Saturday, May 23, 2009

An Intense Texas Chase To End the Chasecation

DAY 14 MAY 15, 2009

I was enjoying my sleep when someone came knocking on my door. The knocking wouldn't stop, so I groggily got out of bed and opened the door with my eyes halfway opened and my hair a mess. I was expecting Ron, but it turned out to be one of the cleaning ladies. All she had to do was look at me and apologized and said she would be back later. I closed the door, rubbed my eyes and looked at the time. 10:30 am?! What are they doing knocking on our doors a half hour before checkout time? What if I was in the bathroom? Would she have walked right in and start cleaning right away? Yeeesh. Well, I figured since it was getting rather late in the morning, I decided to get dressed and turned on TWC to see what Vortex 2 was going to do today. Apparently they were heading to Kansas. I looked quickly at the RUC models for later today. Interesting. Tons of instability, helicity, convergence, a moisture pocket, southerly/southeasterly surface flow, a cold front and a dryline in the eastern Texas panhandle. There would be storms across OK and KS as well, but it looked to be more linear. I didn't like the surface winds there either. SPC outlined a moderate risk with 10% tornado for eastern Kansas and a slight with 5% tornado over the eastern Texas panhandle. The whole stretch was hatched for large hail as well. I was a bit puzzled as to why Vortex 2 was headed up to Kansas. Ah well, I ain't with them after all, and I wanted our last alley chase of the year to end with a bang.

We all went to Denny's for breakfast. I ordered the Pancake Puppies, which actually resembled 3 inch deep fried hailstones. Yum! We then headed northwest from Wichita Falls, towards Amarillo. The cold front was expected to move southeast through the late afternoon. Ron and I were hoping for an isolated supercell today. Actually, Ron was certain we would see something today.

A little while later sometime in the mid afternoon, we ended up a rest stop. We could see the boundary developing. A new storm had quickly gone up north of Pampa. While I was taking pictures of the distant cells, Jack called me over. He mentioned a tornado watch had gone up and we were on the western side of it. Perfect! So far everything seemed to make good timing. We continued on our way north. A new cell was developing just to our west. The newly devleoped anvil was nice and hard, but the base of the cell did not look very healthy. We stopped to get some pictures of the anvil's edge, then Ron wanted to take one of his shortcuts to get to the supercell near Pampa, which included a road basically made of peanut butter. Some of the ruts were a little deep but the van did quite well getting through it. Luckily it was not raining because this is one road that any chaser should avoid when it's wet. Some of it was so deep it was scraping underneath the van. Clay came up out the sides just like going through a puddle. Nothing like a little Texas clay off-roading adventure! After about 10 minutes, we worked our way to a main road again and headed off towards the storm.

Soon after, a tornado warning was issued for the storm. This supercell was starting to look like a beast on radar and it was moving slow in a southerly direction! As we got closer, we could make out some of the structure. I could see some banding along the flanking line and wrapping around the meso. All of a sudden, Ron said there was a funnel cloud off to the left under the rain free base! I zoomed in and took some pictures. What a nice funnel cloud (I later learned that another chaser was right near it and it was actually a tornado with only a funnel cloud visible and debris underneath)! Unfortunately there was moisture in the air which made the contrast very low. A few minutes later as we neared the meso, we stopped on the shoulder of the hiway to take some pictures of the great structure. As we stood in the inflow, a wall cloud could be seen inside behind the precipitation. It appeared our storm was going to be one mean HP beast. A few minutes later, I could feel the winds change to outflow and it was starting to rain. The storm was heading toward us. A couple seconds after everyone loaded back in the vans, I saw a powerful CG strike near us. CRRAAAAACCCK! Holy crap!!! Oddly enough, Jack, Pam and the three clients, who were in the other van, said they did not even hear thunder with that strike. It was highly possible it may have struck the van or right next to it. Yikes talk about timing to get back in the vans! Good thing I brought extra undies!

After that electrifying experience, we headed to the storm to get on the backside out of the path. We pulled on to hiway 273, just a few miles southeast of Pampa. It was starting to hail and the rain was blinding. We pulled on the shoulder to watch. Thunk! Thud! Wham! Tennis balls of ice were falling and bouncing on the ground. Not from straight down either... with the winds, they were hitting us almost sideways! Everyone put on safety glasses.

A few minutes later, radar detected a couplet and hook just ahead of us (we were facing east southeast). Through the rain streaked windows, a collar cloud with rotation could be seen right down the road. We saw a fat funnel cloud on the left and to the right, there was a much darker creature hidden in there. I took a picture of the funnel cloud when a CG actually made it in my shot. Cool another unintentional lightning shot! There was so much rain and hail, it was actually hard to see anything hidden in there. We pulled up a few feet and stopped again because the storm was moving away from us. Jack got on the radio and said a hailstone made a crack in the windshield. The winds increased. It was starting to look more and more intense. Ben and I huddled in the middle of the van trying to get away from the side windows when I felt my ears pop. Uh oh. Something's not right. My adrenaline kicked in. Next thing I knew, Rita yelled. The side window at the rear imploded all over her and the backseat. She crawled up to the middle seat and we checked out her back. She had a small scratch on her lower back which was nothing serious, but the stinging made it feel worse. We saw a truck drive past us and towards the possible large rain wrapped tornado. They continued down the road a bit before they realized they had to turn around. I said, "We gotta get outa here, we gotta get outa here".

