MAY 11: Fri - Day 1 - Travel Day:
Terry Fisher and I left Bernville at 1322 EDT with a goal to reach Indianapolis, IN for our first nights lodging. That is where the “dreaded” decision would need to be made Saturday morning to either head NW via I-74 for what may be a slight risk of severe in Iowa or SW via I-70 to the southern Plains in order to be near OKC for my commitment as tour driver with Tempest Tours starting on Tuesday, May 15th. After intercepting a few weak, but gusty, storms in eastern Ohio we made our destination to Indianapolis by 2345 PM CDT with 622 miles behind us.
NOTE: Tempest Tours is new storm chasing tour company founded by Martin Lisius, president of TESSA (Texas Severe Storms Association) and owner of Prairie Pictures, which produces severe weather productions. My friend and chase partner William T. Reid who was serving as Tempest Tours tour director and lead forecaster hired me. Terry Fisher (from Lancaster County, PA) would be among the first six tourists to traverse Tornado Alley with this new tour group, and I would be their first tour driver!
MAY 12: Sat - Day 2 - Travel Day:
The decision was made – head to the southern Plains. I abandoned plan A, which was to head for the Sioux City, IA since there did not appear to be sufficient moisture for the development of severe storms in that area. Besides, I wanted to attend the annual Stormtrack picnic at Tim Marshall’s house in Flower Mound, TX on Sunday since this would be their final picnic and I had never had the opportunity to attend one in the past. We drove a total of 830 miles to El Reno, OK without the slightest possibility of seeing any storms!
MAY 13: Sun – Day 3 - ST Picnic Day:
We drove from the Oklahoma City area to Flower Mound, TX in order to share an afternoon of fun, food, and plenty of storm chaser video at what was billed to be the final Stormtrack picnic ever. Stormtrack is the name of a bi-monthly magazine geared for the hard-core Plains chaser and severe storm aficionado. The magazine will end later this year, but articles will still be available at their on-line web site. There were dozens of highly outfitted chase vehicles lining the streets in this normally quiet community—I’m certain much to the dismay of the neighbors. All had a great time and the videos were still running when I left around 2130 CDT. We drove to Ardmore, OK for the night with only 308 miles logged.
MAY 14: Mon – Day 4 - Visitation Day:
I arranged a lunch meeting with Bob Conzemius who is studying for his doctorate in meteorology at OU in Norman, OK. Bob is also assigned to the DOW (Doppler on Wheels) team that studies the formation of tornadoes with a goal for better understanding, thus faster warnings. We had the opportunity to visit the DOW “barn” and get a close up look at these trucks and the equipment used in these studies. We finished up the day back in OKC (Oklahoma City) and watched a few weak storms on radar well to our west in the TX Panhandle. No storms encountered today—280 miles logged.
May 15: Tue – Day 5 - Orientation Day:
Today was the orientation day for the six Tempest Tourists who would be arriving in OKC by 1500 CDT. We would chase if any storms are within range, but none formed. Tomorrow would be the first official chase day. All the tourists arrived; there were two from CA, one from WV, one from KY, one from PA, and one that endured an 18 hour flight all the way from Sweden in order to experience the storms in the Great Plains of the United States. We would also have Lance, a reporter from WBAP news talk radio in Dallas, following us for a couple of days for a special feature he was working on about Storm Chasing tours in Tornado Alley.
May 16: Wed – Day 6 (TT Day 1) Funnel East of Fairbury, NE:
Today was the first chase of the season for me, which also happened to coincide with my first day as “driver” for Tempest Tours. We headed north from OKC targeting an area along the KS/NE border somewhere east of a McCook to Hill City line. There were a few anemic looking towers going up to our south while we were traveling west along RT 36 as we approached Smith County in KS around 1330 PM CDT. We decided to have lunch before things got too hectic at a place called the Lyon’s Den in Smith Center, KS along RT 36. Only one waitress (Karen), but the food was great, the prices were cheap and the service was unbelievably fast!
About an hour later there was a severe warning on a storm off to our southwest in Sheridan County KS that was putting down 1- ¼” hail near Hoxie. We plotted an intercept course turning south on RT 183 in Phillipsburg. There was a nice circular anvil for awhile, but it was rather evident that this storm was loosing it’s punch. We soon stopped to better asses the situation and Bill noticed right away that we were already in north winds—and, the area back to our northeast showed a well defined line of broken Accas and developing Tcu, no doubt the result of convergence along the boundary. Back to RT 36 and east we must go!
