May 29, 2009 Chase Update
May 29th, 2009 by William Reid
I know, I know, it has been far too long since I have posted. The past two weeks have been very busy, as usual. Tour 2 went well, from May 11 to May 21. We had 13 guests, and everyone seemed to have a good time. There were about four or five good chase days during Tour 2, but about halfway through Tour 2 the weather pattern really went sour. This was about the time that the big tornado research project named "Vortex 2" began, so we blame the lack of severe weather on the Plains on Vortex 2. Tour 3 began on Saturday, the 23rd, in OKC. We have 16 guests for this one, and the weather pattern continues to be poor. Hundreds of storm chasers are suffering during the last half of May! Anyway, here is a summary of the past couple of weeks...pictures will be posted later! May 11, a positioning day for Tour 2 from OKC to Liberal, KS May 12, We had placed ourselves in SW KS in order to give us a shot at severe in either NE CO or the TX PH this day. The southern TX PH won out, so we started south out of Liberal. About 20 minutes later I realized that I had left my wallet back at the motel. I had the media guy drive me back to get it while the rest of the tour waited at a convenience store in the middle of nowhere----the Oklahoma Panhandle. I'm sure that my blunder made a nice good first impression on the new guests. The maid at the motel had found my wallet on the floor by the bed and had given it to the front desk. Thank you, housekeeping! We did a quick lunch at Subway in Pampa, TX, and continued south to Turkey. A couple of big cells started to go up to our NW and SW. We stuck with the south one, and it had some good structure as it approached Memphis. At sunset a very strong cell threw some hail on us at Childress and we managed to get in front of it. We rode out the core in Quanah at a convenience store. A cop pulled Chris over in a small Oklahoma town on the way to Altus. We aren't really sure why ---- the cop checked Chris' I.D. and said that "he almost was going to jail", but then he re-checked the information and learned he had the wrong guy. May 13 was a good day in western OK. This was the day of the Kirkwood, MO, tornado, but that was much too far away to target unless we had blown off the prior day. We waited around on a dirt road near Enid (actually, near Helena, OK) and saw some storm towers go up to the southwest. A supercell quickly formed and started to drop almost due south. The cell had nice structure and a sharp RFD cut, but was high-based at first. Towards sunset, near Geary, the cell's base lowered and it wrapped up strongly. We were just south of the storm base on a hill south of Geary, with a great view! It was unable to produce a tornado, though. We just missed the storm core as we dashed west and south to Binger, where we had one last look at the overall structure to the north before dark. I elected to find some cover for the vehicles in front of the precip core at Carnegie, about ten miles farther west. We had some one inch to maybe 1.25-inch hail for a good ten minutes. Farther east, the storm had suddenly gone tornadic, and two of my chase friends wound up riding out the tornado in a car wash in Gracemont, OK! They are okay, and the tornado went on to produce a lot of damage in Anadarko. The prospects for May 14 were marginal in W TX, and the next day looked pretty good again up in northern MO. I decided after lunch in Childress to make the drive towards northern Missouri. We made it to Emporia, KS, for the night. We got up somewhat early on the 15th and headed for Kansas City. Storms went up early a little west of Kansas City, and we waited for them on the Missouri side. We wound up chasing a severe-warned cell near Richmond, in NW MO, and that cell moved into Carrollton, where they sounded the sirens. The storm was in linear mode, though. There were a couple of attempts to wrap up a bit and we thought that there could be a tornado chance, but it didn't work out. Early convection usually means a lousy chase day, and that was the case on the 15th. We ended up back west near Ottawa, KS, in a heavy downpour courtesy of a squall line. May 16th marked the beginning of the Great May Lousy Chase Period of 2009. We had a short day, ate a lunch at Cracker Barrel in Junction City, and got rooms early in Hays, KS. There was nothing to chase on the 17th, so we visited the Scott's house near Last Chance. Lois Scott chatted with me and the group, and we hearkened back to July 21, 1993, when I witnessed a large tornado near their home. We then drove north to Scottsbluff for the