We turned around to get out of the heaviest precipitation and pulled over on to some road in front of some homes. I was shaking from the adrenaline rush. Apparently the other van had all three side windows implode at the same time! I mean the entire windows. Frame included. None of us never heard a smashing sound when the windows blew in and there were no big stones in the back seats, which made it even more of a mystery on why they imploded at the same time. However, everyone in the van I was in felt a pressure change which caused the ear popping. Were we too close to a potentially strong tornado? Ron said according to the velocity scans, the tornadic winds must have been about 161 mph. Yowsa, that's enough to blow your socks off. The guys tried to find stuff to cover up the windows, including jackets and duck tape. I said to Sandra, "So does that mean the chase is over?" in a somewhat disappointed voice. Sandra chuckled. Unfortunately we could no longer chase because there were no windows to protect everyone from the rain.

We pulled into Pampa and found a sheltered area at Ranch House Motel. The owners of this run down place instantly came to assist us in what ever help we needed to get cleaned up. They handed us brooms and buckets, and said if we need anything to let them know. This is why I love it in the plains... the people here are very kind and they look out for each other. Mammatus was soon overhead and I took a couple pictures. Pam and Rita kept picking small chards of glass off of them.Ron booked some rooms for the night. When Rita got her room, she went to shower to remove any glass. The rooms were small, so I had to get a separate room. It was quite run down, but at least it appeared clean. The people here offered us help and I felt the least I could do in return was stay for a night. Once I threw my stuff in there, I grabbed a broom and started sweeping up the billions of pieces. Jack's van had a spiderweb pattern in the windshield on the driver's side. Rita went to grab her Monster energy drink, but it was mostly empty. It was never opened. What the? After looking at the can, there was a small puncture hole in it from the glass! Wow that's bizarre! Jack apparently had his laptop open at the time the windows imploded, so he ended up getting some tiny glass shards inside. A couple of emergency vehicles drove by headed east. The motel owners asked if they could call up the local media news, but we had to politely decline. After all, things needed to be cleaned up and we were a bunch of hungry storm chasers. Ron and I still wanted to chase, but the supercell was getting away and we would need new windows.

Ron said there was a report of someone getting glass (no not from our vans!) in their eye and there was damage east of Pampa. After most of the glass was swept and our lugguge in our rooms, we decided to head just west of town to look for the damage. There was a large tree knocked over and it looks like it hit part of the house. The family seemed fine and the kids were playing on the trunk. Since it was getting dark, Ron decided to drop Pam, Rita, Sandra and myself off to eat dinner at Granny's Home Cookin', which offered great tasting food and wonderful service, then we called it a night.

I said I was hoping our chasecation would end with a bang, but I didn't expect it would be that gnarly! Be careful what you wish for LOL. The next day we looked for more damage, talked to a few kind folks and headed on our long journey home. Talk about timing too... the infamous death ridge would be showing its ugly face for a while in the plains according to models.

The NWS surveyed the area and rated a half mile wide multi vortex tornado as EF-2 near the area where we were when the windows imploded. There were other tornado reports, including the funnel/tornado we saw earlier on the storm which was rated EF-0.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Texas riot

DAY 13 MAY 14, 2009

Shortly after 10 am, we headed to Will Rogers Airport to say goodbye to our new France friend David. His tour drew to a close and needed to fly back home. He was a pleasure to have along and he wants to come back next year.

We headed to Chickasha, OK to have a hearty buffet for lunch at Western Sizzlin Steakhouse. Okay so it has steakhouse in the name, what great plains restaurant doesn't? After that Ron checked out the models. The air was unstable so he was hoping for a nighttime storm to pop up somewhere near the Oklahoma/Texas border. However, the sky was overcast and I never did like overcast days.

We headed southwest on I44, made a quick stop in Lawton, then continued west on hwy 62 towards Altus. Along the way, Ron saw something unusual. An old armchair was near the road. So what does a chaser do waiting for the cap to break? Ron checked out the chair for any little critters and snakes, grabbed an old storm chaser handbook, his coffee and a roll of toilet paper and sat down in the chair looking pretty relaxed. We took some pics of him with the Witchita Mountains in behind. We then continued towards Altus and made another stop near the Altus Air Force Base to get some shots of the jets flying in.

