After two weeks of relatively inactive weather across the southern and central plains, finally an opportunity for another storm chase presented itself. April 30 had some promise for severe weather and I was anxious to do some travelling and chase in my favorite part of the country, the Texas panhandle!
The Storm Prediction Center had issued a ‘Slight’ risk of severe weather across the southern high plains, the primary hazard being large hail. Tornado risk was a meager 5%, but I have had luck twice before chasing 5% risk days including another chase performed in the Texas panhandle from 2010, and a chase across southwest Oklahoma earlier this year. Storms were likely to initiate off the dryline in the Texas panhandle and move easterly during the day into the evening hours. Tornado risk was low as 0-1 km shear and helicity values were not very high, so tornado risk would likely be confined to areas where storms interact with subtle outflow boundaries. Setups like these can be hard to forecast in advance, and don’t give much time to get into position if you chose the wrong storm. But I was confident, and just eager to get out of the house and do some more storm chasing!
At 12:00pm CDT I departed from my home in the D/FW Metroplex and headed west on US-287 toward Childress. The plan was to arrive there around 4pm, check computer models and evaluate the situation before continuing further west and picking a storm. I was chasing this storm solo, and had alot of driving ahead of me. I needed to give myself some extra time again so I could stop to evaluate road networks, radar, models, and make a decision on where to go.
|Tornado Probabilities||Svr Hail Probabilities||Svr Wind Probabilities|
Fortunately all was going according to plan so far… at 3:40pm CDT the SPC issued Severe Thunderstorm Watch #210 covering the entire TX and OK panhandles, as well as parts of KS and CO.
Severe Thunderstorm Watch #210 issued at 3:40pm CDT.
At 3:50pm CDT I arrived in Childress TX, stopped and evaluated the situation by checking computer models as well as radar.
By 4:05pm I was on the road headed west toward a cluster of storms which had developed near Amarillo TX. I’ve always wanted to capture a nice long time lapse of a thunderstorm too, since this storm didn’t appear tornadic yet, I had some time to stop and wait. I found a spot 1 mile south of Claude TX to park and watch as this developing supercell approached my position. Over the course of about an hour I captured pictures and video of this storm as it developed and turned into a supercell right before my eyes, with nothing to obstruct my view. I love chasing in the Texas panhandle!
Folks in the TX panhandle are incredibly friendly, one of the many joys of chasing out here. The people who owned this house came out to talk with me about the approaching weather and watch the storms with me for quite awhile. Other chasers pulled up next to me and watched as well.
Tornado Watch #212 issued at 5:45pm CDT.
Around 6:09 PM CDT multiple spotters reported seeing a long lived elevated funnel in this storm. From my vantage point I couldn’t see it.
|Radar 6:09pm CDT. Funnel spotted 8mi west of me.
My position marked by red square in Claude TX.
|Taken at same time looking toward the area where spotters saw a funnel.
I see a small cloud lowering, but no rotation and no funnel.
By 6:25 pm I decided to pack up and leave my position due to a large hail core approaching me. I did take one last picture before packing up however. This storm was absolutely beautiful now, it was obviously a supercell now just by looking at the storm’s structure.
Road networks in this area were quite limited, and if I dropped south then I’d get stuck behind this storm. I had no choice but to drive north into the hail, then blast east on US-287 to get ahead of this storm. By 6:28pm I was being hit by pea to dime size hail in Claude, so it was a good thing I left when I did. Only a few minutes after I left I saw reports of 1.75 inch hail falling in Claude.
At 6:45pm I was 10 miles east of Claude TX on US-287, equal distance between clusters of storms to my east and to my west with a decision to make. Do I head east and chase the storms which likely developed along an outflow boundary and may have higher tornado risk, or continue to stay on my same storm to the west and see what happens? At this time both clusters of storms looked equal strength, but there was one exception. Using radar data I had at the time, it appeared that a storm over Clarendon TX may have had an anti-cyclonic hook echo on it, something I have never seen before personally in the northern hemisphere! I decided in that instant to go chase that storm, perhaps I’ll see an anti-cyclonic tornado too?
|Radar 6:46pm CDT, red square marks my position.
Possible anti-cyclonic hook approaching Clarendon TX.
|Taken at same time looking ESE toward the possible anti-cyclonic hook echo.
Appears to be an elevated storm from here.
I continued to head east on US-287 to target this storm cell near Clarendon, but as I approached it seemed to lose it’s anti-cyclonic hook and become just a hail producing storm. Law enforcement also stopped traffic along US-287 due to 2.25 inch hail covering the ground and tree limbs covering the road a mile ahead.
|Radar 7:24pm, red square marks my position.
