MAY 14: Friday-Travel Day:
I left Bernville around 14:00 EDT, which was two hours later than I had wanted. I was targeting north central Kansas / south central Nebraska as the place to be by late Saturday, a long drive, so every hour counted. My first stop would be in St. Clairsville, Ohio for food & fuel, and the first 295 miles (4 1/2 hours) would be behind me, but I could not rest long. I needed to at least make it to Terra Haute, Indiana by midnight. I made it by 0100 EDT (midnight central) and logged in 674 miles!
MAY 15: Saturday - Kansas Convection:
The morning data still looked good for my target area, which was now under the Storm Prediction Center’s (SPC) moderate risk for severe storms. There was a warm front draped along the KS/NE border with a dryline attached to a low pressure system in northwestern KS. This dryline was progged to move through western KS. later in the day which would cause good moisture convergence to pool in north central KS. and the dryline would act as a focusing mechanism for storm initiation. Winds were also steadily veering and increasing speeds with height, good for creating the spin needed for supercell thunderstorms. Everything looked great except for two things. Would the atmosphere recover in time from the previous nights MCS (Mesoscale Convective System) AND...could I get there in time! I packed up the laptop and gear, checked out, and got rolling...the time was 0905 CDT. I found the leftover clouds, showers with imbedded thunder about noon when I entered the St. Louis Area. This activity stretched all the way across the state of MO to the Kansas City area. The sky cleared out to a high thin cirrus shield as I pulled into a Flying J truck stop for some much needed data in Kansas City at 1500 CDT. The temperature was 75 and the dew point was 58...marginal for storms there, but I needed to know what was going on 200 to 300 miles further west. I had no luck connecting at the Flying J...I was all thumbs and can’t remember how to defeat the phone system (I’ve done this dozens of times) and I can't get connected to the Internet. Frustrated at having wasted a precious 15 minutes, I head ed back out onto to the interstate, then I REMEMBERED how I should have connected! I vow this will not happen again on this trip (and it didn’t). I knew I must keep moving west! At 1730 CDT just west of Topeka I set up my DSS (satellite dish) and found the eastern half of Kansas was stuck in overcast conditions, but clear skies prevailed in the western half. Again I went west.
At 1830 CDT I pulled over to connect the laptop to the cell phone (I could not find any truck stops). After several failed (and expensive) attempts to stay connected, I finally got a quick look at the latest 1 KM VIS satellite image over western KS. There was a line of hard towers forming northwest of Hays. That was over four hours away, and impossible to make before dark. I tried not to calculate what would've happened if I'd had left home as originally planned. I decided to keep pushing west on I-70 until I see something or it is dark. Some weak convective towers become visible as I approached Salina around 2000 CDT. I decided to then head north on Rt. 81 towards Concordia in hopes of intercepting a flanking line of storms that may have been moving northeastward. I got a room in Concordia just as darkness falls, and lightning activity increases to my northwest. TWC (The Weather Channel) radar shows intense storms have formed to my northwest (Hey, didn’t I go through this last year?).
I abandoned the idea of going after these storms and shooting some nighttime lightning photography, there will be other times. I decide instead to hook up my laptop and find out what the chasers in western Kansas had to say. “ A stovepipe tornado on the ground” in Stockton, KS was reported by Howie Bluestein, but missed by most of the chasers in that area. Hmmm, well this was only supposed to be a travel day anyway. 641 miles logged today.
MAY 16: Sunday- "The Seiling, Oklahoma"Chase Day:
I headed south towards my initial target somewhere from south central KS southwestward along the Oklahoma/Texas Panhandle border. The triple point would be in KS with the dryline parked along the OK/TX border. Better upper level winds were in KS, but the best surface conditions were further south ahead of the dryline with backed surface winds and moisture convergence. LI’s were running -6 to -8 and capes as high as 5000 j/kg ahead of the dryline. Weak upper level winds indicated HP (high precipitation) supercells would be the likely order of the day. Approaching Great Bend KS around noon the temp was already 84 with a dew point of 67! At this rate there should be no problem with surface temperatures being heated enough to allow any convection to break the cap. The only negative thus far was the fact surface winds had not as yet become backed and there was a high thin cirrus shield overhead limiting insolation.
