1997-05-27: Jarrell, TX F5

Apr 10, 2008
469
133
11
Tulsa, OK
www.facebook.com
I'm not sure if this post is in the right place, but I guess the mods can move it if its not.

I was talking to a friend about when I started chasing in 1997, and something came back to memory.

On Memorial Day 1997 I had stopped in Henryetta, OK after chasing the Preston tornado. My friend and I had pulled over at a motel on the east side of HWY 75 near main street. I don't remember the name of the motel. It was around 9pm. I ran into another chaser who was checking into the motel for the night. We talked briefly about the weekend's chasing, and he told me that he was planning on heading down to Texas the next day to chase. I don't remember his name, but I assume he was in Texas the next day. I wonder if this guy scored the Jarrell tornado? Anyway, I decided to post this story to see if maybe the guy I met was on Stormtrack and would remember that day. If your out there....what did you see on Tuesday, May 27, 1997 in Texas?
 
Apr 16, 2004
1,613
12
11
Austin, Tx
www.TornadoXtreme.com
I'm not sure if this post is in the right place, but I guess the mods can move it if its not.

I was talking to a friend about when I started chasing in 1997, and something came back to memory.

On Memorial Day 1997 I had stopped in Henryetta, OK after chasing the Preston tornado. My friend and I had pulled over at a motel on the east side of HWY 75 near main street. I don't remember the name of the motel. It was around 9pm. I ran into another chaser who was checking into the motel for the night. We talked briefly about the weekend's chasing, and he told me that he was planning on heading down to Texas the next day to chase. I don't remember his name, but I assume he was in Texas the next day. I wonder if this guy scored the Jarrell tornado? Anyway, I decided to post this story to see if maybe the guy I met was on Stormtrack and would remember that day. If your out there....what did you see on Tuesday, May 27, 1997 in Texas?
Greg, I'm guessing the guy your talking about could be Gene Moore http://www.chaseday.com/ . Here is his web page with photos of the tornadoes that day: http://www.chaseday.com/26may-1.htm

Funny you bring this up. The first time I ever met Gene was when I was chasing the Beggs / Preston tornado. We were both stopped watching the tornado and as is typical for Gene he walked up, stuck out his hand, introduced himself, and we started talking about the storm. Gene loves to talk about storms and is always interested in other chasers perspective on things. It was a hell of a chase day, and I had been up in Oklahoma for another day or two at the time. Heck, then again I guess it could be me. I forget where I stayed in Oklahoma that night. Oh, I remember. I worked my way south to McKinney Tx and spent the night in a motel there. Later the next morning I stopped in at my sister and brother in law's house in Little Elm. Showed them some of my tornado footage and had a leisurely mexican food lunch with my brother in law before quickly departing to head south into the newly announced tornado watches. Had I known, what was really transpiring I would have left much sooner, but I knew very little about forecasting then. Suffice it to say even though I was in a hurry because of what I was hearing on NOAA radio, I got stuck in a construction detour traffic jam in Denton. But once I broke out I raced south on I35. Back then I was driving a BMW 535is and I happened to run across a Porsch that apparently was competitive with me as we maneuvered for best position and speed on I35. I won't go into detail about speeds but lets just say we got to Waco very quickly. At that time I was hearing reports from my nanny in Lakeway that she was seeing a tornado and large hail out our back door. I thought she was crazy but told her to climb into a downstairs closet. I saw and videotaped what I thought was a tornado east of Waco and tried to follow it, but was unable to keep up. The whole cloud structure was odd and really had me confused that day. Obviously that was because of the unusual back building boundary storm. I saw all sorts of cloud structures and manifestations that day. I heard about a tornado near Jarrell and tried to make it south, but I was just too late.

I believe Gene didn't get Jarrell either. I forget where he went, but he missed it. Lon Curtis who is a weather anchor in Temple / Belton Tx did catch and photograph the Jarrell tornado. http://homepages.vvm.com/~curtis/Stormchase.html
I'm not sure if Lon was in Oklahoma the day before. I don't think so.

I have video and photos from the Beggs / Preston storm and tornadoes, but I have never posted them to my website.

Gene is on Stormtrack so if he doesn't see this and respond you can always PM him.
 
I'm not sure if this post is in the right place, but I guess the mods can move it if its not.

I was talking to a friend about when I started chasing in 1997, and something came back to memory.

On Memorial Day 1997 I had stopped in Henryetta, OK after chasing the Preston tornado. My friend and I had pulled over at a motel on the east side of HWY 75 near main street. I don't remember the name of the motel. It was around 9pm. I ran into another chaser who was checking into the motel for the night. We talked briefly about the weekend's chasing, and he told me that he was planning on heading down to Texas the next day to chase. I don't remember his name, but I assume he was in Texas the next day. I wonder if this guy scored the Jarrell tornado? Anyway, I decided to post this story to see if maybe the guy I met was on Stormtrack and would remember that day. If your out there....what did you see on Tuesday, May 27, 1997 in Texas?

