May 3, 2003 Chase

Chad, Susan, Jo, and myself piled into Chad's Chevy Blazer with Chris following in his truck. Our target was northwest Texas, and we headed southwest towards Vernon, TX. From there, we took US70 to Lockett. We hung around in a parking lot for the better part of an hour, and then decided we needed to keep moving west. Back on US70, we continued west through Thalia and Crowell, watching as a storm approached from the distant southwest. By the time we arrived in Paducah, the storm was just south of town. We needed gas, so we stopped and filled up. While we were there, I decided to take advantage of the break and call Dwain for an update. As Chad pumped gas, I dialed Dwain on a payphone.

I told him about the storm just to our south, which was moving towards us quickly. He informed me it was the left split of a previous storm further south, the right split of which still loomed large and was barely moving east. I couldn't see it because of the left split moving right at us, but I knew what we had to do. I thanked Dwain for the info, hung up, and ran back to the truck. Chad had finished gassing up, and we were just getting ready to leave, when the key broke off in the ignition. For about ten seconds, we all thought our day was ruined (Chad's Blazer was notorious for breaking down on chases, and we thought we'd just been cursed by it again). Fortunately, Chad was able to still turn the ignition and start the Blazer. I told them about the storm to the south Dwain had mentioned, and that we needed to make a break for it now. So we pulled out of the station, and started racing south out of town on US83. Along the outskirts of town, we passed several parked chasers who were set up to watch the left split storm move in. They either didn't know about the southern storm, or didn't care, because they stared at us like we had eight heads as we blew by them all, barreling straight into the core of the approaching storm.

The others weren't sure of the plan, because we were chasing after a storm we couldn't even see yet. But I told them Dwain knows his stuff and has saved us many times before, and if he says go for a storm, I go. We continued south on US83 to Guthrie, where we turned east onto TX114/US82. As we drove east towards Benjamin, we could start to see our storm coming through the haze and lower clouds. This perked everyone's interest and the level of excitement began to rise. As we came to the intersection of 114 and TX222, we jumped onto 222, which curved a bit south of due east, and headed straight for Knox City. The storm was coming into full view, and we could now "go visual" on how to approach it. I wanted to get to it as fast as possible because it was moving so slowly, so we opted for the most direct approach. By the time we rolled into Knox City, we were just starting to feel rain drops from the storm's anvil. We made another last stop for fuel before engaging the storm, and then jumped on TX6 headed south.

We passed through the small communities of O'Brien and Rochester, as the storm's base finally came into view. Dwain had been right: this was definitely the storm of the day. Although the structure was amazing, the base was still rather high, which concerned me for tornado potential. However, as we drove south of Rochester and started to approach Rule, a large scud bomb developed under the base. It began to move south, towards the center of the storm base, and within a minute had risen into it and become a large wall cloud. By the time we hit Rule, the storm looked incredible and ready to produce a tornado. We decided to turn west onto US380 and head through Rule to the western edge of town. As we arrived on the scene, we were greeted to a massive supercell, with a ground-dragging wall cloud. We all jumped out and watched the spectacle.

Two areas of concentrated, strong inflow were noted; one just to our left in a field, raking in a conveyor belt of red dirt from the southeast side of the storm, while a second one was doing the same to our north, racing in from the northeast side of the storm. We watched for several minutes as it organized, but only broad rotation continued with the wall cloud. Eventually, we decided to move east, so we turned around and went back through town on 380 and continued a few miles east of town. Once we found a place to stop, we had bad visibility, because the aforementioned red dirt was completely obscuring the storm's base. We could tell it was rotating, but details were impossible to discern. We decided to move back west to town, and then race south on TX6. It would be a bit of a gamble, as we'd wasted precious minutes going east instead of south initially. However, we went back to town, as sirens were finally sounding for the first time. We turned south onto 6 and raced away from town. As we cleared town, a large v-shaped funnel appeared through an area of rotating rain curtains just a mile west of the road. We continued south and were able to stay well ahead of this feature, which we later learned was a brief tornado. About six miles south of Rule, we found a farm road east and took it. Eventually, we came to US277 south of Haskell, with a mothership supercell looming nearly overhead.

