April 22nd Texas Panhandle Supercells

Apr 23, 2015

Summary:

Intercepted HP behemoth in Texas panhandle. Pursued storm for a few hours occasionally getting overtaken by the forward and rear flank cores containing lots of hail up to ping pong ball size. Abandoned storm for new development nearby which turned out to be a much more photogenic storm that had a questionable tornado we witnessed from afar. Called chase at dusk and roomed up in Plainview for the night.

 

Stats:

Tornadoes: 0
Hail: 1.50″ (Ping Pong Ball)
Wind: est 60mph RFD

The Forecast:

Large fat ridge sitting over the midwest with squished surface low developing in the southern high plains. Minimum criteria moisture advecting into narrow corridor across the TX panhandle to put cap rock into play. Sufficient instability values in place due to very cold air aloft. Good directional shear but lacking in the speed, especially in the mid levels. Overall marginal setup but any storm that could turn and interact with an outflow boundary from early morning convection stood a shot at tornado production. SPC went with tyypical marginal tornado probabilities.

Tor probs

Detailed Account:

2015 has only been spitting out marginal setups so far. The previous week had featured a cut off system which produced a few brief, but fully condensed tornadoes which awarded local chasers. Seeing this only made the desire to get out again greater. It appeared we were in for a string of more marginal setups, the first being this day. Seeing as how the setups would be relatively close to one another and with the prospects for multiple days of chasing we (Alec Scholten and I) decided to play. I had a full day of work and wasn’t able to get to his house until 1030 the night before, It was a long marathon drive to the Texas panhandle but we made it in roughly 14 hours which is about as good as you can do. We decided to sit in Childress due to sagging outflow boundary from early morning storms. As always, initiation occurred further west near the NM border so we made our move.

We got our first look at the storm south of Amarillo around 4pm, a big HP supercell presented itself to us.
Texas Supercell 2

The storm had begun moving southeast, and our main highway was moving southwest which sent us scrambling onto the road grid to attempt to keep up. The storm’s outflow was kicking up dust everywhere which made visibility quite low. We briefly encountered the RFD core which pelted us with hail up to quarter size and 60mph winds. We would spend the next couple hours trying to stay in the notch. Similar to our previous chase in Iowa, we would clip the core and emerge briefly in the cage for a look at whatever structure we could see. The views were often brief as we had to stay ahead of the intense cores. The storm was moving around 30mph which is doable. Alec is less a fan of driving on dirt roads as me, so I tried to keep us on paved roads or roads that were gravel.

A couple smaller cells had developed on the flanking line and would  merge with our storm, adding to the amount of rain. The storms inflow was pulling in dust from every direction. Visibility was awful and it was hard to see, especially with the both of us being on little sleep. There were a few times we gained serious ground and were able to at least snap some pictures of the overall structure.

Texas Supercell 1

Texas Supercell 3

Texas Supercell 4

After enduring this battle for nearly 3 hours, Alec had his fill. I noticed another storm developing nearby that had a less HP blobbish appearance on radar and we decided to go for it. As we approached the storm we noticed a pointy lowering emerging from the base. I thought it was some sort of inflow feature but found it peculiar enough to film. It turns out this was a funnel cloud that stretched about 1/4 of the way to the ground. Other chasers nearby claim there was a ground circulation, but I have yet to see evidence and will only log it as such.

The mighty funnel

The main prize with this storm quickly became its structure and we found ourselves in a debate. Alec wanting to step back to view the structure but I wanted to stay in the notch, especially with reports of the tornado being a nice elephant trunk (which later turned out to be exaggerated) so we compromised and held a sort of “middle ground” where we could see both. The storm quickly dumped its core into the base and most of the tornadic features became obscured, but the overall structure remained impressive. I snapped dozens of photos but at some point bumped the dial on my camera which put it into full manual mode, the previous settings being those when I was last shooting lightning. All my shots turned out over exposed. Note to self, check a picture every now and then to make sure this doesnt happen. Alec’s photos turned out beautiful though. It was indeed some of the best supercell structure I have seen in awhile.

Floydata, TX Supercell

Supercell

Darkness was beginning to set in but I managed at least one picture  before the storm overtook us at our location.
Texas Supercell 5

We deemed the day to be over at this point and did not feel like pursuing the storms further east into darkness, especially as tired  as we were. Fellow chaser and host of The Ghost Train – Storm Chasing podcast, Marcus Diaz had sent me a text saying he was in the area and asked about meeting up for dinner. Tired and hungry, that sounded like a great idea and we met up with him, his GF and Wesley Lughinbyl (Im sure I spelled that wrong) at Chilis in Plainview, TX for a nice meal and to discuss the day as well as the next couple days. Friday the 24th being the main day of interest in this chase stretch. After our dinner we parted ways and roomed up at a  $40 motel in town. The motel itself was nice, with more features than much more expensive places, but Im pretty sure the rest of the clientele all belonged to the Mexican drug cartel. We made sure to completely unload the car that night. After a long intense tango with an HP supercell on little sleep, it wasn’t long before we hit the pillows and were out cold.

Conclusion:

Overall this was a solid chase, the day played out how I thought it would. The Storms were mean, and provided some good photogenic opportunities. The core encounters were intense and made for an exciting day. As far as our “tornado” goes,  I remain skeptical despite the claims of others of seeing a little dust whirl under that funnel cloud. Either way, its not a tornado that satisfies my craving, so it doesn’t even feel like a good catch either way. The structure ended up being the main show today, and for day 1 of a string of marginal chase setups, you can’t ask for much more.  Missing the structure shots because I bumped my camera settings was a stupid mistake, and adds a bit of “2015 curse” to the day, but the good thing about that is I wont make that mistake again.

Map:
4-22-15

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