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Chase Log: May 26, 2016 – Ashland/Coldwater, KS

This day had been on my radar (no pun intended) for a while as THE day of this week. It was the day that featured the strongest winds at 500mb. During the early part of the week, it was looking like a classic dryline tornado outbreak in western Oklahoma. Things really began changing as the day got closer, however. By the afternoon of the 25th, it was looking like NW Kansas into Colorado was going to be the best spot, to the north of the surface low.

The morning of, everyone was hyping this day up, including the SPC, who issued a moderate risk over central Kansas along the warm front. I got up early, thinking I’d be making a 9-10 hour drive to NW Kansas. However, I spent literally hours in the morning debating between that spot, central Kansas, SW Kansas/NW Oklahoma, SW Oklahoma, AND west Texas! I could make a case for every target! That being said, my hopes were not nearly as high as everyone else. The HRRR was breaking out a boatload of JUNK early in the day over western Oklahoma into central Kansas. It was also dropping dewpoints significantly all throughout western Kansas, as a result of downward transport of dry air from ongoing overnight convection (per SPC).

I figured those storms along the warm front would be really messy, as warm front storms typically are anyway. Nonetheless, I thought this was probably going to be the best spot to see a tornado, so I left Carrollton around 9am with a target of Salina, KS. I was already way behind.

As I approached OKC and that junk I spoke of previously was going up and beginning to intensify, I realized I wasn’t going to catch it. I actually liked the prospect of more isolated storms in NW Oklahoma/SW Kansas along the dryline, so I began heading that way. A couple storms broke out as I was on my way, and I approached my first storm of the day, which was severe warned, near Arnett, OK.

Long story short, it was very high-based, had some decent hail in it, but that’s about it. I followed a little ways, then let it go. Back to the west in the Texas panhandle, it appeared further initiation off the dryline was starting. I went southwest to Shattuck, OK and stopped there, as these storms seemed to be struggling to develop. Finally, the cell to the north began intensifying, and I raced north to catch it. I got to it near Englewood, KS.

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Another high-based storm. I wasn’t very hopeful for tornado chances when I saw that. I followed it north and then east, and went through some pretty good hail, maybe up to ping pong ball size (1.5″) at most. I finally noticed the distinct sound of the hail hitting my sunroof hail guard during this barrage, and I was glad I had that!

Out in front of the storm, it did have some great structure!

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I stayed in front of it for a while, then it finally died near Greensburg as I felt the ice cold outflow coming from the storm. Time to call it a night. Well, maybe.

As I got south of the storm, I noticed a beautiful scene and had to stop! I could see mammatus forming at the top of this storm, with the updraft of another to the south, as the sun was beginning to set over a wheat field. What a beautiful scene!

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I just love those wheat fields. Especially the way they wave in the breeze. This to me is the very essence of the Great Plains! It is far from boring, especially with those violent storms!

Unfortunately I wasn’t going to get a great mammatus shot, as low clouds expanded and took over this scene. It was still amazing to see the orange glow on the wheat fields as the sun set!

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After going through Coldwater, I headed back west and noticed quite a lightning show going on! I got a KILLER shot of an anvil crawler, but came to find out later it was not in focus! Ugh! I had been zoomed in on an updraft earlier and forgot to re-focus (it was on manual focus) after going back to wide angle. That’s not the first time I’ve completely forgotten I was on manual focus and it needed to be changed!

I was at least able to get several great shots of lightning darting through the sky around a new updraft!

No tornadoes for me on this chase, though I apparently missed one RIGHT where I had been earlier in the day; Arnett, OK. So again, I nailed the forecast, but just wasn’t there!

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Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Chase Logs

 

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Chase Log: 5/24/16 – Minneola/Dodge City, KS

There was a pretty obvious target on this day where the surface low, outflow boundary, and dryline all met. Dodge City, KS was my target, but I planned on going wherever that outflow boundary ended up. My hopes weren’t SUPER high for this day, but I liked the prospect of seeing a tornado, and by the morning, the SPC had increased the tornado risk to 10% for this small area in SW Kansas into NW Oklahoma.

I didn’t want to take a chance on being late, so I left Carrollton at 6am in order to avoid rush hour traffic and give myself plenty of time. This ended up being WAY too early, as I arrived in Woodward, OK by noon. I would proceed to spend the next 4 hours or so hanging out in the Wal-Mart parking lot with a group of chasers! It was not time wasted, however, as I met some cool people! At the 3pm outlook, the SPC upgraded to a 10% hatched tornado risk in that area!