Approaching Pratt, KS at 1330 CDT temps were up to 89, but the dew point dropped to 57 and winds were ssw...whoa, was I getting behind the dryline? I needed to get data by the time I got to Medicine Lodge and then make a decision to continue south or go east. Just south of Medicine Lodge the temp was up to 94 and the dew point was hanging in the high 50’s. Satellite imagery showed clear skies to my south at 1500 CDT. I figured my best chance would be to keep heading south to the clear skies (best insolation) but stay as far west as possible ahead of the dryline, e.g., monitor backed winds to minimum of SSE. At 1645 CDT I stopped at the intersection of routes 281 & 412 to monitor the winds (they were directly out of the south) and the dew point, which had climbed back into the low 60’s. Some small cumulus were beginning to develop to my south. While parked, Gilbert Sebenste (owner of the Storm Chaser Homepage) and Steve Sheldon pulled up to say “hi” and share some data. A 700 mb cold pool of air was about to move into the region just to our south, CAPES were now up to 7000 j/kg (yikes) and the VORTEX 99 armada was located just 10 miles to our south on route281. Great, I was in good company!, and a tornado watch was just being issued from Woodward, OK (a few miles to my west) on southward. I pulled over again at 1745 CDT for another good look at the sky and small towers were beginning to form to my south. I waited for some fast moving cars before pulling back out onto route 183 south, when I did I realized that I was now in back of three fully outfitted VORTEX probe cars. A look in the rear view mirror revealed the fast approaching NSSL command van. Well, it looked like I was just recruited as part of VORTEX 99. Oh well, no way to pass, so I’ll just “tag along” for awhile.
The probe vehicles soon pulled over to investigate a rapidly building LP’ish looking cell and I moved further down the road to my own viewing location. I watched this and several other storms develop over the next two hours along with other chasers including Eric Nguyen, Shawn Camp, & Ivan Watson, the news media, and even a news helicopter out of OKC, all waiting for the big show. The storms had there own ideas and waited until after sunset to go severe.
Around 2045 CDT I figured it was time to go back north a ways and get closer to the storms. I needed to make a decision at the T intersection of route 60/281 to go west or east. A storm spotter report came over my scanner that tennis ball size hail was coming down just to my northwest. I headed east. I then turned north on 281 looking for a good spot to set up the cameras when I noticed a group of three vehicles and chasers already filming the light show. I knew Bill Reid (from California) and his group of chaser friends had to be on these storms, and here they were! We had decided to hook up and chase together this season, but to set up a pre planned meeting would be virtually impossible. Forecast and follow the storms and you will also find other chasers. I knew we would find each other, but I didn’t think it would be on my first full day of chasing! We all filmed lightning of the approaching (and strengthening) storm until it approached us with outflow winds exceeding 40 mph. Everyone jumped in their cars, cameras with tripods extended and got the heck out of there fast. As soon as I pulled out on the road the car was rocked sideways by a recorded 78 MPH wind gust! I remember seeing fully loaded trash bags flying through the air and never touching the ground. We soon pulled under the relative safety of a gas station canopy and awaited the large hail. We were lucky. We all drove to Clinton, OK. for the night arriving around midnight (we just had to stop one more time to film lightning). Miles logged today at 414.
MAY 17: Monday - Somewhat of a Bust Day near SJT:
We left Clinton around 1000 CDT and headed south for brighter skies and warmer temps. Winds were northerly and there was a solid overcast all the way to Texas. There was a frontal boundary kicking up strong storms in a linear fashion well to our south, not exactly the type of storms chasers go after, but it was all we had today. We finally broke into sunny skies and could see the tops of some of the larger storm towers, but it was a futile hope that we could get ahead of the dreaded northerly flow and in front of these storms. We gave up the chase in Breckenridge, TX. after we downloaded the latest wx-data at the local library. We had to convince the Librarian that we could connect my laptop to their phone lines and not foul up anything...she was elderly and “didn’t know anything about these things, etc.”, but hey, we were desperate! We told her “not to worry”, we would be very careful, but somehow I think she still worried.
While heading west on I-20 towards Abilene, we started to see some incredible towers go up along the tail end of the frontal boundary we had been chasing earlier, which had now stretched to our southwest towards the San Angelo (SJT) area. These multicellular storms were developing tall towers, pileus clouds, inverted cumulus under the anvils, and several brief appearances of overshooting tops, it was more than any chaser could ignore and you could see all the heads in our four vehicle caravan turning to see this activity. It wasn’t long before we were off the interstate for a closer look, so much for heading straight to Abilene for a relaxing evening.