Law enforcement stopped traffic on US-287 due to large hail and tree limbs on roadway.
I can’t argue with that.
|Dash cam while stopped on US-287.|
Also, respect law enforcement people… When the county sheriff is blocking the roadway with his lights on, it generally means he wants you to stop. Don’t go plowing by at full speed in the emergency lane like an idiot. Especially if you are a storm chaser… Law enforcement already doesn’t like chasers because we are viewed as a safety risk. Don’t spoil it for the rest of us chasers who try to be as safe and courteous as possible when chasing. We don’t need to become an injury or fatality while chasing, it is absolutely unnecessary. We have all the weather info needed at our fingertips, if anyone is capable of staying out of harms way it’s us.
After just a few minutes the county sheriff gave the all clear and eastward I was… until I saw in the rear view mirror a giant wall cloud formed on the storm I had abandoned. I made a u-turn and headed back west into Clarendon TX. I did see some remnants of large hail stones on the ground and significant tree de-leafing from hail. Even a few hail stones that looked around 2 inches still on the ground.
|Large hail stones still on the ground, some up to 2 inches.||Major tree de-leafing from the large hail.|
I headed 3 miles west back to the city of Clarendon TX, found a good stopping point and saw an absolutely incredible wall cloud before me.
|Radar 7:33pm, red square marks my position.||Looking due west, taken at same time. Large wall cloud with inflow tail about 10 miles west.|
This storm was mature, rapidly developing a beautiful hook, and this very large low hanging wall cloud was just stunning to behold!
|Radar 7:42pm, red square marks my location.||Amazing wall cloud, taken at same time, now 6 miles west.|
Around this time, a strong inflow jet at the surface kicked in, moving air directly into the wall cloud, bringing wind gusts up to 40mph as measured with my handheld Kestrel 4500NV anemometer. It became pretty difficult to keep my camera from shaking, and even knocked over my video camera tripod several times. Fortunately I caught it every time. Then perhaps my favorite wall cloud picture of the day…
|Radar 7:47pm, red square marks my position.||Absolutely amazing! Mother nature has impressed me today.|
But just as this wall cloud was beginning to pass overhead and the winds very suddenly and abruptly came to a dead calm, a new storm cell developed 11 miles west and a new wall cloud. So I captured an amazing picture of two wall clouds at the same time, wow!
|Radar 7:51pm, red square marks my position.
New storm developing to the west of the storm now on top of me.
|Picture from same time. Old large wall cloud with rapid motion in foreground, with new wall cloud in background.|
By this time it started getting pretty cold, a sign that cold outflow air was now passing by me and I needed to relocate. Based on radar I could either head east on US-287 to stay ahead of my original storm, or south on SR-70 to gain a viewpoint of this new storm cell. I elected to head south, gambling that perhaps the new storm cell to the west would work out better since my original storm began to lose rotation and appeared to become outflow dominant.
The two storm cells now appeared to both be outflow dominant. Perhaps the eastern cell’s outflow cut off the western cell’s warm air intake? Before the storm was done, the western cell did produce one final amazing wall cloud…
|8:15pm CDT, red square marks my position.||Perhaps my 2nd favorite photo, a wall cloud sunset. Taken at same time.|
|Looking east at a rainbow.||I find this shot beautiful, wall cloud sunset, a lonely stretch of road, beautiful rain showers.|
I continued to drive southward to stay ahead of this gust front that developed from these storms, when I drove past an absolutely amazing scenic vista that I just had to turn around and take a picture of.
|8:29pm CDT, red square marks my position.||Looking west from on top of the caprock, into the valley below. Just wow.|
I knew the tornado potential from these storms had ended, but my route back home to D/FW took me directly through these storm’s path. I figure I may as well continue to stay with these storms and take pictures since it is on the way home after all!
I continued driving ahead of the rapidly moving outflow boundary then stopping and allowing it to blow past me for the rest of the night all the way home back to D/FW. I was hoping to capture some extremely high wind gusts, but the highest wind speeds I captured were about 35mph.
At the end of the day I saw no tornadoes or funnel clouds, but I captured some absolutely stunning pictures and that is really what I care about. I personally consider this storm chase successful even though tornadoes did occur across the country and I missed them. Several tornado reports came in from across Kansas and northern Oklahoma, and one brief rain-wrapped tornado did occur about 30 miles east of where I was located at 8:30pm CDT near Wellington, TX.