Chase Accounts

June 5, 2001
Pictures from this day.

The day before, June 4, Scott Blair and I chased an LP supercell near Freeport, Kansas. Although the cell produced little and died well before sunset, it did provide the opportunity to shoot some stills of beautiful golden mammatus contrasted against a beautiful blue sky. After the chase, we decided to head to Wichita, get a room, and meet up with Philip Flory, a superb nowcaster who lives in Wichita, in order to discuss some chase days with him and watch chase video. From data I gathered earlier in the day and discussing the next day's set-up with Philip, I knew my target would be fairly close to my present location along a stationary front that was progged to set up from Topeka, Kansas to Amarillo, Texas. I would be chasing solo the next day since Scott would be ending his chase vacation and heading home the next morning.

I awoke and immediately logged on to the internet and began forecasting. The front was positioned as earlier progged and would move very little throughout the day. CAPE was progged to reach 3000-4000 from south-central Kansas to the eastern Texas panhandle with helicity values of 250-300 generally along the same area. It appeared the best forcing would be at the triple point in the northeast corner of the Texas panhandle. However, with fairly weak upper-level flow, it was apparent that any supercells that developed would be HP's, making for a difficult chase with much wrapping precip. possibly obscuring the view of the updraft base.

Around 10 a.m., I wished Scott a safe trip back to Arkansas and continued pouring over data at the hotel for two more hours; eventually narrowing my target to Higgins, Texas, a small town in the northeast corner of the Texas panhandle.

Leaving Wichita just after noon, I headed west on Hwy. 54 before stopping in Mullinville just after 2 p.m. for one last data stop. The set-up still appeared to be coming together as progged, but it appeared initiation would be a bit further east than originally thought. Adjusting my target to the Shattuck/Gage, Oklahoma area, I continued west for another 30 minutes before turning south on Hwy. 283 at Minneola. Still north of the front, thick stratus overspread the area, but a significant clearing line, which indicated the front's location, was noticeable to my south.

At 3:20, while crossing the Oklahoma/Kansas border, I also crossed south of the front and into the warm sector. Temps rose from 70 to 77 within a matter of minutes, and now, instead of the dreary stratus that prevailed north of the front, a few cumulus dotted a beautiful blue backdrop. This was exactly what I wanted to see, and at 4 p.m., SPC issued a tornado watch for the area.

Within 15 minutes of the watch being issued, one particular convective tower developing near Gage caught my attention, and I immediately targeted the tower as it grew into the first storm of the day with additional cells developing to the north. The Gage cell featured an explosive updraft tower, knuckled anvil, and signs of weak, broad-scale rotation.

Taking EO510 (an unmarked paved road that's 10 miles south of Woodward and connects Shattuck and Sharon) east from Hwy. 283, I finally arrived under the anvil's shadow and within a couple of miles of the updraft base at 5:10. The cell continued to mature and a couple of inflow tails fed into the updraft base, but the base itself was rather small and featureless. The precip. core rapidly intensified and produced a textbook example of a rainfoot. While the rainfoot was interesting, the cell was clearly outflow dominant, and it appeared to be merging rather quickly with the cells to the north.

Thinking that everything was going linear, I decided at 5:45 to return to Hwy. 283 and push south toward what appeared to be a monster supercell near Childress. However, within a few minutes of heading south, the cell near Childress started appearing mushy, so I decided to stop and recheck the activity to the north. I was expecting to see the same mushy squall line I'd been chasing earlier, but I soon realized my mistake of leaving my target area as I laid my eyes upon an isolated supercell with an overshooting top. Immediately, I began blasting back north. By 6:40, I was getting back into position and had a good view of the supercell's point of origin. Cell's were initiating over Shattuck and training eastward. Two storms, one just east of Gage and the other a few miles east of the storm near Gage, had already become full-blown supercells. Three smaller cells had formed west of the two supercells and appeared to be intensifying as they progressed to the east, following the same path as the two supercells.

By 6:45, I got back on EO510 and intercepted the supercell closest to Gage. The cell featured a beautiful updraft tower with slight mid-level banding, and large chunks of scud were being updrafted into the slowly rotating base. Now, this was more like it. The cell had a well-organized appearance, but at 7 p.m., I decided to leave the storm and jog a few miles east to the other supercell, which had just been placed under tornado warning.

