William Reid's May 16 Chase

On Tuesday, May 16, 1995, the lingering upper low off of Southern California began to make its move inland. The air aloft over the southern Great Plains was moist and blowing out of the SW. High clouds covered much of W TX, W OK, and NM during the morning, and surface winds were moist but weak and a bit unorganized. Severe storm forecasters were looking to see where the (Rocky Mountains) "lee surface low" was going to develop, and they were also looking for areas of sunshine. By noon SELS had the Panhandles and W KS under a "Moderate Risk for Severe Storms," and it was becoming clearer as to the best place to chase--Southwest Kansas. Thick high level clouds would clear earlier there than in the TX/OK Panhandles, and the lee low was developing near extreme SE Colorado. I predicted that the best surface moisture convergence (and the best place to be) would likely be around Garden City during the late afternoon.

Bary Nusz, Charlie Sill, Roy Britt, Kinney Adams, Chris Larson and I piled into two cars and left Amarillo at 3 p.m. Although surface winds at AMA were from the SW and SSW, they were rather moist (dew point in the low 60s). We felt that better southeasterly winds would develop as we headed north. The high clouds thinned considerably towards Stratford TX and Guymon OK, and we could see bright blue skies moving in from the west. Though our dew point had dropped to about 50F, we could see developing cumulus clouds in the clear skies to our north, in SW KS. It appeared that the dry line was bulging out (eastward) a little through the OK panhandle.

A developing thunderstorm was still about 75 miles north us at Guymon. We went north to U.S. 56 and Hugoton, KS, and at this time (about 6 p.m.) the storm looked to be an intense supercell, with incredible back- (and side-) sheared anvils. Radio reports indicated that a tornado and very large hail were impacting Garden City, about 50 to our NNE, and the storm was moving east at about 30 mph. Fortunately, U.S. 56 heads ENE, so catching up to the cell would be possible before dark.

On our ham-radio receiver we heard that VORTEX was trying to surround the storm near Highway 23 and Kalvesta. We were becoming quite frustrated as our progress towards the storm seemed very slow. Of course, that is always the case when you are 30 or 40 miles away from a tornado warning. We did have an awesome view of the storm structure, however. At Montezuma, Kansas, I got greedy and made the mistake of heading north to the storm. (Bary, Roy, and Chris went north on Highway 23....we should have taken full advantage of our ENE road and only headed north when the storm was northwest of us.)

While at Ingalls, KS, it appeared that our storm was deteriorating rapidly, causing depression to descend upon us. VORTEX reported new strong updrafts near Kalvesta, however, so we pressed on north to E-W Highway 156. The storm's west edge and its updraft base were finally reached near 8 p.m. west of Jetmore. Rock-hard cumulus towered above us, and a vertical, pencil-shaped tornado quickly came into our view to the ENE, about five miles away. The tornado was brief, but a sinuous funnel cloud lingered for a minute or two near the tightly circulating wall cloud. After a nerve-wracking four-gallon gas purchase in Jetmore, we were quickly back on the storm's rear-end just east of there.

Very impressive cumulus continued to build above us as we watched low-level clouds twirl in all directions. Lightning was very infrequent. Besides all of the VORTEX folks, there were numerous locals and hard-core chasers on the storm, including Dean Cosgrove, Marty Feely, and Roger Edwards (? -- Missouri plates "SELS-5?). Just after sunset a sinuous, classic-shaped twister touched down briefly to our ENE, and a large, low and strong rotating wall cloud began to develop to the east. We and a couple of dozen storm chasers found a high spot west of Hanston, KS, to watch this large developing tornado. Fortunately, it was about 8 to 10 miles to the east and moving away from Hanston. Occasional suction-vortex funnels descended and stirred up a lot of dust, dirt, and debris. Though a fully-wrapped funnel cloud never appeared to reach the surface (before the tornado disappeared into the night), the dust and debris completely wrapped up and around to cloudbase, giving the tornado a large wedge appearance. As the light and contrast deteriorated, it was unclear as to whether the tornado had strengthened significantly or not.

These were the first tornados for Charlie, Chris, and Kinney. We had dinner at Dodge City and a happy and relaxing five hour drive home to Amarillo.

William Reid

CompuServe 73551,2512