Saturday, May 09, 2009

Vortex 2 and Texas Boom!

DAY 7 MAY 8, 2009

I was planning to sleep in today, but the phone rang at around 9 am. Rita answered it. It was Ron. He said we had to leave in a half hour. Oh crap! I needed a shower! So I decided to give myself a quick rinse down... it was really muggy! The shower controls were pretty weird though and I couldn't get it to work right. Augggghhh tell me this ain't happening! I washed my hair and got dressed and went down to the parking lot for a morning briefing.

Ron looked at us and basically said "This is a test to see if you can get up quickly."

Oh maaaaaaan I really should know better! The crew went to Starbucks and Ihop for a coffee and some breakfast. Several nice outflow boundaries from the system in Kansas were setting up in the area and heading south. I was really liking the sky so far with it being still relatively early in the day. We then decided to head south to Norman. Today was looking really interesting. There was still crap loads of instability, plus the cold front was expected to go through this afternoon and reach northern Texas in the evening. It was a slow moving front. I couldn't believe the numbers I was seeing on the models especially for northern Texas. It was insane! If something doesn't pop today, I am going to take up stamp collecting!

Today was Vortex 2 Media Day in Norman. We stopped by the old NSSL building to take some pictures and figure out where the new building was located. We finally found the new research facility and stepped out into the parking lot. I saw the Vortex 2 vehicles, so all of us walked over. I ran into Tim Marshall once again (the last time I saw him was back in 2006). He seemed pretty thrilled about his part in Vortex 2. We saw a lot of the research vehicles parked on display. I saw the beautiful blue DOW 6 truck, a bunch of vans and mobile mesonets and Tim's vehicle. I walked further down and noticed a familiar person... wow. Could it be? The real Erik Rasmussen?! Jack helped me introduce myself to Erik and we shook hands. This man was the one behind the original Vortex back in 1994 and 1995. He asked if I was chasing today and I said that we were heading south to play the boundaries. I mentioned that I hope it pops today to which he replied "It's a waste of a good airmass if it doesn't". He was not kidding either. Everything seemed to be in place. A dryline buldge, outflow boundaries, excellent CAPE and extreme LI's. The 850 jet moved in, the winds were coming from the south and southeast. There was moisture... it's gotta go!

We walked around in the lobby of the building. It was really cool to see all of this and it kinda puts the Environment Canada building to shame. In the lobby there was a globe that displayed radar and satellite... around the world! Then it would change pictures and say "Welcome to Vortex 2 Media Day". On a wall, there was a radar display. That derecho that formed in Kansas overnight was now over Missouri... and it resembled a land hurricane! It was nuts! After numerous pictures and a quick hello to Josh Wurman, we had to head south again so we could be ahead of the action. We didn't want the boundary slipping past us. Apparently quite a few other chasers were headed this way as well, including Dave Patrick and George Kourounis with Cloud 9 Tours. We decided to stop at a scenic route before approaching Ardmore. It was just beautiful in the Red River Valley with all of the wildflowers in bloom! Fields of yellow and rolling hills made for a nice scene! Some gentleman had told Jack he saw the TIV and other vehicles go by... I guess some of the Vortex 2 crew decided to play today's setup after all! After about a half hour or so, we took off again.

At around close to 4 pm, I looked to the west and saw ACCAS clouds forming... excellent! We have mid level instability! We were definitely lacking that the past several days. We were chasing this system for three days now and today looked to be the day the atmosphere would blow. The SPC finally put out a mesoscale discussion. The cap should weaken as the day progresses and expected development later in the day.

We stopped at a Starbucks in Gainsville once we arrived in north Texas to check on the models and wait for the boundary from the northwest to move in closer. A tornado was issued and we were on the northern edge of it. We sat around for a bit, constantly checking on satellite and radar feeds, and watching all of the chaser icons on Spotter Network converge all along I35. Not many chasers seemed to venture this far south since most of them were waiting around in Ardmore, OK. One thing was for certain... it was really hot and muggy! I sat in the air conditioned van to get some relief. Off to our southwest, we noticed some towers starting to go up along a boundary. Perfect! The cap was eroding away! Ron didn't want to go after these just yet, since he figured more would develop. We waited some more, but nothing else seemed to pop up except in southern Oklahoma, but those cells didn't seem to be in the most unstable airmass.

The storm southwest of Waco was growing fast! At around 5:30 we headed more south and stopped in Sanger so Ron could update himself on the models while I grabbed some snacks for the road.

Ron made up his decision and decided we were to head after that growing supercell southwest of Waco. It was a bit further away than we were hoping for, but it was also the most dominant looking storm around. We were not too pleased with the stuff firing to the north judging by models and radar. The supercell was moving quite slowly as well. A second tornado watch was put out for the stuff firing up in Oklahoma. We headed south on I35 West and somehow managed to get around the Fort Worth/Waco area. Traffic was moving a little bit slow at times. The tornado warned supercell was still growing, to a whopping 75,000 feet! Aaaauuggggghhhh of all times! I could see large mammatus underneath the anvil and could see signs that the storm was rotating, judging by how part of the anvil appeared. I've never seen this kind of thing before! We were still quite a ways from the supercell so we could not see the updraft and haze also did not seem to help... the air was pregnant with moisture and smog from the surrounding big cities. All of a sudden Ben radioed to Ron that they were having problems with their inverter in the green van. Oh crap. What more could go wrong? We pulled into a gas station so Ron could check it out. By now it was almost sunset... we were about to be in for a nice sunset lit mammatus show very soon. We headed west and saw that a tornado was reported near Brownwood. Oh nooooooo! We missed the tornado! It was a good thing that the supercell was still going strong. The core was quite dense as well, with estimated hail up to 3 inches.

As we were heading west, we watched more towers go up to our northwest as the sun set. That must have been the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen! The towers were casting shadows underneath the massive anvil, while the setting sun cast hues of orange on the mammatus. This anvil was huge, spreading all the way up into Oklahoma! I guess the good air mass did not go to waste after all. Unfortunately it was getting dark out, so we would not be able to take daytime structure shots, but we planned to stick with the storm until it weakens. It seemed to be cycling at times and backbuilding and appeared to be going strong even after sundown. Lightning was getting rather intense.

At around 10:30 we stopped in San Saba for a quick bathroom break and an ice cream bar, then continued west to get into position for some lightning shots. We took some back roads just south of Voca to take pictures. I looked through my camera and saw a dark blob. I zoomed out. It was still there, so I zoomed in and it was still there. What the heck now?! I thought. I looked at the lens. Oh jeepers! Apparently some melted chocolate must have fallen on my lens. Sandra gave me some wipes to clean it off, then I got out my tripod. We saw a rotating feature, possibly a skinny wall cloud, when lightning flashed in the dark. There was a clear slot to the left of it. I managed to get a shot of it, although it came out blurry. Aaaaauuggghh I didn't put the lens in focus! It was now starting to rain so we loaded the vans. Ron wanted to get us ahead of the core so that it would swallow us and get into some hail. Unfortunately the road options in this area were rather poor and the core was starting to weaken.

It was now close to midnight and the storm was dying... it was time to call it a night. We checked for motel rooms in Brandy and ended up finding enough rooms at a run down retro style Gold Key Inn. Ah well... there were showers and a bed, that's all that mattered now. Today made me realize how quickly a chase can possibly go downhill fast if minor issues happen. It was not really a bust though, since we did manage to meet up with the largest supercell in the country today. We chased this system for three days!

1 comment: