September 10, 2003

I had spent much of early September visiting my parents in California, not planning to return to Norman until the 11th. But by the 9th, an unseasonably strong system was coming onshore on the West Coast. This storm was strong enough to drive the marine layer stratus well inland, and even squeezed out a few sprinkles where I was staying in Turlock. This system would also give the Plains a chance for severe weather, so I decided to head back towards Norman a day early in hopes of getting in a quick chase on the way back.

I left Turlock at 3:30pm PDT on the 9th, and stopped in Flagstaff AZ at 1:30am MDT on the 10th to get some sleep and look at data. I got back on the road at 6:30am MDT and headed east on I-40. I saw lots of low topped showers throughout New Mexico, and even got into a high based thunderstorm with some nice CG lightning near the NM/TX border, but these weren't the storms I was after. The storms I wanted came into view as I approached Amarillo, a line of Cb along the distant eastern horizon. By the time I got to Amarillo, the storms to the east looked soft and fuzzy while the storms to the northeast looked a little better and had warnings on them. Based on this I decided to head that direction up Hwy 60. But as soon as I turned off I-40, the Weather Radio started buzzing, and broadcasted a severe thunderstorm warning for Gray and Wheeler Counties, which were to my due east. So I scrambled back on to I-40 and began heading east again. Once I got east of Amarillo it was clear that this storm was THE now had a rock hard updraft, a backsheared cumuliform anvil with mammatus developing underneath, and a flanking line forming to its southwest. There was nothing to the south to cut this storm off, and a couple high based Cu to the west of the main storm were even producing some short lived ropy shear funnels. Visually this storm reminded me of the May 31, 1999 Meade/Sitka KS beast, especially with what looked like a giant hailshaft crossing I-40. But I didn't get into any big hail though - just sproadic peas, intense rain, and tons of close CG's. I got out of the precip just west of Shamrock, where much to my surprise a tornado warning was being issued for northern Collingsworth County (just to my south). I was a bit surprised as winds were roaring out of the west. Something wasn't quite right. Outflow continued to surge east well ahead of the storm, kicking up lots of dust and even a fairly large gustnado in Texola OK. Meanwhile the storm continue to produce tons of CG's as darkness set in. I continued east back towards Norman to keep ahead of the storm, occasionally taking glances back to the west. By the time I got to Hext OK, I looked back and said, "WHOA THAT'S A FLYING SAUCER!" Lightning was illuminating a nice HP shelf, very similar to the one I saw in almost the exact same area on May 16, 2002. I then found a spot just outside Sayre to take video of the shelf, then continued to keep ahead of it to Elk City as the shelf became increasingly elongated and slowed way down in its eastward progression. I got back to Norman just before midnight, where the storms did not arrive until around 4am.

Today's chase gets a 10 out of 15. It's just amazing how my timing worked out today, despite starting the day hundreds of miles away from Tornado Alley, I happened to get to the Shamrock area just in time to get to the region's only tornado warned storm of the day. Although it didn't produce it still gave me some of the best structure I've seen all year. Maybe I should start all of my chases from Turlock.....

Video captures

Total Mileage: 1601 miles
Total Driving Time: 25 hours, 5 minutes
(5 1/2 hr stop in FLG not included)

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