During the next stop we spotted a distant (60-70 miles) rapidly developing tower on the northeast horizon. A minute or so later a Pileus cloud developed. The rock hard towers were easy to spot even at that distance, so we now had a clearly defined target storm! Martin could not find any radar reflectivity when we first spotted this updraft, but a return phone call 15 minutes later indicated the explosive nature of this cell—and that it was moving slowly eastward. We all had an incredible view of this storm for the next hour on our approach. It had just about everything, large circular anvil in the distance, with closer rock hard updraft towers on the western flank that soon pushed out a nice back sheared anvil with inverted knuckling!
We finally got a good look at the base between RT 81 and Fairbury, NE. It looked rather high based and without much organization. We could see the back edge of the rain shaft (no rain foot) that exhibited occasional hail shafts off to our north. We stopped to get a better look and shoot some footage just east of Fairbury. There was almost continuous thunder for a while, but not much visible lightning. All of a sudden we had quite a surprise when a narrow “shear” funnel snaked about a fourth of the way down from the ragged southwestern edge of the updraft base.
I zoomed in as much as I could while hand holding the camera (no time for getting the tripod) and could find some evidence of rotation. Bill and I decided that maybe we had just better go and grab our tripods—and of course that killed it for sure! The funnel showed us a brief, but distinct, rope stage until only a small piece of the funnel remained before that too quickly evaporated. The time was about 1846 CDT. We had a few more looks at a rather unusual looking V-shaped updraft “appendage” that persisted below the updraft base as we approached Beatrice around 1900 CDT. The show was over, but what a great looking storm to start the season for all of us! We logged a total of 745 miles for TT’s first official chase day and spent the night in Salina, KS.
May 17: Thu – Day 7 - (TT Day 2) Pretty Plainview Sunset:
Bill Reid, Tempest Tours, and myself left Salina KS late Thursday morning with an initial target around Woodward, OK. A couple of hours later we were headed straight south towards a large cell with a huge blow off anvil that had just gone severe over Major County in NW OK. We could have easily intercepted the base of this storm just east of Waynoka, but this thing started to die fast. We didn’t want to waste time now—it was only around 1330 CDT and conditions looked much more favorable to our southwest from about Hollis, OK to Lubbock, (LBB) TX. We could see clearing skies off to our distant south as we crossed a wind shift line somewhere around Taloga, OK and it felt great to be back in 68-70 degree dp’s and experience winds coming in from the south.
Another data stop in Weatherford, OK confirmed we were still on target, and that some cells were initiating to our west and southwest in the TX Panhandle. We headed west on I-40 and were soon passed by several other chasers including Keith Brown--the DOW trucks had gone by while we were getting gas in Weatherford. We could see another large blow off anvil to our west but soon learned that this one was already dead. However, a much more potent tower well off to our SW near LBB (Lubbock, TX) came into view with a nice back sheared anvil and a decent size dome on top. This one had the best structure of the day by far! Radar also indicated some newer development hidden from our view behind this CB, so we figured these would be the dominant cells by the time we could approach the base.
Once again we succeeded to kill off the dominant cell (which was severe with half dollar size hail) immediately upon our arrival, but the one that was hiding back to its SW was exhibiting a rather sculpted updraft tower. It gave us a good show as the setting sun began to light up its main updraft tower just as we approached the town of Plainview, TX. We decided to stop and set up our camera equipment about a mile west of Plainview for an incredible show. There were multiple towering cumulus clouds framing the setting sun. These towers were set aglow in reds and oranges with beautiful orange ribbons in fanned out rays. These rays disappeared directly overhead, only to reappear back to our east adding just a tinge of color to a nice dark gray bulbous mammatus field. At the same time the sky was electrified to our south with an occasional blue anvil crawler. We then continued west on RT 70 after sunset to intercept a decent looking cell that was becoming more electrified. We enjoyed the light show just west of Earth, where we finally called it a day—the second in a row that we witnessed some very pretty convection. Miles logged: 640
May 18: Fri – Day 8 (TT Day 3) - The Capulin Volcano Chase:
What a fantastic
chase day we had! This is another one of those days that targeting the axis of
a Theta-E ridge pays off. I've attached Bill Reid's excellent chase summary
below (it's okay since he attached my last two summaries to his e-mail :-)).
I'm now in Dalhart, TX (NE TX Panhandle) and it's almost 2:00 AM (again)..I need
to get some rest, the next couple of days are going
May 19: Sat – Day 9 (TT Day 4) - Mud Messy Chase Day:
When I got up this
morning I noticed a few storm cells initiating in Sherman County TX to the east
of our previous nights stay in Dalhart, TX. By late morning these storms had a
severe warning. And then a tornado warning (radar indicated). Bill Reid,
myself, and Tempest Tours decided we might as well have a look at this stuff
since we had some extra time before we needed to be in our target area further
to our south and east. We soon abandoned this plan however, due to the storm
being imbedded in a large cloud shield and poor visibility due to fog. The TOR
was soon canceled.
