Avoiding Tornadoes

27 May 2015

Finding a motel with a late check out is never a good idea as we will often dawdle away the time until we have to leave, even if we don’t mean to. We did this today but in our defence the enhanced risk area did stretch down this far so rather than head north 5 hours to perhaps a slightly better area we decided to stay south and play for the dryline storms. To be honest we often overlook the area we are when we wake, always fearing the better area is somewhere else. As we repeatedly say, it’s hard to just stay where you are. But the parameters were in place and with the approaching dryline this afternoon from the west it looked hopeful for where we were and also meant no 5 hour drive. Happy days.

By about 3pm we were positioned further west into the Texas panhandle. A robust storm had already fired much to our north. We would probably have been in quite a good place for it had we decided to drive for the more northern risk area. But we didn’t so we weren’t. Even as the reports of tornadoes came in, we stuck to our guns and agreed that by now we would probably be too late for anything and continued to wait rather than join the party late.

However the area we were in was not looking as good as we thought it might by this point. A couple of boundaries were also in play today – this is outflow from other storms and as they move away from the current storms they can act as a source of initiation for new ones and sometimes in areas that would otherwise have not been conducive for storm development. I think in today’s case this resulted in the storms we were hoping for firing even further west than we had anticipated. Not only that but they were the other side of the Caprock escarpment, a beautiful scenic part of the Texas Panhandle but a crap place for viewing storms due to wiggling roads through mountainous territory.

But there was nothing we could do. We had to go for them. As we wound our way over the peaks and through the valleys of the escarpment more reports of tornadoes were coming in from that northern storm. It was looking like that late appearance may well have not been such a bad idea. It was fairly painful but we tried to stay positive and convince ourselves we could be onto something here. Then our storm became tornado warned. The only problem was we couldn’t see it for all the bloody hills!

After a frantic drive cursing the scenery that on any other day we would have been loving we were through the escarpment and back onto flat land - hooray – this was much better chasing territory. The problem now was the tornado warning had gone. Unfortunately even though our stormie had been anchored to a particular spot, another line of smaller storms had moved up into the area from the southwest and this interference had wiped out any chance of tornados.

After a time however, a few of the storms started to reorganise and some new more discrete updrafts were also visible. We took a road in to get a closer look. Unfortunately the roads, although many of which were paved were virtually impassable due to the crazy amount of rain they’ve had in the area. Although we could just about get through, with heavy rain all around and very little in the way of other cars or life in the area it was a little scary. We took it slow and found a cell that was just developing. We watched as the new updraft started rotating. We were in the middle of nowhere. We watched and we prayed and we urged it to do something. We played our lucky song, we ate our lucky snacks, we pleaded with the storm to give us our own tornado. We vowed to forgive Mother Nature for her continuous spawning of tornadoes to the masses up north if she would just give us a little tornado – just a little one! But no tornado and the storm moved off.

Storm Wall Cloud

We followed it, still pleading. We got a rainbow.

Rainbow With Storm

In both this situation and the last neither of us had wanted to get out of the car because our car was now a travelling swarm of mosquitoes. Seriously, there were actually thousands buzzing all around us. Neither of us have seen anything like it in our lives and could only assume it was due to the flooding in the area. However, sod them I thought – there’s a rainbow that I want a photo of and we’ve come all this way, so I leapt out of the car, running the entire time whilst taking photos, having instructed Tim to first reverse the car and then pelt forward to pick me up as I jumped in whilst he drove in the hope that the swarm would be lagged by a few seconds. As soon as the car was standing for more than that it became covered in the little blighters. They must have been attracted to the warmth.

So, we got some structure and a rainbow. Good, but not a tornado. But then, woo-hoo, tornado warning. We thought it would, the rotation we had seen earlier had been really impressive. I really want to say we got one, but we didn’t. Instead we followed in pursuit but were brought to an abrupt halt by the flash flooding in the area which had been steadily getting worse over the last few hours. We reckon we could have made it through but there was just no way we were going to risk it. So that was frustratingly the end of that.

Post Storm Flood

We made our way back to Walmart for the night. Being slightly wary of the horrendous amounts of mosquitos we opted for a Walmart nearer the city of Amarillo hoping the mosies didn’t have any urban desire and we could leave the nightmarish swarms in their more rural environment. This wasn’t to be the case. We arrived at Walmart in Canyon, south of Amarillo just as another storm was developing right on top of us, one that became severe warned in no time, keeping us trapped in the car, in the carpark with the need for a wee preventing us from wanting a beer. To add to this we were trapped in the car with about 20 mosquitos. I was convinced that they were getting into the car from outside. Tim assured me the vents would not let them in and they must have laid in waiting from earlier. Whatever their source, I was freaking out. Much to our annoyance the storm continued to back-build directly above us meaning we had about 20 minutes of non-stop thunder, lightning, hail and very heavy rain to contend with too. Unnerved by the intense amounts of lightning I took up the foetal position curled up on my seat in an attempt to keep out of the way of the numerous wires and endless amount of electrical equipment we have in the car, with my fingers digging into Tim’s arm because believe it or not, I’m pretty scared of storms. I think that’s why I like storm chasing. It means I’m rarely ever ‘in’ a storm and more just skirting around them. One strike of lightning was so loud and bright that I thought it had blown something up. Turns out that’s because it was so damn close. Temporarily blinded, which maybe was a good thing as it prevented me from spotting all the mosquitos buzzing around the interior lights, we waited for the storm to pass.

Another slight point of concern was a storm from earlier had exhibited very similar behaviour before shortly become tornado warned. In fact we’re pretty certain we saw the funnel lit up in the dark in the distance on our drive here.  So we planned an escape route for if this were to be the case. However, the pattern of today continued - no tornado. A brief reprieve allowed us to leg it to Walmart. Whilst in there, the hail started again, now trapping us in the superstore. The sound of the hail on the metal roof was incredible and the staff began yelling to each other in an attempt to be heard over the storm. I thought something was up when a bit hailstone landed about a meter away whilst I was running towards the building. You could say we timed it quite well.

Once the hail passed, we ran back to the car in the rain, we opened a beer and commiserated ourselves on the lack of tornadoes earlier but also cheered the lack of tornadoes right now. A slightly frustrating, yet memorable day and one were the weather was definitely in charge.

SPC Day 1 Weather Outlook as at 06:00UTC (01:00 Central Time the night before)

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Wed May 2015

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Wed May 2015

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