After getting rooms in Abilene and checking TWC’s latest radar image of the area, Bill, Cheryl Chang, Keith Brown and I decided to get as close as we could to these storms and at least get some evening lightning photography. We got within 40 miles of these colorful storm towers right before sunset and managed to get some decent slides and video of these pretty storms, but no lightning. We arrived back in Abilene at 2230 CDT and had supper at the “Skillet” with the rest of our group. We were joined there by several other chasers including Steve Sponsler, Nick Nicholson, and John Moore. That group saw two tornadoes in the last three days...what luck! Well there’s always tomorrow, or make that today...it was after midnight again! 416 Miles today.
MAY 18: Tuesday - Big Bustola:
There was a slim chance of isolated convection forming over the Guadalupe and Davis Mountains of West Texas, possibly even a supercell. We drove all the way to Van Horn and saw nothing. Miles driven: 339.
MAY 19: Wednesday -"The Pretty Cell" Chase Day:
Target today was Hobbs, NM and northward along the NM / Texas Panhandle border. An upslope flow would now bring a moisture return into this region. There was also a narrow but strong, deep upper tropospheric jet approaching from Baja, Mexico through TUS and taking aim on eastern NM / W TX by evening. This could all result in a narrow zone of relatively strong upward ascent as it approaches the dryline later in the afternoon or evening. We reached Lovington, NM by 1400 CDT and found the air to be drying out with dew points only in the mid 40’s in spite of a strong southeasterly flow. The good news, we were now at ground zero for the SPC’s newly issued slight risk of severe outlook area!
Around 1600 CDT we decided to pursue a rather large and dark anvil that had just developed to our west. We were able to observe the storm’s base as we approached Roswell. We traveled north through Roswell and we were able to get nice view of a dark smooth spoon shaped updraft base. This was a high based storm with no visible precipitation (LP). Surface moisture was still very low. We followed this developing storm ENE-ward via US 70 from Roswell into Roosevelt County until after sunset. We stopped and filmed the spectacular structure of this storm many times as it put on a good show. There was very little lightning, but the structure was very good. The dark smooth base exhibited laminar banding with several visible hail shafts below, even a hail bow from time to time. The boiling cumuliform towers mushroomed up to a large back sheared anvil which displayed a curious rippling effect on it’s underside.
The best was to come at sunset as the cloud colors ranged from white to pink to purple all set against a cobalt blue sky in the fading light. We stayed in Portales, NM for the night and as usual immediately turned on TWC. There it was on radar, in fact our pretty storm was the only storm on radar in all of eastern NM and the TX panhandle region. Ahh, always good to know you were on the dominant storm and in this case the only storm of the day!
MAY 20: Thursday-"The Lake McClellen Tornado" Chase Day:
The set up for today was a slight risk of severe in the eastern TX Panhandle stretching into parts of Western OK. By afternoon a triple point would be located over AMA (Amarillo) with good moisture convergence to the east. Also an upper level speed and vorticity max would be moving into this same area. At 1230 CDT upon entering the town of Friona I got a dew point reading of 32..definitely still behind the dryline. A few miles further east at Randall the dew point increased to 39 and a few small puffy cumulus appear on the horizon to my northeast. By the time we arrive in AMA at 1315 CDT the dew point had risen to 57! A data stop at 1400 CDT revealed a cold front moving into the Dalhart area back to our northwest which was kicking off some hailstorms and the dryline was just west of AMA. A good rule in stormchasing is to stay 20 to 40 miles ahead of the advancing drying, so we blasted east on I-40. Our target area still looked good. We exited north on Hwy 294 towards a line of agitated convection and followed this into the town of White Deer. We watched the developing towers from a CONOCO station in town as Warren Faidley drove by and honked the horn. After about 15 minutes we have seen enough to know it is time to get out of town to a better vantage point.
