Out guiding for Silver Lining Tours, April 20 was our first chase day of the tour and a slight-risk setup in the Texas Panhandle. Looking over things in the morning, we knew that supercells would be possible despite limited moisture, and Roger and I targeted the area between Pampa and Clarendon, Texas. Initiation wouldn’t occur until late in the day, so we took our time heading out of Oklahoma City, en route for the panhandle.
We sat in Tulia as storms began to fire in the late afternoon, waiting to choose between one cell that was going up near Lubbock, and another to the north of Amarillo. We decided to stick to our target and chase the Amarillo storm which was in an area of better flow, and so we raced east and then north to intercept.
We got ahead of the storm to the south of Wellington and watched as it matured into a high-based supercell with liberty bell structure. At this point a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for our storm, for damaging winds and golf ball sized hail.
We watched the storm for an hour as it moved through its lifecycle out over the open country. But what made this storm so incredible wasn’t what happened while the storm was mature however, it was what happened while it was shrinking up and dying. As the storm decayed, its updraft shrunk and tightened, and rotation increased dramatically. It wrapped right up and developed awesome banding and striations. And then, unbelievably, a large cone funnel cloud developed!
Had circulation reached the ground, we might just have captured one of the most bizarre tornadoes ever recorded! But that was not to be; the funnel lasted for a few minutes before it became stretched, then roped out and dissipated.
After this storm collapsed, we chased more storms to the west as they developed back closer to the dry line. However, it became dark and the storms lined out terribly, so after watching the lightning display for a little while longer, we called it a day. It was a fun first chase for the tour as we look ahead to an active pattern beginning this weekend!
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