|This year's chase began nearly a month earlier
than usual with a visit to the National Symposium on the Great Plains Tornado
Outbreak of May 3, 1999 in Oklahoma City. The symposium ran from
Sunday, April 30 through Wednesday, May 3. With the chance of severe
weather across north central Texas on Sunday, many chasers opted to chase
rather than view the displays in Oklahoma City.
Our chase day began at around 10:30 AM by downloading data and analyzing charts and reading the SPC's discussions. We also looked at visible satellite photos which corresponded with the morning charts in revealing the developing dry line across the central and southern Texas panhandle. A very pronounced moisture tongue was surging north with the surface dry line bulging to the east northwest of Midland. The Theta-E axis ran north northwest , then northerly in southern Oklahoma. Convergence, though no strong at the time, was showing up between Chrildress and Abilene. The apparent target area was between Childress and Abilene with Benjamin in Knox county being our destination. We computed our arrival time to be around 3 PM.
We drove south southwest on I-44 to Wichita Falls taking US 32 to Seymour and then toward Benjamin. After passing through Vera in eastern Knox county, we witnessed the development of an anvil with a thundershower to our southwest. It appeared the storms had developed a little further east than anticipated. We decided to head south toward Munday on Hwy. 267 to intercept and get to the south of the storm. This storm continued to intensify and eventually developed a very nice rain free base and several brief lowerings but no sustained wall cloud.
We could see two other storms developing, one to our northwest and the other to our south. A report from Pierre Tusow back in Twin Falls, indicated both storms were severe but the southernmost storm had no rotation - yet. The closest storm was the one to our northwest. With good roads, we intercepted this storm rather quickly. Again, a nice rain free base and brief lowerings, but no sustained wall cloud. We then came across chasers Gene Moore, Chris Novy, and Bill Tabor. They had been chasing this particular storm for quite some time as it tracked across northern King and southern Foard counties. We were able to look at a radar dialup from their vehicle which showed the storm to our south was beginning to take on a hook shaped appearance and the relative velocities was showing a stronger shear.
Heading south, we intercepted this storm in eastern Throckmorton county. The storm developed a good mesocyclone complete with striations. Several wall clouds developed and a few had good rotation. However, no funnels became visible. We stayed ahead of this storm on US 380 east into Young county. We headed southeast into Graham when we noticed a new storm far to the west. While passing through the south side of Graham, the tornado sirens were sounded.
We parked on the south side of Graham and watched the developing storm to our west waiting to head southeast on Hwy. 16. The storm was still visible well to our west when pea sized hail began to fall. It was at this point, all "hail" broke lose! With no warning a single large golf ball sized stone fell about 10 feet in front of the three-month old Honda CRV. We headed south. The hail intensified even though the main updraft was still visible to our west southwest. Large golf ball to occasionally hen egg sized stones pounded the vehicle. We looked for shelter and found none.
Finally we took a small driveway to a large house. A nice lady was motioning for us to pull under her garage. Did we second guess the invitation? Not on your life. Safely under the garage, we moved to the west facing porch to watch the oncoming storm. Large hail continued to fall incessantly on the metal roof of the porch creating a joyful noise. Just to our west southwest, we could see the approaching meso. It had tremendous updraft and was headed right for us! The hail was still pounding so the decision to flee was out of the question.
As the storm approached winds increased from the northeast flowing into the storm. We moved back under the garage to get a better view as the storm passed over. Wind speeds increased from 50-60 mph with gusts to 70 shifting slowing from the northeast to the northwest as the core of the meso passed just to our south. Tree branches were being ripped off and blown across the yard. A small portion of the roof of the barn was also torn away. Because of limited visibility, we could not see any visible signs of a rain wrapped funnel.
With the meso now just to our east, we said our many thanks to the family in Graham for providing total strangers shelter. We resumed our course southeast on Hwy. 16. About one mile into our journey at about 7:45 PM, we spotted a developing tornado just to the west of Hwy. 16 about a half mile in front of us. We stopped to film and get a motion fix. The funnel crossed the road and we moved forward so it was due east of us. The funnel quickly grew in size forming a wedge that we estimate was between 1/8 and 1/4 mile wide. The touchdown was brief and was in open country as it moved through southeast Young and southwestern Jack counties. The funnel quickly dissipated and became disorganized.
With darkness quickly approaching, we headed south to Mineral Wells to take I-20 to Fort Worth and back to Oklahoma City via I-35. The storm system developed into a squall line and moved east. We were pretty sure it would slam us again north of Fort Worth - and it did! Fortunately, the storms had begun to weaken and were only rain and lightning producers.
A special thanks to Pierre Tusow of Twin Falls (Twin Falls High School) for his invaluable storm information and reports during the chase while we were out of radio range. Pierre will be joining us on our annual late spring chase during the last week of May and the first week of June.