MAY 17: Saturday - Travel Day:
We left Bernville, Pa. at 0855 EDT and arrived in Marshall, Ill. at 2137 CDT. Logged 712 miles. Forecast for slight risk of severe storms in central plains for tomorrow, but we decided to head for the second nights reservation in Norman, OK. This will prove to be a bad decision.
MAY 18: Sunday - Travel Day:
Travel day to Norman, OK. A strong cap prevented severe storm formation throughout central Oklahoma. NOAA weather radio reports during the late afternoon indicated the best chance for a severe outbreak would be northern OK into KS and Iowa. By late afternoon reports of strong storms forming in this area were being announced. I later watched video on the 10PM news showing chaser footage of tornadoes in Kansas. I should have gone northwest out of Tulsa, rather than southwest to Norman for my evening's reservation. LESSON # 1..DO NOT make reservations until the end of the day, you could miss out on the chase! Arrived in Norman at 1840 CDT. 672 miles driven.
MAY 19: Monday - Missed Opportunity:
We awoke to strong storms moving overhead. This day will prove to be cool and overcast with some light rain. Good day to visit the SPC in Norman and the site of the OKC bombing. A stop in the Red Rock Canyon S.P. on the way to Amarillo, TX revealed a temp. of 59 F with northwest winds of 20-25mph. We had dinner at the Big Texan around 6 PM [tomorrow Nancy and I celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary]. 300 miles logged.
MAY 20: Tuesday - White Sands, NM:
The best chance for convection today is to our west in New Mexico. We left Amarillo at 0935 CDT and headed southwest to Roswell, NM where a decision will need to be made to either head further south or west. My cell phone stopped functioning east of Roswell so locating a repair service became a priority. A loose connection and a split battery case were the culprits. Repairs were made and we were back on the road by 1430 MDT. We decided to head southwest to Alamogordo and White Sands NM and break out of the overcast skies. We filmed a nice example of a single cell air mass TRW life cycle over the sand dunes and decided to leave the park for dinner in Alamogordo, it was 1919 MDT. Soon I spotted what could be some nice storm activity to our south, so dinner was cancelled in favor of fruits and goodies packed in the cooler. We proceeded south on 54 toward El Paso, TX and soon find a large cell with CG to our east. While trying to get some slides of lightning from this cell, a new single cell TRW quickly forms to my southwest and put on a nice display of CG. I continued to shoot slides and video of this activity until it got too close for comfort. We arrived in El Paso at 2145 MDT with 495 miles behind us on our first day of convection.
MAY 21: Wednesday - Down Day:
Looks like today will be another day for orographic induced activity over New Mexico and parts of West Texas. We visited Guadalupe Pass and then headed south on 54 to Van Horn. Numerous TCu go up over the mountains during the afternoon heating...very scenic, but atmospherics are not conducive to anything severe. Tomorrow looked better for the Texas panhandle, so we decided to position ourselves in Midland for the night with the idea of proceeding northward Thursday afternoon if the morning data looked promising. 417 miles logged.
MAY 22: Thursday - Swisher County Supercell:
After visiting the Midland Oil Museum in the morning it was time to start heading towards our target area somewhere in the central Texas panhandle. We left Midland around 1330 CDT and headed north on route 137 and then 87 to Lubbock. Other than some interesting dust devils, the sky did not promise much as only flat Cu were observed. A laptop data check indicated the SPC’s 1200 GMT slight risk of severe area had moved further south to around LBB, so we decided to hold up just south of Lubbock until 1700 CDT. At that time I was able to pick up channel 11 which indicated a radar image of an isolated developing storm cell near Dimmitt, TX. It was time to move!