We crossed the Texas border and stopped so that David, Louise and Michelle could get their picture taken by the state sign, while the rest of us took pictures of beautiful Texas wildflowers and little critters. We headed to Vernon and stopped by the train tracks because Jack enjoys trains, aside from storms. Sandra almost stepped in a fire ant mound. These buggers were almost everywhere, so I went back to the van since I was paranoid about getting a "love bite" LOL. After, we headed to Wichita Falls and booked our rooms. We then went to the Olive Garden for dinner. I helped myself to some stuffed mushrooms and a glass of wine. Before long, ice cubes started flying past me. Leave it up to Pam to stir up a riot! Soon, Sandra and Rita started throwing ice cubes. One made it down Sandra's shirt. Is this another hail simulation exercise? I know we need some wicked storms, but I didn't think the SDS was this bad! LOL! I decided to toss one at Pam and it somehow made it down her shirt. Bullseye! Luckily, the manager and server were in good spirits. Afterall, cleaning up ice is much easier than cleaning up messy food. Just thank goodness we were practically the only customers around. We headed back to the motel to wait for any storms to develop along a boundary. Unfortunately it was getting late, and nothing ever did fire up in the area.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kay County, Oklahoma supercell

DAY 12 MAY 13, 2009

The crew got to sleep in a little bit this morning, and then went for breakfast at a Sonic. When we were leaving the motel, I saw another motel's sign with an LCD display saying "Welcome Hunters" which was referring to the Vortex 2 guys. I didn't see any of the vehicles this morning, which told me they were already on the road. At 1 pm, we took off for north central Oklahoma. The SPC had outlined a moderate risk for most of Oklahoma stretching to the northeast including Missouri. There was a 10% hatched area for tornadoes over Missouri and a 5% covered Oklahoma. A cold front was going to be moving southeastward ahead of a very unstable airmass. Once the cap breaks, storms were expected to rapidly develop and then become a linear MCS later in the evening as it moves east.

At about 3:30 pm, we stopped for some ice cream at Dairy Queen in Clinton, OK then headed towards Alva, where we had another bathroom break at 5:30. We were keeping our eyes on a boundary which was starting to grow some turkey towers. It was six o'clock magic hour and the cap was finally breaking! We could visually see the towers getting taller by the minute.

We worked out way to an area just west of Ponca City to meet up with the tornado warned supercell. We saw a wall cloud as we neared the storm. Ron pointed out to us that there was a large white funnel (possibly a tornado) ahead of us just to the right of the road. It was somewhat hard to see due to poor contrast from our vantage point. I quickly grabbed the camera and took a picture through the windshield. After that, it dissipated.

We encountered gusty winds kicking up dust from the rear flank downdraft and noticed the clear slot was starting to occlude around the wall cloud. It appeared the storm was a high-precipation type. We headed south for a little bit because of the storm's direction. Another wall cloud was starting to form. We took a back road and stopped to get some pictures. Everything was getting wrapped in rain. This wall cloud almost looked promising for a couple minutes, but it fell apart. We continued up the dirt road, and the rain mixed with some hail began to intensify. The dirt road was becoming rather difficult to drive on. Jack was driving the other van, while Sandra took the wheel in the van I was in. I must say it pays to be a Canadian with good winter driving practice. Sandra did a fine job controlling the vehicle in this mess. Shortly after, Ron looked at the Baron and mentioned there was another rotation couplet up the road 1 mile from us, but unfortunately, we couldn't see anything because of the core. In fact, I have never seen such a dense core like this before!

After a little while, we finally found a decent paved road (I think it was hiway 177). As we were heading south, the rain cleared up a bit more and we could see the sun setting in the west, and a rainbow formed. Since the storm was lining out and moving away, we headed to Stillwater to have dinner at Perkins. I tried getting some lightning shots from the parking lot but there was too much light pollution ruining my photos.

After dinner, on the way to Oklahoma City, I saw some lightning light up a roll cloud. We pulled over so I could attempt at getting some pictures. The key word here is attempt. Unfortunately since the lightning was too far away, I was not able to capture the scene without it being too dark. As we neared OKC, Ron spotted what looked like a funnel or tornado going down towards the ground diagonally off in the distance when lightning flashed. There seemed to be some scud around it, but the funnel part looked quite smooth, which soon seemed to rope out. I have no idea if this was a true tornado or not, but it was quite interesting.

We stayed at the Comfort Inn tonight.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Briscoe County, Texas supercell

DAY 11 MAY 12, 2009

When I woke up this morning, I found Ron putting new tires on one of the vans, and then we left the motel by 11 am. Apparently this morning, there was golf ball sized hail reported in Norman, OK from some storms that went through the area. We decided to stop for breakfast at Ihop in Plainview and Ron updated himself on the setup for today. A warm front was supposed to be move through Oklahoma by the evening, and we were hoping that the morning system would leave outflow boundaries for later. The RUC showed the highest instability to be around the Childress, TX area. Jack heard that Vortex 2 was also in west Texas to play today's setup... if anything would develop, it would be their first storm.