A few miles north of White deer we turned onto gravel road CC 23 to watch the now dark base of our storm beginning to get better organized. Some raindrops and occasional pea to marble hailstone began to fall as a long thin beavers tail began stretching eastward into a second storm to our east. The first thunder was heard and there were no competing storms to our south..good! We headed further east on Hwy 152 to west of Pampa and got into the core of some heavy rain and hail in an attempt to get ahead of the storm. We held up for awhile and I videoed some of the 3/4” hail that had fallen. We were forced to retreat back west then south in order to get below, and eventually ahead of that hailmaker. We succeeded SSW of Pampa and needed to zigzag south and east to stay ahead of this now southeastward moving storm. Along the way we were treated with a good display of CG’s, fast moving scud clouds, impressive dust plumes kicked up by 58 MPH + winds, and even a nice gustnado in the outflow boundary. There were also many suspicious cloud lowerings to keep an eye on.
We stopped just north of I-40 along route 70 as a funnel cloud quickly formed to our east. Keith shouted, “Hey, is that thing rotating”? Soon, Bill, Cheryl, and I agreed and quickly set up all our still and video cameras on their tripods. We ran across the road and up a hill for a better viewpoint and were soon joined by other chasers that had also stopped. The cameras were clicking away like crazy as a white funnel cloud descended from a black base cut by a clear slot in the foreground. This was all located above a bright green wheat field which could not have offered a better setting.
The only negative was we could not completely see to the ground to confirm a debris cloud, but this was later confirmed by other chasers. The V-shaped tornado was about three miles to our east above the Lake McClellan National Grasslands, but it all too quickly roped out into a horizontal serpentine form, with only the large suspended head still pointing in our direction. About that time Bill shouted “LOOK OUT TO OUR NORTH” as a large and menacing whirlpool like circulation was rapidly approaching our position. I foolishly had to get a few seconds of video before running to the truck across the road with the tripod fully extended.
We then shot south to I-40 and then eastward on a frontage road about 4 miles to where Rt. 70 cuts south again. At that point we turned our vehicles around to face the circulation we had just escaped and witnessed our second tornado quickly extending to the ground and approaching the interstate. This tornado was backlit by the setting sun and appeared black. I captured this on video but failed to take any slides...I have no idea why! We needed to continue our cat and mouse game and stay south and east and preceded south on 70 to Clarendon, then southeast to Hedley. There were so many other chasers doing the same (more than I had ever seen) that it was something that could only be described as a “rolling chaser convergence”.
At 1915 CDT we turned north at Hedley and soon stopped to better access this storm and take some photo opportunities. The banded striations were spectacular with a heavy rain / hail shaft apparent below the circular lowering. As we were taking our time filming this beast to our north a new lowering suddenly developed practically overhead. We needed to get moving fast in an attempt to get ahead of this new development. We now know we should have gone southeast on 287. An error in judgment (easy to do) put us east toward Quail on Rt. 203 and directly into an involuntary core punch just east and north of a rapidly lowering wall cloud. Here is where I got my largest hail dents of the day, as well as a broken windshield (so did every one else). Hailstones as big as Hens Eggs fell and the sound was deafening against the thin metal of the vehicle. I later learned others faired even worse with softball stones up to 4” in diameter causing up to 6” craters in windshields as well as metal. We finally broke out of the hail at Wellington and found our storm again. Now it was a large circular HP mothership with very nice banding. We stayed ahead of the storm into Childress County and managed to shoot some lightning just after dark. We ended up in Childress for the night and finally got to eat supper around 2300 CDT at the “Kettle” in Childress. Tim Marshall had just left, but we shared stories with chasers John Moore, Steve Sponsler, Nick Nicholson, and others. Again we were on the supercell of the day, and a great chase day it was, all with less than 300 miles logged!
MAY 21: Friday -"Muleshoe, Texas" Chase Day:
We targeted the west central TX. panhandle as the place to be today for the likelihood of supercell development late in the day, with the main threat being large hail and high winds. A stationary frontal boundary was located across the northern panhandle with a good southeasterly flow and moisture to its south. Upper level winds were not favorable for tornadoes. By 1630 CDT the latest data showed conditions would be best south and west of Dimmitt, which was now in a “slight risk” outlook area as issued by the SPC. Bill, Keith, Cheryl, and I parked along a dirt road just south of Clovis, NM at 1730 CDT and watched the sky for about an hour. There was not much happening, Keith replaced his hail damaged headlight, Cheryl practiced with her newly purchased tripod, while Bill and I took some slides of the small cumulus towers beginning to grow above fields of green. Around 1800 CDT (also known as “magic time”), the towers rapidly shot upward. We followed this convection south and east on Rt. 70, then south on Rd 214. We were soon overtaken by 5 carloads of chasers including Steve Sponsler and Matt Crowther (TWC). Where did they come from!? We had not seen another chaser all day!