Greg, it very well could have been me....
The motel was the old Super 8, basically right on main street.
After intercepting the Preston tornado I planned on going back home but was decided to stay and try to chase down in TX the following day.
I was driving a black Pontiac Grand Prix and had the weather station mounted on and I believe you guys commented on the weather station.
Anyways, as far as the Jarrell event, I missed it by 40 miles oe so....I just did not get to it in time after sleeping in.
 
Apr 10, 2008
469
133
11
Tulsa, OK
www.facebook.com
Thats interesting....I still am not quite sure who it was. As I recall the guy I met wasn't from Tulsa. I don't remember where he was from. Anyway, this does shed some light on the situation at the very least. That was a fun chase. I was new to chasing and had no idea what I was doing. I remember how quickly those storms broke through the cap around 5pm just west of HWY 75. I saw the Preston tornado at HWY 75 and HWY 16 near Beggs. Thanks for the posts. I wonder if it was Gene Moore?
 
Thats interesting....I still am not quite sure who it was. As I recall the guy I met wasn't from Tulsa. I don't remember where he was from. Anyway, this does shed some light on the situation at the very least. That was a fun chase. I was new to chasing and had no idea what I was doing. I remember how quickly those storms broke through the cap around 5pm just west of HWY 75. I saw the Preston tornado at HWY 75 and HWY 16 near Beggs. Thanks for the posts. I wonder if it was Gene Moore?
I was not from Tulsa at the time....I was living near Springfield Mo, which is why I did not want to drive all the way back, only to have to drive back south the next day towards TX.
 
Apr 16, 2004
1,613
12
11
Austin, Tx
www.TornadoXtreme.com
Yes, this brings back some memories. I had been chasing for some years but was still green. I ran into a guy before Gene -over just east of Beggs. Hard to remember exactly my route now. I took a lot of video that was really cool. I believe I first set up on hwy 75 perhaps north of Preston and se of Beggs. I got on a tripod and directly north was a very, very dark core. The storm was tornado warned, but vehicles were just driving straight into the core without slowing down. I found that remarkable at the time. I turned my camcorder to the ne towards the rainfree base of the storm coming from Beggs I believe. There was a distinct wallcloud lowering. I jumped in the vehicle and drove perhaps a mile or so west and then north some directly in front of the wallcloud, but it was perhaps attempting to pass a bit to my north. I got out, watched, and videotaped the storm some more. Another chaser got out of his vehicle. I seem to recall he had a larger American type sedan, perhaps a burgandy, or possibly it was black. I think the guy was alone, but not sure. He was talking to me by himself. Anyway, he said he chases these things all the time, and had been out for awhile himself. I think he said he was from Arkansas, but could have been Missouri, etc. I remember he said to be careful of the storm as it was really getting it's act together. As I watched the lowered, rotating wall cloud's base was behind a hill. In actuality it could have been a tornado at the time. Reviewing video I never can tell for sure, but it sure looks like a possibility. It was a very dark - black and fairly large truncated cone shape. After awhile the guy thought we could reposition so I followed him north across some railroad tracks, etc. Somewhere along the way following him we got hit by sudden, intense wind. I stopped the vehicle and ducked down in it for awhile as the trees went crazy, leaves and debris were blowing, and branches broke and fell around and nearby. I now know of course that was the RFD. There were some branches down on the road, and I managed to go around them. We repositioned and managed to set up just south of a VERY large inverted bowl, rotating, inflow region / wallcloud. I'm not sure I've seen anything like it since, but it was probably 2.5 to 5 miles in diameter and as it rotated small tornadic vortices would spin and touch down along the outside similar to a rotating carousel. This was fascinating to watch. After this is when it moved east and formed a tornado I believe north of Preston - and I believe I followed as I crossed east across hwy 75. I got separated from the other chaser in all the confusion. Never did find out who that was. Not sure he introduced himself. It is in this region east of hwy 75 I met Gene. We watched that tornado (a white elephant trunk) for awhile then did some maneuvering I believe southeast and along the way there was another tornado just south of our east bound road. There we got caught in heavy precipitation from merging storms as it began getting too dark to chase. Along the way back along the hwy headed south I ran into all sorts of people under overpasses that were scared to death. I remember on lady and her family were trying to get back to Fort Smith, but didn't know if it was safe to proceed. I updated them on the storms positions and they were happy for the relief.

Anyway, to this day, I still wonder who that chaser was I met se of Beggs. Let me know if any of you recall being at that location and talking with me. I was in a black BMW 535is sedan. Yes, that was a seriously cool chase, with some wicked storm activity. The lightning that evening / night was very intense as well.
 