With towering Cu starting to build, and the outflow boundary retreating back to the north, we decided to reposition further north, and headed up to Buffalo, OK. This still appeared to be too far south, so we continued on into southern Kansas. Here we had a tower going up to our west. It was about 5pm at this time. I noted that it was moving due north, and that we needed to continue to Minneola, KS.

The storm started as a cluster of 4 small cells, but ended up merging and developing pretty rapidly, getting a nice supercellular shape on radar. Here is the very first picture I took when we stopped just south of Minneola.

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A couple of things to note on this picture: The flat, smooth base, inflow tail, and striations in the updraft. This had all the makings of a fantastic storm, even though it was early in its development. It already had a tornado warning on it at this time, as radar was beginning to show some rotation. Visually we could tell it wasn’t about to drop a tornado, but it was getting to that point quickly. It wasn’t long before a wall cloud started to form, and we decided to go ahead and get north of town prior to tornadogenesis.

The wall cloud had persistent rotation and a funnel cloud for several minutes.

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Finally that funnel reached down and made contact with the ground, and we had our first tornado just one hour after initiation!

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This tornado remained thin for a while, danced around a bit, and appeared to be ready to rope out before coming back stronger, and building into a big stovepipe! I moved north to stay up with it, but it appeared to be moving off to the west as well.

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I continued north, noting another rapidly rotating wall cloud to the east of the tornado. It was evident that another tornado was on the way, and it would touch down prior to the first tornado roping out! I got up to Ford Ensign Rd and began tracking east to get closer. At this time, yet another wall cloud was to the east, and TWO skinny rope tornadoes came down!

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I didn’t think I captured this, but I actually did in the above photo. There’s a very skinny rope to the left of the more prominent rope, and if you look at the dust on the ground, you can tell that it has a separate dust whirl.

The main tornado turned into a beautiful light grey stovepipe, kicking up dark brown dirt as I moved closer to it heading east. I had to stop, however, when I reached a beautiful wheat field, which was the perfect foreground and created this incredible scene!

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This was a shot I had been dreaming of! I felt like I was fairly close to this tornado at one point, maybe a couple miles, but it was moving away from me. The above picture was shot at 11mm, so the top of the picture was basically what was directly above me. It’s a large field of view. Here’s a shot from my D5100 taken at 32mm, which is just about a perfect representation of what the eyes see.

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This was hands down the most photogenic tornado I had ever seen, and to have a second one on the ground at the same time was icing on the cake!

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This tornado would rope out shortly after the above photo, then actually touched back down as a skinny rope. I would find a paved road going north and made one more stop when these tornadoes had dissipated, when I saw another brief spin-up underneath a bowl funnel. It was apparent, however, that a big tornado was about to happen. There was a large area of rotation getting closer and closer to the ground! We were about to have a wedge!

I went north all the way to Hwy 56 while watching the wedge form, then I stopped there to shoot video of it moving away, and snap more photos. Another chaser pulled up and said in 46 years of chasing he had never seen anything like this!

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After leaving this spot I got bogged down in Dodge City a bit, and fell pretty far behind the storm. I witnessed another tornado touch down while I was in the town, but couldn’t get a good picture of it.

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The above picture is the end of the wedge, I believe. East of town I witnessed another two tornadoes touch down before going north on 283.

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At this point the storm was about to get cut off by a new storm to the south, and rain started interfering with it. I thought it was done, and sat and waited for a while, but then rotation began picking up on the wall cloud again, so I continued north. One more tornado touched down! All I have is a cell phone picture of that one.

It’s tough to get an accurate count on the number of tornadoes on this day, especially near the time when there were 3 tornadoes at once, as it seemed like there may have been several different ropes dancing around that huge wall cloud. Other chasers have said 12, and I’ve heard even as many as 17! I think my number is still conservative, but is likely the best representation of what I actually saw with my own two eyes.

After that, I was starving, and it was time to celebrate, so I linked back up with my buddies for a steak and a beer!

This chase was a great example of the kind of influence an outflow boundary can have on a storm. The environment was conducive to tornadoes, but I don’t think we would have seen this prolific of a storm without the interaction of that outflow boundary. It’s amazing how you can see tons of storms that just struggle and struggle to produce, and aren’t able to, and then this storm it was basically a given with each new wall cloud that another tornado was imminent! Whenever there is an outflow boundary, that should be your target! Period!

This was by far my best chase day ever. My previous high was 4 in one day, so that was blown away! I came into this year having seen 9 tornadoes TOTAL in nearly 7 years of chasing, and eclipsed that all in the span of about 2.5 hours! In hindsight, I wish I would have made the effort to get closer to these tornadoes, as they were moving very slow, and it was the perfect terrain and storm to come up behind them safely. That being said, I really love the shots I got of the tornado plus the incredible structure of the storm. It’s funny, last year in Elmer I was a bit jealous of those who had been further back, as that storm had some amazing structure, and on this day I was a bit jealous of those who were close! I can make a case for preferring either location, really. I may just have to alternate with each chase!

I may not ever top this chase, but you never really know what Mother Nature has in store!

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2016 in Chase Logs

 

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Chase Log: May 22, 2016 – Big Spring, TX Tornadoes

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Click here for a link to the storm survey.

Below are my two videos, one from my Handycam before it locked up, and the other from my D5100.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2016 in Chase Logs

 

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Chase Log: May 16, 2016 – Felt, OK & Perico, TX Tornadoes

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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:

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2016 in Chase Logs

 

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Forecast: 5/8/16 SW Oklahoma

I’m starting to gain confidence in Sunday’s setup. This might actually be the best setup of the year so far, knock on wood. Something about SW Oklahoma…

The 00z NAM hasn’t changed much from the last few runs. This trough will finally eject and bring 60+ kts at 500 mb out of the southwest:

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Moisture return is questionable, as dewpoints down in the Gulf of Mexico are currently only in the mid-to-upper 50’s, and we’re less than 48 hours from the event. The NAM is currently progging mid-to-upper 60’s in the warm sector, however, and a very sharp dryline:

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I don’t know the term for this, but I suspect the NAM is banking on moisture pooling, I guess as a result of ground moisture. Unless the low-level jet really ramps up all day tomorrow and overnight tomorrow night, I don’t see how we’re going to gain 10 degrees in this short of a time span. Nonetheless, this has been consistent on several runs, so we’ll see.

The result is a relatively narrow band of 3000 J/kg CAPE on the warm side of the dryline.

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There is a little bit of veer-back-veer still showing up in the soundings, but it appears the backing doesn’t occur until above the 3m level. This is very similar to Elmer last year, which had S-curves, but they were in the upper levels.

We have a couple of advantages over 4/26/16 in a similar setup. The cap should hold until around 21z, the VBV is not as pronounced in low-levels, as mentioned above, and storm motions come off the dryline instead of nearly paralleling it. The result should be more isolated storms, and a better chance of tornadoes.

This sounding from SW Oklahoma also notes surface to 1km SRH at 227. On 4/26 those values were barely over 100. Surface to 6km shear is also higher, at 65 kts, thanks to a stronger 500 mb jet.

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I’ll definitely be chasing, as it’s only 3-4 hours from home. We’ll see how the models progress through tomorrow, and I’ll make my final target decision on Sunday morning. I’m planning on getting to the target area early on this one!

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2016 in Forecasts

 

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Chase Log: April 15, 2016 – Stratford, TX

This was a bit of a different chase for me, as I had been on my road trip in Arizona, and wasn’t really planning on chasing. However, I decided to leave Monument Valley a day early and head toward Amarillo, where I was already planning on spending the following night. I did not get a chance to look at too many models, but I saw enough that I figured it would be worth the trip. Since I hadn’t planned on chasing, I didn’t have my normal equipment. More specifically, I was missing my Verizon Mifi and my camcorder. So my phone would have to do for radar & data, and my Nikon for any video.

I didn’t really have much of a target, I just went east through New Mexico on I-40. I knew storms would fire off the dryline near the New Mexico/Texas border. The first storm went up when I was still well to the west, and I tried to chase it down, as it looked pretty good initially. I took 54 northeast to try to catch it. Unfortunately about the time I hit the Texas state line, my phone signal disappeared! More on that later, but I would never get it back, and had to complete the entire chase from pure visuals!

By the time I reached Dalhart, TX, I was beginning to think I couldn’t catch that initial cell. At that point I saw two other chaser vehicles heading back the other way. I had passed a developing storm back there, which didn’t look like much, but I figured they probably had data, and were going for that storm instead of the one to the north, so I turned around. From there I dropped south on 998, and ended up finding a large group of chasers, so I stopped there and was at least able to see the storm on radar courtesy of a fellow chaser. It did have a nice shape to it, and it began developing a beautiful flat, pancake base.

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I stayed in that spot for quite a while as the storm developed, moving fairly slowly to the north/northeast. I gradually followed it north, sure to stay out of the hail core, as I did come across some decent hail stones along the side of the road.

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Just southwest of Dalhart, the storm had a nice wall cloud on it that exhibited some decent rotation. I thought it might be close to producing at this point, which was unfortunate for the people of Dalhart, but also problematic from a chasing standpoint, as other chasers were saying there was construction through the main street, and it would take a while to get through the town.

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It did take quite a bit of time to get through town, plus I absolutely had to stop and use the bathroom at that point! Bad timing, I know, but the storm was moving slow enough I wasn’t afraid of falling behind. As I cleared town, the storm didn’t look as good. The wall cloud had dissipated.

Continuing northeast on 54, this storm started to pick up some intensity. Inflow winds started screaming out of the south, blowing tumbleweeds across the road, and stirring up a lot of dust. At one point I couldn’t even see the storm anymore due to all the dust!

Just after going through Stratford, TX this storm exhibited some AMAZING structure! The whole thing was spinning, and I thought if that storm were going to drop a tornado, it would be doing it right then, but I wouldn’t be able to see it due to the HP nature, and I was south of it.

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If you look just above the ground in the above photo, you’ll see some of the dust that was being picked up. It was difficult to stand steady and take this photo, and the dust blowing into my eyes certainly didn’t help, either! One of the more powerful storms I’ve been on, and probably the best structure I’ve seen yet. I stayed there for a while and watched the structure evolve.

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At this point just looking at the storm, it appeared to be stretching out. I figured outflow had taken over, and chances were diminishing of it producing a tornado. I still had no radar, so I did not know what it looked like on radar. If I had, I probably would have continued chasing. But I was also hungry and tired. I was already sleep-deprived from my whirlwind of a road trip. So with all of that in mind, I decided to start toward Amarillo to check in to the hotel and get something to eat.

As I was on the way to Amarillo, and still had no signal, I decided to restart my phone. Immediately I had 4G! Ugh! Should have restarted it long ago! Much to my dismay, I pull up Instagram and see a picture of a tornado from the storm I had let go! Dang it! If I just would have stayed with it a little longer! Oh well, I was certainly not the only chaser who had given up on it at that point. Those who had data stated dewpoints were only in the upper-40’s in the Oklahoma panhandle where it dropped a tornado! Unbelievable, and goes to show you that tornadoes really can happen when you least expect them, and when the conditions are not ideal at all.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2016 in Chase Logs

 

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First Chase of the Year?

Tornado Tuesday Part II? It’s certainly a possibility. Talk about luck in that I have a half-day on Tuesday, so I’ll be able to chase a reasonable distance from home, and things are certainly starting to line up within a reasonable distance from home! The NAM is now within range, and I’m liking what I see.

A big trough will be digging through north central Mexico on Tuesday afternoon, resulting in 60 knot 500mb winds downstream in central and north Texas, extending into southern Oklahoma. At the surface, dew points will reach the low to mid 60’s thanks to a low-level jet from the south-southeast. Surface temperatures will be near 70 by mid-day. A dryline will set up in central Texas, with a bulge forecast just to the northwest of the Metroplex.

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The NAM tends to be a bit bullish on dewpoints most of the time, and I’m a little concerned that we won’t really see 66 dews in Decatur as the above map indicates. Still, given the amount of shear in place as a result of the upper-level trough, there looks to be a decent tornado threat. CAPE is also forecast to reach 3000 J/kg in the area above the dryline bulge, which again, may be a bit optimistic, but given the shear, that much CAPE will not be required for supercell development. There may be a narrow window of opportunity before isolated cells merge into an MCS, though in this area north-northeast of the dryline bulge, more backed surface winds resulting in greater directional shear should be more favorable than the more unidirectional winds south along the dryline in the I-35 corridor in central Texas.

It’s too early to pick a target, but as of right now anywhere along the dryline bulge looks like the place to be. Here’s a sounding from near Decatur, TX at 3pm:

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Definite S-curve in that hodograph, but the first 3 km look great, and I’ve seen 2 tornadoes in areas that had the S-curve in the past, including the Elmer, OK tornado last year (that was a big concern leading up to that chase). Time to start prepping and charging all of my equipment!

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2016 in Forecasts

 

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