May 15, 2003

Today was originally going to be a day spent doing last minute preparations for my annual chase trip, set to begin the following day. But after looking at the computer forecast models in the days leading up to the event, it was apparent today's setup was going to be too good to pass up. This morning, the RUC was indicating the surface low developing in New Mexico would rapidly deepen to about 993 mb and move into the western Texas panhandle. A warm front extended eastward near the KS/OK border, and a surge of upper 60s/low 70s dewpoint air was oozing westnorthwestward up the Red River valley towards the Caprock. The low LCLs and excellent shear profiles which I anticipated occurring northeast of the surface low and just north of the warm front made Guymon my primary target for today. Even though I was suspecting this area would be in the most potentially tornadic environment today, my decision to head there was compounded by time constraints (I needed to be back in Norman that night), as well as the possibility a dryline bulge and moisture surging up the Caprock would cause things to fire further south towards Amarillo. My hand was forced when last minute repairs to my vehicle kept me here in Norman until early afternoon. South it would have to be today, although I would be on the lookout for options further north.

I drove to downtown Norman at 2:45pm to pick up Stacey Arnett, a first-year OU student from Indiana who was chasing with me for the first time today. The plan was to drive towards Amarillo, monitoring reports on the NOAA Wx Radio along the way. We entered the Texas panhandle at around 5:30pm to a healthy breeze out of the east-southeast and low stratocumulus breaking up to reveal hazy skies. Before long, we began to make out the outline of storms going up to our west. Due to the haze, it was difficult to make out much more than the anvil until we got close, but once we got close, it was clear these were just orphan anvils. As we proceeded west, we continued to see highly sheared cumulus towers struggling against the cap. We were having lots of trouble with NOAA Wx Radio reception, but from time to time we could hear reports of "numerous large tornadoes in northeastern Dallam County" (far northwestern TX panhandle). Despite this, the sight of the towers struggling against the cap led me to believe things mightsoon fire in the southeastern panhandle. Figuring we would be in active chase mode soon, I decided to top off my tank at the Love's at I-40 and Hwy 207. When I went into the store to pay for the gas, I noticed there was a TV turned to an Amarillo TV station which was broadcasting live updates on the ongoing storms between Dalhart TX and Guymon OK. The radar image they were showing was indicating several rain-shrouded supercells travelling along a SW-NE path between Dalhart TX and Liberal KS, with new storms attempting to form ahead of a dryline bulge in the southeastern panhandle....about 20-30 miles southeast of our location. Now it was decision time - do we go after the ongoing storms occurring in a proven tornadic environment, or do we take a gamble on the new storms which would be closer to us and easier to intercept? The bad visibility and bad NOAA Wx Radio reception did not make this decision an easy one, so I decided to split the difference and head northeast on US 60 towards Pampa. From this road, we would have good road options both north and south. If we heard a warning on the new stuff forming to our south, we would head towards it, but if not, we would head north. By the time we got to Pampa, we had not heard any warnings for anything to our south. We could not see anything forming in that direction either. The few times we were able to hear the Wx Radio, we heard there were still storms forming in the northern TX panhandle, and we could see low fractus racing towards the northwest, so this led me to decided to make one last stab at the storms to our north. We took Hwy 70 north out of Pampa, getting blasted by tremendous east-southeast winds which fed into the dark rainy cores to our northwest. Near Perryton, we finally tuned into an AM radio station out of Guymon, which was broadcasting warning after warning for Sherman and Moore Counties in Texas and Texas County in Oklahoma. We continued north from Perryton and crossed back into Oklahoma, where we were overtaken by one of the many ongoing storms in the area. By now darkness was setting in, and with limited visiblity and the threat of flash flooding from the training storms, it was no longer safe to continue the chase. So at the US 412 intersection, I decided to break off the chase and head back to Norman, with heavy rain and frequent lightning keeping us entertained most of the way back.

Today's chase gets a 10 out of 19. Storms did end up firing in the southeastern Texas panhandle, but did not really get going until after dark. Apparently the bulging dryline and upslope flow were not quite enough to overcome the cap, it was just one of those days the low level jet would be the only thing that would cause the cap to break. Meanwhile, the best tornadic storms ended up occurring in the northwestern Texas and Oklahoma panhandles - northeast of the surface low, and just north of the warm front. Many chasers saw several tornadoes out of these storms a few hours before we were able to catch up with them, but by the time we got up there, too many storms had formed, with upstream storms dropping cool rain into the inflow region of storms downstream. Days like today show you what a chess game this hobby really is, but the whole guessing game is part of the fun.

Total Mileage: 618 miles
Total Driving Time: 10 hours, 27 minutes

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