Darrin Rasberry

Opening up a can of meteorological worms with this one. The cell moved southwest, producing a huge F5 tornado that obliterated the town of Jarrell, Texas. The radar grab can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92DadB6ZnbE

I would be interested to hear from people chasing that day, and from people who have opinions on the odd storm motion the supe took.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Mike Z

STurner

EF2
Nov 21, 2008
182
1
0
Shawnee, KS 66217
In my opinion this is one of the few tornadoes that created damage that was beyond my imagination. The other two tornadoes were Harper, Kansas May 12, 2004 and Hitchcock/Red Willow, Nebraska June 15, 1990.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Mike Z
I don't have any real scientific data, actual chase account or anything of that sort, but I can recall a personal account of traveling up through central Texas on that day. We would often take a spring trip up to Ft Worth to visit family. I believe our route would be to take some highway up from Houston to get to I-35. Usually our spring trips would be be filled with us driving through spring storms and getting some pea sized hail knocking on our car.

On this instance we were either in Jarrell or within the path of the supercell that did hit it, stopped at a McDonalds. My dad asked my sisters and I if we wanted to play at the play-place for fifteen minutes or if we wanted to leave. We chose to leave.

Our trip up I-35, a few minutes after we left, my mother mentioned how much the storm outside looked like it had "tornado clouds." Both she and my father had both grown up in North TX. They were not sure what to call it.

When we reached Ft. Worth, we found my grandmother sitting at the TV with the Jarrell tornado out and saw the destruction of the town we went through. We missed the event by about fifteen minutes. I felt pretty disappointed since I, being 8 at the time and already interested in weather, missed seeing that tornado. It was my final push at being interested in weather, and I vowed that I would see a tornado someday (mission accomplished.)

In the past few years I began to realize the significance of that event and did a lot of research on what happened that day. I just don't remember where exactly I was that day.

Here's a couple of the links to sites that I've found:

SPC's page on the event: http://www.spc.noaa.gov/coolimg/jarrell/index.html

Data filled analysis page: http://homepages.vvm.com/~curtis/Jarrell/Jarrell.htm

SPC Paper: http://www.spc.noaa.gov/publications/corfidi/jarrell.htm
 
Jan 7, 2008
537
7
11
47
Bryan, TX
So was there some sort of eventual consensus on the SW movement being from this gravity wave?

--
in addition to producing a series of strong mesohighs, the MCS generated a well-defined gravity wave that propagated southwest across the eastern half of Texas beginning around dawn on the 27th. The progress of the wave could be readily tracked via satellite as the capped mixed-layer cloudiness east of the dry line alternatingly thickened and thinned upon passage of the wave (not shown). The leading edge of the wave is depicted by a wavy line in the hourly surface charts.
from:
http://www.spc.noaa.gov/publications/corfidi/jarrell.htm

And does this conclusion also suggest that the gravity wave might have been partly responsible for the intensification up to F5, as well as a vote for super instability beats out mild shear?
Given the fortuitous nature of the factors involved and, especially, the presence of an MCS-induced gravity wave, it is safe to say that another event of the same magnitude is not likely to occur for some time to come. It is, however, worth noting that meso-alpha scale environments similar to those that were present over central Texas on 27 May 1997 (slowly-moving boundary with weak shear, a strong cap and substantial potential instability) do occur with some regularity over the southern Plains, especially during late spring. For example, such a set-up, minus a gravity wave, yielded an F3 tornado over Lake Whitney, TX (approximately 30 miles northwest of Waco) on 12 May 2000. The central Texas tornadoes of 27 May 1997 serve as a reminder that there exist "unconventional" routes by which supercellular convection may be realized. These events can be problematic from a forecast perspective as they occur well beyond the more-commonly visited parts of severe weather parameter space. Clearly, even in the presence of weak shear, environments that foster strongly-deviant storm motions (see, for example, Johnson 2002) should be closely monitored for the potential of sustained, rotating convection when thermodynamic conditions are favorable for intense updrafts.


I remember seeing the newspapers covering this tornado, and how incredibly powerful that thing was (reading about not just the asphalt but the plumbing pulled out of the ground), and the notable contrast with the little rope that started things off in one of the youtube archived news reports:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLL8o-urKZ0&feature=related
Note that Lon Curtis's account includes this commentary:
Later surveys and
interviews with residents show that the "pencil' likely dissipated as
the multi-vortex tornado formed (tornado #6).
How's this for a stark image:
http://www.rogersadler.com/Jarrell_tornado/pages/pole_mattress_spings.htm
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • Like
Reactions: Mike Z

Scott Overpeck

One that got away...

