May 10, 2017 Chase

 Bridget and I headed down our typical northwest passage of US287, with an initial target of Altus. Storms had fired early in the day, and were already ongoing well to our west as we approached the Oklahoma border. Because it was early, I wasn't too worried about early initiation and continued my plan to drive to Altus. I figured the storms out west could be easily reached if we needed to make a break for one of them. Once we got to Altus, we stopped at an old chaser favorite, a gas station/truck stop that has a Burger King inside.

We went inside for a bathroom break and to order some BK. Bridget stayed behind in the store while I grabbed the food and went back out to the car. I opened radar and rap surface data, and began analyzing the situation. One storm from the initial cluster out west had become dominate and severe, and was now being tornado-warned. As I sat there mulling things over, Eric Fox walked up and stuck his head in the passengers side window to say hi. I was pleasantly surprised, because I hadn't seen him in over a year, and have rarely ever run into him in the field. He told me about the tornado-warned storm, and said there had been a reported tornado with it. He asked me what I was thinking, to which I replied we were gonna hold tight for a bit longer and see how the storm progressed. he decided he was gonna make a run for it, said goodbye, and took off.

A few minutes later I was starting to get antsy, because the storm continued to look good on radar, continued to be tornado-warned, and continued to move right at us. By the time Bridget had made it back out to the car, I had decided we needed to move before much longer. We sat and ate our burgers, then took off south on US283. We drove just past the 283/OK5 intersection and pulled over. The storm's base had come into view, so we readied our cameras. We had a great view with great contrast, but the storm was clearly gusting out at the base. Not long afterwards, Bridget pointed out that a whale's mouth configuration was starting to emerge from the haze. It looked like the early storm was going to be junk, but we were in perfect position, so we decided to just stay ahead of it, drifting east along OK5.

For the next half hour or so, we moved east through Tipton and eventually Manitou. All the while, the storm continued to follow us and continued to look like a storm that wasn't going to produce a tornado. In Manitou we turned north onto US183. We drifted north a few miles, but eventually stopped. This storm had everyone's attention because it had formed early and had been the only game in town, but it was clearly on the decline. A glance at radar showed new development back to the southwest into northwest Texas. We immediately abandoned the storm, and plotted an intercept course to grab one of the new storms.

We headed back the exact route we'd come, turning south on US283 towards the Texas border. After crossing back into Texas, we turned west onto TX91. The storm we were going after was slow to develop, but the trend seemed to be upward. We reached Odell, then turned south onto TX432. We had some decent looks at the developing storm along the way, but I wanted to get further south so we'd be directly east of the storm and stay clear of the anvil precip. We finally came to the intersection of TX432/924. This area provided a nice open place to park, as well as a great view. We stopped and set up shop. The storm still looked rather benign, but seemed to be slowly making an effort to be something. Because it was still early and the only game in town, we stayed the course. However it wasn't long before the storm had made up some distance between us, so we decided to retreat back east, to keep ahead of it and find our next south option, which was TX283.

We moved east down TX924 through White City and eventually back to US283. During this time, the storm began to rapidly ramp up. We turned south on US283 and drove a few miles before pulling over. Once again, we setup and watched as the storm continued to improve. A new lowering had developed quickly, and was already showing signs of developing rotation. Because we were situated just west of the southward dropping Oklahoma border, we had no east road. So to avoid getting run over and left behind by the storm, we hauled south to Vernon, jumped on US287 eastbound to Oklaunion, then raced back north on US183 towards Davidson. If we could beat the storm to Davidson, we'd have a brilliant east road in US70 that would keep us with the storm the rest of the evening.

 

We made it to Davidson just before the storm, and turned east onto US70. We drove a few miles to get some space, and then pulled over. By now the storm was rapidly intensifying, with a nice inflow feeder developing on the northeast flank. Hordes of chasers were now all over the storm, as it seemed everyone who had been mauling the early storm north of Manitou as we left it had no joined in on the same plan. A large scale rotation became evident in the base, while underneath it a large area of red dirt began getting kicked up. At first I thought it was just RFD, but the dust was moving into the storm, not away from. It looked like a slow, lazy tornado, but not really on a tornadic scale speed-wise. At any rate, it was starting to get a bit too close for comfort, so we packed it up and moved another mile or two down the road.

After we'd moved a few miles further east, we stopped again. The storm was really cranking, with visible rapid rotation. We set up alongside the road, as a continuous line of chase vehicles zoomed by. A weak tornado developed a mile or so to our north/northwest, just a dust whirl below the rotating base. It lasted maybe a minute, then fizzled out. We held our position, as the storm seemed primed to do even more. Another tight rotation developed and a brief funnel appeared, but dissipated as quickly as it had formed. After that we packed it up and continued east.

We moved past the US70/OK54 junction, as a second dust whirl tornado developed to our northwest. This one was a little more vigorous at the surface, with a better-defined debris whirl. I quickly stopped the car, got out and shot video. I reported it to the NWS, as it began to dissipate. Once it was completely gone, we started east again.

By this time the storm had started to move away from us a bit, as it had a slight northward component to its movement. After a few more stop-and-gos the storm was getting harder and harder to see. We decided to just drive east into Grandfield, where we'd make out final bathroom/fuel stop before heading home. With the storm beginning to catch up to us and move past us, and darkness not too far away, we decided to end the chase in Grandfield. Coming out of the store, I ran into Darin Brunin, the second chaser friend I'd seen today that I hadn't seen in years prior. We shot the breeze for a few minutes about the storm, and then he said his goodbye before starting his 7-hour trek back home to Kansas. Bridget and I left soon after, headed in the opposite direction, also towards home, with the first tornadoes we'd seen in two years in the bag.