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Chase Log: 5/15/17 – Stinnett, TX

May 15th was a “day before the day” scenario in which tornado chances were pretty much zero, but the following day would feature a much greater tornado risk in essentially the same area. If a day like this were isolated, I may have just skipped it.

The main factor limiting the tornado risk was the large dewpoint depression. That’s a fancy term for the difference between the air temperature and the dewpoint. When this difference gets high (Generally about 20° and greater), it means the cloud bases will be high, and you need lower cloud bases for tornadoes.

High-based storms can still produce large hail, and they often produce beautiful storms. I didn’t really have an exact target, but just set out mid-morning toward Amarillo. After looking at data in Childress, I decided I’d stop just east of Amarillo in Claude, TX. It was long after I reached Claude that towers began attempting to go up. I followed the developing towers north, and met up with my buddy Adam at the Love’s station off I-40. From there we determined we needed to go further north, as the more robust initiation was that way, and we set out for Borger. I was leading the way, and just went past Borger and through Stinnett, heading west on 152 until we reached a clearing. I made this decision as I saw the storms were moving almost due north.

There ended up being quite a bit of convection forming, and we were able to sit in this same location and let 3 different severe storms come to us.

We let the core overtake us on the second storm, and it contained some decent hail in our location, maybe a little over 1-inch.

The third storm was definitely the best, as it developed incredible structure! We had to move back to the east to get in front of this one, and through Stinnett, repositioning to the south side of town. What a beauty!

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Limited road options from there meant we had to slowly get through the core while avoiding the largest hail, in order to end up back to the south of the storm. However, it was almost dark at this point, so the storm began to lose intensity, but the lightning was brilliant. The mosquitoes were relentless, however, so I did not want to stay out there trying to shoot lightning only to come away with 100 mosquito bites on my legs! No, I stupidly did not have any bug spray with me! Lesson learned!

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So no tornadoes to be seen on this day, but every once in a while chases like this are a welcome change of pace. It’s nice to have a more relaxed attitude and pace, and just be able to enjoy watching the storms.

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Posted by on May 23, 2017 in Chase Logs

 

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Chase Log: 4/15/17 Protection, KS

Even with the mesoscale accident that produced 7 tornadoes in Dimmitt, TX the day before, I was not overly confident in the setup on this day, especially in terms of tornado potential. Upper level winds were marginal, at 30-35 kts at 500mb. I really like to see at least 40, and preferably 45 kts for better tornado potential. Dewpoints were also meager at barely 60 degrees. However, CAPE was adequate, and the HRRR consistently depicted storms firing west of Woodward, OK a few hours before sunset. I had just hoped this chase would provide some good time lapse footage and structure shots.

I left Carrollton at 10 am and headed to Woodward to meet up with Jacob Terrell. We had interacted on Facebook for several years, but had to actually meet in person, so it was good to finally meet and chase some storms together!

The first couple towers that fired were just not able to get going. What appeared to be the dominant cell made three attempts, and then died. We had made it out west to Shattuck, OK where we watched that cell die, and to the south of that there was absolutely nothing. There were some agitated Cu to the north, so we re-positioned north. As we were moving these storms started to look a bit more beefy than that previous storm that had died, but they still were struggling to really become supercells.

I lost Jacob at that point as I got to Buffalo, OK on the back end of another dying storm. At this time, however, there was a good looking tower going up to the north, which had a much better looking base on it. This storm’s base was large and flat, as opposed to the others that were very small. At this point it was nothing on radar, but it looked more promising, so I continued north of Buffalo to watch it.

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I sat here on this dirt road, where the aroma of cow manure filled the air, shooting a time lapse of the storm as it got going. If nothing else, it was visually nice, with an updraft that looked like blooming cauliflower swirling skyward.

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Photo opportunities would prove to be plentiful on this day, and prior to leaving this spot I turned to my west and was treated to this spectacular view.

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I moved north and found another spot to time lapse a little closer, as I didn’t want this storm moving too far away during the sequence. It had a really nice, flat base on it at this time, but it was quite elevated, so I was not expecting any tornadoes to develop from it.

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As the sun set, the show really started near Protection, KS. The other junk clouds began dissipating, making way for the lone supercell to stand out on its own with the last remaining sunlight giving it a brilliant glow. Even the cows came over to watch it. Or maybe they were watching me. Maybe they thought I had food. I’m not sure.

