Storm Chase Texas

The chase started in Shamrock, Texas and at the end of the day, I would find myself seeing a supercell and getting pummeled by hail, rain, and wind.  I had mixed feelings about what had occurred the day before when I missed a tornado in Canadian, Texas.

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I kept thinking about my choice to stay on I-40 direct to Shamrock then north to Canadian.  There was an alternate route but I chose not to take it.  I kept thinking if I would have taken the alternate route, I would have seen the tornado but instead I got to see a one hour detour.  The Weather Channel among a million other local TV stations showed footage of the tornado in Canadian, Texas.  It was like salt in the wound.  Yeah, I was a little bummed out, but this was just the beginning of the chase and “Drones” my 4xforce (four by force) chase rig did not leave me stranded.  It ran like a champ and I liked that.  I was also in Shamrock, Texas and I felt lucky.

 

28 May 2015: A general view of the chase rig in Shamrock, Texas during a storm chasing trip to Tornado Alley.
28 May 2015: Drones the chase rig in Shamrock, Texas during a storm chasing trip.

 

I spent the morning getting the gear prepared and trying to figure out the next target.  Picking a target can be challenging.  This is a different game than chasing the monsoon season in the southwest.  For this chase, I spent time in the fall brushing up on storm structure and the basic ingredients of a supercell.   Knowing what to look for and knowing what your looking at can make all the difference in seeing and surviving an extreme weather event like a tornado.  Once Drones the 4xforce chase rig was loaded up I departed for Childress, Texas.  The NOAA Storm Prediction Center called for an interesting day down south and I was headed for it.  I picked Childress because it was a general location of where the storms were headed.

 

28 May 2015: A general view of area features north of Childress, Texas during a storm chasing trip to Tornado Alley.
28 May 2015: Driving south to Childress, Texas during a storm chasing trip.

 

Arriving in Childress it appeared the storm was moving north and east and I anticipated the severe warned area would follow along with the storm and maybe go tornado warned.  Lubbock was getting hammered but it did not go tornado warned.  The storm was moving fast and I didn’t feel like core punching at Paducah so Quanah to Crowell was the move.

 

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2015 May 28: Radar image of severe weather warning

 

I arrived in Quanah and stopped at an Allsups convenience station to refuel.  While inside Allsups I noticed they were selling chimichanga burritos.  Oh yeah chimichangas.  I haven’t eaten one of those Allsups chimichangas since high school.  As I waited to pay for my grossly delicious chimichanga, everyone’s phone in the store started making alert noises.  I knew the alert noise and what was lurking outside to the west.  The cashier looked at her phone and said “There is a tornado warning for this area.”  Drones, my chimichanga, and I drove off into the tornado warned area to get into an advantageous position to film.

 

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2015 May 28: Radar image showing a tornado warned area in red.

 

Imagine my surprise when I saw a flagman stopping all traffic just outside of town.  I could not believe my eyes.  It was an intense moment for me being parked on that highway and I couldn’t believe I was just sitting there watching the construction workers repair the shoulder of the road.  I started to plan my kamikaze escape should orange barrels begin to fly.   Precious minutes, which felt like an eternity, went by but eventually I was able to get moving down the road and find a spot to shoot the approaching supercell.  I stopped along the highway and photographed the supercell but I was not in a good position if the supercell should spool up, get on the ground, and start moving east.  I continued to drive south.

 

28 May 2015: A general view of a supercell in a tornado warned area north of Crowell Texas during a storm chasing trip to Tornado Alley.
28 May 2015: The base of a supercell forming near Crowell, Texas.

 

A few minutes later I arrived at a church in Crowell, Texas just as a light rain began to fall.  Within minutes the rain and wind intensified and it was time to continue my move to the south of the storm.  My sunroof was exposed and taking hail damage would be a miserable experience if the glass broke.  I couldn’t risk hail damage so I had to move quickly.   Driving south, Drones got struck several times by golf ball sized hail.  There was no place to seek cover so I immediately turned around and drove as fast as I could back to Crowell to take cover under a bank canopy.  Just as I pulled in under the bank canopy the hail arrived on cue.

2015 May 28: Hail falls in Crowell, Texas.

 

The storm was unrelenting and it did not let up for several minutes.  I saw hail the size of golf balls bouncing off the pavement.  As much as I wanted to run out and grab one of the hail stones, I knew one good knock on the head would ruin my mighty fine Texas day.  As the core passed through town, the rain and hail intensified and the streets were beginning to flood.  There was an uptick in lightning which was a cause for concern.   Lightning can be an indicator of an imminent tornado.  It’s not the only indicator but one I was concerned about being in a tornado warned area.  I checked the radar but I had lost cell service when I pulled in under the canopy.  With no cell service, there was no updated radar image to see the storm.  Crowell began to flood and it was really time to go before I needed a boat to leave.

2015 May 28: Flooding in Crowell, Texas.

 

I decided the best option was to drive east towards Vernon.  The weather let up momentarily and it was time to make a dash east.  Visibility was poor but once I left the cover of the bank canopy, I had cell service and an updated radar image.  It was awesome.  Radar indicated there was no tornado barreling down on me and I had a small window of opportunity to get clear of the precipitation but it wouldn’t last long.  The storm was headed east as well.

 

28 May 2015: A general view of the sky near Locket, Texas during a storm chasing trip to Tornado Alley.
28 May 2015: A general view of the sky near Locket, Texas during a storm chasing trip.

 

I arrived in Vernon and kept on driving towards Wichita Falls.  Not seeing any hail on the radar I decided to punch through the rain and get to Iowa Park.  At this point, I wasn’t sure if I was storm chasing or the storm was chasing me.  The rain blew horizontally across the road reducing visibility.  It was windy and the storm was punishing.

 

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2015 May 28: Radar image showing heavy rain between Electra and Iowa Park, Texas.

 

I made it to Wichita Falls but the storm had also arrived and the sky opened up and dumped out the rain.

 

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2015 May 28: Radar image showing heavy rain in Wichita Falls, Texas.

 

I was pretty beat up and tired of driving so I decided to stay in Wichita Falls.  I didn’t see a tornado but I got to see the power of a supercell and learn a few things along the way.  Experience is the best teacher and it was an incredible day of chasing.

 

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2015 May 28: Clearing skies produced an amazing sunset in Wichita Falls, Texas.

 

Post Chase Data

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