We exited the core around Kirkland and were
treated to an eerie under the base view, but we knew this thing was now outflow
dominant. Our plan was to now get south of this outflow, unfortunately our chase
day ended while taking a shortcut on a dirt road (the heavy rain band was just a
tad faster than our chase vehicles). Bill may want to elaborate on this part of
the summary...I'm heading to bed; Sunday looks to be another busy day. 319
"Brian M. was kind enough to leave the
mud ball in my hands!
May 20: Sun – Day 10 (TT Day 5) - The Ada Tornado:
Here's our report from May 20th...Bill typed this up while I was driving. We had another great day, The Weather Channel is interested in our footage, but I don't know if we'll have the time.
"Martin Lisius, Brian Morganti and I led the Tempest Tours group into the jungles east of Ardmore on Sunday, and we caught the tornadic supercell which went up in southwest Pontotoc County and moved eastward through Coal County. We had an exceptional view of the tornado/slender funnel cloud southwest of Ada, and later on of the large funnel cloud near Stonewall. We were unable to confirm with 100 percent certainty that the Ada "tornado" produced circulation on the ground, but the slender funnel was a good 3/4 of the way from wall-cloud base to the ground. Extended chase account version follows:
We began the day in Vernon, TX, and decided to kind of split the difference between the dry line south into Texas and the moderate risk area covering much of central and eastern OK. When surface winds in north Texas began backing to the SW and WSW, and when cumulus clouds began to bubble to the north and northeast, we left Jolly, TX, and drove into southern OK. Decent storm towers were building to our east as we approached Ardmore, and soon we had a target storm to our northeast, near Roff, in southwest Pontotoc County. We measured dew points of about 72F just east of Ardmore, and winds were southerly. Martin checked the SPC site online, which showed that the best and strongest supercell potential was around the Ardmore to McAlester area. So, though we knew of big nasty supercells near Ponca City and Oklahoma City, we thought that our new cell near Roff would be just as super, if not more so. I should add that SPC had much of central and eastern OK in a PDS tornado box beginning at 3:30 p.m. We struggled to keep up with the Roff cell.
A terrible detour around Sulphur on 177 cost us about ten minutes. The cell was
severe-warned, but appeared rather soft, mushy, and leaned-over as it sailed
northeastward up the Chickasaw Turnpike and past Ada. About 5 miles beyond Ada,
on Highway 1, the tree situation worsened and the cell remained rather
unimpressive. Fortunately, a new storm tower was exploding to our WSW, back near
Roff and the southwest corner of Pontotoc County. This was a very easy
intercept: several miles back to Ada and south a ways to get in front of the
updraft base. The time was about 7:30 p.m. Just as we jumped onto U.S. Highway
377/State Route 99 from Highway 3, on the southeast side of Ada, Martin spotted
a tornado on the ground to the WSW.
May 21: Mon – Day 11 (TT Day 6) - Non Chase Day Visit to NWS FTW:
The entire Plains region would be completely shut down from any storm activity for at least a couple of days, or more! Today (Monday) the Tempest Tour gang visited the FTW (Ft Worth, TX) NWS office for a tour arranged by Martin Lisius. After that we began our trek westward. Tonight we would stay in MAF (Midland-Odessa), TX. Tomorrow we would continue further west, possibly to visit Carlsbad Caverns or White Sands, NM. We felt the first moisture return would occur in this area from the GOM (Gulf Of Mexico) by mid/late week. The southern Plains would continue under a NW flow aloft, with a SE low level and surface flow (known as upslope flow) from the Gulf. These patterns can be very good for severe storms coming off the High Plains . It was a long shot, but it was all we could shoot.
The highlight of the day occurred at dinner while dining at Joe Allens BBQ in Abilene, TX, which was one of the recommendations from the TESSA guide. The place wasn’t much to look it, but it sported a fantastic menu of ribs and steaks with all the trimmings. The food was great and the prices were very reasonable. Joe kept a sharp eye on things too! 460 miles.