We made a stop at an Allsups in Quitaque, TX for a little bit to wait around. We saw some of the Vortex 2 vehicles drive by. I continued the chaser tradition of enjoying an Allsups burrito, and took readings of the temperature and dewpoint with my Kestrel. It's a good thing there was heat and moisture, and the surface winds were slightly picking up. We took off towards the west, where we noticed a boundary building over Hale county moving northeast. We were in a very scenic area, near the Palo Duro Canyon so we decided to stop and get some pictures. The boundary was showing some punchy tcu's, and behind the boundary was a storm developing. Ahead of this boundary, there was a lone turkey tower and underneath it, a textbook shear funnel appeared under the base. It lasted for a few minutes before the tcu vanished into pretty much nothing. The tcu's along the boundary were only getting bigger so we took off towards Briscoe county to get closer to the storm.

At first the storm looked like it was becoming a classic supercell. On the north end, there were classic inflow feeder bands, which led into the core, where to the south of the core a wall cloud was developing. The rear flank downdraft soon kicked in and whipped up several gustnadoes. As we continued up the road, we saw some of the Vortex 2 guys parked on the shoulder taking their readings. Several minutes later up the road, the rear flank was really kicking up a lot of dust. By now the storm looked like it would become a haboob. Some of us needed a quick bathroom break and as we pulled into Allsups in some small town, we saw the rest of the Vortex 2 crew as they were pulling out. The field command vehicle was still parked however, along with some members of the media. From what I could see from the parking lot, the storm was starting to remind me of the haboob we saw back in 2006. Craptacular! I always wanted an outflow dominant storm! Of course I ain't serious when I say that.

We pulled out and continued towards the storm. The winds were really picking up and dust was everywhere. We pulled onto some back road to stop and get pictures. Surprisingly enough, I thought I would have been more sandblasted than I was. Since there was not much else to see in this area of the storm, I mentioned to Ron that we should get ahead of it again and see if there was a decent shelf cloud. As we blasted eastward, it seemed the storm was beginning to pick up in intensity. It was entering the target area, with the highest instability. I saw a very skinny narrow hailshaft, which fooled me for a second thinking it was a landspout. Off to our left, we noticed some lowerings starting to form. When we neared the Palo Duro Canyon, we stopped on the shoulder. It appeared the storm was becoming more supercellular finally. We continued on where we intercepted the core, with some hail and heavy rain. After that, we took a very scenic route through the Palo Duro Canyon... what a sight to behold! We finally got into some flat country again, where we spotted rotation just ahead of us. We stopped again and noticed rotation in the base of the storm, showing twisting action in the clouds. Soon a white funnel cloud formed in front of the downburst on the left. There was another core to the right as well. Now that's what I'm talking about! It was quite a scene, with the downburst appearing as a solid wall of precip which included a rainfoot and the almost cinnamon bun-like swirl in the cloud base.

We intercepted another core and after that, we saw the TIV and some other chasers following the TIV. Oh crap! Chaser convoy! Sure enough they turned onto the road we were on and somehow managed to get ahead of us, leaving us stuck behind this convergence. There must have been about 6 other chasers behind the TIV. We all continued through some town. We wanted to get ahead of these guys and fortunately, the TIV had finally pulled off onto the shoulder and traffic seemed to be moving quicker again. We stopped again on the shoulder and I took some pics of the ragged leading edge of the storm from behind, with scud fingers hanging down and sucking in inflow. After that, we zipped past the TIV crew and continued down the hiway. The sun was now starting to set, casting beautiful orange hues behind the storm. A pretty full arched rainbow appeared. Off to our left we saw either a massive scud bomb or a developing wall cloud.

Ron wanted to pull over and get some twilight lightning shots. Unfortunately it was starting to rain, so I had to attempt my shots without using the tripod. Ron managed to get a nice shot of a CG, whereas I was not so successfull. Instead I managed to get one of in cloud lightning. As it got darker out, there was another core to the south. We intercepted it and encountered a bit of hail. This cell was becoming very electric and I saw one CG that turned out to be beaded lightning. We stopped to grab some lightning pictures since the strikes seemed so frequent and powerful and it was dark out. Afterwards, Ron wanted to book our rooms in Childress. As we pulled into one motel, there was no vacancy left. Vortex 2 was in town as well... I saw some of the vehicles parking along the front of one motel. We finally managed to find a motel that had enough rooms for us and grabbed a hot meal at Kettle, where a few of the Vortex 2 guys were. Apparently this restaurant already fed half of the Vortex 2 crew and I could tell that the employees just wanted to call it a night.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dusty and a Run for the Border

DAY 10 MAY 11, 2009

This morning I decided to hang out in the lobby to check Tuesday's forecast and watch The Weather Channel. Vortex 2 has a live news feed every day on TWC and today was another no go. I was getting very frustrated with the model runs... they kept changing! In the late morning, the crew went to the Big Texan for a breakfast buffet and then made a visit to Cadillac Ranch, just south of town since David (France) wanted to see it. It was still cool and cloudy out. I expect this weather back at home, but not down here! Ah well, we were going to go find us some warmth anyway.

