April 16, 2009 Chase

Bridge, Chad, Mick, and myself targeted the area north and east of Lubbock on this day. We left Norman around noon, headed southwest on I-44. As with most systems in 2009, there were issues with the setup, namely moisture and, to a lesser degree, low-level shear. We decided to head towards Floydada, at the northern end of our target area.

As we drove west, storms began to fire, a little earlier than I had expected. A storm near Tulia soon became tornadic, and went on to be the dominate cell for most of the first part of the afternoon. It had been established for over an hour by the time we reached Floydada, and was barely moving. Though we were briefly tempted to go after it, cooler heads prevailed and we decided to stick to our plan. We held our ground just north of town, and decided to wait and see what the storms further south, to our southwest, would eventually do. We didn't like the view north of town, so we went back through and headed to the south on TX207. After negotiating some horrid canyon landscapes, we finally popped out onto beautiful, open, flat prairie. We found a decent place to stop, and pulled over to watch a pair of storms evolve.

While watching the pair of storms just west and southwest of us, two other storms formed further down the line and quickly became severe. However, nothing was tornadic, and after a bit longer, staring at a string of severe but non-tornadic storms while the one near Tulia was still going nuts, we were starting to get antsy. Finally the storm furthest southwest, southwest of Lubbock, was tornado-warned. We immediately pulled stake, and headed south towards Cone on TX207 to intercept. As we got to Cone, the other storm just southwest of Lubbock went tornadic, which played right into our hands. Now our intercept route had been cut in half, and we'd have not one but two supercells to view. We continued south towards Ralls, hearing reports of a rotating wall cloud near Idalou. Once we entered Ralls, we could already see the base of the lead storm. We turned west onto US82 headed towards Lorenzo. As soon as we cleared Ralls, we could see the lowering on the lead storm to the southwest. We stopped as soon as we had a semi-clear view, but it was obvious the storm was cycling down, as the lowering blew out to the southeast. We decided to keep blasting west, to be closer for the next attempt at tornadogenesis.

We continued west on 82 into and through Lorenzo, stopping about a mile west of town. A new area of rotation developed a few miles southwest of us, and a notch soon formed. The storm further southwest also had a lowering, but it seemed more benign. The rotation just southwest of us seemed to be fighting the influences of outflow, and became very chaotic, with wild horizontal and vertical motions. About a minute later, a tornado developed in this area. It appeared as a wide, truncated cone, that slowly began to descend, with a faint debris cloud underneath. Eventually the funnel snaked halfway down, while the debris cloud rose up to meet it, creating a classic tornado appearance for a brief time. Shortly afterwards, the debris cloud became diffuse, and the funnel began to recede back towards the cloud base. As the first tornado began to occlude, a new area of rotation quickly developed northeast of it. Within a minute, a second tornado developed from this new rotation, and suddenly we had twins. That however only lasted a few moments, because a new rotation west of us that we'd not noticed was beginning to produce a twister pair of its own.

A truncated cone tornado developed rapidly to our west, along with a small satellite tornado that briefly touched down north of it while moving south and rotating around its western side. This set of twins didn't last long, as the satellite tornado dissipated rapidly as it moved around to the south side of the main cone tornado, leaving it to continue north on its own as the original twins continued to our south. Tornado number three continued to slowly move towards the highway, pulling up chunks of scud and widening at the top. By this time, the second tornado had dissipated, and the original one was disappearing behind a wall of rain, which was beginning to shut off our east escape route as it wrapped around the circulation center to our south. We continued to watch tornado three, as a large rfd cut began slicing above it. Within seconds it began to completely cut the tornado off from the parent storm, and with heavy rain and hail starting to fall, we jumped back inside the van. The core to the south had encroached upon us from the southeast, putting us in between tornado-producing mesocyclones. Our only option at this point was to drive west towards tornado number three, which was now a wide truncated cone, just south of the highway.

We took off west towards tornado number three, to clear the path of tornado number one, which we could no longer see. Not long afterwards, tornado number three dissipated, as the large clear slot began to erode the circulation away, as it sliced itself away from the storm. As this was happening, the original tornado partially re-emerged from the western edge of the precip core to our south. We had a view of it for less than a minute, before the rain buried it again and we focused our attention on a new circulation developing ahead of us, just north of the highway.

We drove west about two miles, as a fifth tornado developed about a quarter mile north of the highway. Multiple dust swirls appeared on the ground, just south of a grove of trees as we continued to crawl west towards it. It became a wide bowl funnel, as several suction vortices danced and snaked their way behind a farmstead, just missing it to the west as it continued to move north. We held our position for a moment longer, giving it time to move a bit further away before we followed behind. We finally moved forward to FM789, and turned north to trail the tornado. It morphed into a wide v-shaped funnel, halfway to the ground with intermittent debris, as it continued to move north. At this point I finally got a signal on my phone, and called the Lubbock NWS. I assumed that, with as crazy a display as we'd just witnessed along a major highway, the NWS was already fully-aware of what had transpired. However they were not, and I was suddenly trying to report five tornadoes which occurred over the past twelve minutes. During the chaos of trying to speak on the phone, fight wind, rain and Chad's head for visibility, plus operate my vidcam, the tornado, which had seemingly disappeared in rain just moments before I made the call to the NWS, appeared once again, as a fully-condensed tube that I was barely able to see. Moments later, we lost sight of it for good.

By this time, the original storm had gotten away from us to the northeast. We decided to drop it, and head back south to the next storm which was coming up the same basic track. We took US82 back to Lorenzo, where we stopped to watch one last area of rotation with the original storm, before working our way in front of the new storm, which was also coming up from the Lubbock area. We eventually got in front of it northeast of Robertson, where we witnessed a dramatic circulation develop, complete with massive clear slot. It tried to focus and tighten up a few times, but could never get it done. We moved east to get ahead of the storm again, eventually turning north onto TX207 headed towards Ralls. As we drove, a large lowering with a clear slot developed to our northwest, southwest of Ralls. It continued to look very suspicious as we drove towards town, almost resembling a wedge at times. Around the same time we were seeing this, a brief tornado was reported. We could never confirm a tornado during this time however.

Once this storm began to weaken, we decided to heard east on US82 towards Guthrie, to try and get in front of the next supercell in the group, well southeast of us. By the time we finally reached Guthrie, it was getting dark, so we decided to end this incredible day and head home.