night. The road up to the top was closed after 6 p.m., dashing the hopes and dreams of our guests. May 18th was another down day with nothing to chase. We visited Mount Rushmore, the western Badlands near Red Shirt, SD, and stayed in Deadwood, SD, in the Black Hills. After three down days we finally had a chase day on the 19th. Well, kind of. The best cell we could find was a "virga bomb" in extreme southeastern Montana, near Alzada. Moisture was in short supply on the Plains due to a dumb low pressure area near Florida that was diverting all of the Gulf moisture towards it---for days! The 20th looked better, and it was. We left Rapid City and targeted the northwestern Nebraska Panhandle. A storm went up on schedule and looked impressive, near Harrison, for about 30 minutes. It had a supercell look with a big lowering, but then quickly died. We went east and found a nice updraft south of Hay Springs, NE, which the Vortex 2 folks were sampling. This storm moved east into a road void and we had to wave goodbye. The chase ended under a beautiful large anvil on the backside of a cell west of Hyannis, NE. May 21 was the 10th and final "chase" day for Tour 2, but the weather pattern remained poor. We headed back to our OKC base, via Greensburg, KS. I'd say that a good 70-80 percent of the house lots in Greensburg remain empty, and the trees have the extreme shredded look. Tour 2 ended in OKC after 4431 miles. The 22nd was a day to wash the vans and get the oil changed and to rest up a bit. Unlike the past two years, May 22 was dead, weatherwise, across the Plains, and the prospects for severe weather were bleak for the rest of May. The 16 Tour 3 guests were in place at the Wingate in OKC on May 23. My drivers, Rob Petitt, Chad Cowan, and Kinney "The Gardener" Adams picked up a couple of rental minivans and we hit the road after the orientation. Again, there was little or nothing worth chasing, so we went to Hays, KS, in order to be closer to the next day's target area in the Nebraska Panhandle. Near Hays, we stopped for a look at the impressive "Cathedral On The Plains" in Victoria. Moisture and shear were marginal in the western NE Panhandle on May 24th. A handful of mildly interesting cells kept our attention from Pine Bluff, WY, to Kimble, NE, to Scottsbluff and 15 miles north of there. We came back south to Scottsbluff and were greeted by strong and dusty outflow winds from the south. These storms would look good for about 10-15 minutes, and then collapse as they spewed outflow. We eschewed dinner in Scottsbluff and drove south to Fort Morgan, CO, for the night. Prospects for the 25th looked a little better, down in the TX Panhandle. I targeted the eastern TX PH, where CAPE values were expected to exceed 2500 J/kg --- not bad at all. Still, the forecast shear was marginal, but maybe enough for a supercell. As we neared the NW TX PH near Stratford, we viewed a strong but high-based storm to the southwest. It had frequent lightning and looked quite nice with the sun lighting up the fields of yellow flowers in the foreground. But, it was undercut by its own cold outflow and was somewhat linear. We could see a new storm updraft to the east, in the target area, so we headed that way along Road 281. The cell looked like a supercell on radar and from behind, with frequent wall clouds and scary lowerings beneath an impressive updraft tower. Our road (U.S. 83) southeast to Canadian put us right behind the cell, and right then and there the storm went into fizzle mode. The updraft shriveled as it spun out to our northwest, from a spot northwest of Allison. At sunset we found a nice hilltop north of Canadian to watch a storm with laminar banding and decent lightning, and a little later were on another hilltop south of town. The Irish Inn in Shamrock was our home for the night. The outlook for May 26th looked even slightly better, with high CAPE forecast along a boundary between Wichita Falls and Fort Worth. We visited the Hollis "Bridge of Doom" on our drive from Shamrock to Quanah, TX. The guests enjoyed the solitude and scenery as they walked above the Red River. As we grouped together for some photos on the TX side of the bridge, a very large swarm of bees came right at us from the southeast! The twenty of us ducked down a little and the bees continued on, fortunately. Those were a scary 30 seconds! A storm initiated in some hot and somewhat humid air at Weatherford, and dropped some large hail near the town. We got on the back edge of the storm and then came around on the south side on I-20. This storm was high-based, with long hail shafts visible in