The target today was southwest Texas near Odessa. Hopefully that area would be good to us again (we saw a tornado there in 2007). Close to 1 pm, we stopped in Happy and then continued south to Lubbock around 2:30. The temperatures were starting to improve finally, and at around close to 5 pm, we made it in the Midland area. Once we got past Odessa, we saw development just north of the Mexico border. The skies were clear and it was hot out. I could see the anvil from the distant storm to our south. Ron lead us through some back dusty roads. And when I say dusty I mean dusty. Okay that was an understatement. It was more like off-roading in the outback of Australia. Ron's van was quite ahead of our's and they would kick up a large thick plume of dust which would obscure our view of them. We ended up coming to a dead end, with Ron nowhere to be seen. Ummm okay where is he? I didn't know he could perform magic tricks! Jack eventually called Pam's phone (again I say she is smart for bringing her Blackberry!) and we finally met up with them.

We turned left and then David (France) asked what was off to the right. I looked and thought "Holy crap!". There was a massive dust devil in a field off in the distance! I mean massive! One that could pass as a F1 or F2 tornado! It was the biggest I have ever seen. We all jumped out to take pictures of it. It lasted for a couple minutes before dispersing into thin air. It was no storm but an incredible thing to see. It must have been wider than the road and was very tall. The pictures I took really put in scale.

As we got closer to the storm, I noticed the anvil was starting to soften. Oh dear, are we the storm killers now instead of storm chasers? Ron then noticed that the storm was making a run for the border back into Mexico. Well I guess that's all folks. Give me my stamp collection book.

After enjoying some authentic Mexican dinner at On the Border, we stayed at a Super 8 in Lubbock tonight and were planning to head north east tomorrow for a much more promising set up. It was still not a perfect set up, but there was a much higher chance of actually seeing something. Hopefully there is something before my stamp book gets too full.

Upslope flow cold junk

DAY 9 MAY 10, 2009

Today started off with a nice hot breakfast provided by the motel. Rita and I were enjoying our meal when we realized no one else was around... were we supposed to get up early? Hmmm... then Pam came down to join us. She said she never got a wake up call (she was smart... she had an alarm on her Blackberry). So we went to the front desk to see if we could wake up the rest of the crew. Once we got everyone rounded up, we took off at around 10:15 am to head north towards northeast New Mexico. It was going to be a marginal day, but Ron was hoping for an isolated storm over the mountains from upslope flow.

We stopped for a bite at Wendy's in Big Spring, Texas at around 1:30. It was pretty dull and cool out still. I was not really liking the overcast too much either. There was a trough positioned over the foothills. A later while later we took a quite stop in New Deal... Rita bought the biggest slushie I have ever seen! Only for like a buck too! Is this town living up to their name New Deal or what?

We continued our trek north towards Dumas. The skies were starting to clear. We must have seen about 10 or so dust devils in the fields on our way up hwy 287, including one that had three in a row at the same time! We also saw transverse rolls starting to organize, pointing the way towards the northwest. It looked like that if anything would develop it would be further west than initially thought. We stopped in Dumas at 6:30 to grab a bite (yes again, we eat a lot don't we?) and continued. It was about an hour later when Ron wanted to reassess the setup, so we pulled over on the shoulder so Ron could update himself on the RUC. It turned out that the warm front was actually pushing back, making the target twice the distance away from us! By now, the skies were getting all murky again. I just didn't like those clouds at all. We made the decision to give up and meet up with Jack and three new clients in Dumas. On our way back south, we saw a gust front that was multi-teired, so we stopped for some quick pictures.

At about 9 pm, we arrived in Dumas at an ice cream shop. The three new clients were David, Louise and Michelle from the United Kingdom. We had to head to Amarillo to get our rooms at a Super 8 for the night because the motels in Dumas were all booked. It was interesting approaching Amarillo at night... we could see the city lights from afar, that's how flat it is out here!

Jack invited Rita and I up to Ron and Sandra's room to celebrate Sandra's birthday. The ice cream cake was good even though it started to become really soupy. Ron and I decided to go over the models for Tuesday (I was keeping my eyes out for then because the models were hinting at severe storms in the panhandles). Of course, and not to my surprise, the GFS had changed from the last time I looked at it! This year the models have been rather difficult because of the unusual weather pattern, making forecasting even harder. The cap was very thick according to the latest run. Ron then decided to pick tomorrow's target... southwest Texas towards Odessa.

Southwest TX relaxation

DAY 8 MAY 9, 2009

This morning we decided to check out the reported tornado's damage in Early, Texas. There were some branches down, some small things knocked over, but there were no broken windows. A Skywarn spotter on a motorcycle came up to us and told us about where the damaged roofs were located. We followed him and saw parts of a metal roof in a parking lot across the road from the original building. There was a news reporter and cameraman there already. A chainlink fence was pushed over. Everything seemed to be facing in one direction, which would suggest straight line or rear flank wind damage instead of a tornado. Chances are someone just saw the high winds and branches flying and instantly thought tornado. So in a way I am glad we missed the "tornado", although another chaser got on the supercell before sunset and did it ever look nice with a barrel updraft and wall cloud with the sun setting in behind.

Today we were to head southwest towards Junction. Ron figured we would have a shot at some night time storms to take some nice lightning pictures. When we stopped for gas in Menard, we noticed it was getting warmer. We were getting closer to the warm sector. As we neared Junction, the temperature rose about 1 degree per mile. The scenery in this area was quite nice and reminded me of New Mexico. When we got into town, we booked our rooms at a very nice Best Western and decided to hang around and wait for initiation.

We had a real Texas bbq dinner at Lum's and oh man was it ever good! I ordered a plate of brisket and I was quite pleased with the real bbq smokey flavor and tenderness. Afterwards, Sandra decided to go for a dip in the pool and Rita and I thought about dipping our feet in the water since we didn't bring our bathing suits. When Sandra got in, she said it was very nice, then Rita got tempted to jump in. Sandra said "Go ahead! You can do laundry after." So she slips into the pool. Then I got tempted. Unfortunately I was wearing pants (!) so I rolled them up. I got up and jumped in. SPLAAASSHHHH! Ah what the heck, I am on vacation! We swam around for a bit since it was refreshing, then the bugs started to come out. We saw some big beetle which decided to join the three of us. Uhhhh... these guys can swim? And go under water and survive?! Uhhhh. Okay time to get out now.

Unfortunately the skies seemed to getting clearer. A line of storms did fire on the Mexico side of the border and produced an outflow boundary but it died. Ah well... we still have all week yet.

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!

Chasing the same system... again?

DAY 6 MAY 7, 2009

We left Plano around the lunch hour and decided to make a stop in the chaser capitol of the world... Norman, Oklahoma. The thermodynamics were just insane numbers according to the models! CAPE was forecast to be 8400 with a lifted index of -12. The EHI was also pretty high. We were expecting storms to go up around the OKC area this evening. The only issue was that we had to wait for the cap to break and for the cold front to move through. We hung around a Souper! Salad! restaurant for a while and watched the sky from the parking lot. Towers really wanted to go up. The updrafts were tilted but just not punchy enough. Where the heck was our front? All this unstable air and nothing to show for it! It was getting later in the day and I was getting a bit frustrated. Now we could only hope for something to fire up after sunset, but I was doubting it. We booked our rooms in OKC for the night. A very disappointing day indeed... it seems the cold front decided to retreat. Again.

We decided to go for some drinks and something to chew on at Texas Roadhouse... it was pretty funny when we had a peanut shell fight. I drowned my sorrows of the day with two drinks. Now we could only hope for tomorrow... and it was looking much more promising. A derecho was expected to go through tonight, helping to break the cap for later tomorrow.

A somewhat down day and bust

DAY 5 MAY 6, 2009

We left Abilene and headed on our way southeast today towards the Waco area. The atmosphere had tons of instability and there was a triple point low and dryline bulge setting up to the west. Timing was for it to be around Waco around 0z and cause the capping inversion to break. We decided to take the scenic route on some interesting Texas back roads. Texas in May is truly a beautiful site to behold... wildflowers in all sorts of colors were everywhere. We drove past a ranch and happened to see a cute horse trying to scratch his itchy spot. He rubbed along the fence and stomped around, it was pretty funny to see. Also along the way, Lorene chuckled at something. Then the green van turned around to stop. It turns out there were some interesting metal structures out in the field of a giraffe and an elephant. A little while later, we saw smoke coming from the field... so Ron wanted to check it out. We drove on some windy dusty road to try to get closer to the fire. We saw some flames shooting up above the trees. It could have been garbage burning or a controlled burn.

Of course I cannot forget a moment when I was sitting up front with Pam when Ron got on the radio and asked if I was there. I replied and said yes. It went something like this:

Ron: "Hello? Laura?"

Laura: "I'm here, Ron. Can you hear me?"

Ron: "Laura?"

Laura: "Can you hear me?"

Ron: "Laaaurrrraaaaaa... you there?"

At this point I started to chuckle.

Ron: "Are you on channel 7? Laura?"

I laughed harder. Then Pam laughed.

Laura: "I'm on channel 7, are you?"

Pam and I then figured Ron was playing one his pranks on us again.

Ron: "Is the PL on?"

Now we were not quite sure if Ron was really playing or not. We pulled onto the shoulder and Ron walked over to check my radio. He seemed to adjust something and tested it.

