Underwood, Texas Tornadoes and Tennis Ball Size Hail. October 12th 2012

Oct 17, 2012


Gambled on high risk/high reward chase and was rewarded with a beautiful supercell that delivered tennis ball size hail and 2 weak tornadoes.


Tornadoes: 2

Hail: 2.50″ (Tennis Ball)

Wind: est 50mph core gust.


Detailed Account:

If you have read my chase logs, it is no doubt that 2012 has been the most frustrating chase year since 2009. So when this setup first appeared on models 12 days out I eagerly kept a close eye on it, even as my peers continued to criticize the notion of chasing, let alone it being a tornado day. The models, however, held onto the system all the way until the day of, though as usual the setup somewhat fell apart. Seasonably strong shear was in place along with ample instability, but concerns over a contaminated airmass due to too much convection since there was no cap made for an overall marginal setup. What made this appealing was the next days setup was originally supposed to hold some tornado potential closer to home [more on that in the nexy days log] so chasing the entire system made the long drive to the target area seem worth it.

I teamed up with the usual Alec Schoelten and Mike Mullenhoff, who have chased with me most of the year along with old school partners Danny Neal and Jonathan Williamson. A pretty powerful combination if ever there was one. We met up with Ben Holcomb in Oklahoma City the night before. The day of, we broke the group into 2 vehicles and set sail for the chase. The day mostly went in typical 2012 fashion. We drove, stopped at a McDonalds in Plainview, TX where we mulled with dozens of other chasers for over an hour. We broke off after some developing storms that soon fizzled away into nothing. Then we sat on a dirt road for another good hour or more amid the company of some horses. The feeling of yet another bust was beginning to set in. Parameters looked better after dark, but I wasn’t too thrilled about ANOTHER desperate dash in the dark so this did not make me feel any better.

When hope had about run out, a hail marker popped up on GR3, but with no storm. This seemed odd, but not something that hasn’t happened before. Sure enough, on the next scan an exploding storm made itself known.  The chase was finally on. Two storms had formed closely together, as we approached the north storm it split into a 3rd storm. It showed a disorganized, scuddy wall cloud and base, but even just seeing this already made the chase better than many this year.

Getting into position at a rest stop just off the highway (i-27) the storms core began to overtake us with some pea size hail. Since the storm motion was almost due north and we were facing south, I wanted to turn around to get to the other side of the highway in order to keep up with the storm once it passed over us. Doing so brought us another mile south where we then flipped around onto a frontage road. Here the hail assault grew to about quarter size, and then finally tennis balls which definitely added a few new dents to the truck.

We now had a view of the bears cage, and to our south was a very low, ground scraping wall cloud embedded in some hazy rain. To the untrained eye, it looked like a giant wedge, but lack of any real rotation told us the true story. Still, there was some broad rotation and it appeared this storm was trying to get its act together. We began to move east to reposition but found ourselves on a horrible county road. Ben aborted and went north, and we chose to stay an observe the storm for a few minutes. It began to get too far away to my liking so I decided it was time to gamble our way east and then north to stay with the storm. As we slowly made our way down the treacherous road the storm really got organized and presented more classic looking supercell structure.

Suddenly a powerful RFD surge began to wrap around the backside. This was our sign that if a tornado was going to happen, it would be very soon. Luckily our slippery, muddy, canyon-y road was now dry and allowed me to speed up to get to our paved north option. There we high tailed it back into the cage. Rotation really ramped up, and suddenly condensation was whirling around just above the ground, similar to April 14th. I figured we had a tornado at this point, but wasn’t completely sure till a definite vorticy spun up from the ground. I kept us on the move to get closer, until we had a clear view of the field next to us. The parent circulation appeared to divide into two separate areas of rotation. A long, skinny funnel danced down from the new one, which was confirmed as tornado number 2 by other chaser video. It was hard to see from our vantage point, but despite the non-fully condensed funnel, there was in fact a debris cloud on the ground.

The storm began to pull away from us, and we were back on the pursuit. We found Ben again, and by now nightfall was setting in and the storm was losing its tornadic punch. There were still some lightning and nighttime structure shots to be had for those with nice cameras, so we stayed and shot the storm in the dark until it all but faded away, at which point we called the chase, and began the drive back to Norman where we arrived tired, but happy.


This chase was well needed for mental stability. Finally a good, solid, all around CHASE that had just about everything I look for on a chase. Really large hail, tornadoes, and structure. The tornadoes were far from the most impressive ones I have seen, but knowing we got on the storm of the day and made good positioning moves to document all it had to offer makes the chase a complete success. The only way it could have been better was perhaps moving on it a bit sooner and getting closer to capture the debris swirls on the ground better.


Radar Shots:

In the core.

In the hook.


Dark green arrow = location of rest stop

Light green arrow = tennis ball size hail location

Red arrow = where we documented the tornadoes

Pink line = approximate paths of tornadoes as witnessed.

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