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I was too close to get all the way to the top of the anvil, even shooting vertically on a panorama, but I was at least able to shoot the storm from end-to-end using this method.

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And that right there, ladies & gentlemen, made the 6 hour drive worth it! I had gotten exactly what I was looking for on this day! Then as icing on the cake, I was able to capture what I believe was the ONLY CG strike out of the rear-end of this storm!

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Even though the storm was losing intensity at this time, it was still stunning to watch!

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Overall very pleased with the photos I came away with from this storm! I wondered for a while if we would even get anything worth photographing as those storms just kept struggling, but finally this beauty emerged! I definitely consider this a successful chase, even with a lack of tornadoes!

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2017 in Chase Logs

 

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Chase Log: April 1, 2017 – Valera, TX

I wasn’t too enthusiastic about this day, and in fact I originally had no intentions of even chasing. It wasn’t until I was eating lunch that I decided what the heck, it’s close by and I’m available, I might as well go for it!

The SPC only had a 2% tornado risk, and I didn’t see any reason for it to be any higher than that. Dewpoints were pretty meager, low-level winds were rather weak, and convective models were showing a pretty quick progression to a linear mode. Add to that a bit of a crashing cold front, and the ingredients for tornadoes just weren’t really there.

My hope was for some good structure, and the chance to shoot lightning after dark. The hail risk was definitely there, with cold temperatures aloft, but I didn’t want to bust any windows, so I had no intentions of venturing into any hail cores.

I was a bit late on my departure, given my last second decision to chase, but set out for Abilene. The plan was to target the triple point, which was right in this area. Or so I thought. Turns out it was further west. There were initially two storms that fired; one way out in Colorado City, and the other down south near San Angelo. Looking at the environment, I felt the southern storm had the better, with CAPE topping 2000, and no crashing cold front to deal with. However, this storm was having trouble getting going, while the Colorado City storm exploded. I waited for the southern storm to show me signs of more robust development, but it wasn’t happening, so I decided to head west. I could always come back to the southern storm later, I figured.

When I got on this storm, it wasn’t super impressive. Just a large flat base, a little ragged wall cloud that didn’t have much of any motion on it, and some small hail. I got a little ways into the core with the intent to pull in behind the thick of it and see if there were any larger hail stones on the ground, but no such luck. At this point between Sweetwater and Roby, I had two options to follow the storm. I could go north to Roby, then go back through the storm to the east on 180, or drop back south and head east on I-20, then back north. The storm was heading NE, so this route was out of the way, but it was moving so slow, I didn’t feel it would be a problem. I’m glad I chose that route, because as I got back to I-20, the storm began to weaken, and lost its severe thunderstorm warning. Then I check the radar, and what do you know, that southern storm had blown up! The unfortunate thing at that point was that it had literally not moved! So it was still about an hour away!

It started showing rotation, and went tornado warned as it finally began moving NE toward Ballinger. It was a race for me to reach Ballinger before the storm did. This is the worst feeling while chasing! A tornado warning, and you just can’t get to it fast enough! When I got to Ballinger, I was too late to drop south and still be in front of it. I’d have to punch through the biggest hail, and even then the circulation probably would have already passed by that road. So I went east on 67 instead.

I remained in the core of the storm for what seemed like forever, with small hail, heavy rain, and no data! Still, as slow as the storm was moving, I knew that I’d come out of it sooner or later, and finally I did, and got a look at the base. Not a bad looking storm! There was a lowering, and right-to-left motion of inflow, but I did not see any rotation. It was tough to get a clear view in this terrain, which was somewhat hilly, and filled with short trees.

I dropped south out of Valera and found a clear enough spot, and the structure on the storm at this point was awesome!

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As it approached me, I had another decision to make. Could I beat the hail if I went back north to 67 and get east of it? I didn’t want to take that chance, so I dropped south instead. I ended up seeing reports of softball sized hail in this storm, so that was probably a good choice, but I may have still been able to make it. Nonetheless, I had to drop a lot further south than I had hoped for. Poor road network in this area, and every road was dirt, so I wanted to be sure I was on DRY dirt!

I got all the way to 283 and headed back north toward Santa Anna. By this time it was after sunset, so getting dark, and it was difficult to make out all of the features of the storm, but it still had some great structure. There was a tornado reported on it at this time, but I’m still not so sure about that. I saw a video, and in my opinion, you cannot verify a tornado based on that video. Too dark to discern motion, and trees are blocking the view of the ground. But that’s neither here nor there.