We proceeded north via 84 to Littlefield where a storm tower became rather apparent to our north. After a quick “pit stop” we followed 385 north to FM2080 east and then onto FM1842. At that position [about 3 miles east of Springlake, TX] a wall cloud had rapidly developed on the east side of an RFB. A few minutes later some rotation became visible, but suddenly stopped. Southerly inflow winds were gusting to 25MPH at the time. We positioned ourselves further east at the juncture of FM2881 and SR194. The lower portion of the mesocyclone became very visible with helical cloud bands, but the upper portion of the structure was obscured by mid level cloud strata. At times a white hail shaft was visible in the RFB, as well as a few peaks of the updraft tower through the cloud strata. Spotter reports indicated pea to marble size hail. At 2050 CDT we moved further north over the Swisher County line via FM1421 just north of Edmonson. Light was fading, but I was still able to see the lowered meso area and an increase in CG activity. Another storm was now approaching from our southwest with CG getting close, so it was time to move again. The Amarillo channel 7 chase team had just left the area according to a local resident to get film back to the station for the 10 PM news. I was soon able to view this footage on my portable TV while driving to Amarillo, wich showed 3 inch deep hail in rural Swisher Co. Doppler radar also indicated that the main storm had become a “right mover”, which was apparent from our last photo position. We remained parallel and south of this storm from a distance of about 1 to 1 1/2 miles. Chase mileage logged is 302.
MAY 23: Friday - The DOW's:
This again looked like another good day for convective activity with the action shifting a little further to our north. At 1115 CDT we headed north out of Amarillo towards Pampa and Canadian, via route 60. Just south of Canadian we could see the tops of towers rapidly developing through the lower scattered cloud cover to the north of Canadian. We stopped on a hill overlooking Canadian to shoot some video & slides, and could see the RFB and a lowering wall cloud develop. We proceeded north of Canadian and plotted a course on the south side of this developing line of storms via FM2758 heading east.
Just as we turned on FM2758 from route 60 we found Tim Marshall watching & filming the storm. I've got to tell you what a pleasure it was to listen to the master of storm narration ”pure poetry in motion”. I got some video of Tim with a hail foot in the background, just as we were hit with a cool RFD blast! Proceeding further east we met up with the “Doppler on Wheels” truck and its crew from Norman. Farther east on route 283 was a second “Doppler on Wheels” and the NSSL lead van and their armada of chase equipped VORTEX [now sub-vortex] probe cars. Everyone leapfrogged further south until breaking off the chase at approximately 1800 CDT. The storms had now aligned in a linear fashion with no further development likely. These slow moving storms continued southeastward and later caught up to our motel in Elk City, OK around 2130 CDT. Today's mileage is 238.
MAY 24: Saturday-Bust Day:
Slight risk of supercell development ahead of the dryline in eastern Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma had us ready for another eventful day. After doing our laundry in Elk City, OK, we proceeded north under bright sunny skies via route 183 toward the Little Sahara S.P. Some interesting convection was taking place to our north over Kansas, but never really developed. Another line of severe storms formed well to our west over extreme southwest Kansas, but these were too far away from our position in Pratt. We decided to head back east to Wichita for the night [Pratt was booked solid] which would put us in a better intercept position for tomorrow, which looked to be shaping up as a very promising day for tornadic supercell development. Mileage 325.
MAY 25: Sunday - Anthony Kansas Tornado:
With all the dynamics finally coming together for tornadic development throughout central Kansas & Oklahoma, the chase would truly be on for everyone. We decided to head toward the triple point somewhere south and east of Dodge City, KS. Traveling east on 412 through Enid, OK around 1400 CDT a tornado watch was issued for Grant, Alfalfa, Garfield counties, etc...we were right there, but where to go? No towers were going up, but LI’s -6 to -9 and CAPE’s were running as high as 4000, dew points hanging around 70 degrees and the dryline was fast approaching. We decided to go no further west than the intersection of route 8 & 412, for fear of running into the rapidly approaching dryline.
Arriving at that destination about a half hour later, we pulled into a picnic area to watch and wait. It wasn’t long untill we were joined by eight other chase vehicles, including the channel 5 crew from OKC. About an hour later after ideas were exchanged and a hint of some turkey towers forming it was time to move again . Part of the group decided to head north on 8, then east on 64. We intercepted Jim Cantore doing the 5PM live broadcast for TWC just outside Nash, Ok. They were reporting a tornado on the ground south of Norman, Ok. and another one near Russell, Ks. Too far to attempt an intercept. There appeared to be an agitated area of convection taking place back to our northwest. I was reluctant to go back there, as we had already experienced dew points drop from 69 degrees to 60 just 15 miles back to our west. This appeared to be the only option so we headed back to route 8 and drove north to Kiowa, Ks. The towers were starting to grow rapidly and shear over, as a dark rain shaft and nice rainbow appeared to our east. Further to our north a hail bow appeared...things were getting real interesting and the tension was heightening!
