4/24/97-4/27/97 "dream" chase by Bill Reid



I had a dream.

I had a 72-hour dream.

I had a dream that the clock alarm went off at 6 a.m. Wednesday, April 24th.  I
got up and loaded my Pathfinder with all of my storm-chase essentials.  I drove
to the other side of the valley to pick up my chase partner, Charles Bustamante,
and we left Los Angeles.  We were on our way to Texas.  We were on our way to
witness supercells!

A major storm system was developing in the West.  The storm had been anticipated
for at least a week, and now it was digging southward into the Great Basin.
Weather forecasters and computer runs painted an ugly picture for the High
Plains of Eastern New Mexico and West Texas....ugly, that is, if you live in
that region and dread severe thunderstorms.  Springtime systems of yore similar
to this one have produced violent and destructive storms in Tornado Alley.  It
was late April.  It was a potent storm.  It was red in West Texas for Thursday
and Friday on The Weather Channel's map.  It was what storm chasers like to see.

In this dream we were pushed eastward by strong winds along Interstate 40 from
Barstow to Needles.  Plumes of dust reached skyward along the mighty and
waterless Mojave River.  News updates during Rush Limbaugh said that wind gusts
were to 85 mph at Mojave Airport.   God was helping us get to the Plains!

We were in Arizona by noon.  "My, the yuccas don't seem to be doing too well
this spring."  Just east of Kingman we came upon a slow-moving vehicle which was
spraying a layer of oil or tar ---- your basic black gook for the road surface
---- onto the highway's right shoulder.  The spray was also spreading through
the air across all of the east-bound lanes of traffic ---- not because it was
supposed to ---- but because very strong southwest winds existed.  I passed this
highway-maintenance vehicle and its dimwitted operator, and, presto-change-o,
instant oil-spotted windshield!  The mega-supercells and wedge tornadoes will
look terrific through that!  Not!  Oh, the joys of the open road!  We stopped at
the next gas station to see if the stuff would easily come off, but it would
not.  Other unlucky eastbound motorists, one with a new vehicle and a useless
bottle of cleaner, were saying naughty words.  Funny, that sort of thing doesn't
usually occur in my chase dreams....

Dry southwest winds howled in northeast Arizona.  Gusts at Winslow AP were close
to 60 mph.  This Arizona dust will go good with the California dust and the
Arizona tar on my car.  I was barely able to open the car door against the wind
at the Winslow convenience store.  In fact, part of the roof of the convenience
store across the street had just blown off.  "I better get my Tootsie Roll quick
before this store becomes airborne, Charlie."

The sky grew dark and foreboding to the north as we neared New Mexico.  "Was it
a storm or just thick dust?"  We turned on the AM radio and heard lightning
static!   Soon a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for the Navajo Indian
Nation just to our north (and read in English AND "Navajonian" on our AM station
out of Window Rock).  Thunderstorm gusts had overturned a mobile home at Dilkon,
and Ganado was in the path of the storm.  Now, I don't know about most people,
but I did not know where Dilkon and Ganado were located.  A check of the map
showed them to be about 30 miles north of the Interstate ---- and our dark sky
was indeed due to a severe thunderstorm!  We stopped near Sanders to set up the
cameras and my new tripod.  This, we hoped, would be good practice for us in
anticipation of the hectic chase days to come.  I joked that if nothing happened
the next few days, at least we'd have this storm for our efforts.  Outflow winds
and light rain soon hit us.  Lightning was sporadic, but pretty, and the sky had
a turbulent and squallish look to it.  Our "end" of the storm was pretty weak.
At Gallup and Grants light rain fell, northerly winds blew, and temperatures
remained barely above 40F.  My tootsie nearly froze while gassing up in Grants.
"Charles, we're not in Van Nuys anymore."

In a Super 8 Motel lobby in Albuquerque a clerk inquired as to what kind of a
room we were interested in.  I said that a square one would be satisfactory.
This female clerk was only marginally amused by the response, but Charlie seemed
to like it.  She was quite attractive, by the way, but that is not surprising
given dream conditions.  We watched a couple of strong squall lines (on The
Weather Channel local radar) plow eastward through the vicinity of Clines
Corners and Santa Rosa.  We had seen lightning from these storms to the east as
we approached Albuquerque.  The radar loop also showed a nice isolated supercell
which nearly traversed the entire state of New Mexico this day.  It went up near
Gallup, and was now north of Roswell.  Wild!  That would have been a heckuva
chase!  I've gotta look into re-programming these dreams.

The Weather Channel and weather data acquired via my laptop and modem indicated
that Thursday's best potential chase area had shifted south, compared to the
early morning forecasts.  Big, bad severe storms were still considered likely.
I figured that we would likely want to be near Hobbs by the following afternoon,
and I set my watch alarm for 6:30 a.m.  

