May 24, 2016 was an epic day storm chasing on the plains. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) had forecasted an enhanced risk for the day and I was ready for another epic day of chasing. I was in Shamrock, Texas and it seemed like an eternity waiting for the latest forecast model. I sat and waited, drove around, fueled up, looked at the SPC website, checked the mesoanalysis page, and chatted on messenger in an attempt to figure out where the target area was going to be for the afternoon. Having a target before storm initiation is a good thing. There is one thing that storm chasing has taught me well; trust thyself. My gut kept gnawing at me to head “north.” The other option was to sit and wait in Shamrock, Texas. After all, Shamrock was in the enhanced area. The term that comes to my mind is “hurry up and wait.” I had a sense of urgency to get to the target area, but I also had a sense of urgency to get moving. At times, I find it to be a challenge when I arrive early at a target area and not bite on the bait of leaving the area because something else pops up on radar. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me only to find out later a storm popped in the area I was just in, and it produced significant weather worthy of a photograph or two.
The time had come and I had to make a decision on a preliminary target area. I decided I would drive north to Woodward in the panhandle of Oklahoma just shy of the Kansas state line. There were many chasers in Shamrock and I saw many chasers heading south. Here we go again I thought. I questioned if I was going in the right direction. I wondered if they knew something I didn’t. I left Shamrock and drove north. Feeling good about the decision, I knew I had made the right call and following a group of chasers on a whim never really worked out for me. I like to pick a target area and just go for it. Good or bad, roll the dice and go.
SPC Day One Convective Outlook for May 24, 2016. –
...ERN TX PANHANDLE INTO SWRN KS AND NWRN OK... AN OUTFLOW BOUNDARY CURRENTLY EXTENDS FROM JUST SW OF GCK/DDC AREA TOWARD GAG OK WITH BILLOW CLOUDS INDICATING THE RELATIVELY STABLE AIR MASS FOR NOW. CONTINUED STRONG HEATING...AS WELL AS A RAPID NWD TRANSPORT OF UPPER 60S TO NEAR 70 F DEWPOINTS WILL LEAD TO ISOLATED STORMS FORMING ON THIS BOUNDARY. LOW-LEVEL SHEAR WILL INCREASE WITH TIME COINCIDENT WITH THE LOW-LEVEL JET...AND THIS WILL SUPPORT SLOW-MOVING SUPERCELLS. EXTREME INSTABILITY WITH MIDLEVEL LAPSE RATES IN EXCESS OF 8.5 C/KM INDICATES TORNADOES MAY BE STRONG. FOR MORE INFORMATION SEE MESOSCALE DISCUSSION 706.
It was about an hour drive north to Woodward in the panhandle of Oklahoma. Arriving in Woodward I grabbed a bite to eat. While waiting for my food order, I made the decision to drive at a leisurely pace towards Dodge City, Kansas. Cumulous clouds began to form in what was once a blue sky and I could see tall towers of cumulous building up on the horizon to the west. Along the way, I monitored NOAA radio frequencies. I have a ham radio installed in my chase rig and I will often monitor the amateur radio frequencies and NOAA radio frequencies to keep informed of what is going on in the area. I was about an hour away from Dodge City when I heard over NOAA radio the area had gone severe warned and soon it became tornado warned. NOAA radio reported that spotters had reported a tornado on the ground. Suddenly, it became chaser convergence on the roads to Dodge City. As the caravan of chasers drove towards Dodge City, I saw some incredibly risky and stupid driving by a handful of noob chasers.
As I arrived near Dodge City, I saw a tornado producing supercell. Amazing. The supercell would produce several tornadoes as it moved across Dodge City. I think I saw 10 tornadoes while chasing the beast. Some tornadoes I just sat and watched and never released the shutter on the camera. Those were for me. I thought if I didn’t watch, I would miss “it.” I would miss the experience of seeing this amazing energy unleashed on the earth for only a moment in time. It was spectacular. So I watched a few touchdown, rope out, and touchdown again. It was an amazing day of chasing and I guess driving north was the right call after all.