March 28th 2017 Texas Storm Chaser Tragedy

Apr 04, 2017

Summary:

Intercepted multiple storms, missing the days 1 prize. Also learned of another chaser tragedy that will forever change the game.

Stats:

Tornadoes: 0
Hail: .50″
Wind: n/a


The Forecast:

Dryline slowly sharpening across central/northern Texas with sufficient moisture and shear in place to promote supercell development. Warm front slowly forecast to lift near the red river. Weak capping inversion meant early initiation and messy storm complexes making for a difficult chase. Best tornado parameters seemed to exist along the warm front. SPC issued their highest tornado probabilities in accordance.

Detailed Account:

This would be the first plains run for me this year from my home base in Chicago (up until now it was somewhat backwards.) The season has been active, but the setups have not been ideal for chasers. This one appeared no different, but sufficient enough to warrant the drive. Alec and I departed Chicago early Monday morning and arrived at Chelsea’s apartment in Dallas after midnight. After a few hours rest we awoke to assess the day. It was pretty obvious where we wanted to be so we set sail for the triple point around noon.

Arriving in my target area near Crowell we met up with a bunch of friends. It was at this time we learned of the horrible news involving a 3-fatality storm chaser related accident. Rumors began swirling fast, cell phones blowing up with concerned friends and family making sure it wasn’t us. Early rumors said it was someone we all knew. Shortly after it was confirmed the deceased were Kelley Williamson and Randy Yarnall – two chasers for The Weather Channel and stars of the show Storm Wranglers. At the time noone knew if the 3rd fatality was a chaser or not, but it was learned that in fact it was. Corbin Jeager from Arizona. Corbin was killed when Kelley ran a stop sign on a rural road at a high rate of speed and their vehicles collided.

The tragedy sent shockwaves across the community, as tragic as it was this was a big deal. As chaser numbers continue to increase, traffic related incidents have been on the rise. It was only a matter of time before one of them became fatal and unfortunately that day was today. To make things worse it was not a freak accident it was the result of negligent driving, as Kelleys live stream showed them blatantly ignoring many traffic signals up to the fatal accident. The community will be forever changed, for the worse, but hopefully eventually the better. May all the victims rest in peace, especially Corbin, who is the true innocent victim in this tragedy.

Needless to say all our moods were ruined and minds clouded. Storms were ongoing, but messy. It was hard to focus. The first few tornado reports fluttered in, on random junk storms as they interacted with the front. We had about a dozen to pick from, and chose a complex just to our south that we thought/hoped would interact with the front and do the same. Meanwhile, an isolated, discrete supercell about an hour south was looking mighty tempting.

We went back and forth for awhile, but hung around to see what our storms would do. They were slowly organizing, even showing bits of rotation and attempts at good wall clouds. The overall appearance was grungy though with not a lot of structure to be had, as we expected.
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Finally we made the call to drop south to the still discrete storm, which was tornado warned with reported tornadoes. Finally a nice tornado images appears online from our storm. As if the day couldn’t get any worse, but we were en route. Despite a difficult road network we made good timing to perform a hook slice and get into the notch for hopefully the next cycle and tornado. Near the town of Haskell we emerged from the rain to a big rotating mass to our south. It looked good, but quickly faded to our west as a new area developed. Playing the storm on the road network was difficult. There were little good highways to choose from and we had no solid east option that went for more than a couple miles before T-ing off. We decided to go out of our way north to a better east option and make some ground. Unfortunately this meant we would get overtaken by the hook and likely lose visual of our area of interest, but we saw no other option to get east.

As we did this the storm hit us with an intense RFD surge pushing 70mph winds feeding into the new circulation. Tornadogenesis seemed like it would happen soon. My map showed an east road south of the main highway. Unsure if it was paved, it was another option. Alec decided to go for it and we made our turn. Much to our dismay the road instantly turned to mud and we slide right into the ditch with no time to even react or turn around. Keeping momentum we drove in the ditch Twister style. About a mile down the road (or ditch rather) met with another crossroad and leveled off, allowing us to get back on level ground. We were free, or so we thought. We attempted to take this new road north back to our highway and it ended up being worse. After about a minute on this road it wasn’t long before we got stuck for good.
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All our cell phones had weak signal but we were able to send a quick call for help and Brennan Joseph, a friend of ours was nearby and came by to pull us out with his better rigged FJ-Cruiser. After about an hour of pushing, fighting, pulling, and slow crawling we were free and back on the main highway. A new isolated storm had gone up and was closing in, looking good on radar. We could see a rapidly lowered base with scud tags whipping about. Some of them even looked like tornadoes from afar but we were not able to confirm and there were no chasers on it due all of them following the main storm. We played this storm for a bit as darkness fell, noting a massive ground scraping wall cloud but could not confirm a touchdown.

We called the chase and made our way back to the apartment, ready for some beer. While at the apartment a raging squall line approached with multiple tornado warnings for QLCS type spinups. I decided (beer in hand) to go walk to a pond to watch the shelf cloud roll in. As soon as we arrived we noted a series of powerflashes to our south. Chelsea managed to catch on on her iphone where-as I couldn’t cause my phone is old, worthless and takes about a minute to load the camera to record.
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After seeing this and hearing a roar approaching we bolted back to the apartment just as the storm arrived, slamming the complex with winds around 70mph. Small debris was thrown around and a construction project across the parking lot had one of the walls blown down. It was a pretty intense little storm and one of the more interesting highlights of the day. The NWS confirmed several QLCS tornadoes in the area, but nothing directly at our location so its tough to say whether we witnessed an actual QLCS tornado or just experienced straight-line winds.  The evidence certainly supports one but it will have to go into the vault of uncertainty without actual confirmation. Still, after a lackluster chase, it was an amusing end to the day.

Conclusions:

Not my best run out there. Made a good forecast as several tornadoes occurred in my target zone, we just did not execute wisely. I knew picking a storm would be the main challenge of the day and that turned out to be the case. Of course we arrived on the one storm that produced the one good tornado just a few minutes too late. It could be worse though, it could have put down another after we got stuck and that would have been a bigger slap in the face.  The QLCS maybenado at the apartment was a “consolation prize” so to speak and added a bit of fun to our day.

The tragedy that occurred clouded our brains and killed a chunk of the motivation. As I type this, the fallout is still being blasted over social media and I don’t know how long it will take the community to recover from this. I feel for all the victims and their families, I really do. It does piss me off it was the result of negligent driving. Blindly running through stop signs is inexcusable. As a chaser, I know we all bend traffic laws here and there in pursuit of the storm. I won’t pretend to be a saint nor will I go on a preaching crusade and try to lecture people about how to chase. Seriously though, come on people. Use common sense. There are some things you just don’t do. A live stream showing chasers running multiple stop signs? The passenger wasn’t even looking to see if they were clear and calling out if it was safe to proceed or not. This was avoidable and I hope it never happens again. Sadly, I fear this wont be the last incident.

I’ve said enough though. I am ready to put this day behind me and move forward. On to the next chase…

Map:
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SPC Reports:

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