the sunshine. The storm chased us slowly into the western fringes of the DFW Metroplex. We weren't interested in dealing with rush-hour traffic there, so we rode out the storm's precip core beneath a convenience store cover. Hail size was nearly one inch in diameter. Another batch of thunderstorms was out west, so we enjoyed a nighttime lightning display before getting to our rooms in Abilene. The target area on May 27 was around Fort Stockton, maybe 4-5 hours from Abilene. Well, that is if you don't get a flat tire. Rob's minivan got a flat, and we were able to roll into Coahoma. The two tire places there were next door to each other, but both tire repair guys were out to lunch. We put the little spare doughnut tire on the minivan, and then the tire guy arrived. He checked the punctured tire and said that it would not be a good idea to try to drive on it were he to fix it. And, he didn't have a similar replacement tire. So, we drove the 15 miles into Big Spring on the spare. Rob and I dropped the guests off at the Cajun fish place for lunch, and bought a new tire at Don's Tire place. This cost us about an extra hour, and storms were already going up southwest of Fort Stockton. I elected to drop south to I-10 from Big Spring, and from there we dropped southwest to Sanderson. Along the way, a big storm developed near Marathon, well south of Fort Stockton. We tried to get to it, but when it started to turn to the south and follow the road south out of Marathon, we knew we were cooked. We managed to get a view of the cell from the north side, about 25 miles away, along U.S. 90. It was about an hour before sunset, and our only chance to salvage something were new strong towers well to the east, northeast of Dryden. After blasting east for a couple more hours, we were near a strong cell with a lot of lightning, just north of Langtry (on the Rio Grande). There was some low-level structure with the updraft, but the main attraction was the frequent CG lightning. We stopped a few times south of the storm to photograph the lightning, before being chased farther southeast to Del Rio by additional cells. The forecast for severe storms in the Del Rio area persisted the next day, May 28. It looked like the initiation area would be a few counties to the north, near San Angelo. We hung out near Sonora and blew bubbles, and waited some more. This, again, was a day with less-than-adequate shear from the surface to mid-levels, but maybe enough CAPE to make things interesting. Like practically every other chase day for the past two weeks, the prospects for a tornado were extremely small. A bunch of weak storms developed in a large cumulus field which extended to our northwest to southeast. We drifted north to Eldorado, TX, and then decided to get close to a developing storm in Irion County, to our northwest. My approach route via Barnhart (west and north) wound up ill-advised, as the cell moved more SE than SSE, as hoped. Worse still, the original cell croaked just as we got on it, and a new storm went up just to its southeast. We were in catch-up mode now, on the wrong side of the storm! The sparse road network was a bummer, too. Fortunately, it wasn't as if we were going to miss a tornado or anything spectacular, as this was also a rather high-based cell...just another hail storm like most of the others during the past few weeks. We dropped down to I-10 and blasted east, to make sure that we weren't fighting with cores in order to get back in front, on the southeast side. This was accomplished nearly two hours later, between Sonora and Junction. The activity north of I-10 was somewhat linear, but had a cool-looking laminar banding and a prominent lowering on the leading edge, with frequent lightning. We stayed with the storm to our Days Inn in Junction, with plenty of lightning and thunder and heavy rain into the night! After checking in, we went to McDonalds for some food. It was the only place in town still open----until 11 p.m. It was closed when we arrived around 10:30, though, as lightning had knocked out their computers. We wound up, once again, with convenience store food. As I finish up this account, we are headed back to OKC on the final chase day for this tour ---- with nothing within 300 miles of OKC to chase! This chase season has really been poor in terms of supercells and tornadoes, but at least we had five days with thunderstorms for the Tour 3 guests. Final mileage for Tour 3 was about 3350. I fly back home to L.A. on May 30 and hope to get a bunch of images posted. Then, I'm back out here for another month for Tours 5, 6 and 7 out of Denver.