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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: 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.

Elmer Tornado

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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