5/27/2004 REPORTS: N TEXAS

Chase Report: May 27, 2004 N TX Supercells

We chased three severe storms in north central Texas this afternoon and evening and witnessed a microburst that caused injuries and damage in Comanche County Texas. I nearly became a victim myself as I witnessed my first flying structure in close proximity---something I thought was a Port-O-Potty sent to doom me to an MTV "Jackass" style chasing death.

We started in Elk City and thought Thursday was an off day. On our way to breakfast, I grabbed my copy of Tim Vasquez’s Stormchasing Handbook and searched for cool places to visit in Central Oklahoma. We settled on a ghostown not too far from Elk City then a trip up Mount Scott for some photos and sightseeing. However, after we ate, we took another look at data and noticed the 12Z ETA was much more encouraging than the 12Z RUC had been, and our analysis of current conditions showed the energy moving into the southwest Texas region was relatively formidable. We considered that the surface features might react more favorably than the models showed. We elected to play the nose of the midlevel jet streak tracking from southwest Texas into the Abilene area.

A vorticity lobe out ahead of the main energy caused showers and storms to persist for much of the late morning and early afternoon, but as these were high based and somewhat limited in coverage, I still believed our boundary layer was in fine shape. Also, winds just east of the dryline were backing nicely as a strong punch arrived on 30 knot plus westerly surface flow. Our low level jet was forecast to strengthen by the RUC, addressing our biggest concern—low level wind fields. Ultimately I think the weakness in this region of the vertical shear profile limited the lifespan of storms that organized later.

We stopped for data and sandwiches in Haskell, Texas, where I pulled up a radar and found a tornadic supercell already rolling through Fisher County just southwest of us. This tornado had produced damage east of Sweetwater, according to the warning, so the chase was on. We raced the storm to Lueders and, as we rounded the front side, the cell weakened and choked on the surrounding rain. We pushed south to Abilene and moved east on Interstate 20 where we soon caught up to another supercell forming along the leading edge of the gust front and producing four inch hail in Stephens County. Around Strawn, we observed a very ragged and disorganized lowering with a tail cloud, but all high based and non-threatening. As this storm was flying northeast at forty knots, we elected to drop south for the next organizing supercell taking aim on Stephenville in Comanche County. As we approached the city, the storm developed some rotation and a TVS signature (according to WeatherTap’s RadarLab software), and we observed another lowering, this one much closer to the ground, hanging from a solid updraft base.

We continued south on 281 out of Stephenville to maintain our position when the storm collapsed and a strong microburst blasted across the road. These winds began with driving horizontal rain, then tree branches, and finally a large metal shed, ripped in half, that floated above the treeline and looked to drop right in front of me on the highway. I thought it was a port-a-potty since I only noticed half the structure, but I still thought a serious accident was imminent, albeit a somewhat silly one. But even a port-a-potty at 70 mph can probably finish you off. I slammed on the brakes though there was no real way to stop in time, and, like magic, the structure dropped into the ditch on the side of the road just as if someone had let it roll from the palm of their hand—this after having cleared trees at least twenty five feet tall. Needless to say, I was wide awake after that.

We later learned that residents of a mobile home suffered injuries from these powerful straight-line winds when their trailer was destroyed. We heard reports of detached roofs and downed powerlines in Stephenville and other parts of Comanche County. We radioed the report of the shed to Comanche County Skywarn, worried that another blast would lift the metal debris from the ditch into the road. After the storm gusted out, we returned north to Denton County and plan to move north from here for anything tomorrow and the big show Saturday.
In the biggest dumb luck chase of my life, I actually caught the tornado north of Abilene ... the only touchdown in the state and somehow I was there.

At the same moment that I was on the storm as it moved through Hawley (north of ABI), my brother was also chasing a tornado warning through St. Joseph, Missouri (yep - the old hometown ... nothing like being 500 miles away) ... Interesting that we were both chasing at the exact same moment in two totally different states.

Haven't been able to post because I've been on the road (and it's been gruelling) ... two hotels that I stayed with promised me high speed WiFi access, only to be shut down before I could log on to get data each time due to technical problems. So I drove into central Texas totally blind as far as data was concerned, and went by sight only. North of the storm, could see the meso develop as the wx radio began putting out the tor-warning ... then caught a glimpse of a touchdown from about five miles away, I'd say. Finally, had to let the meso pass directly overhead ... really had no choice in this. The storm was moving at least 45 miles an hour, and every time I booked south to get out of the way of the meso, it kept curving around to meet me. So finally I just hunkered down behind an embankment and let it go. Chased it east of Hawley, where it became beyond outflow dominant. Very HP. Then chased the cell to the south of ABI, also heavy on the precip (super heavy) ... lots of lightning and more rain than I care to think about. Also caught the inflow region of this large storm in a little bitty town about 30 miles south of Abilene.

About this time the battery light came on in my car ... great ... we're talking middle of nowhere here. Made it back to Abilene, got a room, went to Wal-Mart, bought a new battery - went through hell putting it in (they bolt these things down from 20 angles these days ... ended up buying 3 new socket sets before I ended up with all the tools I needed ... long story.

Anyway, battery light was still on. So I made it almost to Fort Worth the next morning before the voltage meter totally dropped ... and get this ... as I COASTED in to Auto Zone, the thing DIED. Got a new alternator, and the super friendly guy from Auto Zone in Weatherville or Weatherford, whatever the place was ... helped me put it on. Turns out that he's been super interested in chasing, his brother is working on his degree in atmospheric science, and he had a lot of really good questions. I'm so glad the people in Texas are so friendly, or I would have really had a tough time.

So that's it in a nutshell - will get some pics up soon.

Also - will hopefully have time for a quick chase today ... have to take pictures at a formal dance (would MUCH rather be chasing, believe me), but I gotta do what I gotta do.

It must have been Weatherford. That's just maybe 40 to 50 miles north of me. Anyway, not really tornadoes or anything major but I got hit pretty hard by the southern of those 2 storms that moved toward the DFW area. I was just lucky and happened to be living in it's path. All I can say if there was one whole branch that seems to have been broken in half from a small tree in this town. It was quite windy, maybe 50 miles per hour for only a few seconds. I was in an open 1 car garage where I watch storms move through here when we finally get lucky enough to see something besides radar. No hail fell here but there was alot of glowing green in a round updraft up north of me. The problem was that a much weaker storm moved through not even 3 minutes before the big one came by so I could only get a quick view of the main event before the wind and rain hit hard. Another set of bad luck had it where I could look at it long before the rain was blowing in my eyes. I need goggles. The small weak storm that hit right before the main event left behind alot of white sky from the moisture still airborne. Looked like the main storm's inflow cleared the air very quickly just 2 to 3 minutes before the big storm came blashing in. This storm in the next county distroyed at least 4 mobile homes with an NWS est. 90 mile per hour straight line winds. The nicest storms that have hit here since April 30th, 2004. Measured 1.19 inches of rain that day here at home.