Sometimes a bit of luck turns a chase with low expectations into a great chase. This was one of those days! Several days prior, this looked like it could be a big day, but there was a huge lack of consistency in models from run to run, and by the time it was the day of, it looked as though tornado chances would be fairly limited.
I set out with a target of Stratford, TX. This wasn’t a very difficult decision, as I was basically targeting the triple point. By evening, the surface low was going to be in NE New Mexico, with a warm front extending east through the Oklahoma panhandle, and a dryline going south/southeast through the Texas panhandle. Earlier in the day, these features had a bit of a different placement, but I didn’t expect storms to be doing much early on. I expected initiation further west in New Mexico, or possibly SE Colorado, but I figured it would be at full strength at or near Stratford.
Storms did fire early, and seemed almost stationary in the NE corner of New Mexico. Additional storms traveled NE into Colorado, but I was not worried about those, as they were going to cross the boundary into less favorable air. I was still SE of Amarillo at storm initiation, but was able to get to the dominant storm before it had really done anything.
I headed east out of Boise City, OK on 325 until it curved north, and stopped there to watch the storm. It was a little unorganized at that point, but looked promising. I did not have any radar data at that time, so I could not tell what it looked like in that respect. It seemed to be moving more south than east, so I dropped south toward Felt.
Here the storm started looking better. There were a lot of low clouds, but looking through them I could see a big striated updraft tower. This storm was starting to get its act together!
The structure was pretty textbook at this point, and we had a wall cloud forming, and inflow picking up. I kept watching the wall cloud to the right of the rain shaft, but then I noticed a funnel right in the center of the rain. It appeared to touch down, then it became obscured with rain again. I re-positioned further south where the rain started to let up, and the funnel became more visible.
I was unsure at the time whether it was touching down or not, but video from Reed Timmer almost directly underneath it does show some ground circulation at that time. As you can see in the photo above, there was also a very nice wall cloud to the east of the tornado, and I was hoping this would eventually produce, and stay clear of the rain.
Dropping further south to stay with the storm, the wall cloud picked up some rapid rotation as inflow really started streaming into the storm.
The first tornado was actually still ongoing in the above picture, and you can vaguely see it on the left edge of the wall cloud, back there behind the rain. As rotation on this new wall cloud picked up, it seemed as though the RFD advanced east and began wrapping around this wall cloud. I was afraid rain may again obscure the tornado if this storm did drop another.
From the town of Felt, I traveled east a ways to get out in front of the rain. When I parked and looked behind me, I saw a big cone tornado! I didn’t get any still photos of it, but I do have some good video (see below).
Staying out in front of the storm, it looked a little more unorganized, but still very strong. There was still a lot of inflow feeding into the storm, so I wasn’t worried about it gusting out anytime soon.
I continued south on 385 as this storm exhibited strong rotation on radar, but I could not see any well-defined lowering. I went right through the RFD, which was pretty strong, looking for a good east option. Unfortunately this is right in the middle of the Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands, and none of the roads I passed were paved. I’d have to go all the way to Dalhart, then northeast on 54 to get back in front of this storm.
I hadn’t been paying any attention to other storms, but just so happened to look to the west and noticed a funnel cloud off in the distance. I couldn’t tell if it was on the ground or not (confirmed later from other chasers that it was).
After that I attempted to get back in front of the first storm, now approaching Stratford, but I was unable to beat it to town. Looking at pictures from other chasers, that thing turned into quite a beast with some beautiful structure, so it sucks that I missed that, but unfortunately you can’t be on all of the storms at once!
At this point I felt as though tornado chances were diminishing, plus I was hungry, so I continued south to Amarillo for a steak! This has long been a tradition of chasers to get a steak after seeing a tornado, but I had actually never done it! I did have to make one last stop for a photo, however, after getting well out in front of the storms and seeing the beautiful structure as the sun was on its way down for the day.
Three tornadoes is my 2nd best chase day ever in terms of numbers, and gives me 6 now for 2016, which is the best of any year yet. However, none of those 6 have been the truly photogenic tornado I seek! It looks like there might be a few days with more opportunities next week, so we’ll see what happens! Chase season is still far from over!
Here is my video from the chase: