11/23/04 Reports

Not open for further replies.
Here is the context of the actual chase log for your convenience:

Chase: November 23, 2004 - ‘Texas Flood Fiesta’

Even though this is turning out to be a somewhat significant tornadic outbreak with over 50 tornadoes logged, including injury and deaths, I am surprised to find no accounts posted on Wx-chase or Stormtrack of this day so far. Could it be that I was one of the few chasers that actually chased yesterday?

As expected, and as mentioned (on Wx-chase and Stormtrack) at times I could have considered using a boat during this chase. Especially in the town of Hearne, Tx. With the first wave of this outbreak of supercells, most were big precipitation producers and were also surrounded if not embedded in neighboring cells that were also dropping copious amounts of rain. There was also the issue of fog to deal with early on.

Once again I vow to go to bed early so that I will be ‘ready to go’ at first daylight. Unfortunately, once again I am intently focused the previous day on storm analysis, forecasting, and conversations about the upcoming event. Finally at nearly 11pm CST I get out of the house because I am forced to return a video I rented – LOL! Next I start setting up the vehicle with gear that had been put away from last Spring season. I thought this would only take me an hour, however after gassing up, buying rainx, rainx’ing windows, filling up the windshield wiper reservoir, adding oil, and putting gear back in and on the vehicle it is already 1am or 2am – darn. Then of course I proceed to get back on the pc and check again to see if I missed something interesting. End result I get to bed about 4am.

I didn’t set an alarm, and instead near 8am or 8:30am I awaken in pseudo darkness with an uneasy feeling. Part of that feeling is that for the 3 or 4th day in a row I only got about 4 hours sleep. But there was something else. Having looked at the forecast models earlier I expected that convection might begin around 6am and that it could possibly be around the Austin area (my area) by 15z. Since it was near that time even though I was tired I had to check the radar. Sure enough I turned on the TV’s local radar and saw about 3 or 4 somewhat small red cells in and around the Austin / San Antonio area. I immediately realized that even though they were small the base reflectivity was showing a bit of supercell characteristics to these storms. A large system was inbound and setting up and the show was already starting near Austin. Actually I had been having an uneasy feeling that the Austin area would be hit the day before. Anyway, long story short I get up, do the typical morning routine, and continue monitoring the developing storms. I watch as the cell in southern Travis county develops a mesocyclone and moves north toward Round Rock and Taylor in Williamson county. Normally I would have quickly moved to intercept this cell, but this time I had personal commitments that prevented me from leaving in a timely enough fashion to get in front of it. I am also a bit torn, because I spent so much time analyzing the previous day and had an idea of what was going on and my target area. However when I awoke with storm cells already on top of me it seems I just went crazy and couldn’t remember much of anything about the plans of the day before. Something inside was also telling me that this was the real deal. Regardless I finally managed to have everything in the vehicle and launch myself toward the portion of the cell near Taylor and Thrall, which supposedly might be producing a tornado. Outside it was very foggy initially. As I raced eastward through the crowded morning traffic and wet roads the visibility got a bit better, but mostly instead of fog I then started getting rain coming down.

I never have much luck actually ‘chasing’ cells where I am already behind their forward progress. They are often moving quickly, and dropping lots of rain, there is bad visibility, and there are the little towns where you always have to slow and stop so many times and wait at red lights while the rain continues to pour and the storm continues to move further away. That was pretty much the case this time as well. I continued on Hwy 79 through Taylor, Thrall, Thorndale, Rockdale, Milano, and finally Hearne. Between Milano and Hearne I realized this was most likely becoming a giant HP Supercell as I had begun entering the dark core, miles back and I seemed to be making little progress toward my goal of punching out to the east toward the tornadic area. It was always ahead of me, and the storm just continued to rain, and pour to the point that I then remembered that many roads were already closed from previous days, and weeks of storms. As I entered the town of Hearne I could begin to see the dark flank of the storm stretching from my northeast to my south, and the road was full of water. I continued into town and witnessed the flood, which the HP had just unleashed. I shot some video footage of this and of some unknowing folks in a white pickup that had driven off the main road and into a parking lot without realizing that the parking lot was apparently 4 feet below the road level. The pickup was sticking out of the water at an angle from the cab to the end of the bed. Most of the engine was underwater.