I intercepted the cell within a few minutes. The cell was HP'ish but featured a well-organized forward-flank meso with the majority of the precip. located on the north and west sides of the updraft. The RFD became visible as a clear slot began rapidly advancing around the meso, completely encircling the updraft with a veil of precip. The cell's dark base was rapidly rotating as it lowered further and took on a tapered cone appearance before morphing into a blocky wall cloud moments later. Despite the wall cloud falling apart within a couple of minutes, the base continued exhibiting violent rotation as the RFD continued to literally carve its way around the meso, and just after 7:30, a small funnel formed and snaked it's way almost halfway to the ground before it dissipated 20 seconds later. Just a couple of minutes after the first funnel dissipated, the meso produced a larger and more persistent funnel that was at least halfway to the ground. I observed the funnel for about one minute before the RFD wrapped much precip. and totally obscured the meso from view. According to storm reports, another chaser reported a brief touchdown occurring five miles south-southwest of Woodward at 7:34. This report places the tornado at approximately the same time and location that I observed the funnels. If anybody has any information regarding whether or not the report was associated with one of these two funnels, please contact me.

With an opaque precip curtain hiding the meso, I bumped east about five miles, arriving at Sharon at 7:45. I then took Hwy. 34 north a couple of miles hoping to get in the inflow notch and get a glimpse at what was going on behind the rain curtains. However, the meso remained completely obscured as it neared my location. It was obvious though that the meso was getting occluded though as a circle of sunlight filtered through the precip. and revealed the RFD. However, the show was far from over as a new updraft/meso began rapidly developing two miles northwest of my location, and the cell became a right-mover, now moving southeast. The tornado warning was re-issued and placed Sharon directly in the path.

Bumping back south to get out of the path, I took EO510 about a mile east of Sharon and watched as the intensifying meso moved directly over the city as the tornado sirens wailed in the distance. The cell now exhibited beautiful striations, and a few inflow tails feeding into the updraft base began taking shape as the RFD started punching around the new meso. The RFD's influence was obvious as an anticyclonic swirl with rapid motion formed south of the main mesocyclone. The inflow tails featured extremely rapid motion as they scraped the ground before lifting slightly and feeding into the low-hanging wall cloud. The wall continued wrapping tighter, and at one point, a tornado appeared imminent as condensation reached ground level. However, fortunately for the residents of Sharon, the condensation didn't appear to be rotating with the intensity associated with a tornado, and once again, no debris was observed with the feature.

Near 8:30, the RFD occluded the second meso, and the supercell appeared to lose most of it's punch. The rotation had weakened considerably, and the tornado warning that had been in effect was downgraded to a severe thunderstorm warning. With the tornado threat over, I decided to push further east to the EO510/Hwy. 183/270 intersection for some structure shots at dusk.

It was nearing 9 p.m., and the sky was burning a brilliant orange. The soft gray of the storm clouds contrasted beautifully with the colors of the setting sun as bolts arced to the ground from updraft. Curved inflow bands flowed over my head toward the majestic storm in the distance. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I've experienced to date and is one I'll never forget.

With darkness setting in, I decided to end the chase. Little did I know though that I was in for a magnificent lightning show. The storm was electrified with nearly continuous in-cloud lightning while I made my way toward Hwy. 183 south from Hwy. 183/270. Upon taking Hwy. 183 though, the cell began producing the most beautiful anvil crawlers as well, creating a photographic opportunity that I couldn't pass up. The frequent flashes created a strobe light effect while branches of electricity ejected along the underside of the anvil, making me flinch as the contorted fingers branched out above my head. I shot continuous video for ten minutes and went through nearly two rolls of film. If it wasn't for a particularly close bolt that persuaded me to call it a night, I probably would've stayed up all night enjoying the show. But, since I was chasing solo, and I didn't think getting electrocuted while alone in the middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma would be the best way to end a chase, I opted to just keep heading south toward Clinton for the night, enjoying the magnificent show from the safety of my car.

Being that this was my last day in the plains, I can certainly say it ended on a positive note. Not only did I observe beautiful structure, gorgeous lightning, and amazing atmospheric processes, but as far as photography goes, this day was my best of the year.

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