We took off again and Ron could hear me again. Unfortunately when he radioed me, I could hear Sandra and Rita laughing their butts off. Gosh darn dang it! I got pranked again! That'll teach me. Of course I am a good sport so I had a laugh myself.

When we arrived in Waco, we pulled into a Sonic to get something to eat. There was a cumulus field building but they seemed a bit feathery. We were not really expecting much today but figured we would try anyways since we were in Texas. SPC issued a 2% tornado risk for an area just east of our target. There was a stationary front to our west.

Unfortunately as the day progressed, the cumulus clouds were not getting any bigger and harder looking. It was time to reassess the setup. It turns out there was no inversion at all and it was releasing all the energy into the atmosphere. Also since the front was stationary, it was just not moving. We had no lifting force to kick up all this energy into storms. We decided to call off the chase, and went to Wal Mart for a bit. We then went to Olive Garden for dinner, and headed north on I35 to stay in Plano for the night. I don't like the Dallas area... what a pain in the butt to drive around here, plus I could feel the smog irritating my eyes and throat... blech! It was dark out so we pulled into some parking lot to take pictures of the skyscrapers, with all the times turned on.

Tomorrow we are planning to head north towards Oklahoma City.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A Prankster of a Day

DAY 4 MAY 5, 2009

Well, it was quite an interesting morning for me. My sister Rita got up and had a shower at around 8:30, so I decided to stay in bed for a little longer. At 9 am, I finally decided to get up. Before I knew it, everyone came knocking on our door telling us to hurry and that we were leaving soon. I was a tad confused because last night Ron said that we wouldn't have to rush this morning. Well, boy did he ever make me rush. I was not even awake when I walked into the lobby room, still rubbing my eyes and shaking my head. Next thing I know, everyone started laughing at me. Doh! I fell for one of Ron's pranks again!

It was a cool overcast and foggy morning in Amarillo. It would have been much nicer to wake up to a crisp sunny blue sky instead... and warmer temperatures. I don't need this crappy weather here, I can get that at home gosh darn it. Well, we decided to head to the Big Texan again, this time for the two new guests to do some shopping. Out front in the parking lot, we saw two racing cars (one of them being the fastest car in the world apparently) for the Gumball 3000 race across the country. These guys were on their way to California from the eastern US.

Unlike those guys, we were not headed to California but instead down towards Abilene. A triple point and dryline buldge was setting up from Abilene towards Fort Worth. We stopped in Plainview to have a nice bite at IHOP. Ron and Jack decided to fill up the vans with gas while we waited for our food. Meanwhile, I sat at the table with Pam and out of the blue, I must have exploded. I sneezed so hard that the table shook and somehow, some of Pam's drink jumped out of her glass onto the table and started dripping on her foot. Oops did I do that? It's not my fault, I swear! I didn't invent wobbly tables LOL. The guys came back and wondered what we were laughing about. Then Ron, being the prankster that he is, basically said that he is leaving now, and the rest of us can go in the other van and meet him 40 miles to the south. He walked out of the restaurant and hopped in the van. He drove around and disapared for a little bit. He really had the guests and Sandra going LOL! Sure enough, he came back and all of us took off. For real this time.

The skies were starting to open up and let sunlight through. It was getting much warmer compared to the dull weather back in Amarillo, even though we were still north of the warm front boundary. We headed southeast, taking shortcuts to save some time. The SPC issued a moderate risk for central Texas, then at 3:06 pm a mesoscale discussion was put out. SPC had a 10% hatched area for tornadoes. There was just one problem with today's setup. A capping inversion was holding on. At 3:30, we stopped at a Dairy Queen in Crosbyton and sat around there for a bit. The temps and dewpoints were rising. Then we saw some tcu's building off in the distance! Finally! A sign of hope! A tornado watch was issued.

It was getting close to the dinner hour and I was getting anxious. I was keeping tabs on the Baron's radar. A small storm developed near Breckenridge. I watched it for a while, but it became elongated and weakened. I could see some transverse rolls were forming. We headed east to Abilene at around 7 pm to book our motel rooms for the night. While we were in the parking lot, some towers were building along some boundaries, but they were not looking punchy enough. However to our east, there were some healthier looking towers. I looked on radar and saw that another storm developed in the Breckenridge area just as the first storm died. This one was looking much more dominant and became a southeasterly mover. We continued to watch it grow and start to glaciate. I had a strong feeling this would be the only chaseable storm today. Ron and I talked about it, and decided to go after it. It was just a bit more east than our initial target. I rode in the front with the Baron and GR3 running while Jack drove and Ron and Sandra took the other van.

We headed east on I20. According to Spotter Network, there were already a number of chasers on this supercell. Oh jeepers it was about 50 some odd miles away yet, I hope we were not too late! As we were approaching it, we witnessed one of the most beautiful updrafts I've ever seen... the anvil had rings and rock hard knuckles under it and the updraft was punchy!

