You Decide

June 2, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Summary 

Dumas-Stinnett TX Supercell and Tornadoes, 18 May 10

SHORT: Witnessed intermittently tornadic supercell (specific tornado count uncertain) from NW of Channing TX to NE of Stinnett before losing it to darkness and a road void.

LONG:
Rich Thompson and I (the Two Chumps) headed out of Norman with modest expectations for a dryline supercell chase day in the Texas Panhandle, given the “recycled” nature of the moisture (dew points in the 50s to near 60, left behind by prior convection over Oklahoma, though enticing levels of shear helped me to convince Rich that it was worthwhile to head west. Jack Beven linked up with is at Battlestar Norman for the trek out, following us in his rental car.

The storm of this day would exceed expectations, frustrate us, fascinate us, play hide-and-seek games with us, and flabbergast us in many ways, and overall, definitely was worth the trouble! You’ll soon understand why my efforts at photographic forensics has taken so long since, and why I’ll shamelessly borrow Fox News’ favorite slogan for some of the strange and mysterious phenomena we witnessed.

Our general target area was DHT, where we hung about a bit, and where several runs of the short-fuse HRRR had predicted a locus for 2-3 dominant late-afternoon supercells over the western and northern Panhandle. Foci for convective initiation seemed rather nebulous, except for the diffuse dryline far W of us near the NM mountains, and a confluence line with some cumuliform cloud enhancement to our near S.

Once some high clouds thinned enough over the confluence line, towers deepened rapidly, and the first storm of the day erupted merely 25-30 miles to our SSW. This seemed too easy — a rapidly intensifying storm in our general forecast area of the NW TX Panhandle.

We charted an intercept course between Hartley and Channing, and soon had a nice view of the young tempest’s already supercellular appearance (looking W from ~6 N Channing at 1658 CDT). Nearly continuous rumbles of thunder high up in the anvil and vault regions signaled essentially continuous zips of lightning, indicating an active ice-particle charge separation region and, along with its clearly supercellular inclinations, active generation of even bigger ice particles (namely damaging hail) aloft. This storm’s inner forward flank absorbed a growing cell originally to its S, and seemed fortified instead of handicapped by the encounter. It clearly wasn’t fooling around.

Content to let the storm churn along slowly toward us, and across the dissected scablands of the Canadian Breaks, we observed a few obvious (albeit scuddy) wall clouds and mesocyclonic occlusions, each with more sustained and well-defined low-level rotation than the previous. In this example (looking NW at 1722), behold the scuddy wall cloud at distant left, which was rotating with a well-developed clear slot cutting in front, while a newer, flatter, larger base and wall cloud formed at nearer right. The right circulation would become the dark, menacing photo you’ll see later (Dumas mesocyclone), while the one at left would persist for many miles and minutes, and yield our first unambiguous tornado.

By the time the newer mesocirculation passed US-385 just to our N and headed toward Dumas, we were ready to maneuver that way, when the older, more deeply occluded one tightened up rapidly, and began spinning like crazy. Cloud condensation reached most of the way groundward with and a funky little tail cloud at rear and dark shards of scud in the foreground for added spooky effect [looking NNW from 7 N Channing at 1734). Between that shot and this one, at 1735, a brief dust spinup occurred beneath, indicating the first tornado of the day (albeit cheesy). The low-level circulation crossed the road to our NNW without obvious dust or debris, then got partially rain-wrapped to our N and NNE. From within the murk appeared a very obvious, low-hanging condensation funnel with intermittent wisps of dust and condensation spinning at ground level beneath. Time of this undisputed tornado stage was 1744. Was this a second, separate tornado or an extension of the earlier one, the interval merely being too weak to be visually manifest? We report, you decide.

Atmospheric vortices aren’t always clean-cut, nor are they easily segregated from one another in tight, cleanly demarcated spectral bins. If the head-scratching already underway on weren’t enough, the remnant circulation moved farther ENE, away from us, wrapping in more rain, without obvious debris or condensation. Then…

What in the hell was this? Check out the enhanced version. Location of the feature was about 9 NNE of Channing, time 1749, still in that old meso that wouldn’t die. The scuddy, fat cone was rotating (not very fast); and instead of spinning up debris, was hoisting condensation off what looked like the SW edge of a bank of hail fog! Tornado or not? We report, you decide.

Tornado #1, (or was it 1.5 or 2 or 2.5 or 3?) duly documented, we bailed E along FM 722 to regain position abeam of the eastern (younger) mesocyclone. Stopping near Middlewell, we did just that, but found also a low-hanging pillar of condensation that intermittently extended to the ground from the old circulation, now to our NW (time 1757, see enhanced version). Another tornado? The same one? None at all? We report, you decide.

Finally, that area began to lose definition, and the separate, very obvious, big, intense, strongly rotating and probably tornadic eastern mesocyclone matured to our N (and about 7 WSW Dumas). Here’s an enhanced crop-n-zoom. It surely looks like there’s a condensation pillar in there, planted on the ground. Real or Memorex? We report, you decide.

The area of strong rotation began to fill in some with what looked like rain-wrapping condensation, toward the already well-warned burg of Dumas. We tried to get through and E of town before it did, but upon penetrating the starboard rim of the bear’s cage on the S side of town, wisely decided otherwise, and bailed back S. A tornado was reported in Dumas, though little damage was done (according to later reports). We had to go all the way down to Four Way, E to Lake Meredith and N on FM 1913 to TX-152, removed from good view of the storm’s rotational underbelly until this striking wide-angle scene 19 miles E of Dumas.

We headed a mile W and another half mile N on FM-1060 and let the storm, which had begun to accelerate eastward, move almost directly toward us. Meanwhile, dozens upon dozens of chase vehicles materialized on the roads all around, including what appeared to be the full V.O.R.T.EX.-2 fleet. Fortunately, unlike the next day, everyone we saw was well-behaved and the traffic did not impede either safe viewing or, when necessary, safe escape.

As we waited, a broad, ragged but very strong area of rotation cranked up at cloud base, a skirt of lowered cloud material orbiting the boundary-layer mesocirculation center at eye-popping speed, the inflow at our backs rapidly evolving from stiff breeze to assuredly severe levels. This transformation was amazing. We struggled to stand upright, my vehicle rocking in roaring inflow winds that whistled and jostled power lines overhead. The storm was doing what Erik Rasmussen once termed the “big suck,” a frequent harbinger of imminent tornadogenesis. We were confident it was about to plant the “big one” any minute.

Instead, it teased us with a small one, and not in the main merry-go-round either. At 1911, a funnel appeared under the rear (NW)-side tail cloud, at center in this 70-mm wide angle, a faint column sheathed near ground by dust and/or precip evident beneath in this enhanced crop-n-zoom. That “cheesenado” moved S and vanished quickly behind the increasingly precip-filled, spinning carnival ride of rain curtains and dust daubs orbiting the main circulation.

The blasting inflow winds subsided only when the rear-flank gust front approached our location, so we headed E on 152 toward Stinnett. Along the way, another faint but unmistakable dirt daub appeared near the leading edge, in the distant NNW, lasting 2-3 minutes. Look beyond the third fencepost from the left in this shot. It probably was just a gustnado, but at this point, who knew? How many tornadoes had we seen? You decide. By now we were certain only in our uncertainty. It would get no easier!

A more intensely rain-wrapped and turquoise hue fell over the storm scene as we stopped to view the storm from both a scenic overlook W of Stinnett and from TX-136 N of Stinnett. Flaunting a flash of comic cruelty, almost exactly between those shots, and as we were passing through town with no good view of the main mesocyclone area, the storm produced a visible cone funnel and brief tornado that some other observers saw from N of town.

Parked about 3 N Stinnett, a gigantic road void preventing the storm from being followed farther E, we let the main mesocyclone pass to our N and NE, hoping for a view into the circulating pillars of rain and hail from the SW or W. Meanwhile, as the rear-flank region passed over, a thin, snake-like funnel contorted itself in the turbulent, non-mesocyclonic cloud base less than a quarter mile to our W. Rich was on the passenger (E) side and didn’t see this, but I did alert him. Dying as it moved overhead, I felt as if it posed no appreciable danger, though Charles Edwards (who was to our S) drove up a few minutes later to let us know that he had seen the flanking-line funnel over us too, and was somewhat concerned for our welfare. It struck me as, at worst, a “Weaver walk-through”. A brief shot of hail up to 1.25 inch diameter passed across us also, visible in this shot as bridal veils of hailshafts cascading into the fields to our immediate SE.

Meanwhile, something very suspicious appeared behind the precip curtains, and in the area of rapid mesocyclonic rotation a few miles to our NE. What was that? Some nearby observers swore it was a rain-wrapped, multi-vortex tornado, and maybe it was. Here’s the enhanced version. Time was 2001.

We report…

As the whole area retreated off into the roadless prairie wilderness of the Canadian River valley, a more well-defined wall cloud appeared behind the precip (enhanced image), perhaps with some spinups beneath.

…You decide.

Whatever happens NE of Stinnett stays NE of Stinnett. 🙂 Actually, that’s not far from reality. That area is a vast, roadless tract of grass and scrub, on which even an aerial survey might not help forensically except for the most violent of tornadoes. We may never know for sure what was happening inside that furiously rotating cascade of hail and rain.

As we prepared to head S through Stinnett to find lodging in Pampa, we noticed that another, more ragged storm to our W had begun to rotate visibly at cloud base. It obviously was drawing in just enough unstable air for survival, from above or S of the shallow outflow boundary left by the big departing supercell. As the shrinking circulation passed to our N, with a ragged wall cloud, we did experience brief retreat of the boundary last us, and warm and moist S winds. This area merged with the W side of the bigger storm in that void, and in increasing darkness, while we high-tailed it to food and motel in Pampa.

