I went against the grain on this chase and picked a target that was far removed from where almost every other chaser was in the TX panhandle. I saw models breaking out storms early, and away from the dryline up there, and didn’t think the tornado potential would be as great. I liked the dryline bulge further south in west Texas, and chose Big Spring as my target.
When I got to Sweetwater, it appeared Big Spring might end up being too far west with the advancement of the dryline, so I stayed put for a little while. When it looked like we had initiation near Post, I started heading that way. That little cell died, however, so I didn’t go any further north than Snyder. I had actually started west toward Gail when I lost data, so I went back east to Snyder, then saw cells firing to the west, and went back west!
I caught up with my first storm of the day near Ackerly, TX. The issue I saw with this cell was interference from the cell to the south. However, it did have a wall cloud on it, so I stuck with it for a little while with the plan to drop south once it was completely cut off. It did have some decent structure to it.
I knew that I needed to be on tail-end Charlie, however, so I let that storm go and started my way south toward my original target of Big Spring.
Just north of town on 87 I was able to see the base, and things were looking pretty good! I had expected more easterly movement, but it seemed this storm was moving straight south, so I went around Big Spring and headed west on 176. This storm really began intensifying at this point, was tornado-warned, and had a hook developing on radar. I snapped this photo looking west as the inflow really began to pick up.
I saw some dust on the ground to the southwest and thought that was a tornado, but then noticed it was all moving in one direction… gustnado. A few minutes later there was another spin-up, this time rotating… tornado! I reported it on Spotter Network, then continued to 2599 to drop south.
At this point that first spin-up had dissipated, but inflow was getting VERY strong! I knew I was very close to a developing tornado, but the storm was messy and I couldn’t tell exactly where it would happen. Then I did see another spin-up, and this time I could see the clouds above it rotating. It looked like this could evolve into a big wedge! Multiple vortices were spinning around the parent rotation. I’m not good at judging distance, but I was not very far away from it, maybe a mile or so. I did not feel unsafe, however, with the storm moving south, and me being north of it.
This became completely wrapped in rain, and I couldn’t discern any ground rotation. I continued south and when I got to I-20 I was pretty sure I could see the left edge of a big tornado! I was paying close attention to the collar cloud, which was directly above me. I did not want to advance too quickly, and in fact at one point I got hit with strong winds and blinding sheets of rain out of the east. I turned around and went back north until I was out of that. I could have potentially been in the outer circulation of the tornado at that point! Looking at the radar, I was basically right on top of the couplet!
When I turned back around all I could see was a big wall of rain. Ben Holcomb, a very seasoned chaser, was right in front of me, and I pulled up and asked him if he could see it, and he said he was pretty sure that whole thing was a big tornado. We started moving across the interstate when I noticed HUGE hail stones falling! They were at least baseballs, some looked bigger! When I got to the access road, there were even more big stones falling. There were some vehicles parked under the overpass, but it looked like there was room for me, so I ducked under there to avoid losing any windows. Unfortunately this made me lose touch with the storm, and it would continue to drop more tornadoes further south… or perhaps that was still the same tornado, I’m not sure.
Eventually I punched through the core, and luckily only encountered half-dollar sized hail. It likely put some new dents in the car, but I didn’t lose any windows. Out in front of this storm I saw some beastly structure, but was not able to get to a good spot for a photo. The lightning was incredible, frequent, and surrounding me, so I wasn’t comfortable getting out of the car!
I was able to get in front of the storm east of Garden City and get a few shots as the sun was setting.
It ended up producing another tornado near Garden City, but I let it go at that point, not wanting to chase an HP storm at night!
Below are my two videos, one from my Handycam before it locked up, and the other from my D5100.