I woke up at 8 a.m. and told Charles that we were late and that we must get a
move on.  It was actually already 9 a.m. CDT, and it was about a six-hour drive
to the southeast corner of New Mexico.  Frightening headlines flashed through my
mind:

"BILL REID MISSES BEST SUPERCELL EVER BECAUSE HE WAS LATE!"
"REID OVERSLEEPS, SHOOTS PHOTOS OF TORNADIC SUPERCELL ANVIL FROM 60 MILES AWAY"
"CLINTON RE-ELECTED"

Weather from Albuquerque to Roswell was overcast and cool, in the 40s most of
the way.  A light dusting of snow covered the ground south of Clines Corners.
We figured that the area from Hobbs to Midland still looked best, as the surface
low and the triple-point were down there.  From Roswell I phoned Jason Laney at
Ch. 7 in Amarillo.  He said that it looked like the area around Lamesa, Texas,
was about ready to fire.  Some sunshine was getting through in Roswell now, it
was quite a bit warmer, and the clouds had a good convective look to them.  It
was about 1 p.m. MDT.  We soaked a cloth with a little gasoline and wiped the
windshield ---- it worked!  Those annoying oil specks were gone!  Time to head
east.

Just east of Roswell we noticed a decent thunderstorm just south of town.  I
liked the way it looked ---- it had good easterly inflow at the surface and a
nice separation of the rain-free base and the precipitation area
---- but I didn't seriously consider stopping to watch it.  It wasn't in the
best place.  I had to stick to my guns.  I was still nervous that the show in
Texas might start without me.

About an hour later, near Tatum, New Mexico, we saw another decent developing
thunderstorm southwest of town.  Should we watch this one?  It was in the cool
sector, and there was a lot of low cloud crud around.  I didn't like that.
Let's keep going east ---- it looks brighter that way.  Soon after entering
Texas at Bronco, we learned of the tornado watch from about Midland to Abilene,
and a tornado warning near Welch, between Brownfield and Lamesa.  That's the
storm we want!

As we neared Brownfield we could see the "warned" storm.  Ugh.  It did not look
strong anymore.  There were a lot of medium-sized towers with hard tops, and
these quickly changed into medium-sized towers with soft tops.  Nothing looked
supercellular.  There was a lot more sunshine evident to our south now, and I
wanted to get into the warm sector.  At Lamesa I phoned Bary Nusz, whom I
thought I had seen going the other direction a bit earlier.  It was he!  Bary
was on his way to Plains, as he had learned that a storm near there was rotating
and had dropped golf-ball-sized hail on Tatum.  That must be the one we
abandoned.  It was in the cool surface air, though, and I still didn't want to
chase in that slop.  At the Lamesa Dairy Queen we met Matt Moreland, a chaser
from Norman, and we heard about the new Tornado Watch from Fort Stockton to San
Angelo.  That lifted our spirits!  Time to go south!

The temperature rose quickly south of Lamesa, from about 65F to 80F.  Charlie
stuck the digital hygrometer into the wind, and, to our dismay, relative
humidity was about 30%.  That meant that dew points were in the mid-40s ---- a
good reason for the pathetic-looking convection in the area.  Between Patricia
and Andrews, in eastern Andrews County, a new cell blackened the sky.  Several
other chase vehicles scooted around, lightning increased, and the base had a bit
of a green tinge.  It was about 6 o'clock magic time, we were in position and
pretty psyched ---- but the storm pooped out big time.  Cold outflow winds
surged southward, and the storm soon looked like a California thunderstorm.
This chase now had "bust" written all over it.

There were no storms on the horizon from east to southwest, where that second
tornado watch was.  We drifted south to Odessa with a line of activity following
us.  After sunset we set up the cameras for some lightning photos ---- that was
the kiss of death!  Occasional lightning activity decreased to zero lightning
activity upon opening the shutter!  We slept for 10 hours in Odessa.

Charlie and I were not going to chase farther south and east on Friday.  If a
tornado was to form near Del Rio, it would do so while we were on our way home.
We stopped towards sunset in extreme southeast Arizona (along Interstate 10) for
some pretty cloud and landscape photography.  At 4 a.m., near San Bernardino and
only an hour from home, we heard radio reports of an aftershock to the
Northridge earthquake.  It was a magnitude 5.0!  Maybe now we were chasing
earthquake weather!  This dream is getting wierd!  Since we both live less than
10 miles from the epicenter of the large 1994 Northridge earthquake, we were
quite concerned.  As it turned out, the only thing rattled were windows and
nerves.  Man, what does it take to dream up a decent disaster?

*******

Well, I am awake now.  That was quite a dream.  It's hard to imagine a 2400 mile
trip in just three days.  It's hard to imagine going so far with the intent of
chasing supercells and tornadoes, and actually seeing just a bunch of garbage
storms.  I would never subject myself to the frustration.  I would never spend
all that time and money for wild goose chases like that.  I'm sure glad it
didn't really happen.


William Reid
Woodland Hills, California
CompuServe 73551,2512

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