Chase Accounts

May 30, 2001
Pictures from this day.

After a horrible bust the day before, Scott Blair and I hoped to redeem ourselves with another chase along the front range, this time in New Mexico. As before with the Colorado chase two days before, we once again blew off the moderate risk, which was associated with an outflow boundary setting up near the Red River. Although models indicated better surface convergence setting up along the Red River, the wind profiles weren't as favorable for supercells compared to the area of concern in northeast New Mexico. With favorable instability and a vort max rotating into the target area by mid-day, the models were forecasting intense UVV's along the front range by 18z.

We left our Elk City, Oklahoma hotel room near 10:30 a.m. and began our trek westward on I-40. During our drive, Scott received a phone call from Chris Kridler and Dave Lewison, who were also targeting the same area, and we decided to try to meet up and chase together once again. Shortly after, we met up with Chris and Dave while grabbing a quick lunch in Amarillo, Texas at Taco Bell, which, shortly before we left, was filled with more than a dozen teenagers who descended on the fast food joint like the plague.

We crossed the New Mexico border just before 2:30 or 1:30 MDT (times will be in MDT until our recrossing of the Texas/New Mexico border) while focusing our attention on what appeared to be an anvil in the distance to our northeast. Scott quickly phoned Philip Flory, who confirmed our suspicions and did a fantastic job of nowcasting throughout the day.

Exiting I-40 at San Jon, we trekked north on Hwy. 469 until we reached Logan at 2 p.m., where we continued northwest on the jarring Hwy. 39. We finally intercepted the rapidly strengthening cell, which was now under tornado warning, at 2:45 near Mosquero. At this point, we were able to pull over and stretch our legs while observing the southeast-moving HP supercell, which exhibited several large inflow tails. Broad-scale rotation was certainly evident with the cell, but it still wasn't organized enough to produce a significant tornado threat as it was having a difficult time lowering its ambient base.

After observing the supercell for a few minutes, we were forced to bump back southeast on Hwy. 39 in order to stay ahead of it. Stopping again a few miles southeast of Mosquero near 4 p.m., we had a good view of the updraft base and rain/large hail core as the storm pushed near our location. The cell's updraft was still fairly elongated and high-based but began showing signs of organization at the lower levels as the RFD began showing itself. At one point, the cell produced a cyclonic swirl, but soon after, it appeared the storm was beginning to gust out. We continued pushing southeast to stay ahead of the storm and get a better view of exactly what it was doing.

While pushing southeast, we briefly contemplated going after another cell to our southeast, but our minds were soon changed after getting in better position to observe the overall structure of our original storm. Not only was the cell not gusting out, but the updraft tower had become striated and taken on a beautiful barber pole appearance. We were in awe as we all rushed to shoot video and stills. This was the best the storm had looked all day, and at this point, it was obvious that we were going to stay with this storm until the end, an end that the four of us will never forget.

At 4:30, we arrived in Logan once again and took Hwy. 54 north for a better look at the updraft base. Rapidly rising scud was noted with the mesocyclone, but no immediate tornadic threat was noted as the RFD wrapped the meso with large hail and occluded it. However, a new meso was rapidly developing, and it was again time to reposition.

After topping off with gas in Logan, we were forced to work with a limited road network, and if we were going to stay with the cell, our only option was to blast south out of Logan on Hwy. 469 and then east ahead of the storm on I-40 into the Texas panhandle. Once back in Texas, we would then drop south on Hwy. 214 at Adrian. Little did we know, our fate was now sealed, and we would never see Hwy. 214.

Arriving back on I-40 a few minutes after 5 p.m. MDT, we crossed back into the panhandle at 6:25 CDT (times will be in CDT for the remainder of the account). By this time, we had witnessed the now well-organized, yet somewhat elevated, supercell cycle through several mesocyclones, and through Philip's nowcasting, we had discerned that the storm showed sustained 70+ DBZ values on radar, which indicated very large hail. The supercell featured a bowl-shaped striated updraft, an intense precip. core, and much dust being kicked up by the RFD.