Just below the town of Needmore, TX. the main storm we were after split into a left and right mover. As we approached the entrance to Muleshoe N.W.P. we stopped to view these storms. I could not believe how fast they were falling apart! The right mover that we were now under already had a detached anvil that was blowing eastward in a big hurry, our storm was history. We chatted with Phil Barone and Chuck McClellan from La. briefly, then headed a few miles further south to an abandoned farmstead. We lingered there shooting cloudscapes at sunset, and watched a line of storms that was approaching from our southwest. Hmmm, maybe we would get some nighttime lightning photography after all.
We drove about 10 miles to our southwest and set up our cameras on a ridge and were treated to a semi-decent lightning display for the next hour, until the outflow winds caught up to us and we were “outta there” fast. On the way to Portales for the night (again) we had to drive through this line of heavy storms with it’s accompanying strong winds, hail, and blinding rain. We must have driven through the heaviest core of rain because the intense CG’s were very close. Several times the bright blue bolts appeared to hit Bill’s truck just a few yards in front of me (they didn’t), and fortunately these were recorded on my dashmounted video camera. We pulled into Portales just after Midnight in a cold and moderate rain with no reservations (as per usual), nor had we eaten (the usual)...ah, such are the sacrifices of a chaser to see nature’s fury. But wait, we were in luck, it was actually an hour earlier (Mountain Time), we got a room and the local Burger King was still open. Great, now we could fire up the laptop, get some data, and get to bed with some idea where we might be headed tomorrow...I mean later today (after we sleep).
MAY 22: Saturday-"The Kansas Laminar Base" Chase Day:
Bill and I looked at the data around 1000 CDT and it immediately became apparent that we should have already been on the road. We needed to get into NW KS / SE CO, a long drive from Portales NM. By the time we reached Amarillo around 1400 CDT we could see a long line of convective activity well to our north. This line indicated the location of a frontal boundary that was draped across the northern panhandle, but the best moisture convergence and upper level support was much farther north. We drove through this line and soon found our first storm in Stanton County located in SW KS, this was a high based storm with a well developed rain core. Even though this storm soon had a severe warning, we passed it up for what we thought would be even better storms 60 to 100 miles to our north. We were not impressed with the southerly wind flow or the low 50 degree dew points associated with this storm.
We found our next storm as we approached the town of Tribune in Greeley County, Ks. What a beauty, it had a beautiful greenish laminar banded base that was actually connecting two storms, one to our northwest and one to our north. After stopping to film this beauty we continued north on KS Hwy 27 and soon had some “motorcycle goons” following us, I guess they wanted to see the storms. That’s OK, "come on guys, we will show you where to get some new hail dents...for your head"! We never could catch the really severe stuff moving into northwest KS from Kit Carson County in Colorado.
We spent the night in Goodland and Bill Reid left for Denver and then on home to LA, he was planning another trip in June (lucky guy). Of course the usual assortment of chasers stayed in our hotel (chasers seem to love Super 8’s). We met Steve Levin and his group (Tornado Safari Chase Tours), and I chatted with Matt Crowther (The Weather Channel), he saw a brief FO tornado spin up in a storm north of Goodland. Total miles 494.
MAY 23: Sunday - Total Bust:
Keith, Cheryl, and I targeted the extreme eastern NM region near ... Portales again! This area was once again in a slight risk with the best chance for storms forming over the mountains of NM and propagating eastward. This would also be the set up for tomorrow. We never made it further south than AMA. Winds were weak, moisture was low, and a high thin cirrus shield was preventing good insolation. TWC radar later indicated that only one weak storm formed well to our south near Hobbs, NM and was imbedded in the cirrus overcast.
