May 15th, 2017, Borger, TX Supercell

Arrival day chasing!

I arrived at Will Rogers airport in OKC at Noon, and by 1 PM I had the keys to Van 2 and we were off to the Texas Panhandle with whatever guests were on hand. Our targets were split between storms projected to form along a shallow dry line west of Amarillo and a confluence zone north of Amarillo. Storm motion was going to be north-northeast and the storms would be moving pretty fast. We headed to Amarillo to see which solution would win out. The failure mechanism was that dew points were about 10 degrees lower than optimal, meaning that the storms would be very high based and thus limit the tornado potential. Hail and strong winds were the goal for the day.

Once in Amarillo, we stopped just northeast of town to wait a bit as towers bubbled up and down the line to our west. The northern option was looking better even though the dew points up there were only in the high 40’s, compared to low 60’s to the southwest. Nonetheless, things soon popped and we were quickly surrounded by pulsing severe storms. We decided to chase one to our north and headed up Rt. 87 towards Dumas after the best-looking storm at the time, also watching another to our southwest, and an isolated storm to our south east near Claude that looked like it might take over. We eventually decided that we’d never catch the northern storm, which was pulsing down regardless, and gave our attention to the storm that was now right to our west with a big visible hail core just west of the road. We turned around and tried to drop ourselves right in front of the core, but it missed us slightly and we were only pinged by nickel to quarter sized hail, though it was rock hard.

Ultimately, we shifted targets to the storm coming up from the south which we now almost east of us. We flew north, and then east on FTM 1913 out of Masterson/Four Way. About halfway to Lake Meredith, driving towards a brilliant rainbow, we plowed into the southern flank of the hail core, which now had maxed out VIL’s, and were pummeled by golf ball hail right at the edge. Not wanting to blow out the windshields before the tour even started, we let the big core cross the road right in front of us.

Meanwhile the storm developed a big hook echo almost right over us and in fact we effectively “hook punched” the storm, with violent rotation just south of the road with hail falling in a merry-go-round just a couple of hundred yards south of us coming straight at us, and the main core just to our northeast. We charged in between them and other than a few big stones that you could track individually as they fell out of the sky, we skirted east just before the southern hail core crossed the road behind us.

We were still in a hurry, however as the one road available to us turned northeast and we paralleled the big core, containing reported tennis ball and baseball sized hail (we heard of a few chasers losing their windshields) which was travelling about 50 mph just about ˝ a mile west of us and closing along the same path. The structure was fantastic, with big striations and a nice wall cloud spinning like a top, albeit a mile off the ground, and hail pouring out of the precipitation core. Another storm just north of us in the meantime was dropping numerous repeating cloud-to-ground lightning bolts not far ahead.

In an attempt to beat the storm to Stinnett and buy ourselves some room to the east, we turned on to FTM 3995 through Sanford, and eventually FTM 687 as we headed for town, weaving through valleys and cool terrain all the while, stopping every so often to take some great structure shots. It soon became clear we wouldn’t be able to keep up with the storm for long, and since we were already looking at a 4-hour drive back to the hotel, we decided to peel off and head south for I-40, calling it a day. A fun warmup chase day and some great storm structure and big hail!

A long drive on pre-tour day, 612 miles.

SPC Convective Outlook
                   SPC Tornado Prob.                         NOAA Storm Report


Within an hour of landing, we're in the vans and heading for the Texas Panhandle. Soon we were targeting a storm near Masterson, TX. Brilliant Rainbow about 1/2 way to Lake Meredith on FM1913. First hail of the tour as we plowed into the edge of the hail core with ping pong ball sized stones. Rapidly rotating wall cloud racing us east with hail falling in between in and us.
Closer view as we punch the hook echo. The hail was spiraling around under the rotating clouds and coming towards us while the main hail core was just to our northeast. We let the hail core pass in front of us, then circled around to get out in front of the storm, blasting up dirt from the rear flank downdraft. Now east of the nicely structured, spiraling updraft. Hail still falling out of the front. part of the storm. Welcome to the Big Creek Ranch!
Racing the hail core towards Stinnett, TX.  Stopping to get some shots of the hail core as it blew past us. Eventually we gave up and headed back to OKC after a fun warmup day of chasing.    

All pictures (C) Richard Hamel 2019.

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