Not even to April yet, I’ve already logged 3 chases! That’s never happened before! We’ve gotten off to an early start this storm season, and I’m not sure if that’s a sign of things to come, or a sign that it’s going to be an early season overall this year.
Tuesday was a different kind of day. After working in the morning, I set out for a rough target of Paducah, TX. Storms fired early, and were pretty messy, forming a broken line way out west by Lubbock.
As I was driving out I get a message from one of my friends saying that he’d heard 2 storm chasers had died. He didn’t know any more details at that time. I knew there had been a tornado warning out there, and the circulation looked like it was completely covered in rain, so I was wondering if they had been hit by the tornado, or if it was something else. That news had me somewhat on edge the whole chase. It also changed the mood of the whole chase, but I still had not been able to confirm exactly what happened.
The chase itself was a tad frustrating. My plan was to play along the warm front, which I expected to travel north toward Paducah and Childress as the day went on, but it didn’t seem like it really moved. I was originally heading for the line of storms, and targeted a little further south toward Guthrie, but before I even got that far, I had become unimpressed with the progress of these storms. It seemed as though they were losing intensity as they traveled north, I assumed as they crossed the front. There was one isolated storm that had fired south of Abilene. Looking on visible satellite, that whole area down there had towering cumulus, while more stable wave clouds were covering the area I was in further north. So I dropped south from Guthrie.
When I was still quite a distance from that isolated storm, it went tornado warned. Oh no, I was going to be too late, I thought. After that, however, it seemed to become very ragged. In the meantime, a new storm had fired near McCaulley. I decided to head toward it, since I wasn’t far away, and it did in fact get a tornado warning on it. However, it was clearly becoming elongated, and unimpressive, while the storm by Abilene had cycled through and was looking impressive again. Dang it! I should have stuck with the original plan!
By this time, I would have had to punch the core to get to the storm near Hawley. I decided against that, but in hindsight I should have gone for it. I don’t think the hail was too big at that time, and I would have seen a multi-vortex tornado in that area.
Instead, I headed east on 180, then south on 600 to try to get in front of it. However, as I was on this path, I realized the storm was really moving almost due north, with very little easterly movement. So I turned around and went back to 180. At this point there was a reported wall cloud on the storm, but no tornado. I had to move west slowly on 180 to avoid hail, and then finally got a view of the wall cloud. Some broad rotation at this point, but it did not appear a tornado was imminent.
I then followed the storm north on 1226, and I thought it was about to drop a huge cone at that point! Rotation really tightened up, and a good inflow jet started forming, with a bowl funnel. I was in perfect position, too, with the funnel directly to my west! But my excitement was quickly extinguished as the wall cloud became very ragged, and dissipated.
However, a new wall cloud was forming off to the northeast, and it looked solid. The problem now was that it was already out ahead of me, so I needed to catch up. While this storm seemed to be creeping along before, at this point it just seemed to take off! This wall cloud developed rotation quickly, and within 10 minutes or less, we had a tornado on the ground just east of Stamford. It was a beautiful elephant trunk, but very low contrast from my position, with the core of the storm behind the tornado. It wasn’t on the ground for very long, maybe 6-8 minutes or so, and then it lifted. After that, I just couldn’t keep up with the storm. Stopping to take pictures of the structure certainly didn’t help that, either. It continued to have a very strong couplet on radar, but I never saw anymore tornado reports. There could have been one there obscured by rain. There were chasers around it.
I didn’t get a whole lot of video, due to being so far behind and trying to catch up, but in the short video below you see four clips; the first was on 180 when I first got a view of the wall cloud, second is the original wall cloud as it was becoming ragged, third was the new wall cloud with tornado imminent as I was racing to get into a better position, and finally a brief shot of the tornado right before it lifted.
When I got home I learned more details on the storm chasers who had died. There was a car accident, and we lost 3 of our own. Two of the guys in one vehicle, which ran a stop sign, and the other in the vehicle they hit. As I’ve learned now, the guys who ran the stop sign, who were live streamers for the Weather Channel, had run several stop signs prior to this one, and this was evident on their stream (which is still up on YouTube; cuts out before the accident). It’s a shame to learn this. I want to see tornadoes as much as anyone, but it’s not worth putting your own life, as well as the lives of others, in danger to do so. Especially not by running stop signs. It can be quite chaotic out there around a storm, with so many chasers out there now, all jockeying for position, and driving dangerously in order to keep up with the storm. Yes, we are distracted by the storms, but I don’t think that was the issue here, knowing that these guys blew through several stop signs. I think they were purposely disregarding the stop signs, probably thinking there wouldn’t be any oncoming traffic in the middle of the country. It’s also pretty difficult to miss a stop sign in the middle of the plains. There’s literally nothing else around. Stop signs stick out like sore thumbs. The video even shows one of those yellow diamond signs with the stop sign ahead symbol on it ~200 yards before the actual stop sign. So, at least in my opinion (and it’s just that, I’ll never know for sure), this was willful negligence, not a simple mistake. It’s just upsetting that this was easily preventable by simply following traffic laws. I certainly hope something like this never happens again, but I almost feel it’s inevitable. Maybe not the exact same scenario, but the most dangerous part about chasing storms these days is not the storm itself, it’s the dangerous drivers out on the road.