MAY 24: Monday-"The Lost Keys" Chase Day:
We started out with several delays. Keith Brown was battling a three day old stomach ailment and had to bail out and head for home. We also needed to get our laundry done and Cheryl needed some HI-8 video tapes and a new CB radio. We struck a bargain, she would do the laundry and I would hook up the CB in her car, HEY, it works for me! I picked a target near Hobbs, NM which was progged to have the best wind shear and instability combination. We finally left Amarillo around 1330 CDT (too late for me) and blasted southeast towards the Clovis / Portales area (yes, again), and then south on Hwy 206 towards Lovington, NM.
Around 1500 MDT, SPC issued a TOR watch box centered on a line from near Truth or Consequences east to “Hobbs” and extending 55 miles either side of this line...we had just crossed into this box, so far so good. Some towers were starting to go up and shear over, but then low and mid level clouds began obscuring our view-dang! I had to depend heavily on the information coming in over NOAA wx-radio and TV radar (I now had the TV mounted for easy viewing on the passenger compartment floor)A TOR was issued with a cell south of Alamogordo, NM...too far and no roads, and a SEV was issued for a cell in Torrance County and was bearing down on the town of Vaughn...that one could possibly be intercepted. A decision would need to made at Artesia.
At 1835 MDT strong storms were being reported about to enter Chaves County to our north...the decision was made! We raced north on Hwy 285 toward Roswell and stopped briefly to film a pretty TCu that was going up back to our east, but didn’t appear to hold much promise. The skies grew dark to our northwest, but we could not make out any cloud structure and I was getting frustrated, this is what I could see any time in Pennsylvania. But I wasn’t in Pennsylvania. Soon I was able to detect CG’s off to our NW and I could make out a faint orange glow between what I believed were two strong cells that were quickly gaining in strength. We could see virga dropping into this area and Cheryl spotted a fast downward push of virga...wet microburst?
I went a few more miles and it became apparent we would not beat this advancing line of storms to our target farther north, so I decided to meet this beast head on at the first road cutting straight west. We soon found our road and drove west about 4 miles looking for a high spot to set up our cameras as the scene became increasingly ominous. I soon approached what appeared to be a good vantage point and found the Ball State University Chase Group from Indiana (Professor Dave Arnold and his students) who were already “oohing and aahing” at the impressive banded shelf cloud that arced from horizon to horizon. Behind, a green / blue rain & hail curtain that was imbedded with beautiful blue CG's. I could not believe how fast this thing was approaching our position. We got some fast video and slides before we had to run. Ball State was out of there already as I got the absolute last minute video I dared take. We were now beginning to be blasted by 50 MPH dusty outflow winds and some small hail. I jumped in the truck and yelled in the CB to Cheryl “lets get the h--- out of here fast” and got the sickening reply “Brian..I CAN’T FIND MY KEYS!” Now what? I shouted for her to leave her car and jump in with me and lets go, 2” diameter hail and 90 MPH winds had been reported with this storm. I looked in my rear view mirror and spotted the keys being blasted in the middle of the road. I jumped out, made a hasty retrieval and we shot east. We had to stop about a mile down the road and capture the incredible scene that was unfolding overhead. The beautiful shelf cloud was now ragged and torn underneath and ranged in color from golden yellow to dark blues and greens, complete with a racing dust plume at ground level, just awesome! We got back to Hwy 285 and headed north to Roswell, but there was now no way that we could outrun this squall line. We were quickly overtaken by a 70 MPH gust front, blinding rain, small hail (fortunately), and intense CG activity. I told Cheryl to get off the CB and not to touch anything.
She must have listened, because she never heard me tell her to turn left a few miles later in order to shoot some CG’s and anvil crawlers into the setting sun. She made it to Roswell, thank goodness for cell phones. No tornadoes, but still an incredible sight we will never forget. 393 chase miles logged.
MAY 25: Tuesday -"Two Storms" Chase Day:
Will the fun never end? We headed east out of Roswell, NM this morning for our target centered either side of a line drawn through Lamesa, Brownfield, and north to Plainview, TX. The nose of a 250 Mb 60 knot jet was just approaching Friona and was progged to advance into our target region by mid-afternoon with it’s left front exit region stretching from AMA southeast to Plainview, giving this area this best vertical lift. The dryline would probably move no further than the TX. Panhandle / NM. border. Mid and low level winds were weak, but some strengthening was expected. By the time we neared Brownfield there was already a line of TCu to our north. We decided to head straight east to what appeared to be the most southerly cell, but by the time we got to Tahoka, a better looking storm was forming to our northeast. We headed north on FM 400 to Slaton and could no longer make out any upper cloud structure, there were numerous low clouds obstructing our view (Hmmm, didn’t this happen yesterday also?). I needed data fast!
