The day of May 5th, 2019, started off like any other chase day but with an unexpected turn, that will not soon be forgotten. Our day started off with our regular chase rituals, Waking up in Lubbock, TX, picking our target and hitting the open road. However, about an hour after reaching our initial target which was around Ralls, TX. the storms began to fire rapidly, one to our North West and one to our South West. It was now decision time. Which storm would we commit to? We had a 50/50 chance of picking the right one with both storms looking structurally similar on radar and both in comparable environments.
We happened to notice that the one to our south West was developing over a town named “Ropesville” so now it was obvious which storm we needed to head for, as we got closer to this cell we started to notice it was attempting to do a classic “Right-Split” which meant the southern half of the cell was feeding into a better environment and splitting off of the northern half which was in a less than ideal environment. This was good news for us.
After determining which direction the southern half of the cell was going to go, we hopped in our truck and started moving to get into better position to intercept it again, as we were traveling to our new spot, we ran into a couple of storm chasers that we knew from Australia so we pulled over on the side of the road and watched the storm for about 15 minutes, during this 15 minutes the storm did something that we weren’t expecting, It turned into an HP (high precipitation) storm which is not what we wanted, this meant that if this storm produced a tornado, it would likely be rain-wrapped and invisible to our eyes, we continued to watch this storm struggle to stay alive as it became outflow dominant, which in layman’s terms meant it was spitting out all of its potential energy and dying. Not Good.
But then something magical happened!
The storm ran into an outflow boundary that was sitting to its south, and when this occurred, it quickly began to rotate right beside us. As we were traveling south towards Tahoka, TX, my tour guest in the backseat started shouting “Look on the ground, Look on the ground” as I turned my head to the right, I quickly saw what she was shouting about. There was a large area of dust beginning to spin on the ground about 1⁄4 of a mile to our east. So I quickly pulled the truck onto the side of the highway and hopped out, video camera in hand, and started determining what was happening.
There was no real Wall Cloud or funnel present so at first, I was thinking this was just a Gustnado being caused by the gust front (outflow) of the storm, but then I began to notice the rotation within it. This was a Tornado!
As I stood on the side of the road, filming the development of this tornado, it began to condense, quickly becoming a large, Dusty Stovepipe tornado, right beside us! I happened to look behind me to see if there was any traffic heading towards this that I had to warn, and that was when I noticed a large wall of dust heading straight for us, this was the RFD (Rear Flank Downdraft) if we became engulfed by this RFD we would no longer have visual of the tornado, and we would possibly get hit with debris that was being picked up by it.
That was when I made the decision that we had to move, we had 3 choices, 1. Stay between the tornado and the RFD, 2. Try to beat the tornado and get to the other side of it or 3. Drop back behind the RFD and possibly lose visibility.
I chose option 2. Try to beat the tornado and get to the other side, so I hopped in the truck, Punched the gas pedal, and started racing this Tornado, as I started catching up to it, it became very obvious that we were not going to beat this thing, as I was traveling south, and it was traveling SouthWest. We were beginning to get closer to each other, so I pulled over onto a median, and watched the tornado as it crossed the highway about 200 yards in front of us, at this point we were still in a safe position between the tornado and the RFD.
After watching the Tornado cross the road a mere 200 yards in front of us, I was once again faced with the decision of moving south, or moving north through the RFD, I looked behind me and noticed a clearing in the RFD that I could easily punch through, and get a better overall visual of the tornado, so that is what I did, I turned the truck around and started driving through the RFD, once I got through and I knew we were safe I pulled onto a pull-off on the highway and hopped out of the truck to continue filming, What I saw was one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen!
This big dusty Stovepipe was pulling dust from miles around it. It was like a scene from the movies, I knew I had to stick with this thing, so I quickly hopped back in the truck and started heading south, chasing this tornado once again! By this point, the RFD was in a position that it wasn’t obscuring our view, but at the same time it was beginning to drop hail in our path, so now we had to be cautious and stay as close as we could to the tornado, without getting into the hail, so every time we would start getting into the hail, we would pull over and let it move away from us again.
By this point, the tornado was becoming severely rain and dust wrapped, and becoming hard to see. We were driving south on the highway and happened to notice the Aussies that we ran into earlier parked off to the west of the highway, so we pulled in behind them and began our celebrations, we showed them our photos, they showed us there’s, and we sat there describing what we just experienced.
This was the moment that we decided to call the chase off, as we could no longer see the tornado due to dust and rain, and it would be too dangerous to try to intercept it again, so we went to a little steakhouse nearby which was about to close, thankfully they stayed open for us and we got to have our victory steak! After dinner, we made the 2-hour drive to Amarillo, found a hotel, and spent the night editing photos and videos.
May 5th was one of those days that I wish I could relive over and over again.