Along the caravan of flooded roadways I roamed seeking to make my way out of town. I was tempted to stop and film more of the crazy antics which the storm had wrought on this town; but I knew my true quarry still lay ahead. I finally made it out of town and continued on Hwy 79 towards Franklin. Franklin is where the tornado supposedly was for the last 10 minutes or so according to NOAA radio. Along the way after exiting Hearne and near that town I saw evidence of possible tornado damage. There was a large roof from a metal building lying on the side of the road. There was also lots of broken limbs and boards, and trash strewn about. I continued on and began to realize I probably wouldn’t catch it. I also was not sure if I wanted to catch it by having to drive through it’s incredible core. I pulled over to assess the situation. On radar the storm was now huge and taking up almost an entire Tx county. I gave a call to Gene Moore, and after some discussion he agreed this cell was about to enter the pine woods and would be tough to deal with. Instead he saw a new crescent shaped cell just starting southwest of LaGrange that was showing supercell characteristics. He thought that would be a good doable target. I decided to give it a shot even though I knew this would take me south of the Austin / College Station line and into country which had been flooding already from previous storms.

Somehow by the time I reached Brian / College Station it was under a Severe T storm warning for large hail. This didn’t make since to me because I didn’t see anything very large at the time very close on radar. Still I managed to find another heavy core to drive though –LOL!

Gene called to let me know that damage had been reported with the cell leaving La Grange and headed for and area south of College Station. The cell also began turning more easterly. I raced south to try and beat this (now) very large core approaching me. I went first to Navasota and then on toward Hempstead. Warnings from La Grange said it was headed toward Shelby and Round Top. I figured it would probably continue to Brenham. I wanted to beat the rain because I knew that all the cars would slow down or stop if blinding rain began, and I would make little progress as the HP moved across us. I also realized that a rain wrapped HP slot may pass and we’d be possibly overrun by a tornado without much notice. Additionally, I was concerned about flooding on the road I was on although it did seem to have good clearance on the sides. The NOAA radio continued to announce that these tornadoes were most likely rain wrapped and the public wouldn’t see them coming. While headed south and viewing the intense blackness just to my west (right side of road) I considered the option of turning around if things got too bad. However I realized this was probably not an option as the core would probably be worse because of the angle of the storm, and without visual I could just as easily stumble onto something unpleasant there as well. For a while I did hit the extreme rain core where the wind and rain was so intense there was almost no visibility down the road. Fortunately it didn’t last long, and I broke out of the worst of it after awhile. I could begin to see down the side of the storm a bit to the southwest, but I was sure this was just momentary and the rest of the storm would catch up to me. I was wrong though, because as I continued to Hempstead visibility improved and for awhile the sun was shining.

My intention was to intercept the tornadic portion of the cell close to Brenham. Rather than a direct approach down the center of the storm core (which was very long lengthwise), I was attempting to get south of it and then find roads west and north to ‘tune in’ to the tornadic section. Right before getting to Hempstead and Hwy 290 the NOAA radio announced damage and a possible tornado at Brenham. I made it to Hempstead and stopped and refueled fairly quickly, then proceeded west on hwy 290. I had made it almost 10 miles west northwest on 290 when NWS issued another tornado warning for my storm for 10 miles northwest of Hempstead. I began entering very intense rain and wind, and realized I was headed into part of the core again. I wasn’t positive of the exact location of the tornadic portion and then realized that my ‘10 miles west northwest’ of town may not be that much different from the warning coordinator’s idea of “10 miles northwest†of Hempstead. Hwy 290 at this location was a divided hwy with a large expanse of about 50 to 75 yards of sloped grassy area between the eastbound and westbound traffic. I was unable to quickly find any turnarounds as I proceeded west and further into the core. There were a few big bridges that crossed creeks or rivers that dropped off about 40 feet deep. Fortunately the middle grassy area finally flattened out a bit more with only a small ditch down the center. I was a bit concerned of impassable mud, but fortunately I had 4wd. I looked behind me for oncoming traffic and whipped it into the center section. As I coasted through it in neutral I selected my on the fly 4wd Hi gear. This carried my right across – yeah! As I re-entered westbound traffic I switched back to 2wd, and raced east and back out of the precipitation. Knowing that the tornado was supposed to be in the area most likely to my north (left side of vehicle) I began scanning. At one point in the distance to my northeast I could see what appeared to be the white tornado hanging down mostly vertical from the side of the storm and in mostly clear air. There were some other protuberances around the top of it. What I saw appeared to be mostly tall tubular shaped, or a very tall narrow cone shape. Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of time to view it. I estimate I watched it only about 5 seconds during the clearing on the road as I continued east. At that one time I was high enough with a break in the trees to see in that direction in the distance. It was hard to see the base of it because the base extended down into the trees in the foreground. I estimate the distance was about 5 to 10 miles – or perhaps about 7. This coincides with later tornado warnings as the storm continued on to about 10 or 15 miles south of Navasota (northern Weller county), then on to Grimes and Montgomery counties.