Just before crossing back into Texas, we had no doubt that we would have plenty of time to skirt ahead of the cell's hail core and updraft base. However, within a couple of minutes of crossing the New Mexico/Texas border, we became concerned as the cell abruptly picked up speed and became a right-mover; now moving south-southeast. Pea-size hail began to fall. I was the third car in line behind Chris and Dave, who were in Chris' Honda CRV, and Scott was leading. Just a couple of miles away from being in the clear, Scott, being the first car in line, was the first to get hit by dime-size hail. He then began reporting the hail size over the HAM.

"Ok, we have dime-size hail," Scott said.

I replied, "Oh, we've got bigger than that," just before Scott continued, "OK, we've got larger than dime-size; close to golf-ball-size hail."

Then came the dreaded news as Scott reported, "Oh God...close to baseball pieces hitting the ground."

I replied, "Oh...we're getting nailed," as baseball hail began crashing into our vehicles and the asphalt around us. Soon after, we were forced to pull over at mile marker 6 and ride out the fierce barrage of ice.

Just after pulling off the freeway, I was thinking the situation couldn't get any worse, but I was mistaken as a baseball slammed into the left-rear quarter-panel of my T-bird. The hail stone left a crater in the body just above the left turn signal and hit the car with enough force to fool the car into thinking it had been in a wreck, which tripped the fuel-shutoff switch and effectively shut the engine down. Fortunately, the baseballs ceased soon after pulling over, but an enormous amount of golfball-size hail being blown by 70-80 mph RFD winds continued pelting us, vibrating the windows and creating a feeling that I liken to what must be similar to being inside of a 55-gallon drum that's being beaten with thousands of sledge hammers.

While attempting to restart my car during the golfball-size hail assault, I was now certain that the situation couldn't get any worse. However, I was once again mistaken. Scott's left-side taillights were completely destroyed, and soon after, my windshield wipers, which were on at the time, were decimated by the hail and broken into several pieces before being carried off by the intense wind. At this point, I decided that trying to get the car restarted was pointless, and I concentrated solely on filming this remarkable yet destructive event while hoping that the vibrating driver's side window wouldn't shatter. After about five minutes, the golfball hail had finally passed, with an eerie hail fog developing soon after as dime-size hail continued to fall for another five minutes or so.

Once the hail completely subsided, we got out to survey the damage done to our vehicles. Besides the busted windshield wipers and tripped fuel shutoff switch, damage sustained by my car included numerous dents in the left side, roof, hood, and trunk; the left-front turn signal lens broken; the right-front turn signal lens missing, a destroyed antenna, a broken passenger-side mirror, and the antennae rack was blown off the trunk and being held on only by antennae wires. Scott's car sustained similar severe body damage and cracked mirrors along with broken weather equipment and a damaged antennae.

However, Chris' vehicle took the worst beating. Several deep craters (one with chipped paint around the outer edge of the dent) potmarked the left-rear of her SUV, the left-rear taillights were destroyed, and the windshield had a large circular crack in it.

Scott and Dave dug through the hail drifts to find the larger hail and document it while Chris taped up the area where her taillights had once been. Meanwhile, I concentrated mainly on trying to get my car going again. However, it wasn't until the next morning that I remembered that Ford's have a fuel-shutoff switch located in the trunk in the event of an accident. After documenting the hail and getting Scott's and Chris' vehicles road-worthy again, I rode with Scott as we made our way into Amarillo and checked into Motel 6, where we shared our video with each other and ate pizza. Obviously, the next day was spent retrieving my car and making repairs.

Note: While retrieving my car the next morning, Scott and I came across an 18-wheeler a couple of miles west of my car. The abandoned truck had very severe hail damage with its windows broken out and many large craters in the cab. We could only hope that the driver of the semi wasn't injured during the event and felt fortunate that we didn't get into the largest hail, or the situation obviously would've been much worse.

Also, despite the fashion in which the chase ended, this was one of the best chases of the year for me. The supercell provided some beautiful sights, and it was quite awe-inspiring to experience first-hand just how powerful these monster storms are. Besides, I've since become quite fond of my hail dents...even the crater.

Check out this WeatherTap radar loop of the supercell. We were getting nailed during the last three images in the loop. Thanks go to Philip Flory for the nowcasting and saving the radar images.

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