May 16, 2017 Chase

We targeted the Texas Panhandle on this day, so naturally we took the standard Northwest Passage of US287, all the way through Childress and up to Memphis. Most CAMs were bullseyeing the area between Amarillo and Clarendon as the initiation point, but I couldn't shake the feeling a rogue storm would pop further southeast of there, in the extreme southeast Texas panhandle. Once we reached Memphis, I decided to drift west on TX256 towards the TX70 corridor, because storms had indeed already fired west of there. Still, I wasn't committed to going after them. Instead, I decided to find a spot with a view, and wait to see how things developed. That gut feeling about the southeast panhandle area would not leave me.

Two storms had started to dominate from the initial cluster west of us, and were already severe. Within another ten minutes, one became tornado-warned. Despite this, I wasn't ready to commit. We had position and roads to get to this storm, which was now the lone dominate storm, but it didn't feel right.....yet. I decided to wait it out a few more minutes to see how things unfolded elsewhere. Glances at radar upon each refresh continued to show nothing in my "gut" target zone. We could easily see the tornado-warned storm looming just to our northwest, moving at a fairly rapid clip. It was time to make a decision. With my other target area still showing nothing, we decided to try for this storm that was right there for the taking. Even still, I was not giving up on my other spot.

Not even a few minutes into this decision, a shower popped up on radar southwest of Estelline....right in the area I'd had a feeling about all day. Without hesitation I wheeled the car back around and raced back to Memphis. We turned southeast onto US287 and headed for Childress, as the storm began to rapidly develop. Because of our road and the storm's vector, we had to drive through the forward flank precip to get by it and into clear air. However, we had no north option until Childress, so even after clearing it, we had to continue away from it for a while, which was excruciating. Finally we reached Childress again, and burned north on US83.

After we crossed the US83/62 junction south of Wellington, we found a nice open spot and pulled over. The storm had blown up into a classic supercell, and was still on the upswing. I sat roadside, tripoded and transfixed, as the storm continued to evolve. It was already producing a wall cloud, already trying to start tornadic cycles, but it wasn't quite mature enough to pull it off. For several minutes the storm teased us with suspicious lowerings, but all eventually were blown out to the southeast, undercut by outflow. But the storm meant business, and things were unfolding pretty much how I had expected.

Eventually we decided to pack it up and move north towards Wellington, in an attempt to beat the storm to town. We had a good east option from there, which looked like it would work wonderfully for the storm's current track. We rolled north, as the storm continued to get closer and closer. By the time we reached town, it was just west of us, and had taken on a classic flying saucer shape, with a nice inflow band developing on the northeast flank. We drove to the north side of town, turned west onto TX203, and watched the storm. It wasn't long before we realized we'd need to drop back south and catch TX203 east out of town, if we wanted to stay in front of this beast. We stopped briefly along US83 in town to watch smoke from a fire being sucked up into the updraft before continuing east.

As we turned east onto TX203, the storm's surface inflow ramped up immensely, picking up tons of red dirt from the many fields that lined the road. After a few moments, visibility became so bad I couldn't go over 35mph. We pushed through slowly, as now dirt an dust was everywhere, and had completely obscured our view of the storm behind us. I was becoming concerned, because I wasn't sure how we would be setup visually for the storm once we cleared the dust. We kept driving away from it, desperately trying to clear the blinding dust bowl the storm had created as it intensified further. It had been tornado-warned since we arrived in town but had made no serious attempts. After a few miles, the terrain changed, the dust cleared, and what I saw over my left shoulder made me salivate.

The storm had strengthened into a serious tornado threat, with a classic lowering which was already rotating rapidly. The dust we encountered was likely in conjunction with an uptick in storm intensity, the final push it needed to become a beast. We were having difficulty finding a place to pull over, but after another mile or so we managed to snag a nice spot with a great view, even if it meant pulling off the road with no shoulder. This particular stretch of highway is not chaser friendly, so we were on high alert for other chase vehicles as well as any unfriendly critters that might be buried in the tall grass.

Inflow was insane, as I couldn't leave my tripod unguarded for fear it might topple. Bridget was struggling as usual in high winds, being the hobbit she is, but managed to set herself up and get some pictures. Meanwhile, the lowering continued to churn rapidly, displaying all the visual features of a storm that's ready to produce a tornado. Several moments went by though before it did, while the storm put on an amazing performance. Merry-go-round mesos gave way to tightly-wound smaller intense rotations, with rain curtains moving in and out of the picture, like small children who can't decide to be indoors or outside. After several minutes, the tight rotation finally produced a brief tornado, which was quite frankly much less than I was expecting from such an intense, sustained violent rotation. I made the mistake of trying to report the tornado while it was still ongoing, and neglected my video camera while relaying details to the NWS. In doing so, I missed getting the fully-condensed rope out of the tornado, as it had moved just out of frame of my zoomed shot. However, Bridget snagged a marvelous still of it.

Once the tornado ended, we decided to move east again. We were right near the OK border, and soon crossed over. Being static for as long as we had been cost us some distance on the storm (a trade I'm always willing to make for the shots I want), so by the time we reached our next north option of OK30, we were badly out of position. The storm's rain-wrapped circulation was now almost due north of us, and would cross the road well before we could catch back up to it. Despite knowing this I gave it a try, but quickly opted out. We turned back south and drove back to OK9. From there we assessed our situation, and decided to make a try at a new storm forming west of Mangum.

We found a large church parking lot to sit I and watch this new storm try to get its act together. Visually it was becoming stunning, with a classic beaver tail inflow band reaching out well ahead of the updraft region. The setting sun provided some great colors, as this pretty storm continued to strengthen. We drove east along OK9 through the Quartz Mountains area, as daylight slowly faded. South of Hobart we finally threw in the towel, as the storm had never been a tornado threat. This was one of my more satisfying chases in some time, even if it felt a bit empty. A solid forecast, a great storm, but without the level of tornadic display I'd expected.