September 18 Panhandle Chase By Gene Moore


EVENTS, THOUGHTS AND DAYDREAMS ON A LATE SEASON CHASE
18 SEPTEMBER 1996

	The morning forecast was coming together as a dryline swept the
panhandle skies clear of clouds and fog.  Today's target area for severe
storms and tornadoes was a small area in the northeast Texas Panhandle 
where surface temperatures were heating rapidly.  During the early 
afternoon storms begin lighting-off in the northeastern panhandle counties.
A warm front was also included in the synoptic mix, and it was firing a 
few cells along the far northern counties.

	The day quickly became less than rewarding after navigating through 
and around flooded roads and ho-hum rain storms.  A "train" of severe storms 
had unloaded on the area during the previous night filling many houses with
muddy water.  The passable roads were a mess, some covered with a couple
feet of swiftly moving muddy water.  Adding to the event, a helicopter
was rescuing stranded families while Wolf Creek, south of Perryton, TX, 
aspired to become the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, today's storms 
lacked buoyancy in the "worked over air mass" and were suffering in an 
environment of increasing wind shear.  During the late afternoon more 
heavy storms lit off south of Perryton, but a washed-out bridge on 
highway 83 diverted travel west to Canadian, TX.
  No loss here, the storms were dying as they moved into rain cooled 
air in Oklahoma.  Elsewhere, the cooler air behind the warm front in 
Kansas kept a lid on development to the north.

	After a quick lunch in Canadian and a tour through Miami 
(not the one on TV), a break from the flooding was in order.  While 
traveling north on highway 70, a hilltop rest stop came into view.  
It was one of those roadside picnic areas where families are 
suppose to have lunch in the usual 35 knot winds and truck exhaust.  
Needless to say, I didn't have to wait for a table.  The place was 
abandoned except for flies buzzing happily about a nearby garbage can, 
and off to the far end, one other vehicle. After thinking to myself 
that the other vehicle can only be another chaser, I walked across the 
oil stained asphalt to a car with numerous antennas and a front seat 
full of crumpled road maps.  Indeed, it's a chaser -- Dean Cosgrove 
out of Colorado.  We exchanged stories about the previous day.  He 
had fought "cold storms" and hail in Colorado while I had made an 
unfortunate navigation mistake on a tornadic storm near Guthrie, TX.  
We were both ready for a good storm.  The towers along the dryline 
formed and died while we chatted.  The warm front to our north 
remained active with occasional thunder; but, the storms were still 
junky.  We expected strong jet stream support, a short wave, to move 
in late in the day, so we watched and waited.

	During the early evening hours the dryline had given up its 
eastward push.  Now replaced by a surge of moisture, low clouds 
pushed in from the southeast.  Our line of inadequate storms along 
the warm front made a sudden move to the north.  This was a big
change for a boundary that had been locked into one position all day.
Simultaneously, big cumulus towers began to anvil along the new wind 
shift boundary to the west and southwest, but none of them would hold 
together.  The synoptic deck was getting reshuffled and deserved close 
observation.  One area to the northwest released a tower much higher 
than anything that had occurred during the afternoon.  This "hot spot" 
appeared to be the dryline warm front intersection, an area previously 
cut-off from moisture.

	The chase was on.  The old Jeep would be pushed hard again, 
daylight was in short supply.  The the odometer rolled over the 
210,000 mile mark, how long can it last?  Perryton again, the flood 
waters were receding and it was time to top-off the gas tank. 

 	At the cash register a voice in the crowd asked if I was a tornado 
chaser.  I wasn't wearing one of those "I'm a Brave Chaser" Tee 
shirts, so I guess this individual just figured it out.  Without 
looking, I politely replied "yes ma'am" and sprinted for the vehicle.  
Foot steps followed behind me.  Not losing momentum, I spun with 
backward steps to find a rather large nicely dressed woman close 
behind.  Again she said, "Are you really a storm chaser?"  Again, 
I replied "yes."  She said "Ohhhh,  I just love storm chasers."  
Apparently the movie "Twister" had made it to town.  We smiled, I 
pointed the Jeep north.  By the time 5th gear was engaged I 
remembered a time in Sweetwater, TX when a waitress asked if I was 
a tornado chaser, there to I replied "yes ma'am" with a big smile.  
She sarcastically dropped the menu and walked away.  Of course not 
long before that day Sweetwater had been trashed by an early 
morning F4.  I got my tacos from someone else.

