April 3, 2012 Chase

I'd been watching April 2-3 as potential chase days for the better part of a week, but was faced with the daunting situation of having to choose between them. What complicated this scenario was, we'd been very busy at work that week, and taking two days off in a row on the heels of a full weekend was virtually impossible, if we were to meet all our deadlines. To add insult to injury, both days looked to have decent potential but neither was jumping out at me. After agonizing all weekend over which day to chase, I finally chose Monday, April 2. We drove to Fredrick, OK, where we sat for three hours under a partly cloudy sky in what would be an eventual capbust. Driving home that evening, I hoped against hope that Tuesday would bust as well, because I was going to have to go to work the next day.

Unfortunately for us, when I woke up for work the following morning, Tuesday's potential had skyrocketed overnight. What had been a marginal setup for days (like Monday) had suddenly revealed itself overnight, with SPC highlighting a 10% tornado probability zone nearly over our heads. "Great" I thought as I headed in to work. But when I can't chase, I won't look at any data whatsoever, as I don't want to know what I'm missing. Plus, worrying about missing a chase makes it impossible for me to concentrate on work. So, as soon as I arrived to the office, I threw myself into work, without a thought for the weather except to hope nothing happened.

At around noon, I'd been so heavily involved in work that I'd forgotten about the 10% tornado zone and the overall setup. Joe, my boss, walked up to me and said "Just finish what you're doing there and go. I know it's killing you." I looked at him funny. He said "I've seen the radar, storms are blowing up just south of here." Then I received a text from Bridget telling me we were under a tornado watch. I went into the shop to tell Daniel - a co-worker who has a huge fear of tornadoes - that we were under a tornado watch. As I walked past the shop radio, I heard the NOAA warning beeps. Having gotten his attention, I pointed to the radio, expecting to hear a severe thunderstorm warning, since it was so early in the day. When a tornado warning blared across the radio instead, I perked up. Then the warning statement mentioned that spotters had reported a tornado on the ground. Now I was in full chase mode. Without even finishing the job I was in the middle of, I sprinted to the office, grabbed my stuff, called Bridge and told her to have the gear ready and that I was on my way, and took off for home.

From the very beginning of this frantic chase, we were doomed. Our place is 18 miles west of the office, and the tornadic storms were south and southwest of the office, moving northeast. If I had just left the office and driven straight to the storm, I could've seen the entire lifecycle of the Fort Worth/Arlington tornado. But (1) I didn't have my video camera, and (2) there was no way I was gonna leave Bridge at home on a local outbreak day. So, against every natural instinct, I drove towards home instead of the ongoing tornado. Bridget was outside with the gear when I pulled up, so the pickup was as quick as a NASCAR pitstop. We were back on the road in less than a minute, headed south towards the ongoing tornado we'd last heard was in south Fort Worth.

We tore through backstreets out of North Richland Hills, taking Davis south to the 183/820 exchange. From there we bolted south on 820, planning to head east on I-30 and chase the storm down from the backside. It didn't take long before the action started, as we spotted a tornado while driving up the huge, 100-foot 820/I-30 overpass. Traffic was already backed up on eastbound 30 because of the storm, so right as we crested the top of the overpass, we slowed to a crawl to shoot video of the tornado. It had begun its rope stage just as we saw it, and was continuing to dwindle down to a skinny rope, as we sat 100 feet above the ground on one of the tallest overpasses in DFW. It was actually an incredible moment. After a minute and a half, the tornado completely dissipated. We continued east as fast as traffic would allow, trying in vain to keep up with the storm and its next cycle.

Traffic began to flow at a decent speed, all things considered, and we were able to keep up with the storm as it moved northeast through Arlington and into Grand Prairie. Our problem by this time was no longer slow traffic, but the city itself. Buildings, overpasses, trees, and everything else imaginable constantly blocked our view of the base as we continued east on 30. However we were moving at highway speeds again, and were starting to get east of the storm. I decided to take I-30 all the way to Loop 12, where we'd turn north and come up right on the inflow side of the storm. We blasted north, as the storm's southeast flank slowly came into view through the haze. Again, the city itself was wreaking havoc on our ability to view the storm's base. We exited some random street (I literally just started taking whatever road went the direction we wanted from this point on). For over an hour, we rat-raced in heavy rain through the northern suburbs of Dallas, winding our way blindly through Plano and McKinney. We took 380 to Greenville, where tried to intercept another storm coming up from the southwest. However the squally mess we'd been stuck in overtook the storm just as it neared town, and all we got was a lot of wind and rain. Once the line blasted through us, we decided to call it a day.

Even though what we saw paled in comparison to others' videos, we were satisfied in the knowledge that, despite the fact the storms had a head start on us from the beginning, we'd been able to observe at least a portion of one of the tornadoes. And, we were on the board in 2012.