May 15, 2013 Chase

It had been an extremely uneventful season to this point for us, and the days leading up to this event weren't any different. There were other days beyond the 15th that many folks (including myself) were watching with far more anticipation. But like so many other days in 2013, despite the fact it didn't look that great, the target was close to home. So, after going into work and taking off early "just in case", Bridget and I found ourselves sitting at home, watching local radar, and waiting to see if anything formed that looked worthwhile. A storm developed just south of the Red river, and slowly intensified. However I resisted just running out the door and screaming after it. It was a good distance away, and I wanted to make sure we weren't turning our backs on DFW itself.

After a while, the storm near the river became tornadic, while a new storm was developing west of us, near Mineral Wells. The river storm looked like the one to be on, so after three hours, I finally gave in, and we screamed north up I-35 in an attempt to intercept it as it approached Gainesville from the west. As we drove north, the storm west of us became severe. I started to get that familiar, uneasy feeling that perhaps we were making the wrong decision. After another few minutes, I decided to pull the trigger and go all-in on the storm west of Fort Worth. It didn't look as good as the one by the river, but we had better position on it, and could be in view of the updraft base sooner. So, after having just driven twenty miles away from it, we turned back south and started for the storm near Mineral Wells. We jumped on 820 westbound around the north and west side of Fort Worth, and then hit I-20 straight towards the heart of the storm.

The storm's base was starting to come into view, with a large suspicious lowering that we couldn't quite see beneath. On radar, the storm's precip body was starting to sag east-southeast over the interstate, and I started to doubt we would be able to reach the updraft region (still north of the interstate) before we began to encounter the large hail being reported with the storm. Because of this, I decided to exit I-20 east of Weatherford, and took a road I assumed would be on the map. However, the road began to twist and turn, trees became thick, and we couldn't locate the road anywhere on our map. I decided to just continue along it, hoping the trees would clear so we could see the storm and use it as a means of finding direction. After becoming completely lost, I took a right turn that I assumed was more or less west. We drove until our road ended up in some kind of golf course/country club estate, with large houses and lots of trees and hills. It was obvious this road was a dead end for chasing, so we meandered around the neighborhood until we found a spot where we could actually see part of the storm.

While I thought we were south-southeast of the storm and out of its path, in actuality we were east-southeast of the storm, directly in its path. But because it was only moving at around 20mph, it didn't become obvious for some time. Frustrated, we just sat there watching, trying to see the tornadoes that were being reported. I was getting concerned because I didn't know what direction we were looking, what road we were on, or what direction the road went. This was the most disoriented I've ever been while chasing, despite the fact I knew the basic area we were in. But for making moves on the storm, we were basically blind. The bigger issue was, we couldn't continue the way we were heading, and I didn't think going back the way we came was an option either. My plan was to sit there and let the storm pass us to the east, hoping we'd get a better view as it did.

After a while, the base came back into view, and what looked like a large tornado. We'd been hearing numerous reports of tornadoes, including a wedge, from that same area. Though we couldn't see the bottom, this large tornado lasted a few minutes that we could see, until it became wrapped in rain. By this time, it was clear I had to make a decision. After several agonizing moments, I chose to go back the way we'd come, hoping to beat the storm back to I-20 and then get east of it. As we drove back down the long, winding road, we began to encounter heavy precip. I realized that we weren't clear of the storm at all, that in fact we were driving right into the heart of it. Bridget became aware that something wasn't quite right either, as she said "this doesn't feel right."  I told her what was happening, to which she replied "don't get me killed."  At this point we were committed; I had to find a road that would get us out of the storm, even if that meant having to drive through part of it.

I told Bridget to watch her side for anything that looked like a tornado and I'd do the same on my side. I started to realize I didn't really remember the path we'd taken before, and was just winging it. "Great" I thought to myself. We finally came to what I thought was the original road we'd exited onto from the interstate, and turned left. However we'd just turned onto TX171, the road I'd wanted to find all along. I had no clue how we ended up there, except that I'd obviously driven back a different way than we went in and just lucked into it. But even still, I didn't know which direction we were heading on it. By this time, the rain had cleared away to reveal a mean looking mesocyclone, churning away and looking like it was ready to spit out a tornado any second. I drove down the road to where a vehicle had pulled over. I stopped and asked the man what direction Weatherford was, to get my bearings. Because Weatherford was only nine miles away at the most in either direction, he probably thought I was an idiot, which at the time was a fair assessment. Now that I knew exactly where we were and what direction we were facing, I could attack the storm.

We drove southeast down TX171, realizing we were right in front of the mesocyclone and in its path. As we did, the storm produced another tornado, but between driving and looking over my shoulder and trees and hills, I was only getting quick glances. We finally found a spot to stop, and jumped out. The tornado was erratic in nature, with condensation appearing then disappearing in rapid succession. After re-appearing briefly, it vanished for good while the meso itself continued to churn. We were starting to get the rain wrap again, so we packed it up and headed further southeast. After a few more miles we cleared the rain, and pulled over again. The mesocyclone was still cranking, and suddenly another tornado developed. It twisted and writhed as it began to move west. After a few minutes, a second tornado developed to its east and also moved west, giving us double tornadoes. The condensation began to evaporate on the first tornado, creating a "looping" appearance within the funnel. It began to dissipate soon afterwards, as the second tornado continued to intensify. This carrot-shaped tornado continued to move west while being buried in rain curtains. By this time the rain was reaching us again too, so we took our last look at the tornado as it became obscured by precip, before taking off southeast again.

As we headed towards Cresson, I glanced over at the radar, which I'd not seen since we were on I-20. There was a second significant supercell just south of us, with reported softball hail. It was starting to get dark, and we were being squeezed between a monster tornado-producing mesocyclone and the core of destructive hail. My rule of thumb has always been "when choosing between getting cored and becoming debris, take the hail." So we crept southeast into Cresson. Our only option to avoid getting back into the business end of our storm was to head southwest on US377 towards Granbury. As we did, I noticed blue sky directly to our west. I breathed a sigh of relief, because that meant we could skirt both storms and stay out of them. So, we continued southwest into the eastern outskirts of Granbury...not knowing that the other side of town had just been devastated by an F4 tornado. Once we reached the east side of town, it was obvious we were out of the woods, so we headed back towards Cresson to start the trip home. Along the way, we drove up on the scene of a rollover accident. The occupants were all ok, but they asked if we'd go get some help. I'd seen a THP at the gas station in Granbury where we'd turned around, so we drove back to find him. He was gone when we arrived back at the station, but we told a few bystanders about the accident just down the road. When we returned to the crash site, nobody was there. Shortly afterwards, a couple of first responders showed up, and drilled us about the accident. We explained that we'd gone to get help and when we came back, no one was there. They asked us to report the accident via 911, which I did, but the operator informed me they'd already received the report. So, after that bit of excitement, we headed home with our first tornadoes of the season under our belts.