Somewhere along route 2 going northeast the chase group started to break up, some lingering to take photos & video [myself included], others racing toward the developing storm. A wall cloud and occasional funnel cloud could be seen in the more dominant storm to our northwest, but things were changing rapidly with the smaller, but exploding, storm to north. Route 2 turned due east north of Hazelton, Ks. and the previously smaller, but now dominant storm, was now to our northwest with a ragged rotating light gray wall cloud hanging from a black RFB. Time to pull over! We were about to go down a hill leading into the town of Anthony, which was about 1/4 mile away. I could not see the ground due to some distant trees and low buildings, but I was not about to chance racing through town and missing the show.
I just got my cameras set up when the town’s tornado sirens alarmed, and a distinct funnel cloud was taking shape. A moment later a light condensation funnel was visible and a large red dust swirl came up from the ground to meet it...TORNADO ON THE GROUND, at 1930CDT. The show was brief, less than two minutes, but thankfully it occurred over open country just on the east side of Anthony in Harper County, KS.
I tried to follow this storm further east, but soon found myself under developing rain shafts with zero visibility. Earlier, I could see a wall cloud becoming rain wrapped, it was time to back off. We went back through Anthony for a quick stop at the Dairy Queen. After being swarmed with curiosity seekers with lots of questions, and one elderly gent offering me a copy of his tornado footage [in case I missed it], we quickly moved to a quieter spot just south of town. We spent the next hour and half until well after sunset shooting slides and video of the most beautiful front lit retreating storm structure, complete with a large fibrous cirrus anvil and mammatus. Below were the boiling cumulus towers changing in color from white to yellow to pink to black at the base. This was all further enhanced with an occasional CC, just awesome! Some of this final show was also captured by TWC and featured in their top of the hour reports on Stormchase 97 which was shown on Memorial Day. We arrived at our motel in Blackwell, OK at 2230 CDT. What a day...total chase mileage 367 miles.
MAY 26: Memorial Day-Bad Decision Day:
All severe activity was forecast to the east of I-35 from north of Wichita, Ks. to south of OKC. I was not comfortable chasing east of I-35 due poor terrain, and a poor road network. Worse, I did not have a good map of Oklahoma. We visited Wakita [home town for filming of the movie Twister] and the Great Salt Plains S.P. in the morning. We gradually worked our way back to the east near I-35 just in case something developed west of I-35. Around 1730 CDT I could see several large supercell towers forming just east of I-35. NOAA radio soon reported these slow moving cells were producing tornadoes. I could have caught one of these cells rather easily, but instead watched the towers grow as I looked on from the parking lot of my motel in El Reno. The next day I got to read other chasers reports and log in to photos posted on wx-chase. LESSON#2..CHASE safely, but CHASE when you can!
MAY 27 : Tuesday - Jarrell Day:
Risk of Severe weather this Tuesday has shifted even further east and south. A populated area I was not prepared to chase. This would be the day of the deadly Jarrell F5 tornado. We spent the day traveling through the Oklahoma panhandle to visit Black Mesa S.P. This would also put us in a better position for Wednesday for the possibility of severe storms once again in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle. We spent the night in Dalhart, TX. 476 miles logged today.
MAY 28: Wednesday - Chase to Earth:
Most of the day was spent in Palo Duro Canyon [just southeast of Amarillo] sightseeing, watching the sky, and waiting for the sun to do it's work. Overcast and an occasional TRW ruled the sky until early afternoon, when skies cleared and temperatures started to rise. Dew points stayed around 55-57 degrees. At 5:00 we climbed out of the canyon to get a better look at the skies and monitor channel 7 [Amarillo] Doppler radar on our portable TV. There were three severe storms developing, one in the Oklahoma panhandle near Guymon [too far] and two to our west in Deaf Smith and Palmer counties. Warnings had been issued. I could see the dark horizons, so we headed west on 217 out of the park to Canyon, TX, where a decision would need to be made.
