  Several thick vertical bands rotated around 
its edge. The bands extended from the RFB/wall cloud 
juncture downward, curving in toward its center, almost 
touching the ground.  A flurry of cloud tags (fractus) 
and scud clouds darted about in different directions
underneath the monster as though they were trying to 
avoid being eaten.  

The motions at the nose of the RFD slot were spectacular.  
Bursts of violent updraft developed and sporadically 
formed short lived funnels as the RFD knifed into the RFB.

We were met by an intense shear line along the flank, now 
directly above FM214.  Abrupt changes in wind direction 
from hard out of the west to hard out of the east shook the 
chase vehicles.  

Approximately three miles north of highway 86, we 
drove under the the nose of the new RFD intrusion as 
it streamed from west to east over the road, an apparent 
change of almost 90 degrees from the previous RFD slot.
Waves of wind driven "atomized" rain washed over the 
windshield as we penetrated multiple rain curtains  I had 
to keep both hands tightly on the steering wheel as 50 to
60 mph westerly RFD winds rocked my van.  This was quickly
becoming a "white knuckle" chase.

After passing through the worst winds, I quickly glanced
back to the west-southwest and observed that the 
RFD slot had not turned the corner along the eastern edge 
of the wall cloud.  Instead it continued to flow almost 
due east and weaken, like a dagger had been thrust into 
and quickly withdrawn from the RFB.  Looking to the west, 
a new RFD slot was developing.  This one had a more 
northeasterly trajectory.

Tornadoes NW of Dimmit

As we entered Dimmit, skylight was descending through 
the new RFD slot that was now overhead as it wrapped 
around the eastern side of the large wall cloud.  Diffuse 
sunlight illuminated the eastern side of the wall cloud.  
The wall cloud was on the western edge of town, no more 
than a mile or two away.  At this point, we felt that the 
intense RFD was undercutting the updraft and new 
development would likely occur in a more northeasterly 
direction.  Doswell, who was performing the navigational 
chores, plotted a course from Friona to the northeast on
 highway 60. 

Near the center of town, we saw terrified residents and 
whole families running from their homes to storm cellars, 
literally clutching babies in their arms as the meso 
approached.  This was a surreal scene and emotionally gut 
wrenching.  It was rewarding to know that we helped 
warn the citizens of Friona through numerous reports to 
the NWS.  

After turning northeast on highway 60, we had traveled 
only a couple of blocks when Al Moller reported "TORNADO!"
over the ham radio.  We immediately made a "U" turn 
and saw a fully developed sinuous tornado just northwest 
of town.  Friona's warning sirens began to wail as I focused 
the video camera on the tornado.  Multiple vortices 
developed quickly, persisting almost a full minute 
before dissipating.  

Curiously, a columnar mass of ill defined clouds began 
boiling immediately south of the multiple-vortex tornado.  
Clouds repeatedly formed on the ground and gushed up 
into this seething amorphous column.  I'm not sure what it 
was, but it persisted for several minutes while moving
quickly to the northwest.  

As we drove north on FM214 from highway 60, a second 
writhing column formed near the first.  Both continued 
moving to the northwest.  Tornadoes?  I don't know.  
They were too distant and poorly defined to tell for sure.  
Both of these "things" were in contact with the ground.  I 
momentarily lost visual contact with them as we turned 
west and continued on FM214 at the junction with 
FM2298. 

After pondering these anomalies momentarily, my 
attention again shifted to the larger picture.  A new RFD 
slot was opening.  Sunlight shining through the 
developing RFD slot and reflecting off of the plowed fields 
and thick haze quickly reduced visibility.   

More Tornadoes, The Anomaly and a Large Rapidly 
Rotating Wall Cloud on the Deck

Approximately four miles west on FM214, a brief small 
flanking line tornado formed about one mile south of the 
road.  It lasted only a few seconds.  Again the sky to my 
immediate south and west was full of seemingly 
unorganized chaotic motions.  Just beyond the glare of the 
developing RFD slot, a low tail cloud came into view.   
This time, the RFD slot developed from south to north.  