We checked out TWC radar around 1540 CDT and found that there were two strong storms in the Texas Panhandle. One was located to our northwest near Lazbuddie crawling east, the other was about 20 miles directly to our east, suddenly this huge building tower became visible. The plan was to go after this closer storm to our east via Rt. 82 and if nothing interesting was happening, head back north in an attempt to intercept the storm to our northwest. There should be plenty of time, weak mid-level winds were barely pushing these storms along. I starting hearing about wall clouds and brief tornado touchdowns on the northern storm and started having doubts if I made the right decision. However, the storm to our east was still in the formative stage and was showing signs of intensification.
I was just about to cut south in front of our target storm near Crosbyton to get in front and then on its southern flank when a TOR was issued for the Plainview area...I made a quick decision to bail out on “our” storm and head north on Rt. 651 toward Floydada and approach this “tornadic” storm from the southeast. After all, it did have a history of being severe with confirmed sightings of rotating wall clouds and even brief tornado touchdowns. I was about half way to Floydada when a new alert blared over the NOAA wx-radio...yep, you guessed it, a tornado warning was now being issued for our original storm down by Crosbyton...now what!? I kept going for the southeast approach to the incoming storm. Just west of Floydada, we had a clear but distant view of the southwest area of this approaching storm and could see a nice lowered area with inflow fingers on the bottom of the meso. We filmed for awhile, but could not see any rotation and soon had to head south and east to keep ahead of the advancing line of heavy rain and hail that now stretched out to our north. We stopped a couple more times on our reverse trip down Rt. 651 to observe and take slides and video. We ran into Scott Fitzgerald, Bobby Prentice, and Dave Hoadley along the way, but it was now apparent that this storm had become outflow dominant.
We then turned our attention back to our old southerly storm which was now giving some great views of its upper structure. We would no longer be able to get into a good position on this storm with the available amount of daylight. We decided to let the rain & hail core from the approaching storm overtake us as we pulled along side the road and waited for the worst, but the hail stayed under marble size. We then headed west toward LBB (Lubbock), anticipating some great sunlit views of these storms looking back east. We were not disappointed, as we spent the last hour filming some truly awesome and colorful cloud structure. Again, no tornadoes, but another great chase day ends, this time in the LBB Super 8, along with seemingly every other know chaser in the Western Hemisphere. At 0230 CDT a violent storm with baseball hail moved into the area and every chaser is in the parking lot smiling at the sky! Total mileage today is 399.
MAY 26: Wednesday-"The Kermit Bell" Chase Day:
We left LBB around 1130 CDT and headed south and west towards a target centered around MAF (Midland-Odessa, TX). A tightly packed Cu field was soon followed by a low stratus deck as we neared the Big Springs area and showers were developing to our east, it was time to head west. We stopped at a truck stop along I-20 in Midland to gather some data and found Tom Warner from South Dakota peering at his laptop, soon thereafter Martin Lisius (Prairie Productions & TESSA President) joined the group...a good sign!
Satellite imagery showed a Cu field building along a Fort Stockton, Monahans, Kermit line with a possible TCu line forming 50 miles further west. We headed towards Kermit, Tx while monitoring TV radar (when I could get it) and NOAA wx-radio reports. Two storms of note were located near Artesia, NM and the Carlsbad area, and that one was going severe. An intercept was planned via Rt. 128 west through Jal and I started to get calls on my cell phone from Dave Fogel who was about 20 miles ahead of us. He could see two cells and was headed right between them, “lowerings were now visible”. A quick gas stop was needed in Jal. Cheryl and I pulled up to the only available pumps and soon the gas station lot was flooded with chasers including Jim Leonard and Cloud Nine Tours. There was also a group from England (BBC) that was filming the whole scene, I got an impromptu interview as soon as I jumped out of the car.
