Thursday 23 May 2013

2013 Chase Day 16 - Amarillo (TX) to Floydada (TX), Post (TX) and Abilene (TX)

Today was our last chase day, so naturally we were all fairly excited and perhaps desperate at the prospects of seeing a tornado, given the lack of them visually on all past chase days. Today looked perfect, strong sunshine, nice dryline to play with upslope flow over the Caprock, and over the vast plains of the Texas Panhandle - far from any major metroplex and the consequent damage and destruction. This is what storm chasing should be like, slow-moving pictureseque tornadoes over open fields not causing any damage.

Anyway, we left Amarillo (TX) around midday and dropped southeast towards Clarendon. It was tricky choosing a starting location today, we had to compensate between road access, location near dryline and a large enough town for mobile internet access so that we could keep an eye on observations/radar etc! We did have some data outage time on the journey to Clarendon (TX), so once we arrived and received the latest radar scans it became clear a cell had developed much further south than we anticipated, northeast of Floydada (TX) and northwest of Matador (TX).

We quickly headed southwards on 70 and 256, and it became apparent en-route that the cell had attempted to produce funnels, and was subsequently tornado-warned. On radar it also appeared to be attached to a residual outflow boundary from the previous night's thunderstorms over Oklahoma - insane! The storm was moving incredibly slowly due south, so we had to make a decision - take the eastern road and slide down the eastern side of the storm through heavy rain to get to the southeast side, or take the western route in clear air and then drive east along the southern periphery of the storm. I chose the western route, so we drove west on 256 to Silverton, then south on 207 to Floydada (TX).

What we didn't realise was that we were obviously on the outflow side of the storm, and it had kicked huge quantities of dust into the air due to the vast expanse of flat, dry soil in the Panhandles. Driving became very tricky and nerve-racking as we entered a wall of brown/orange dust, visibility became near zero, and to top it all we were buffeted with 60+mph outflow winds from the left. About 10 shaky minutes later we were finally ahead of the outflow (and dust!) and raced south until we arrived in Floydada (TX). Here we quickly filled the car with fuel, then headed further south to Ralls (TX) on Highway 62 to keep ahead of this dust storm, sadly it seemed to get ever closer, and we really needed to be on the opposite side of the storm where inflow winds were dust-free! Once in Ralls (TX) we chose Highway 82 east to Crosbyton (TX), but the outflow was approaching too quickly from the north (this didn't help with limited data coming through due to the poor mobile network signal in the area).

We needed a route south again to get ahead of this thing, it just wasn't possible to see the storm at all because there was a massive wall of dust preventing us from viewing it. A Farm Road south to Post (TX) seemed to be the best option to keep ahead of the storm, but this road also bent slightly to the southwest - not the most ideal direction when we needed to head east at some point. Once we were in sunny Post (TX) we had a quick nip to the loo (perhaps not quick enough?) and then raced eastwards on Highway 380. Unfortunately the outflow (and all it's dust) caught up with us and we were once again engulfed by thick dust and very strong winds. According to Spotter Network at some point along this road we must've passed Paul Knightley and Helen Rossington, fellow UK storm chasers, since they were subjected to three smashed windows from stones being picked up by the strong winds. Problem was it was so dark with very poor visibility you couldn't see the vehicle in front of you if it wasn't for their red rear lights.

Again, we had to head south, this was far too messy and already a new supercell to the east of this one had developed and was taking over as the dominant cell (and was also tornado warned). We just couldn't see a thing of the storm beyond this dust, making it potentially quite dangerous seeing as we had a lack of up-to-date data and there may have been a tornado around. We selected 208 south to Snyder (TX), amongst other storm chasers it seemed, and managed to get ahead of the haboob and took a quick photo of it (below). It was very strange just before we managed to get ahead of it, we had strong winds coming from the east with plenty of dust, then suddenly this changed to strong westerly winds with large volumes of dust, and during the transition (a matter of 15secs or less) a dusty landspout formed in a field to the right. Sadly it all happened too quickly to capture, especially with so much dust about!
Photo of the haboob associated with the thunderstorm outflow, and a schematic to explain the processes that were occurring
As we approached Snyder (TX) yet again it seemed a whole line of thunderstorms were forming between these two supercells, and other cells arriving across the border near New Mexico. This was forming yet another MCS, and being on the forward side of it it was coming straight at us, with all of it's dust as well. We needed to head southeast as quickly as possible, and decided it was probably best if we found a hotel awning in Abilene, checked-in for the night and let the storm come over us. It became a race against the clock along Highway 84 and then the I-20 as we tried to stay ahead of the storm, some parts of it were still warned for large hail and tornadoes, in fact some damage was reported at Rotan (TX) with winds recorded in excess of 100mph.
Radar of the developing MCS and our location (blue) trying to outrun it to Abilene; red polygon denotes a tornado warning near and to the south of Rotan

We arrived at the hotel in Abilene about 20 mins before the storm arrived, but boy did it pack a punch with torrential rain (and a flooded hotel car park), and very strong winds that began to rip the roofing off of a neighbouring hotel. Thankfully no hail was left in the core that went over us, but just 10 miles down the road there were reports of baseball-sized hail!
Needless to say we were sick at the sight of dust by now ha, and were fairly disappointed at the lack of anything nice structure-wise or funnels for our last chase day.

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