Though pleased with our chase overall, and satisfied that this day did more than we expected with “recycled” moisture, we lamented that we could muster nothing more than brief spin-ups that were hard to see, and how on earth we ever could get a photogenic tornado to fill the camera lenses. Alas, thanks to family matters and work obligations, we were unable to chase on the days later in May, in SD and in the SE corner of CO, that provided many other storm observers with some of the most strikingly picturesque tornadoes documented this decade. Still, it was nearly cathartic to get out on the wide-open High Plains again, and a far bit less stressful than the unprecedented and dangerous circus of storm-viewing traffic that would dog us in OK the next day.

Colorful Stormy Skies, Day and Night

May 15, 2009 by · Comments Off on Colorful Stormy Skies, Day and Night
Filed under: Summary 

Southeast Panhandle of TX
12 May 9

SHORT: Mostly multicellular storms observed from Matador to Memphis TX by day, yielding fantastic sunset scenes, then a brilliant and long-lived electrical display after dark.

LONG: My forecast target was the Caprock area somewhere near its prospective intersection wit the warm front, which looked most likely to be along or just S of the latitude if CDS, and N of the latitude of LBB. I wasn’t expecting raging supercells given the weak effective shear and lack of more robust midlevel winds; but I thought we at least had the possibility for brief ones. The very stout cap was a huge concern too, so I also was hoping for a little dollop of good ole Panhandle Magic (As Bobby P has been wont to say, “It’s May, it’s the Panhandle…chase!”).

Elke and I left Norman after a rather late lunch, confident that the capping would hold off initiation in that area until after 1700 CDT. It doesn’t always happen; so I love it when a forecast comes together.

Along the way, we stopped to photograph some abandoned structures, walls constructed of native Cambrian granite cobbles that basked in muted sunlight, surrounded by wheat fields, with the backdrop of the Wichita Mountains for texture. I didn’t stay long to appreciate the scene or do more close-up photography, though. Despite the mid-afternoon sun and stiff breeze, dozens of fat and ravenous mosquitoes swarmed me with a speedy and bloodthirsty attack every bit the equal of their notorious cousins in the Everglades or the Minnesota North Woods.

By the time we approached from the E, as if on cue, turkey towers started bubbling over Turkey TX. Although these attempts didn’t survive, thicker clumps of towers did to their SSW, in Motley County (see towers and flowers). Consider the cap broken! We hung out at some picnic tables in Matador for at least half an hour, eating Allsups burritos, watching assorted other chase vehicles pass through, and waiting for the rather messy, multicellular convection to become better organized. It did, but in a linear sense, and began to accelerate NE toward the CDS-Memphis area.

Off we went the same way, passing right by the same Stitch Ranch entrance that Rich and I used as a staging point for observing the April 29 eastern supercell. Nearby, I stopped to photograph a thick, partly rain-diffused shaft of sunlight beaming through a cloud gap and onto the distant rolling prairie, an orphan of brilliance amidst the stormy shadows.

The messy structures continued until shortly before sunset, when Elke and I decided to move from front to back side of the complex for photographic reasons. We grabbed a quick dinner in Memphis then headed E on TX-256, past some other chasers, to a pleasantly lonely, gravel side road near the Hall/Childress county line.

What a marvelous setting! Warm tones of the low sun painted a brilliant rainbow segment across the deeply bronzed west wall of the storms. The freshly soaked ground gave off that earthy, moist aroma of a formerly dry land newly satisfied. Bird calls of all kinds carried across the cool breezes. Two bobwhite quail carried on a conversation past us as we admired the fiery sunset scene in the western sky; while in the south, varyingly colored low clouds drifted before a canvas of a higher deck with a different hue still (wide angle and somewhat later).

There’s no experience quite like a Great Plains sunset right behind storms. I hope those photos convey at least a small measure of that.

Then came a dazzling display of atmospheric electricity on the back side of the complex, from the southeast Panhandle all the way across southwest Oklahoma and back to Norman. Lightning filaments raced through a mammatus canopy that spread upshear of the complex, giving many storm observers (from us to the V.O.R.T.EX.-2 crews in CDS) a memorable show. We stopped near the TX/OK border to shoot a little of the action, with Elke capturing one of the most crisply defined sets of nighttime mammatus I’ve seen in a photo. This nearly daylight-bright discharge spread overhead and beyond, raising a distinctive, simultaneous crackling noise in some nearby high-voltage power lines. We soon headed home, content to watch occasional flares of electrical brilliance across the rainy night sky.

The “Liberty’s Crown” Storm

August 29, 2008 by · Comments Off on The “Liberty’s Crown” Storm
Filed under: Summary 

…and a Few Other Supercells from KS to the TX Panhandle

20 Jun 8

SHORT: Observed series of HP supercells from SW KS to Pampa TX.
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