I lost data again as I approached Santa Anna, and wasn’t sure if I’d beat the hail to town in order to begin tracking east again, so I was a bit nervous, but at that point I was committed to that route, and mentally accepted that if I got into big hail and broke the windshield, that’s what I’d have to do, haha! I couldn’t drop back south, because if there was a tornado, I’d be putting myself within its path at that point. Luckily I made it to Santa Anna before the core hit, and was able to move east and stay ahead of the storm.

At that point the whole goal was just to stay out in front and shoot lightning. There were some decent anvil crawlers, but they were confined to small areas. The storm remained tornado-warned with signs of rotation on radar, but I never saw anything of interest. Here are a few lightning shots.

And that was all for that chase. No tornadoes, but it was still a pretty fun chase, and I was glad I decided to go for it.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2017 in Chase Logs

 

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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: April 26, 2016 – Snyder, OK

I had high hopes for this chase several days in advance, but as each new model run came out, those hopes diminished a little bit more. CAPE was forecast to be incredibly high, especially for this time of year, but other ingredients left something to be desired. Hyped up as a potential outbreak, this day didn’t live up to the hype.

I wasn’t that confident the morning of, or even the night before, that there would be a good chance for tornadoes. There were a couple of key issues. Meridional flow at 500mb, plus S-curved hodographs meant there would be messy storms that would interact with each other, and quickly form an MCS. It was even worse than I expected, however. I thought we’d at least get an hour, maybe 2 hours with isolated cells, but things went linear almost immediately. There just wasn’t enough directional shear to keep cells isolated, plus the storm motion almost parallel to the dryline didn’t help that, either.

In the morning, high-res models were showing some enhanced sig tor values in southwest Oklahoma, so I decided on the target area I had been flirting with since the night before: Lawton, OK.

I set out immediately after work and went straight to Lawton, then on to Cache, where I sat at a gas station for a few minutes looking at a developing storm near Vernon, TX. I decided it was good enough to go after, so I head toward Frederick.

I watched the storm develop from west of Frederick, and saw a funnel-shaped scud cloud that was reported as a funnel cloud. The storm was subsequently tornado-warned. This is somewhat frustrating to me, because this was clearly not a funnel cloud to anyone who has seen one before. It was not rotating at all. Not even moving, really. People are already pretty numb to tornado warnings, so we really need to avoid false warnings.

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There were a few moments where I saw some rotation on this storm, but they didn’t last much longer than about a minute. When the storm was approaching Snyder, it was looking its best.

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My only good road option to get east of it took me right through the back edge of the storm, and into some hail. I got hit by a few golf balls that I believe added a couple new dents to the car. I had my hail guard on over my sunroof, but I’m not sure if any stones even touched it. It did stay put like a champ, however, even up to 80 mph, so the four 82 pound magnets are sufficient enough.

I broke away from this storm at this point, choosing the better road options to get in front of it, and beat it to Apache, OK, which I did. Nothing really changed with the storm, and just north of Apache after snapping the photo below, I decided to call the chase.

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There was quite the squall line that had formed to the south in Texas. By the time I hit Wichita Falls and began tracking southeast on 287, I was on the back end of the line. I was treated to a wonderful lightning show on the way home. One round of strikes started in front of the vehicle, then worked their way around the right side and all the way behind the vehicle. It was quite an amazing sight to behold!

As soon as I got back to my apartment I rushed to set up my camera on my balcony, where I was able to capture this shot.

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Overall this was a pretty uneventful chase. It certainly didn’t live up to the hype, but I had said that morning I’d consider myself lucky if I saw a tornado that day. I guess I wasn’t lucky!

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2016 in Chase Logs

 

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Chase Log: March 23, 2016 – Carrollton, TX

Total Miles: 11
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: 1.00″

I don’t know if you can really call this a chase! The only place I went was up to Lake Lewisville to shoot lightning over the lake. Other than that, I was able to watch this storm from the comfort of my balcony!

I flirted with the possibility of traveling north of DFW to chase, but I didn’t see much reason to. My main goal with this setup was to get some good lightning shots. The tornado threat was marginal, and with a lack of sufficient directional shear, it was likely storms would line out pretty quickly. Why go anywhere when they’d come to me?