When we got closer to it, I could tell it was ending its mature stage... the anvil was starting to soften. Oh rat infested son of a.... We finally managed to catch up to the storm, but the base under it looked a bit elevated. We saw what looked like a funnel cloud a couple times, but they just disinigrated instead. According to GR3, this was one heck of a hailer and according to the Baron, there were a few rotation couplets inside the storm.

We ended up in the town of Cisco and about called off the chase since the storm was starting to weaken. It was now getting away so Ron and I decided to take some backside lightning pictures. Another chaser had the same idea, but there was a light post in the foreground which kinda made it hard to get some nice shots. I was hoping for a nice cloud-to-air strike coming out of the backside, but intead the flashes were all in-cloud. I saw some reports that a chaser had damaged their vehicle from 5 inch hailstones! Yikes! We decided to quit and grabbed a bite to eat at Sonic and headed back to Abilene for the night. I guess Ron was not the only one that decided to pull a prank today.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Return to the caprock

DAY 3 MAY 4, 2009

This morning, Jack, Ron and I decided to sort out the two vans for good... time to take care of this "cable city" disaster! Velcro and cable ties can be such a wonderful thing. Ron and Sandra took the green van, or simply known as "the other van" (another inside joke), while I rode in front of the red van with Jack. We managed to get the Baron and MS Streets and Trips working, but I also wanted to get Spotter Network up and running. Unfortunately the stupid thing won't let me use the same GPS antenna for two different programs, so I had to disconnect Streets and Trips in order to use Spotter Network. I wanted to get my GPS antenna (that came with my 2009 Streets and Trips software) working, and surprise, surprise, I could not get it to work. I guess I need to get the driver from somewhere. Damn technology!

We picked up new clients Lorrine from England and David from France in Oklahoma and continued west to Amarillo, TX. We encountered quite a bit of rain but it eventually cleared when we crossed into Texas. The air was still pretty cool out, but at least the winds were blowing from the south. I don't think I've ever felt TX this cool before, but then again it was early May.

Before we arrived in Amarillo, we decided to stop for pictures of the leaning water tower. The crew had a delicious meal at the Big Texan, and Pam, Rita and Sandra ended up feeling pretty darn good from their intake of the Big Texan's yummy pina coladas. Ron decided to book a limo ride to the motel for the night just for fun. I sure hope we didn't scare Lorrine from our craziness!

We booked rooms at the Comfort Suites in the southern end of Amarillo, which is relatively a month old. Talk about nice big rooms! Just too bad the wifi sucked in the rooms (the walls must be like 3 feet thick or something), so I decided to go to the lobby to check out the models for tomorrow instead. Turns out Ron and Jack had the same idea, and soon Rita joined us.

It looks like a pretty interesting dryline setup tomorrow. Man it feels great to be back on the caprock... I missed this place.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Oklahoma Bound

DAY 2 MAY 3, 2009

Today was going to be another travel day. While we were packing up the van, Ben and I watched some geese walk around the parking lot. They would come up pretty close, and one hissed at Ben while he as filming. We had to go to Springfield, IL to pick up the other van. Jack and I sat in the front of the original van, while Ron and Sandra took the other, then we took off for Oklahoma. Today was the 10th anniversary of the May 3, 1999 tornado outbreak in the OKC area, and it was also Ron and Sandra's 18th anniversary. We decided to stop along the way in Tulsa, OK to have a nice bite to eat at a steakhouse.

We pulled into Oklahoma City at a Super 8 for the night. Tomorrow we will pick up two clients from France and England.

If you're wondering why the APRS still has us in Indiana, we had a bit of an issue from blowing a fuse, but we should have everything working by tomorrow after getting the vans properly organized.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

I am chase-ready!

DAY 1 MAY 2, 2009

May is here and you know what that means. It's chase time! Today, I will be traveling along with Ron and Sandra Gravelle, Jack Kertzie, Rita (my sister), Pam Gregory and Ben "Camelot" Fuller to the alley once again for two weeks. We didn't get to leave Ron's place till shortly after the lunch hour because we had to wait for Jack to show up. Once he arrived, we loaded everything in the van, slapped the antennas on the roof, and were on our way. Sarnia customs was pretty good today, hardly any traffic and nice folks. Wish it were like this every time!

Along the way, we had our share of the giggles and jokes. Ron purchased a new Garmin GPS and downloaded a "Dr. Nightmare" voice... at random times, it would say something in a very deep Dracula-like voice such as, "Have you checked your trunk lately?" or "We need to drive some place more interesting". We saw a somewhat large fire burning in a field, almost looked like some type of house or barn. We made it as far as Indianapolis, IN tonight and staying at a Super 6. It's an okay motel and area, but the internet connection here really bites. Tomorrow we will continue our trek to Oklahoma, making it another travel day.

We will be streaming live and running APRS during the trip. We will also be on Spotter Network.