May 16 looked like a day that was primed for tornadic supercells in the Texas Panhandle and I was taking my uncle, Eric, out chasing. I was determined to help him knock off a bucket item! Pretty much as expected, we woke up to a small enhanced risk area issued by the Storm Prediction Center, outlining the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. As I looked things over that morning, my initial target hadn’t changed from the night before: Perryton Texas. So we set out from Oklahoma City, en route for The Panhandle.
As we made our way west, I was concerned about cloud cover over my target area; the panhandles had become totally socked in when a jet max kicked out several hours sooner than expected. Although I’d hoped that we could play isolated supercells along the dryline to the north and east of Amarillo, that area just was not destabilizing. Instead, we would likely have to chase storms coming out of Colorado that would track southeastward into the panhandles. I adjusted our target northwestward to Dalhart.
Storms went up in Southeast Colorado and quickly went severe. We raced to get into position but in one of those frustrating chaser moments that you just can’t do anything about, reports of a tornado on the ground started coming in as we were twenty minutes away from intercept. The tornado dissipated before we were able to get a visual, and we watched as the storm passed to our north, still with a large rotating wall cloud but a bit of a messy look to it. I decided to let this storm go and turned my attention to a new cell that was exploding to our southwest.
We let the new storm come to us, then dropped south toward Dalhart to stay ahead of it. It had quickly become a classic supercell with streaming inflow bands and a flat, low base. As we moved south it developed a large lowering and we pulled over to watch as a distant but pretty cone tornado touched down.
The tornado lasted a few minutes before it dissipated, however the storm had a tremendous hook and a solid velocity couplet, and I wanted us to get us out of the way ahead of it, through town. We raced south through Dalhart which was gridlocked with traffic, weaving through residential side streets to avoid a construction nightmare that was snarled with traffic. South of town, we watched this storm pass to our north as another unbelievably sculpted supercell approached from the west.
We stayed with this supercell – amongst the prettiest I have ever seen – for another hour or two. As it approached Amarillo it became undercut by the cold front and lost any tornado potential that might have remained, but still had excellent structure, beautiful colouring, awesome lightning and big-time hail. In fact, we have a little explaining to do to the rental company in the form of a few tennis ball sized dents on the hood of the truck!
It was awesome to get Eric out to spend time with him and let him experience one of my biggest passions. We capped the chase with a late dinner and a couple of beers at The Big Texan, the right way to end a great and memorable chase day!