So was there some sort of eventual consensus on the SW movement being from this gravity wave?
--
from:
http://www.spc.noaa.gov/publications/corfidi/jarrell.htm

And does this conclusion also suggest that the gravity wave might have been partly responsible for the intensification up to F5, as well as a vote for super instability beats out mild shear?
For me, this was the one chase that got away from me. I had just moved to Waco to live with my brother temporarily while transitioning from undergraduate studies a Creighton to graduate studies at Texas A&M. I hadn't seen a weather map in like 2 weeks. I remember NWS FWD doing a special weather statement alluding to severe weather potential. I remember seeing the updraft go up like a bomb. My brother worked in Hewitt at the time and told me about the funnels in the area. I wanted to chase, but was by myself. I had no data at all, and didn't like chasing blind, not knowing what I was up against. My brother didn't have internet access at his house yet. In 1997, chasing with a laptop and internet was just catching on and it was dial up at 14.4k or 9600 at best. On ya, you had to either stop at a truck stop to plug into a phone line or have enough cell minutes to dial through your bag phone. Regrettably, I stayed put and watched the storm go off from a distance. In hind sight, all I had to do was drive down I-35 and I would have seen like 4 tors that day. Oh well. Since then I've had plenty of other should've chased days. Live to chase another day I guess.

To answer the questions above - I think Lon Curtis and Al Moller's write up sums up what I think about the event. I think the SW movement was more due to perturbation pressure forces on the sw flank of the initial updraft as well as convergence along the boundary. Kind of the path of least resistance. If anything, the gravity wave played a role in initiation of the convection or a least weakening the cap. Those are hard to prove. I do not think the gravity wave had anything to do with tornadogenesis.

I think in this case the extreme instability - observed 6000-7000 j/kg and I think even a TAMU sounding in the area showed as much as 9000 j/kg, but could be wrong - played a major role. The intense updraft resulting from the release of that much instability used what enhanced helicity there was near the boundary to gain low level rotation. From looking at some of the sfc maps it looked like from some of the obs there were winds with a more easterly component. I just think you probably had some wound up low level hodographs near the boundary which the storm was able to locally enhance and take advantage of. Since then there have been many documented cases of tornadic storms moving along or across boundaries. This case was just a freak case mainly because the environmental shear was weak at best. I suspect that locally along the boundary the shear, or at least low level turning of winds with height, was enhanced for the storm to gain rotation. I could be wrong, but IMO, this is again just another case where a boundary in the presence of extreme instability made all the difference in storm behavior and tornadoes on that day.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Mar 3, 2012
272
37
11
I hope you guys don't mind me bumping this old thread with my own link, but I recently finished a blog post on the Jarrell tornado. I don't think there's really anything new, but the story itself is pretty fascinating. Beyond the bizarre meteorological aspects, the fact that so many people did exactly what they were supposed to do and still died was really striking to me. Here's a link:

http://stormstalker.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/jarrell-tornado/
 
Mar 3, 2012
272
37
11
I appreciate the kind words, Bob. I've actually been meaning to contact you. I came across your blog when I was researching my post on the Palm Sunday tornadoes and I really enjoyed it. Anyway, I'll send you a PM so I don't derail the thread.
 

Mark Eslick

I am from Bruceville-Eddy, which is south of Waco. I was actually at a friends house when the tornado that occurred in Moody was coming towards us. It was definitely an experience to look up and see the tornado coming in my direction. This day is what inspired me to storm chase and study Atmospheric Science.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Tyler Hudson
May 18, 2012
292
151
11
Gaines, MI
I hope you guys don't mind me bumping this old thread with my own link, but I recently finished a blog post on the Jarrell tornado. I don't think there's really anything new, but the story itself is pretty fascinating. Beyond the bizarre meteorological aspects, the fact that so many people did exactly what they were supposed to do and still died was really striking to me. Here's a link:

http://stormstalker.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/jarrell-tornado/
Great write up on this event, Shawn!
 
  • Like
Reactions: Shawn Schuman

calvinkaskey

Guest
Feb 17, 2014
384
30
11
If I'm not mistaken the tornado wasn't moving more than 20 mph and could have easily been outrun and everyone could have been saved if they got into a vehicle in time.
 

calvinkaskey

Guest
Feb 17, 2014
384
30
11
How is that? I chased the tornado on my avatar and kept up with it and caught it through winding country roads even when stopping to video and check on people. Was on it for like 15 minutes.
 
Last edited:
Mar 3, 2012
272
37
11
I think it's fair to say that some people could have survived had they been in their cars and simply driven away from the area. It's the "everyone could have been saved if they got in their vehicles" part that doesn't quite check out. Although I will say that if you're ever going to get in your car and try to escape a tornado (which is generally not at all advisable), this is one for which it may not have been the worst plan. As I said earlier, the thing that struck me was the number of people who did exactly what you're taught to do (shelter at home in the innermost room on the lowest level, seek a sturdy, well-built structure if you live in a mobile home, etc.) and still were killed. Just a confluence of terrible circumstances.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Mark Eslick