Day 6 – Texas Dustbusting
23 May 2013
We woke up early in our lovely hotel and once again found the day’s storm risk upgraded to another moderate. This was indeed a surprise because we were aware that a ridge was building over the central plains, limiting the availability of any lifting mechanism. However, it was clear to see that if storms did manage to gain some lift, all the factors were in place to give them some real strength – a tongue of moisture being pulled up from the Gulf of Mexico, strong surface heating and steep lapse rates, meaning the air is much cooler aloft enhancing the rising motion of the moister warmer air from the surface; this together with changing wind direction and speed with height (referred to as wind shear) were all the ingredients needed. Although to be honest, after the hectic chases we’d experienced so far, we were quite looking forward to something more associated with a ‘slight’ risk than a ‘moderate’.
One of the possible solutions to the lack of lift was forecast to come from the outflow of previous storms that had passed through the area the night before and into this morning. These ‘outflow boundaries’ can often act as little fronts, causing converging winds at the surface, giving air the lift it needs to get storms firing. True enough this was the case and at about 2 o’clock local time a cell started to fire in the Texas panhandle region, near a place called Floydada. At the time of this, we were a little to the north, driving toward the cell on a single road that winded its way through the Caprock region of the Texas panhandle. A beautiful area, but a limited road network and little internet coverage makes chasing a bit of a logistical nightmare. We knew the only way to get into place was to drive through the already erupting cell and get south below it. This is what we did and we were quite lucky that we managed to skirt around the east side of it before it became too heavy with rain and hail. Once below it we had a better view of the structure and managed to get some photos before the wall of dust it was kicking up from the fields got us!
This area of Texas is very red and desert like and when a storm becomes too outflow dominant – ejecting rain cooled air often creating some quite violent gusts, it can result in a bit of a dust storm. This quickly became the focus of the chase; trying to stay in front of the storm whilst grabbing a photo here and there before becoming swallowed up by dust!
By this time a few cells had fired up in the area but they acted together with strong outflow winds combining to create a hell on earth. Visibility was zero in places. All you could see in front of you was a red haze and the car was being battered on all sides by dust and stones. There were many other chasers in the area and some had even pulled over on the side of the road with hazard lights flashing as driving conditions became reduced to dangerous levels. Gusts of up to 92mph were reported and tree branches were being hurtled across the road. We decided to head straight south and out of it, but this wasn’t easy and it took time. We did better than a few of our mates who ended up having the back wind screen and 2 side windows blown out in a sharp downburst of wind resulting in them having no protection from the sand and dust filling up their car. They were fine and once in the safety of a nearby town were helped out by a local who strapped vinyl to the broken windows so they could get out of there and make it to the nearest rental car station where they managed to successfully exchange their vehicle for a nice new one!
On our way south, we managed to find a notch where we could see into the storm again for another look. We checked which way the winds were blowing and worked out we had 5 minutes or so to take some more photos before being hit by the wall of dust. Looking one way, all we could see was dust but turning round we were treated to some nice structure but knew this was the last chance we’d have on the storm before calling it a day.
We decided to call it quits at this point as we wanted to end the day in one piece and needed a full working car as given the forecast for the following day, ahead of us was a good 6 hour drive up north to our favourite territory of eastern Colorado for what was forecast to be a ‘slight’ risk day on the more northern plains. We took it in turns to drive and found a Walmart in Lamar, Colorado where we put the seats back and soon fell asleep in a dusty heap!
Day 5 – A day off in Texas > >