May 22: Tue – Day 12 (TT Day 7) - Dust Devil Festival:
This was the second non-chase day in a row, AND we lost one tourist! RJ decided to visit his brother in CO since the pattern looked rather slow for the next couple of days. We visited the Midland Petroleum museum in the morning. I didn't take my camera for the outdoor equipment tour since I was there before. What a mistake! This caused me to miss the most fantastic white tube dust devil any of us had ever seen. This thing was huge and extended hundreds of feet into the clear blue sky! Countless more dust devils were encountered on our trek northward to Amarillo. We ate at the Big Texan and later went to Bary Nusz’s house along with Matt Crowther and Betsy Abrahms for a mini video festival. Miles logged – 350
May 23: Wed – Day 13 (TT Day 8) - Eastern OK Thunder Bust:
Well, we got suckered into SC OK anyway. Bill and I both agreed that if this had been are last shot of chasing with the tourists, we would have gone for a somewhat marginal area of severe storms in SC or Eastern OK. A call from Martin as we were on our way for the Edwards Plateau region (which held a small promise of supercells, if everything went just right) prompted us to head for OK anyway. The SPC had issued a MCD (Mesoscale Convective Discussion) for a region I had looked at closely earlier in the morning...so we thought lets give it a try. We followed an area of agitated cumulus clouds along a windshift line for a couple of hours...right up until sunset, but nothing happened. Well, except a couple of severe storms well off to our east that were elevated (high bases) and racing along at nearly 50 MPH. We had a semi-decent photo op at sunset near Rt 7 and I-35 in the Arbuckle Mountain region of SC OK. The storms waited until after dark.
May 24: Thu – Day 14 (TT Day 9) - South to the Border Chase!
Today was the 6th day out of 9 that Bill Reid, Tempest Tours and myself found ourselves photographing storms that featured either a SEV or TOR warning. The storms we found today in Real and Edwards County TX were simply spectacular! After getting a late start Thursday morning in Arlington, TX we headed down I-35 thinking initiation of storms looked likely in a triangle bounded by Junction to Fredericksburg to Hondo...and back to Junction.
We crossed the wind shift line somewhere
just north of Austin (I believe) and were pleased to be getting dp readings in
the high 60's and southeasterly winds. At this point the decision was made to
head further south to SAT (San Antonio) before heading westbound. We wanted to
be certain we would be able to have storms coming to us, rather than playing
"catch-up". We were just on the west side of SAT when we received a call from
Martin Lisius that storms had initiated about 60 - 80 miles to our west. I
believe one cell was near Junction at that time (around 5:40 PM). A few minutes
later we could see the distant anvils from these storms as we blasted west (NW)
on I-10, but new convection was rapidly organizing between the distant anvils
and us. In less than 20 minutes one small, but intense updraft displayed a nice
anvil and began developing a mammatus field. It was time to get off I-10, and
head south and west in order to stay to the southeast of this developing storm.
I believe we
May 25: Fri - Day 15 (TT Day 10 – Final) Edwards Plateau Bustola:
We hung around the area from Ozona, TX to Eldorado, TX for hours waiting for storms to form along the convergence boundary. We were right where we should have been, but the storms never initiated. The risk of severe looked good, but there just was not enough moisture until after dark. We met up with Dave Fogel and crew, Amos Magliocco, and a bunch of other chasers, so at least we didn’t bust alone! We had to get the tourists back to the base hotel in OKC, which meant we had a long drive with nothing to show for it. We arrived back at the base hotel at 4:30 AM totally exhausted. 540 miles logged.
May 26: Sat - Day 16 (TT Day 11 – Bonus) - Chase to Post—Texas:
Today (Saturday) Bill Reid & I along with a few hold-outs from the Tempest Tour
group decided to head west from OKC in hopes of actually seeing some storms,
unlike the big bustola near Eldorado, TX on Friday. We were initially thinking
somewhere around CDS (Childress, TX), but a data stop near Texola around 1330
CDT convinced us we needed to move a little further west. A few miles west on
I-40 we could clearly see a persistent updraft tower to our SSW. This appeared
to be the only game in town so we exited south near McClean (Rt 273 I believe)
and had a great view of this storm as a large anvil quickly formed followed by
several stair stepped flanking line towers back to the west.
May 27: Sun – Day 17 Final Day – The SW Kansas Haboob:
When I went to bed last night I had a pretty good idea that I
would be chasing in SW Kansas on Sunday. I could not find anything to change
that notion when I checked data after I woke up (SW KS had a Moderate Risk for
severe issued by the
SPC), or later still at a data stop in Perryton, TX. I thought
storms may initiate on a Ulysses to Hugoton line by 4:00 PM, so I drifted around
in Seward County to the east of this area between 3:30 and 4:00. It was at that
time that I heard the first severe warnings for storms firing to my north in NW
Finney County. I contemplated intercepting these 30
MPH SE moving storms, but decided to hold my ground and stick
with my initial plan, especially since the north storms would likely line out