I'm bored on a Tuesday in the early offseason. As it happens, that usually leads me down some brand of memory lane and that usually leads me to some combination of AmWX, Stormtrack, or a really annoying Twitter binge. So here I am.
I woke up on May 16 at my home in Colorado Springs. I rolled out of my bed, jumped in the shower, cooked myself and my chase partner some bacon and eggs, and leisurely threw my cameras in the car and hit I-25. Tomorrow was going to be a big day, but today was just a drive to Amarillo, probably an evening getting wasted on food at the Big Texan, and buzzing down to Lubbock to be asleep by midnight or so. Capulin looked good in the rearview mirror as Raton Mesa spit out 40,000 foot tall supercells across the entire horizon. Dalhart was as pitifully tempting to speed through as always, but the cops there are assholes so I went 25. Yall know how it goes.
The storms west of Amarillo were high based with barely any precip at all, and worst of all there were like three other storms to the east of the storm I was aiming for off the dryline. I have to remind myself a lot that weird evolutions when storm chasing are usually bad, but in this case it didn't take much thought. I had Nick steer us south at about 2:30 PM, through what I expected would be a supercell's hail core but instead turned out to be a piddly rainshower, toward Littlefield. There was a differential heating zone under better kinematics over the caprock that had been in the back of my mind all morning. I didn't expect it to initiate since CAMs were hesitant at best but I was down to try. After a couple hour drive and a brief stop at McDonald's there were three budding supercells competing with one another. Game on.
One supercell became dominant. My chase partner urged me to get him directions to get closer while I wanted to sit back, but I relented and it took us down a dirt road south out of Earth. We punched through the hail and stopped literally 100 feet from the southern edge of the hail core directly in the path of the incoming mesocyclone.
Everyone on this forum knows what tornadic motion looks like and this storm had it. It was impossible to miss. For at least 30 minutes it spun endlessly, and at one point weakly funneled but cycled out. I'm notoriously impatient and this storm, sculpted, thrilling, and remarkable as it was was eating away the little patience I brought with me. A few rogue hailstones in the forehead kept me grounded and shortly later the first tornado developed. I shot the first two photos here at 14mm.
The evolution of the tornado was excellent. It was classic in every way. The ropeout, though, was special. There were numerous swirls and kinks in the funnel. There were three helical vortices followed by dramatic breakdowns. All the while it appeared to be cycling into another tornado that forced us to move to the east the moment it was finished.
The cyclone passed just to our north, producing only one more dust swirl a few hundred yards from us on the way. But the storm didn't seem like it was done. Noting that there hadn't been even the slightest bit of rain in the first tornado's RFD, I wanted to stay to the west of the next tornado. Had it produced in a similar way from this angle, I think the first tornado would be forgettable. It would go on to form three more brief, uncondensed tornadoes, but none compared to the first.
As the sun set, tornado chances fizzled, but the storm kept going. An updraft column would weaken and another would take over. A surface inversion would form and then the storm would punch through it and restrengthen. It was miraculous, so much so that I basically forgot to position us in a way that we could easily document it and just watched. But that doesn't really matter.
In the event I ever see a storm of this caliber that is this cooperative again, I'll try and post it here before late September. No promises though.