Monthly Archives: April 2016

29 April 2016 / Southwest Oklahoma Severe Storms

I left Okarche around 12:30 pm and started south on Highway 81.  The first stop I made was just south of Rush Springs.  Most of the trip saw light precipitation, cloudy skies and limited visibility.  Warmer air was beginning to move north and winds were increasing out of the southeast as I saw near Rush Springs.  There had been a persistent area of towering cumulus just to my south that I could see through breaks in the overcast.  Meanwhile, a line of organizing storms extended from southeast Washita County to Jackson County.  While these storms were becoming severe, satellite and radar imagery indicated that the storms were slightly elevated behind a surface front.

My hope was that storms would form out ahead of the line that would be surface based and more isolated.

By 3 pm, there were a couple of embedded supercell storms to my west – one over northwest Comanche County and one over northern Tillman County.  I didn’t want to play with these high precipitation storms, but the hope of anything forming farther east was beginning to fade.  I made the decision to drive west with the hope of capturing a couple images of storm structure – while staying safe, east of the storms.  The road network supported this approach.

I made it to Elgin about 3:20 pm.  The storm straight west of me at the time was located over southern Caddo County and the northern sides of the Wichita Wildlife Refuge.  Radar showed that the storm was beginning to pull a surface boundary back into the updraft region of the storm and I felt that tornado potential was starting to increase.  I drove west and northwest of Elgin as the storm approached, presenting itself about as I expected.  It was a nasty looking HP mess, and would have been nearly impossible to see a tornado that was likely embedded in the rain.  Worse for the short term goal, there was very little storm structure to be seen either.  The sky was hazy and mostly obscured by clouds.  As nasty as it looked, I just moved back to the east and south and let it pass by to my north.

At that point, the chase was basically over.  I fell in behind the storm and looked for large hail and wind damage in its wake.  The biggest hail I measured was 2.39 inches, and I did see wind or tornado damage about 6 miles southwest of Ninnekah.

26 April 2016 / Western Oklahoma Severe Storms

Looking west from 7.9 miles east of Chester, OK (6:26 pm CDT)

Orienta, OK (5:37 pm CDT)

Orienta, OK (5:37 pm CDT)

In the days leading up to this event, my thought was to get to Kansas.  By the morning of the event, I couldn’t really see enough evidence to favor Kansas over Oklahoma.  And as far as Oklahoma was concerned, I couldn’t really favor any particular area.  So, just after 11 am, I started west and ended up setting up camp at the Hinton exit on I-40.  First storm attempts started showing up along a narrow line from Grant County to Custer County around 2 pm.  Over the next couple of hours, I ran a rather humorous route north, south, north, south, and north again between Bridgeport and Watonga.  No offense to the fine folks in Geary, but I was getting real tired of seeing the place.  My indecision was caused by not knowing which – if any – of the storms that were forming to my west and northwest should be targeted.  By 5 pm, I had decided on a severe storm that was moving across northeast Dewey County.  At the time, it was the southwestern most storm in a linear complex that extended northeast into Kansas.  To say the storm was uninteresting is giving it too much credit.  I followed the murky blob northeastward to Orienta where I measured hail to 1.63 inches while deciding to let it go.

Just before 6 pm, storms that looked as if they could contain some large hail were moving into southwest Woodward, western Custer and western Dewey counties.  With only the thought of searching for hail, I started west on Highway 412.  At the 281 junction, I thought better of this decision as a nasty bow echo had evolved to my west southwest and was racing toward me.  Allowing it to overtake me would have nailed the door shut on continuing to chase, so I made the decision to go east out of Chester and at least stay in the warm sector in case anything decided to jump up.  As we all know now, it didn’t.  But I did have a short hop home without driving through a monsoon.

24 April 2016 / Central Kansas Severe Storms

It’s been a long time since the day total chase miles so far exceeded what we expected at the time of departure.  Severe thunderstorms were expected across northern and central Kansas, and we felt strongly that they would develop southward into southern Kansas and possibly northwest Oklahoma.  We left around 2 pm and started north on Highway 81 toward the Kansas border.  Up through 4 pm, our plan looked to be on target with a broken line of building cumulus and some radar echoes having had developed as far south as western Woods County in Oklahoma.

We made it to Kingman around 4:30, keeping an eye on struggling storm attempts to our west and southwest, while targeting a healthy area of development northeast of Pratt.  The Pratt storm didn’t last long and we were left watching a rapidly dissipating clump of convective debris about midway between Pratt and Hutchinson.  Worse, all storm attempts to our southwest had failed and showed no signs of trying again.