Upon arriving at Canyon a tornado warning was issued by the NWS AMA that a tornado had been reported on the ground at routes 214 & 1412. That was straight to our west about 25 miles, so an intercept was plotted to reach this right moving storm [NW to SE]. On FM1062 we were already under the extended anvil of this isolated storm and the small round base of a mesocyclone was becoming visible. As we drove towards the base of the storm, it appeared to have LP characteristics with a striated base and no visible rain shaft, all rain was being blown outward from the anvil. There was a small cloud lowering from the base, but it looked like this storm was decaying fast with no tornado. A new tornado warning was now issued for the second storm to our south. I could also clearly see the back sheared anvil and very long anvil cirrus clouds being blown off from the storm to our north in the Oklahoma panhandle. Should I move northeast to intersect this southeast moving storm? A long drive and it was now about 1830 CDT ..or try to catch the storm to our south with the tornado warning? We decided to head for the southern storm. I could see the flanking line back building and a hail shaft below the main tower. I figured if I plotted a zig zag course southeastward at 60- 70 mph [within speed limits] I could easily catch this 20-25 mph storm. I was wrong! We did finally catch the north side of the hail shaft around 1945 CDT in the town of Earth at the intersection of FM1055 & RT70. There was a covering of pea size hail on the roofs and lawns of this town, and a fresh layer of shredded leaves under all the trees lining the streets. Golf ball size hail was reported just to our south, so I felt it was time to break off the chase. I was not comfortable core punching this hail producer.
At 2030 CDT we stopped at an Arby’s in Plainview as I watched the now even closer looking back sheared anvil from the Guymon storm which was glowing golden in the setting sun, kicking myself for not trying an intercept. We proceeded north on I-27 toward Amarillo for our nights lodging, just as LBB was about to get hit with the hail from the last storm we chased. We could see distant lightning in the Guymon storm towers to our north and it appeared to be back building. The closer we got to AMA, the more this became apparent. By the time we hit I-40 at 2145 CDT we were being blasted by a strong gust front and a shelf cloud was hanging ominously over AMA. This was lit up by the city lights and back lit by occasional lightning. Small hail and torrential rains were beginning to fall just as we pulled under the Super 8 canopy. I could see TWC radar on a TV through the front door, as a severe storm warning for Amarillo was being scrolled across the bottom of the screen. No kidding, but what about tomorrow! Total chase miles 360 miles.
MAY 29: Thursday-Chase Day-Last Day:
Strong southerly winds and high dew points start the day, yet another one with a slight risk of isolated supercells in the Panhandles. We decided to spend another day hiking and photographing Palo Duro Canyon. We climbed out of the canyon about 5PM and found storms had begun firing in the northern Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles. Storms began lining up in a squall line fashion oriented southwest to northeast through Dalhart as we approach Dumas. Another large rotating cell formed to our southwest in New Mexico and media chasers were on the way to that one from channel 7 out of Amarillo. Our best bet appeared to be the storm moving southeast out of Guymon. It was creeping along at 15 mph, and the time was now 1906 CDT. We intercepted the Guymon storm just east of Gruver and filmed a small wall cloud and back building TCu. At 2030 CDT we pursued a new storm forming to our south A local sheriff indicated large hail had been reported within this storm by the spotter network. We were fast running out of light as we approached the storm just west of Spearman, TX on route 15/207. I was able to get a few lightning slides [only one is good] and a few captures of some backlight TCu structure to my west. It was now 2050 CDT and my long awaited 1997 storm chase vacation comes to a close, my first, but hopefully not my last...I’ve still got much to learn!
MAY 30/JUNE 1: Friday & Saturday - Travel Days:
A long drive home, but this gave us plenty of time to reflect on our trip's highlights [there were many] and begin planning for Stormchase 98!
6800 miles total are logged for Stormchase 97.