June 1, 2007 Chase

I was down in Dallas for work this week, and decided to take a chance on a marginal setup in northwest Texas. My target was the US287 corridor between Quanah and Vernon, and I made the long trek up 287 from the DFW metroplex. By the time I arrived in Vernon, I heard via scanner of an isolated supercell west of Crowell, moving southeast. I was out of position, but the storm was moving slowly and I had plenty of time to get around it into position.

I took US70 southwest out of Vernon, through the towns of Lockett and Thalia. As I left Thalia, the road curved back to the west, giving me my first good view of the storm. There were multiple inflow bands feeding it, and I could tell right away it was high-precipitation in nature. Deciding I needed to drop south before reaching Crowell, I turned onto FM267 and headed south, in an attempt to stay out in front of the storm as it continued to dive southeast. I drove a few miles, then stopped to take a look at the storm. It was a textbook HP, with a whale's mouth appearance. This did not make me happy, as it was obvious the storm was outflow-dominant and wasn't likely to produce a tornado. Even worse was the fact it looked to be a large hailer, and my road options were few. I was faced with having to let the storm go, or risk getting clobbered by giant hail as I attempted to skirt the storm to the east until my road options improved. I'd driven too far to quit so early, so I took the gamble and raced west towards the approaching storm, betting I could get to my south option before it cored me.

I raced west and got to my south road just before the core did, flying south towards Gilliland as the large hail loomed just a mile or so behind me. The gamble had paid off for now, but I didn't really have a plan beyond that. I decided to keep driving south as I approached US82 west of Vera, and continued across the highway towards Rhineland. A mile or so after I crossed 82, I noticed an area of rotation within the advancing gustfront/leading edge of the storm. I pulled over to take a look at this localized area of rotation. Because the storm was moving at me rapidly, I couldn't stay stopped for long, and was back on the road heading south within seconds. I assumed the rotation was weak and would soon die out, but it stayed persistent. I pulled over a second time to observe this localized, tight rotation. Again, within seconds I had to bail out to the south, and was back on the road.

I drove maybe another half mile, continuing to keep an eye on the rotation, which was still rapid. Just seconds later, a dust whirl developed underneath the rotation, about a half mile to my west. I pulled over, but by the time I stopped, it was gone. I waited about thirty seconds, but nothing happened, so I got back on the road again headed south. About a quarter mile later, the dust whirl kicked up again, only this time much more concentrated and intense. Unfortunately, I was recording when it happened, and in my excitement, pushed the "REC" button to record as I jumped out, actually pausing the vidcam. A condensation funnel had formed above the vigorous dust swirl, about one quarter of the way down, shaped like a ragged cone. It lasted the better part of a minute, then slowly went away. I'd never seen a condensation tornado from an embedded circulation along a gustfront, and it infuriated me when I realized I'd missed getting the main portion of the tornado on video.

This tornado developed in a very odd and rare situation, but because the circulation was so shallow, the NWS had no radar data to back my claim of this tornado. Without hard video evidence (I only managed about five seconds' worth of the beginning stage), they had no choice but to dismiss this event as a gustnado. A truly unfortunate situation, not only for me as a chaser, but for tornado science as well.