Monday, March 19, 2012

Late Winter SE TX Panhandle/SW Oklahoma Chase 03/18/2012

The WXtreme Chase Team together with Jason Caster, Brendon Lindsey, Sarah Manners and Ashley Mills staged initially in Shamrock, TX for some potential dry-line action.  After spending some time in McLean hoping storms would fire to our W or SW we eventually decided to head toward some development to our S.  After watching a small, strongly rotating tower continue to struggle with the cap NW of Wellington we made the decision to intercept the storms already in progress moving NE from the Childress area.  Although the radar returns looked pretty messy at this point our view of the back-shear on the south-western most storm gave us the impression that this might be the storm of the day.  (Two storms further south in TX had gone tornado warned, but had yet to produce anything more than funnel clouds.)

View of the developing storm near Childress at 5:15 CDT:

At Wellington we proceeded down FM 338 toward Dodson in the hopes of heading E from there to SR 30 in Oklahoma.  There was a bit of a gap between the two storms and it appeared we should be able to get through without too much difficulty.  While on the way we encountered what appeared to be a small left split from the second storm and stopped briefly to observe and photograph a clockwise-rotating wall-cloud.

View S from FM 338 at 5:30 CDT:

After waiting out a bit of nickel-sized hail we continued on between the two storms as the rear storm began to show rotation on radar.  Upon reaching SR 30 we elected to turn south a mile or two to stay clear of two small areas of tighter low-level rotation and before long we observed this funnel cloud.

View E from SR 30 at 5:58 CDT:

Since the storm was moving NNE and we did not have any good E options we drove north on SR 30 playing tag with rain and occasional pieces of golf-ball sized hail to get to SR 9.  We elected to attempt to punch through the developing weak-echo region of the storm.  Not something we would normally do, but we figured we could always turn around if the hail got too large or if the area of rotation was obscured. After a mile or two of heavy rain we were clear and able to see everything we needed to in order to remain safe.  A new wallcloud began to quickly develop just behind us to the WNW  so we pulled off just east of Reed.

View to the W from SR 9 at 6:48 CDT: 

While we were concentrating on the tightening rain-curtains under what was now a very low feature, a ropey funnel developed out of the upper back side and touched down about 1/4 mile to our W just south of SR 9.

First tornado touchdown at 6:49 CDT:

After watching it cross the road (and nearly run over a couple of vehicles) the rain-curtains around the now very large wallcloud began to intensify and we realized we were standing in the bear's cage.  Quickly hopping into our vehicles we headed east to get clear and when we pulled off a substantial cone-tornado had developed.

View to the WNW at 6:53 CDT:

The tornado quickly wrapped up in rain and the storm began to take on some incredible sculpted structure.  Occasionally the rain would clear up enough that we could see the multi-vortex tornado action going on back in the rain curtains.

View to the NNW from SR 9 at 7:05 CDT and a closer view:

We reached the US 283 junction N of Mangum and turned north to try to stay with the storm among what was now a miles-long caravan of chasers and local folks.  As we approached the Brinkman-Willow area a tornado from a new mesocyclone touched down to our NW.  As soon as possible we pulled off to observe and take pictures.

View to the WNW from US 283 near Willow at 7:37 CDT:

After this tornado dissipated we continued N following the storm and broke off the chase as darkness fell.

Chase Data:
Team Chase: Walt Gish, Eric Sipes and Gene Thieszen w/ Jason Caster, Brendon Lindsey, Sarah Manners and Ashley Mills.
Miles: 265
Tornadoes: 3 or 4 (by the most conservative count)

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