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Chase Log: 5/16/17 – McLean, TX Tornado

After the previous day’s chase, I stayed overnight in Pampa, TX, and didn’t really feel a need to move from there when the day started. The dryline was situated just to the east of Amarillo, so I liked my position. I wandered around Pampa, and a little northeast, shooting B-roll and just waiting. Finally storms began to fire to my southwest.

There were a few different cells, so I waited a little while to see which one would dominate. It became clear the northernmost cell was getting cut off, so I went for the one south of it. This storm went tornado warned as I dropped south to Alanreed. It was becoming wrapped up in rain from the storm to its south, however. Long story short, I went a little ways west on I-40 from Alanreed and observed the wall cloud, but never saw a lowering. Once that was completely obscured by rain, I headed back east on I-40 to get out in front of the next storm to the south, which was looking better.

The south winds were crazy on that entire drive, trying to blow me off the road! I knew there’d be big hail on this day, so I wanted to get far enough in front of it before dropping south so that I’d stay out of the hail. I exited onto 273 from McLean. Looking at the map, 273 did not have any good east options if I were to go too far south of McLean. This would mean I’d have to let the storm pass, then come in behind it in order to follow it (storm motion was ENE). So, I took a dirt road east to get to 3143, which would give me an option to go east, and then north again, staying out ahead of the storm.

When I stopped on the side of the road on 3143, there was a funnel cloud forming well away from the core of the storm. Sweet! I was quite a distance from it, but had a good view. It didn’t take long for the funnel to drop halfway to the ground, and then all the way to the ground. Tornado! A beautiful tornado!

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It grew from there into an elephant trunk, and then began getting wrapped up in the rain.

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After a few minutes it had completely disappeared behind the rain. I got back up to I-40 and had a decision to make: continue to follow this storm, which was now HP, or get in position for the next storm to the south. It looked to me like this storm was beginning to gust out (it would go on to produce another rain-wrapped tornado, though), so I went east on I-40, and then dropped south across the border in Oklahoma on 30 out of the town of Erick.

Here I had a great view of this beast of a supercell!

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I was struggling just to stay standing upright, as inflow winds were quite powerful! I ended up holding this position as the storm overtook me (once again, limited east options here). It was tornado-warned at this time, and radar indicated rotation. I was just about to drop south to escape the RFD when I noticed inflow bands picking up. I decided to hold my position.

RFD was beginning to overtake me, but no hail luckily. It was difficult to find the rotation, but I noticed it in the rain curtains. Strong left-to-right motion in front of rain feeding in from right-to-left. I kept my eyes locked on this area, and after 30 seconds or so, there was a brief spin-up of dirt/debris right where these circulating rain curtains were. Tornado from the bear’s cage! I was probably a mile away from it.

After that the heavy rain and RFD really hit, and I became blinded. Not knowing if a full-blown tornado had formed at that point, I slowly scooted north. I’d have to get behind the storm and catch back up on I-40.

Just south of Erick, at the location where 3.5″ hail had been reported, I stopped to pick up a couple big stones! I’m sure I could have found bigger had I looked, but I just grabbed a couple real quick. Also bear in mind, that these had been sitting on the ground for several minutes, getting rained on, and surely had melted a decent amount.

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Nothing like getting to see big hail without being hit by it!

I came in behind the storm on I-40, again taking care to avoid the big hail. I’d proceed a little ways, the hail would start getting bigger, then I’d stop. And repeat.

Finally took 152 east from Sayre. The core was north of here by this time, but the rotation was not. It was almost right in front of me. I proceeded slowly, paying close attention to the wind direction. It remained out of the north the whole time. It was strong, but it was just RFD. I knew there was a tornado at this time just by looking at the couplet on radar, but I could not see it.

I passed a farm on 152 that had debris strewn across the road; yep, tornado had just passed right here. It was now safe to proceed east. I thought I could possibly get east of it and catch a view, but no such luck.

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Here you can see just how close I was, and yet I couldn’t see a tornado. That’s not an old radar image either. Note the time; radar image is 7:03 pm, current time is 7:04 pm. I was 2 miles or less from the tornado.

This tornado ended up hitting the south side of Elk City, unfortunately doing quite a bit of damage. As you can see from the radar image above, it had to take an almost due north direction to hit Elk City. I noticed it took a left turn on radar. This is not unusual as the circulation occludes. That’s why being north of the tornado, even if it’s moving to the east, can be a dangerous spot.

I followed this storm a bit further, to just north of Clinton, OK, where it had become tornado-warned again. I saw some rotation there, but it was started to get stretched out, and I ended up letting it go. That was the end of the chase, as daylight was just about gone as well.

Below are two videos from the McLean tornado, and the Erick tornado (that is just out of frame, unfortunately). I had to put them on two separate videos because I shot at different frame rates. I’m working on a project that I’m shooting 24p for, but for handheld video I switch to 1080/60p in order to use the electronic image stabilization. Hectic, handheld shots will not be in this project anyway. đŸ™‚

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Posted by on May 26, 2017 in Chase Logs

 

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Chase Log: March 26, 2017 – Decatur, TX

This day turned into a moderate risk in the morning outlook, which was for large hail, not tornadoes. Just about every ingredient was there for tornadoes… except adequate moisture. A storm system had just moved through two days prior and wiped out the moisture that had been in place, so on this day we struggled to get to 60° dewpoints.

I knew that going in, but still expected there would be a few tornadoes. Most other chasers focused on south-central Oklahoma, but I decided to remain in Texas; based off of proximity for one, and the chance at better moisture. Initial target was Bowie, TX, but I never actually made it there!

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I went up to Gainesville first, and just waited and monitored the data. Storms ended up firing way down near Mineral Wells, and were heading NE. I dropped down to Decatur, TX. At first the plan was to wait there, and intercept the storm on 380, but it seemed to be taking its sweet time, so finally I just decided to go further south and get a look at the base.

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Pretty storm! And a beautiful flat base! Unfortunately it was pretty high, and I wasn’t really expecting any tornadoes, but I did enjoy the storm structure. Knowing the chances were high for large hail, I stayed out of the core of the storm, dropping further south to get back in front a little bit.

I ended up making it to I-35 in Denton when the sirens started going off. The cell to the south of the storm I had been following was tornado-warned. Looking at the velocity, there did appear to be strong rotation over Justin (I had just been through there!). I tried to make a few stops on exits along I-35 to find a view, but I couldn’t really find a good view, and time was running out if I were to drop south prior to getting overtaken by softball-sized hail!

I ended up literally chasing this storm all the way home! I have never done that before! It passed just to the north of my apartment. I ran up to my balcony to get a few shots before it moved off to the east.

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Not a lot happened on this chase, but it was still a fun chase, and good to get out there! No time to sit back and wait for the next chase, as it will be here tomorrow! I may post a forecast for this one. Or I might not. It’s already almost 9pm, and I need to get some sleep if I’m going to be out late chasing again tomorrow evening!

 

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2017 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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