Green Sky Chaser

16 April 2009 Chase Log


Target Area: Childress, Texas, with adjustments possibly to the south and west

Chase Area: Shamrock/Memphis/Silverton/Ralls/Matador, Texas

Observations: two supercells, hail, hail fog, lightning, cotton balls (which Dean mistook for hail), turkeys, coyotes, one armadillo, and one rabbit

Distance: 710 miles

Time: 13 hours

Chase Team: Dean Narramore and myself

SPC Convective Outlook: Slight Risk (Click to see SPC products, data, and storm reports)

Chase Setup: Moderate instability and strong vertical shear forecast. Decent chance of supercells and large hail along a dryline in the west Texas Panhandle. Dewpoint values lower than desired, but hoping for some Panhandle magic along the Caprock (higher elevation).

Chase Log: I was looking forward to taking Dean to the small town of Shamrock, Texas, just across the border in the Texas Panhandle. I'd already bragged a lot about the Panhandle - how much I love it, how pretty and fairly flat it is (though a little hilly in the south and west), and how many of my best chases happen there. Furthermore, I'd told him Shamrock was a great chaser's paradise, in prime chase territory, and home to a Best Western frequented by chasers picking up free WiFi. Right across the street from the Best Western you can fill up your car with gas and pick up some food at the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut built on the west side of the gas station mini mart. HOWEVER, when we got to Shamrock, it was drizzly, a little foggy, the Best Western didn't have free WiFi anymore, and the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut was closed for construction! By the time we got out to the Caprock, it was really getting foggy and we came across some great canyons. I'd never been that far west in the Panhandle, and it was really quite beautiful. At the top of the Caprock, we were above cloud level looking down at the canyon. Needless to say, Dean joked that he would not believe anything I said anymore, as he remarked that I'd taken him to the Grand Canyon. It was incredibly flat up on top, though, west of the cliffs.

We certainly didn't have to worry about moisture, as the kilometer-high Caprock Escarpment was high enough to make 50s dewpoints sufficient for HP (high precipitation) supercells. Dean and I got enshrouded by so much fog that we coined a new expression for the supercells we saw that day - HF (high fog) supercells!

Somewhere north of Ralls (and northeast of Lubbock), Dean and I got cored by a supercell. I wasn't planning on directly punching the core (I rarely do this, as it can often be hazardous to your car), but the storm didn't look too beefy and I wanted to go east and then south of a cluster of supercells (the southern one looked the best). The rain wasn't too heavy, but I knew I was in trouble when the rain stopped and I heard a loud >DOOF< on the top of my car. >DOOF< >DOOF< Those were some of the most awful sounds I've ever heard. Dean and I were cringing for my poor car with every quarter-size hailstone that fell. I'd never seen solid hail fall with no rain mixed in. The hail fog was pretty cool, though, and the hail soon covered the ground. I crept along the road and rejoiced at the first driveway that I saw, which providentially had a carport with space for one more car: mine. Without hesitation, though hoping the owner of the house in this wide open country of Texas wouldn't mind, I pulled right in as the hail grew larger and came down faster. Somehow I managed to only get one small chip in my windshield (my first hail crack or dent).

Dean ran out in the hail to collect some stones, while I sat in my car to keep an eye on the radar and hope the storm would soon pass by. I soon saw a dog run out of the house, followed by a guy who probably wasn't much older than me. Quickly, Dean and I apologized for parking in his driveway, and before we finished explaining that we were storm chasers trying to avoid the hail, he nodded and told us we were fine. He told us that the hail was even larger before we stopped by (some of the stones we found were around 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter, but most were a little smaller). As I was explaining to him what we were looking at on the radar, a TVS (tornadic vortex signature) plunked itself down about two miles ahead of us. Dean and I were soon on our way again, as the hail let up.

Almost no sooner did we get back on the road, than we heard on the radio that there was a tornado spotted not ten miles away from us near the town of Ralls! By the time we got to where the tornado had been spotted, we still heard the tornado sirens, but all we saw was a broad area of rotation, some scud fingers, and a few chasers. We were about five minutes too late, and I'm certain that we would have seen the tornado if it wasn't for all the fog around us. I'm not sure how a tornadic supercell could sustain itself by ingesting cool, foggy air. It didn't last long, though, and the better supercells remained to our south.

Realizing we wouldn't have time to make it south of the best supercell before dark, and it was already getting late in the day and we were far from home, Dean and I decided to head back. In the end, even though we were disappointed to have missed out on the tornadoes, we were happy that we went and wound up having a great day.