Storm Chase 2001: May 23 - May 25


May 23: Wildlife and landscape photography in the Wichita Mountains

There was no possibility of storms today because of the "death ridge." I decided to meander through southwestern Oklahoma to photograph landscapes and visit some indian museums. I eventually arrived at the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. I planned my arrival for the more dramatic lighting of the late-afternoon. The refuge covers 60,000 acres of mountains, grassland, scrub oaks and fields of boulders and there are bison, elk, deer, prairie dogs and other wildlife. I also went to Mount Scott to view Lake Lawtonka. While photographing prairie dogs, I ran into storm chaser and journalist Richard Bedard. He is the author of In The Shadow of the Tornado. I had originally met Richard while with Cloud 9 in 1997. We chatted for awhile before I left to photograph bison with the setting sun. There was a slight possibility of storms in western Texas on May 24 and especially on the 25th. To position myself, I drove to Abilene that night.

Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge

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May 23 to May 24: A plague of black beetles

During my trip, I had already noticed an over abundance of insects including variegated fritillaries and moths. I was constantly cleaning my windshield of splatted moths after driving at night. I expected moths to also affect this drive. I left the wildlife refuge and drove south through Wichita Falls, then south west on state road 277. As I passed through isolated towns, I noticed increasing numbers of black beetles (1V). They were large (2V) and swarmed around lights. By the time I reached Seymour, the beetles covered lights, roads and sidewalks. Towns along my route smelled of squashed beetle (a nasty sweet scent). Convenience stores (3V) were black with beetles. Maybe they were also attracted to the Allsups (4V) burritos. There were enough beetles in some areas to cause a constant rustling sound as they crawled around. The towns of Munday, Weinert and Stamford had the most beetles. I later learned that the mild winter and wet spring caused the outbreak. The beetles are ground beetles in the Carabidae family. They eat armyworm caterpillars but during the overpopulation, they were eating other insects and each other. Yuck! I arrived very late in Abilene because I couldn't resist filming the beetles.

Video of the beetles on YouTube (2 min)

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May 24: Rocksprings, Texas Supercell

After again checking weather data in Abilene, Texas, I decided today would not be a chase day. There was not enough moisture even along the frontal boundry to my south. I wanted to get in a better position for the next couple of days and I drove to San Angelo, Texas. I ran errands and even toured restored a bordello from the "wild west". I noticed some cumulus to the south and I kept an eye on the line. It appeared to be close. Soon, there was some vertical development and an area in the center exploded. I drove through San Angelo, and blasted south on 277. The storm (5V) initially looked good and even had a bit of an overshooting top. The storm appeared to my south east. As I reached the town of Eldorado at 5:35PM, the storm (6V) looked a bit more fuzzy around the edges especially the anvil. I was not that impressed but it was the only storm around. I had to make a decision. I could head south on 277 then east on I-10 or take 2596 SE then approach the storm from the south using 864. Distances are hard to judge and nothing was being said about the storm on the radio or by the National Weather Service radio. I had no access to radar reports. I decided to take state road 2596 to the south and east. As I drove, I could see a hailshaft (7) and a rainbow. There appeared to be more than one updraft. I reached the junction of 2596 and 864 at 6:00PM and realized I had made a mistake. The storm was already too far south. State road 864 turns to the north, and and I would pass north of the storm. I would have to head west on 864 to Sonora for almost 20 miles before being able to turn back east and catch up with the storm. There was a severe thunderstorm warning for the storm with small nickel sized hail. It was moving southeast at 10 miles an hour. The storm still didn't appear to be that good. The updraft and anvil was fuzzy. I headed west to Sonora. There was another storm approaching Sonora from the NNW, and I decided to target it instead. It initially appeared more compact. I also figured that I wouldn't be able to catch up with the first storm as it moved into an area with a poor road network. I watched the second storm from near Sonora. It produced some anvil crawlers and CG's but never got its act together. When I arrived at my hotel in San Angelo, I checked the radar and my initial storm looked strong and compact. A tornado warning had been issued and chasers were calling it a supercell. I have later seen some beautiful pictures of the storm, called the Rocksprings supercell. Arrrgh!! I should have started sooner after development began but I let my forecast cloud my judgment based on visual cues. I took the wrong road and bailed on my initial storm when I probably could have recovered by blasting East on I-10. I am surprised at the initial multiple updrafts and fuzzy anvil but I guess it strengthened later.

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May 25: Bust near Junction and Segovia

This would be a marginal day. The cold front that had passed throught the area was forecast to move northward as a warm front. Moisture and instability had improved but there was still a strong cap, a warm layer of air that can prevent storm development. I drove from San Angelo to Junction and Segovia, Texas with Chris Kridler and Dave Lewison in Chris' vehicle. We waited at a diner for a couple of hours checking weather data (8V). There was scattered cumulus but no development. For better visibility, we headed east on I-10 for about 20 miles and parked on a side road (9V)for another couple of hours. While waiting, I spent time photographing butterflies among the beautiful Texas wildflowers (10P). There was an amazing variety of flowers. (11V) By evening, we had decided that the cap was too strong. This was a pure bust day. We went to Abilene and met several other chasers for dinner including Scott Blair and Eric Nguyen. Evening activity included watching some of Scott's hail video. There were still many beetles which also provided some entertainment.

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(P -- Photo) (V -- Video Still)


Next Page: May 26, 2001

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