We shot west on Rt. 128 and eventually ended up with Dave in a clear slot between the two storms. As we turned our vehicles eastward to plan our next move we were greeted by a huge supercell with an overshooting top about 60 miles back to our east, where the h--- did that come from! We chased east thinking we could possibly get near the base of this A-bomb, and at the same time try to get ahead of the two storms on either side of us. The storm to our north was now all outflow, but the one to our south needed to be watched as it had no competition to its south. By the time we got back to Jal we knew we could never catch the beast to our east which was now becoming multicellular anyway, but still beautiful to photograph.
We met up with Tim Samaras (from Colorado) in Kermit and we all agreed we needed to target “that southern storm”, which was now just to our west. I headed west on Rt. 302 directly into the lowered base as it was developing several suspicious lowerings and the base was becoming striated. I stopped to film about 1/2 mile from the base as it was crossing Rt. 302. At this point it had obvious LP characteristics and a nice vault had developed on the northern side of this classic bell shaped meso. The show was brief as rain quickly occluded our view of this cylinder shaped base. Also, a rain and hail shaft had now cut off our eastward path back to Kermit. We waited for the storm to drift further southeast then headed back to Kermit. We never got another look at the base, but we were treated with a fantastic mammatus display that ranged in color from yellow and pink to deep gray and purple, while further east intense CG’s and pretty anvil crawlers were competing for our attention...fantastic!
Later that night, Jay Antle (Kansas) was kind enough to show us his video taken from a road southeast of this storm after the point when we could no longer see the base. There was a definite V-shaped lowering extending to (or very near) the ground from the barrel shaped base, it sure looked like a tornado. I can see the beginnings of this in my own video. All in all, this seemed to be the “Storm of the Day”. Total chase mileage: 446.
MAY 27: Thursday - Bust today as far as Severe - Hobbs, NM:
We started the day in Midland with plans to head toward Peocos with the hopes of catching some late afternoon convection that would drift east after forming over the mountains of West Texas and NM. Overhead we had some leftover convection from last night. We gassed up at the local convenience mall and were joined there by Jim Leonard and Charles Edwards who are leading Cloud Nine Tours as well as several other chasers including R.J. Evans. No one was very impressed with today’s outlook. The best we can hope for is some pretty, late day convection, but nothing severe. We abandoned a line of messy storms that have formed in a line south of Monahans, and later find two impressive towers that develop back to our northwest. We foolishly went after these pulse type storms (there was nothing else to chase) and finally caught them as they fall apart. We decided to head to Hobbs, NM for the night. Just a few miles south of Hobbs along Rt. 18 we stopped to film a very pretty pulse type storm that puts on a colorful show until sunset including a V-shaped lowering. 277 miles driven.
MAY 28: Friday - Bust Again:
The set up today is similar to yesterday, weak winds at all levels, low moisture levels, and no synoptic scale lifting mechanisms. Even worse, the storms that did form over the mountains of NM were putting out large anvil shields that were severely retarding insolation. In desperation we decided to head for a reported severe storm off to our west towards the town of Corona, but it is nothing more than a large featureless storm with stratiform rains and some high winds. We spend the night in Tucamcari, NM after putting on 423 rather uneventful miles.
MAY 29: Saturday - Travel Day:
I reserved this day as a chase day only in the event that a major severe weather outbreak would be likely (it was not). I had already said my good-byes to my chaser friends. I left Tucumcari and started the long trip eastward, but feeling fulfilled at my most successful trip to date. Traveling through Oklahoma I had the pleasure to chat with another chaser (Jeff Crum) from Arkansas, we traded stories for about an hour over the CB. Around 1600 CDT in the OKC (Oklahoma City) area I notice some fast growing TCu (towering cumulus). I kept a watchful eye on one storm to my south that had developed a dark base with a persistent V-shaped lowering. I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to get off the turnpike and check this out...I was still in chase mode. I took some slides and video, knowing it would be my last of the season. Soon after I wondered why they were tearing down what appeared to be, only until recently, a large modern mall just off the turnpike. I noticed the twisted girders and signs, collapsed walls , and debris everywhere and was wondering where all the demolition equipment might be when it suddenly dawned on me this was a victim of the May 3rd tornado outbreak that devastated parts of the OKC area and took over 40 lives. I managed to capture about one second of this on video. I made it to Effingham, IL in just over 15 1/2 hours and 972 miles. A record for me! But one that would later pale in comparison.
MAY 30: Sunday - Travel Day:
I Drove the last 736 miles to home with a grand total of 8100 miles logged for chase vacation 1999.