While we were working with what we had, severe storms had been ongoing a few counties to our north – to the west of Salina.  After short consideration, we started northeast to I-135 at McPherson and then north toward Salina.  The highways and interstates were laid out nicely for us to make a quick go of it.  We were near Inman at 5:30 pm when a new and aggressive bit of convection started developing about 30 miles to our north northwest.  This storm ended up merging with the Salina storm over the city, while we were working our way around the south and east sides of the city.  Tornado sirens were singing for us while we made this trek.  The storm looked a little high based and had some cloud motions that kept our interest, but we never saw anything that made us think a tornado was imminent.

We stayed with the storm (or complex of storms) for the next two hours as we traveled east northeast along I-70, making occasional stops.  We stopped at the Milford Lake exit at 7:20 pm.  Here we observed the best cloud base rotation that we saw on the day, but still, this never looked close to producing a tornado.  We continued our trip east and made it all the way to about midway between Junction City and Manhattan.  The storm along the way did not long very impressive.  It appeared to have a strong surge of outflow racing ahead of it and was fairly high based.  Despite a couple of spotter reported tornadoes, we never saw anything close.  It was time to cut our losses and start back west on I-70.

We stopped at 8:10 pm a few miles north of Detroit and watched trailing storms that were located just to our northwest.  The sun was setting and the colors were nice.  There was a considerable amount of close cloud to ground lightning and a couple of areas where cloud bases were lowered, but as was earlier the case, outflow seemed to be out ahead of the updraft region of the storm.

About 8:20 pm, we started southwest again as new storms were developing near and southwest of Salina.  We eventually made it back as far as Lindsborg and stopped a few miles north of the town to shoot some lightning from the north side of the exposed and highly electrified updrafts.  After the tail end storm passed to our south, we cut across the hail swath and ended up measuring 2.18 inch hail.  That closed out the day for us and we began the long drive back to Okarche just after 10:30 pm.

16 April 2016 / Eastern Texas Panhandle Storms

Looking east from 11.7 miles east of Silverton, TX (6:12 pm CDT)

iPhone photo – Looking east from 11.7 miles east of Silverton, TX (6:12 pm CDT)

The day prior exceeded expectations, this one came up a little short.  OK, quite a bit short.  I expected at least a needle in the haystack type of event, and was surprised when a needle was never tossed in.  A broken line of storms had formed north/south across the central Texas Panhandle as Chris Novy and I drove westbound on I-40.  We drove through fog and drizzle/light rain across much of western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle which didn’t start clearing until we hit McLean around 3:45 pm.  We stopped at the Clarendon exit at 4 pm with a line of storms from our WNW through S.  There were a couple of places were the line was trying to stay broken, but for the most part, we had a developing mess on our hands.  One option was a storm immediately to our southwest that had a notch on its east side.  Unfortunately, it had a lot of water wrapping around the southeast side of it.  Had we driven south, any view of anything would have been short-lived before getting cored.  We decided to start back east on I-40 and try to drop south ahead of the line, targeting the tail end which was south of Silverton.

We met up with the southern storm around 4:45 pm just northeast of Hedley.  It had some interesting structure with a notch on the east side and heavy precipitation wrapping around the southeast side.  We rolled through a couple of miles of small hail, but missed any larger hail that likely accompanied the storm.  At the time, it really just didn’t have the look of anything that we wanted to stay with.  There were new storms developing in the area of Vigo Park and we decided to continue on to the southwest.

Around 6 pm, this started to look like a big mistake because the Hedley storm was taking on a very nice shape on radar.  By then, we were too far away to make a return.  We spent some time taking a break at a pull off near the western side of Caprock Canyons State Park.  I decided to use the opportunity to play with the camera on the new iPhone.  Yes, after many years of sticking to the old iPhone 4, I have made a jump to modern technology.  While we were playing in the park, a cluster of storms were very slowly organizing to our west and northwest.  We started north toward Claude and stayed near a small storm located just west of our highway that steadily organized into a nice little supercell.  Just after 7 pm, the storm was located just east of the Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  A clear slot developed and it was apparent that the storm was rotating both visually and on radar.  There for just a couple of minutes, we thought we might get a little surprise.  We followed it to the east of Claude before it started going downhill.

We had quick access to I-40 for the trip home, but it was one of the good old, somewhat stressful rides through monsoon rain that lasted almost the entire way back to the Calumet exit.  At least we didn’t get the added bonus of strobe like lightning.

15 April 2016 / Oklahoma Panhandle Tornadoes

Looking west from 13.9 miles east of Dalhart, TX (6:08 pm CDT)

Looking west from 13.9 miles east of Dalhart, TX (6:08 pm CDT)

I didn’t have high hopes for tornadoes, but I was fairly confident there would be some nice storms across both the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles.  My initial target was across the central and eastern part of the Texas Panhandle where convection-allowing models showed consistent signals for supercell storms.  The only trouble with those solutions was developing this activity well east of the dry line that was expected to be hanging near the New Mexico/Texas border.  Still, the signal was strong enough to get me out the door.  To be honest, if I thought that I would have to go as far as I did, I probably would have stayed home.