Moving back under the updraft base and into the 
"shadows", the two "things" came back into view.  
Whatever they were, they merged into a single larger 
entity.  It had the appearance of a large tornado, but 
visibility was too poor for any of us to tell for certain.  

Just west of the RFD slot a long skinny occluded flank 
extended south maybe four to five miles to the area 
where the large unidentified "thing" had last been seen.  
The southern end of it was eroding quickly.  Rotation and 
updraft were quickly focusing further north.

Al, Chuck and Joe Nick drove under the tail cloud to "sample 
the environment".   Within a few seconds, Al again 
excitedly announced "TORNADO!" over the radio.  The 
tornado was south of the highway, at about the 10 o'clock 
position at the "new" south end of the occluded flank.  
The tornado was a little less than a mile south of FM214 
moving north, toward the tail cloud and the car with Al, 
Chuck and Joe Nick inside.  I asked Al "Are you going to 
let it pass east of you?"  No answer, but I saw headlights 
coming toward me rapidly as they made a hasty retreat.  
The tornado maintained full contact with the ground for 
about 30 seconds.  

The circulation at cloud base rapidly expanded and the 
whole flank lowered as the tornado lifted.  The tornado 
was small and had been at most 100 yards wide, but the 
expanding parent circulation had now grown to at least 
300 yards wide and lowered to within a few hundred 
feet of the surface.  

The rapidly rotating updraft crossed the highway about 
1/4 mile down the road in front of me. Numerous cloud 
tags (and occasional tornadic winds) danced along the 
ground just north of FM214.  Doswell commented on the 
radio that it appeared the process of vortex breakdown 
might be occurring on the scale of the mesocyclone, 
inhibiting the concentration of the vorticity and a 
significant tornado.  

While I videoed this event simultaneously with two video 
cameras, Amarillo's Doppler Dave and his TV crew set up 
operation next to my van and transmitted a live report.  
He predicted that a tornado was imminent.  I guess they 
had not seen the previous tornadoes.

We decided to go farther north to get ahead of the storm 
in a better position for the next tornado.  We drove east 
on FM214, then north on FM1057, past the slow moving 
in operation Doppler On Wheels (DOW).  A new wall cloud 
was developing just north of the intersection where 
FM1057 turns east.  The old meso was still intact and 
several miles to the west-southwest.  Two mesos, one storm. 

We continued east on FM1057, then turned north on 
highway 385, then west again on FM214.  Approximately 
six miles west of highway 385 on FM214 Al again 
announces "TORNADO!".  A tornado came into view though 
partially obscured the rain curtains of a fully occluded 
flank about seven miles to our NW .  We watched for 
several minutes as it roped out and dissipated.  Since we 
lost visual contact with the storm for several minutes, it 
was not clear whether this tornado was produced by the 
"old" or the "new" meso.  Maybe Gilbert Sebenste can 
shed light on this.

A home located about three miles east of the triple 
intersection of FM214 sustained considerable roof 
damage from this tornado. (This intersection is labeled as 
SIMMS in the latest revised edition of the Roads of 
Texas.)

We chased the storm several miles north of Vega before 
breaking off and turning south toward Lubbock.  We 
caught occasional glimpses of lowerings imbedded in the 
rain area, but by this time visibilities were poor and rain 
was falling a good distance away from the storm's main 
core.

This was a very exciting chase, but somewhat 
disappointing because when we were close, only brief 
small tornadoes occurred.  While clearly visible on video, 
the images are low contrast.  We had only a distant view 
of the last few minutes of what was probably the most 
picturesque and photogenic tornado produced by the 
storm.  However, the video of the wall cloud south of 
Friona is spectacular as is the close up video of the low 
turbulent wall cloud northwest of Friona on FM214.

This chase only whetted my appetite.