I went up to the lake right before sunset. Because storms were traveling in more of a northeasterly direction, I was able to stay put for well over an hour watching as storms developed and slowly approached.

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I hadn’t even looked at the radar for a while, but I decided to check to see what these storms looked like, and how far away they were. When I looked, I saw the shape of a supercell with a good amount of rotation to the west near Haslet. It looked like it was headed almost directly toward me, perhaps a little to the south. I decided to head back home where I’d have a good view from my 3rd floor balcony. It was on a path close enough that I could probably see a tornado from there. I’d worry about what to do in case it was heading straight for me later! 😉

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Well, when I was on my way back, outflow took over the storm and the rotation died. Oh well, it would still be a good spot to shoot the lightning. I also looked at the radar and realized the hail core was heading right for me. I sure didn’t want my sunroof to break again, a week after I had just replaced it!

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Nonetheless, the lightning was frequent, and as the storm approached, the beautiful structure revealed itself!

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Then the hail arrived! The biggest stone I collected was only 1 inch, but I’m sure there were bigger ones. They were all breaking apart when they hit the concrete. My sunroof survived, but the body of my car came away with several more dents!

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2016 in Chase Logs, Uncategorized

 

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Chase Log: 5/16/15 Elmer, OK

To say this chase was an adventure would be quite an understatement! There were a lot of firsts for me on this chase. I saw my first Oklahoma tornado, which was my first rain-wrapped tornado, viewed from the northeast for the first time, and saw the biggest hail I’ve ever seen.

My day started at 1:45am when I woke up. I was out the door and on my way at 2:30am. My target hadn’t changed over the last couple days; SW Oklahoma. Specifically, I planned on heading to Altus, OK. I stopped in Monticello to pick up Rob. It was our first chase together since 2010!

By the time we got to OKC, storms had already initiated in the central Texas panhandle. The first storm that fired later became tornado warned, and a tornado was confirmed by chasers. At our pace, we were set to intercept this cell right on I-40 near the TX/OK border. We got to the exit just before Shamrock, TX and stopped on the overpass to see what we could see. The storm was high-precipitation (HP), so we weren’t able to tell if there was still a tornado in there or not. Still, it was a beautiful storm with a lot of lightning!

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From there we tried to follow it north for a little ways, but the road we were on ended, and there were numerous trees blocking our view. So we went back south and further east to get ahead of it. By this time it had some amazing structure on it, and I shot this pano next to the interstate:

Panhandle HP Storm

At this point the storm was clearly outflow dominant, so we had no interest in continuing to follow it north. We started south on Hwy 30. There were a couple storms down the line that looked pretty good on radar. The first one looked very disorganized, so we passed on it. The next one down the line had a large rain-free base, but no wall cloud. Viewing the radar, the storms to the south were looking much better, so we continued south. When we got to the town of Hollis, OK, there was a storm passing through at that time. It developed a decent couplet on radar, and we saw some motion that appeared to be anti-cyclonic. Once again, however, outflow took over, so we continued on to the east this time on Hwy 62.

At this time we were looking to get on the supercell currently near Quanah, TX. We took 62 to Altus where we stopped for gas and a quick bathroom break, then dropped south. At this point this storm had a class hook echo on radar. I was sure at this point we were about to see a tornado. The only issue is that we had to do somewhat of a core punch to get to this thing. Our other option was to go east even further to the next major road, but as slow as the storm was moving, I felt we could easily get through the core in a location that didn’t have too big of hail. So we dropped south on Hwy 283 toward the town of Elmer, OK.

We didn’t encounter any big hail on the way south, thankfully. We got to Elmer and found a large group of chasers parked at the General Store, including the TIV. This storm was a beast! A rapidly moving, low-hanging inflow band was feeding into a curtain of rain. Soon after we parked, we were able to see left-to-right motion on the right edge of the rain curtain, which eventually reached the ground. There was our tornado! It was low-contrast, but it was clearly there.

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I had my camcorder mounted to the windshield, and focused perfectly on the tornado. There was only one problem… it wasn’t recording! I must have been recording already as we pulled up, and hit the record button unknowingly stopping it. I’ve never done this before on a chase, and I can just about guarantee you I won’t do it again!