I got to Canadian, TX at 4:15 pm and had a decision to make.  There were weak attempts at storms occurring southeast of Amarillo and north of Amarillo near Stinnett.  There were also severe storms closer to the New Mexico border to the south of Dalhart.  Despite being expected, those were not considered a play at the time.  My decision was to stay to the north – closer to where established storms were ongoing.  I started west toward the Stinnett bubbling with less hope than when I started the day.

At 5:10 pm, I stopped just southwest of Spearman and pretty much declared that all hope of “eastern storms” forming was just about gone.  But, I had moved so far to the west that suddenly the storms to the south of Dalhart had become an option.  In the ‘well, I’ve come this far’ category, I started west.  I stopped about 15 miles east of Dalhart a little after 6 pm – the first Tornado Warning for the storm had just been issued.  Low and mid clouds that I had obscuring the sky began to clear out and a nicely structured supercell was revealed.

For the next hour, I jumped north and eastward to Texhoma.  The storm maintained excellent structure and inflow was very strong – at times sustained winds were probably around 40 mph.  Big streaming bands of blowing dust were racing in and up into the updraft region of the storm.  There were times between Stratford and Texhoma that the visibility in the business part of the storm was greatly reduced by blowing dust, making it nearly impossible to tell if a tornado was occurring despite several suspicious areas at times.

The storm was crossing into Oklahoma by 7:10 pm and had become a bit elongated east/west, with more than one updraft region.  Overall storm motion had shifted to the left and was now closer to due north.  This may have been a result of steady updraft development near the western part of the complex area of updrafts.  By now, the storm was far enough from any radar to prevent a good look at what was happening in the lowest levels, but strong mid-level rotation was still obvious from KAMA.  I stopped to take a couple of artsy photos about 7 miles north of Texhoma at 7:30 pm, and reevaluate.  Given the new storm motion of almost straight north, I decided to get up to highway 412 and crawl westward toward Eva.  The storm appeared to have some very large hail by then.  I figured if nothing else I could use 412 to work along and see what hail size I could come up with.

I stopped 2.4 miles south southeast of Eva – and this was really just a lucky call.  I can’t remember any specific reason why, and was just about ready to pull off when the first funnel started developing.  It came from an area that didn’t really look all that menacing.  There wasn’t the big hanging, fast motion wall cloud.  Tornado number one quickly developed and lasted almost two minutes.  There was a couple of minute break and then tornado number two formed.  The second tornado lasted just a bit longer and appeared to have a quick but short track to the north northeast.  It weakened to my west southwest and a big blow of RFD surged across my location.  Instantly, the storm become somewhat uninteresting visually.  I couldn’t see anything that said a tornado was going to occur, and it looked as if the big surge of RFD covered just about everything under and south of the updraft.  Darkness was approaching and there was still suspended dust, and those factors may have contributed to the lackluster appearance at that time.

Despite the approach of darkness and nothing noteworthy to focus on, I decided to drive north out of Eva.  I stopped near the Yarbrough School which is about 6 miles north of Eva when a white tornado to the northwest exposed itself.  This tornado lasted for several minutes, but I didn’t have a decent place to pull off of the highway and it was wet enough to keep me in the car.  My only images and video of this event came from the iPhone.  By now, I had zero reception and was getting no data.  Dark, dataless, traffic on limited roads, and other approaching storms.  Just about everything was checked that could be for reasons to leave, so I grabbed the next paved road east and called it a day.

619 total miles was more than I was expecting to bite off, but the results made the drive back worth it.


10 April 2016 / Walters, Oklahoma Supercell

Looking west southwest from 5.3 miles west of Walters, OK (7:35 pm CDT)

Looking west southwest from 5.3 miles west of Walters, OK (7:35 pm CDT)

The first chase of the season turned out pretty well.  We drove to just west of Grandfield, Oklahoma (which seems to be a common stopping place over the last few years).  From there, we watched as a somewhat disorganized area of severe thunderstorms approached from northwest Texas.  Our plan was to keep ahead of this area and see what might be able to evolve.  We worked our way northeast through Chattanooga and Faxon to Geronimo.  At Geronimo, we became interested in a storm that was near Grandfield that was showing signs of separating itself while developing supercell characteristics.

There was decent supercell structure, frequent lightning and evidence of weak low level rotation as this storm approached the turnpike west of Walters, Oklahoma (image above).

We followed the storm to the north and northeast of Walters before losing interest with darkness upon us and the storm shrinking in size.  Our attention turned to a newly developing storm just south of the Red River to the west of Burkburnett, Texas.  Our feeling about this storm was spot on, but we were just a little too far away to see a tornado that likely developed (based on strong radar indications).