This was a bad mistake twofold. First, I should have immediately stopped and even backed up when I saw this and taken a picture. But I thought if I could quickly get up to Hempstead, and turn north on hwy 6 and go up there a bit I would have a great view and be much closer up. WRONG! The area was mildly hilly, with larger trees. I never got another decent view. When I got into position further up hwy 6 I could see the top of wallcloud like area that could include a tornado below, but the landscape wouldn’t allow me to see below it. Also, the storm had gotten a bit further away and the orientation had turned (or perhaps the slot had passed) so that I was looking and being blocked by part of the side of the storm.

My second mistake (2020 hindsight) was really my first and I should have known better. I shouldn’t have gone all the way to Hempstead. Instead when I cleared the cloud and precip I should have found a good position, stopped, and waited for it. It would have come right to me, and I would probably have excellent footage. I guess I was impatient and thought that I could get to it quicker and closer to Brenham.

As it is I have no footage of the tornado. I didn’t pick up a camera, or run the dashcam out the side. All I have is flood footage at Hearne.

Well, and then there is the way home. I lingered for awhile feeling especially miffed that I screwed up so badly. However it was early and Gene on the phone had already mentioned a second wave from the 700mb dry punch developing. SPC had already issued a Severe Thunderstorm watch and I kind of wanted to get back by dark. I didn’t however.

I took 290 to Elgin and then hwy 95 to Taylor and hwy 79. Next, I was back in traffic with renewed tornado warnings to the west, as the light quickly faded, and dark ominous clouds loomed on the sunset horizon. It was of course rush hour and there was a warning for a cell in Burnet county near Marble Falls that was headed toward my house, and another Tornado warning for Williamson county headed east toward Andice just north of my home. Since the Williamson county storm appeared to be getting there first I thought I’d go after it first since usually it is a reasonable shot up hwy 183 from me. Unfortunately again the rush hour traffic really slowed me down. I even cut through grocery store parking lots to try and make time as the somewhat violent lightning to my north was emitting brilliant quick flashes and a number of long horizontal spiders of lightning bolts. I knew it wasn’t too far away, but not much I could do at a snail’s pace. Well anyway I finally made it up 183 and got as far as almost Liberty Hill, which is just a bit shy of Andice. From the west things were rustling as this was an eastbound storm, but most of the lightning was still to the north. Regardless I didn’t have much visibility. Finally intermittent rain and hard blasts of wind thick with leaves and debris from the field started hitting the vehicle and gusting across the road. I thought of staying or venturing further, but figured that might be a bit foolish since I didn’t know what lay ahead. I was also super tired because of almost no sleep, the day’s concentration, and chase stress. I decided to head home. So I turned around and went back through Leander continually getting blasted by this never ending onslaught of changing wind directions, gusty rain, and debris from the road. I knew there was another cell (the one from the Burnet storm) but didn’t know it was that close. Here’s it’s warning:

607 PM CST TUE NOV 23 2004





Whoops, looking at the map now I realize how close I was. I was tired so kind of stopped caring what I drove into. Headed south toward Leander, there were a few brilliant blasts of lightning that knocked out all of the street signs and lights of the nearby homes and businesses. Then I turned west toward it! LOL! I took my usual shortcut home through Crystal Falls and everything got worse. There was more wind, lightning, rain, and then the hail started whacking the vehicle too. I drove on through whatever it was and rolled on into the driveway. It all passed, and then the rain stopped, skies started clearing finally, and the temperature sure dropped quickly. Looks like I drove right through the area that would have contained the tornado if there were one. I guess whatever it was must have been elevated – fortunately for me.
Damage surveys have been released from Lake Charles, LA WFO, Shreveport, LA WFO, and the Jackson, MS WFO. They indicate that the event on Tuesday night was a significant tornado outbreak with long track tornadoes.

Highest F-Scale Rating Thus Far: F3 at Noxapater, MS and F3 at Olla, LA

Longest Track Tornado: 60+ Miles in SW LA (including the town of Newton; this tornado was on the ground for over 2 hours according to the Lake Charles WFO.)

Largest Tornado: 1/4 mile wide (same as above tornado)

F Scale Ratings of the Event:

F0 -- 2
F1 -- 3
F2 -- 3
F3 -- 2
F4 -- 0
F5 -- 0

Path Lengths (in miles):

2, 3, 3, 4, 7, 12, 15*, 26, 39, 60*

*These surveys haven't been concluded. Their path lengths are longer than what is written here.

If you are curious about the information I have just given, go to http://kamala.cod.edu. After this, click on Louisiana and then the public information statements from Lake Charles, Jackson, or Shreveport.

Not open for further replies.