	Thirty minutes of daylight remained on Oklahoma highway 3 
near Hardesty.  The anvil lengthened downstream while the low sun 
angle filtered through exploding towers northwest.  The structure 
under this updraft remained elusive.  Meanwhile a new cell was 
tossing out lightning bolts about 12 miles north.  This would become 
the first "carrot" of the day.  A small wall cloud extended half way 
to ground with a well-defined funnel hanging out of the back side.  
The precipitation core was weak and lacked inflow.  The Jeep continued 
west while the Baker, OK, Sheriff's Department reported more funnels.  
Topping the a hill just west of Hardesty, OK a stunning wall cloud 
scene unfolded across the windshield.  What a sight after looking 
at garden variety rain storms all day.  The storm appeared ready to 
change into a class act.  A darkening core was getting larger as 
flanking line towers stacked against it.  From the east, an inflow 
band carried low moisture to intersect the mesocyclone and flanking 
line -- a set-up with great potential!

	Northwest of Optima Lake the storm took on supercell 
characteristics.  Two-lane boredom had shifted to pure adrenaline.  
The broad mesocyclone was producing rotation in a couple areas.  
I slowed to photograph a funnel spinning up on the southwest edge of
the dry slot.  The motordrive spun through film while the funnel 
repeatedly came close to the ground and then dissipated, meanwhile 
the main updraft sped about 4 miles further northeast.  The back of 
the wall cloud was fighting off a dry surge as great swirls of 
clouds dove for the ground and dissipated.  After a mile of white 
knuckle driving through this chaos the main wall cloud was a few 
miles ahead.  The waning sunlight "front lit" a wedge funnel under the
mesocyclone.  At 8:00 PM multiple suction spots formed under the funnel 
as it extended to ground to form a spectacular dark orange tornado.  
As I pulled over to photograph the scene the tornado appeared to
dissipate without a rope stage.  Feeling my slack jaw on the floor I
knew I had just lost the only daylight tornado opportunity.  
Mechanically, I began to grab for the tripod and high speed film.  
I had missed a beautiful photograph, but too much was going on to 
give it a second thought. Shortly after sunset, a tilted funnel 
formed on the back edge of the mesocyclone west of Turpin, OK.  
It was 8:10 PM.  The laminar funnel, now nearing highway 64 was 
hanging a third of the way down from cloud base.  It turned white, 
reflecting lights from a nearby business, then rapidly shot a needle 
to ground. 

 	A debris cloud of mud and spray from the water logged fields 
rose up from the ground.  Lightning lit the north side of the 
expanding funnel providing a spectacular scene.  This time I burned up 
film as fast a possible.  Later, the bottom half of the tornado narrowed 
and lifted leaving a funnel aloft to continue to intimidate those in 
its path as it slowly dissipated.

	As the storm neared Liberal, Kansas, a "Doppler indicated" 
tornado warning was getting air time on the local stations.  As the 
warning came out, a huge scud cloud formed about 500 feet off the 
ground and rapidly rose to cloud base.  The storm was now sporting 
continuous lightning for excellent night visibility.  Within a few 
minutes another threatening wall cloud was moving on a path just 
to the southeast of Liberal.  Highway Patrol cars sped northward, 
lights flashing, to engage the storm.  Numerous funnels formed and 
dissipated with no confirmed tornadoes; although, I can't account 
for all the wall cloud's action because I had stopped to help 
someone get their van out of a ditch.  The storm remained severe 
as it continued into the colder air of  west-central Kansas where 
it merged with a squall line.

Gene Moore is an environmental program manager for the Department 
of Defense in San Antonio, TX.

Photos of the event:

Here is an image of the KDDC Base Reflectivity of the storm and the Base Velocity at the same time.

Here are excellent images of the supercell and the tornado that followed.