After watching the tornado here for a couple minutes, we decided it was time to leave. We figured we were right in its path, and it was just a few miles away. We decided to head back to the north to Hwy 5, which was a nice paved road going east. My plan was to get far enough east on this road to stop and let the tornado cross the road to our west. The problem with this came shortly after we started east. Hail! BIG hail! Baseballs and bigger were dropping out of the sky. One hit the windshield-SMACK! Somehow, it didn’t leave a crack! It must have been a really soft hail stone. It did leave a condensation mark on the windshield that was at least 3 inches in diameter. I know I’ve mentioned that I want to break my windshield some time, but now was not the time! I didn’t want to have to end the chase, I wanted to stay on this tornado. So I had to get out of this hail. The next stone may not be as forgiving. I found a paved road going south, so I decided to drop south, let the tornado pass, then go back up to 5 and follow it east from behind.

We got out of the hail within about a mile. We continued south, as we wanted to get clear of the bear’s cage. At an upcoming intersection, I saw a sign that said “dip”. I slowed down a little, but I couldn’t see where this dip was. Then all of a sudden I saw it, and it was too late to slow down any further. Only it wasn’t really a dip. It was more like a trench. I hit it hard, the car ramped up into the air and slammed back down. Not good! We continued south another mile or so to be sure we were clear of the tornado path, then got out to look at the car.

It actually looked unscathed as far as the body was concerned. Looking underneath, I saw a piece of cowling that went under the front bumper that was barely hanging on and dragging on the ground. The wheels looked good, tires weren’t flat. However, I smelled oil. I looked underneath the car again and saw something dripping. Rob looked more closely at it, and sure enough it was oil. The oil pan was cracked. I wasn’t going to take a chance driving anywhere while leaking oil. The only other thing I could see with damage was a big dent in the exhaust pipe where it came down from the engine.

I ran over to a couple guys that had parked near us and told them of our predicament. These guys were Altus natives, and one of them just happened to work at the local Ford dealership. He called their tow truck driver, and we were able to get a tow to the dealership. Only issue was that they were closed, and wouldn’t be open again until Monday. Enterprise Rent-A-Car was across the street, but they’d be closed until Monday, as well. So I texted Blaize to see where him and Adam were. They were about 2 hours away at that point, but agreed to come back to get us and take us home. We covered their gas and hotel room for the way back in appreciation!

Below is a picture I drew up using the approximate tornado path in white based on the NWS survey. The spot circled in red is where we were stopped and I snapped that photo above. As it turned out, the tornado crossed about a mile south of that spot, so we could have just stayed there. The arrows show our path. The black circle is where that canyon in the middle of the road was, and the red X is where we stopped for good.

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I’ve filed an insurance claim on my car, and as luck would have it again, that dealership is on State Farm’s select list of repair shops. What that means is that all repairs will come with a warranty. They should have an estimate together tomorrow or Wednesday. If it all works out well I plan on renting a car next Thursday and making the drive down to Altus to pick up my car Friday, then continue on to Dallas for the weekend as I had previously planned, and arrive in Sugar Land on Sunday. That will minimize the amount of driving I’ll have to do, because after two consecutive weekends of chasing 13-14 hours away from home, I’m a bit tired of driving!

There will definitely be some changes to my chasing in the future after this trip. For starters, I think I’m done with these long-haul chases, especially when I’m trying to fit it all in within a day and a half. It is downright grueling. But the other issue is that if something similar to this happens again, it makes it that much more difficult to deal with when I’m so far from home. It certainly doesn’t help that if I’m chasing storms, I’m bound to be in the middle of nowhere. Of course this should be resolved next season anyway, since I’ll be living in Dallas. As far as the chase itself, I’m likely to avoid any road other than major highways. That may limit my positioning and distance from the storm, but at least I won’t have to worry about a road falling apart on me! I’m also considering owning two vehicles, so that even if one has problems on a chase, I’ll have a back-up at home.

When it’s all said and done, it really was a great chase up until the point I broke my car. My initial target of Altus was almost dead on, and even when we started the day going after storms far away from Altus, there were great decisions made through the course of the day that put us on the best storm the day had to offer. I wish things would have gone better from there, but nonetheless, I saw my 8th tornado, and have now seen a tornado in 4 of the last 5 years. This tornado has received a preliminary rating of EF-2 with wind speeds of 125 mph.

UPDATE: NWS survey confirmed a tornado near Shamrock at the time the above photo, and the photo below were taken. I believe that is the right edge of just to the right of the interstate.

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Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Chase Logs

 

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