We decided to drive north at first, but then changed our minds and went back south, to let the storm move across the road. As we did, we drove under the edge of the mesocyclone, which was a classic barrel/mothership shape. The storm was definitely spinning, but the base had become high again. Still, we drifted south. We pulled over and analyzed the situation. Chris had stopped as well, along with a few other chasers. Once we decided the storm had moved far enough over the road to continue, we flipped a uie and headed back north towards Haskell. Less than a minute later a tornado warning was issued for the storm, for the area to our northwest. Less than a minute after the warning, scud tags began to form northwest of us, rapidly sucking into the storm's base right over the highway. Other, larger scud chunks were beginning to develop right of the base and suck up into it as well, forming a wall cloud that was already spinning as it developed. We pulled over to watch the spectacle.

In less than a minute the wall cloud formed, already twisting and writhing before us. There was a row of trees along the east side of the highway, and as the wall cloud began to move east of the road, our view of the ground was blocked. We started to slowly back up along the shoulder towards a gap in the trees, hoping we'd get a view. However the gap proved too narrow to do us any good. Eventually, we noticed a road heading east behind us, and just continued backwards until we reached it. Just as we did, a tornado formed about a mile to our northeast in a field, appearing as multiple dust swirls on the ground underneath the rotating wall cloud. We turned east and drove as the tornado continued to kick up dirt in the field. After a mile, we reached a "T" in the road and decided to turn south. Just as we did, a second tornado developed due east of us, just southeast of the first one. So now we were driving south with two dust bowl tornadoes on the ground to our east. We continued south for a mile or two until we came to a paved road, where we turned east and pulled over to stop. As we got out, a third tornado developed west of the first two, appearing as a white funnel fully-condensed to the ground. This tornado was hard to see, buried in rain, and quickly vanished as the other two continued to slowly dissolve to our northeast. After another few minutes, all three tornadoes were gone. We continued east.

The storm's structure continued to be incredible as we kept pace, using a combination of paved and dirt roads. We were beginning to reach Lake Stamford from the west side, and soon our roads became quite interesting, as they weaved their way around the shore. Chris was leading us using GPS, which no doubt helped keep us up with the storm as it moved towards the lake. By this time a convoy of other chasers had joined us, and we all congo-lined our way around the southwest and south sides of the lake. As we came around the southeast part of the lake, a cone tornado rapidly developed. We stopped, got out, and rolled video as this tornado rapidly grew in size, becoming a large stovepipe within a minute. It continued to grow larger as it moved east over the next few minutes, reaching wedge status as it began to wrap in rain. We held our position, but after another minute completely lost the tornado in the precipitation. We decided to keep moving around the lake.

Unfortunately, we soon discovered the only route we had was the road we were on, which was now beginning to turn north as it wrapped around the east and northeast sides of the lake. Meanwhile, the tornado had been northwest of us when we lost site of it, and for all we knew, was still in there somewhere. We slowly moved along our lake road, which was now turning to mud as we were heading into areas that had already been pounded by heavy rain. We slid and skidded our way through, negotiating not only the muddy road but trying to avoid being caught up in the storm as darkness approached. Somehow we made it through without getting stuck or getting into the tornado, and made our way back to a main road. We started heading east on US380 towards Throckmorton, to meet up with KWTV-9's satellite truck. Chris was chasing for them that season and wanted to send in his video for the ten 'o clock news. After we found the satellite truck and Chris uploaded his video, we continued east to Throckmorton. Once there, we stopped for gas, snacks, and a bathroom break. While we were there, I called Dwain to tell him about the tornadoes we saw, and to thank him for making the call that made it all possible.