May 24, 2002: Benjamin, Vera and Vernon, Texas storms

chase images and log by William T. Hark, M.D.

The day started with very high expectations. There was a Moderate Risk issued for southwestern Oklahoma and nearby Texas with possible tornadoes and supercells. There was an approaching dry line, low over the Texas Panhandle and cold front. The best area to chase would be at the triple point.

I left Norman early at 9:30AM since Chris and Dave were picking up Chris' friend, George Jenkins at the airport. We planned to meet later. I headed west on Interstate 40 and at Sayre, Oklahoma, I stopped and checked data at a truck stop. The best area for thunderstorm development would be near Childress, Texas. The front was moving south a bit more rapidly, and I had to adjust the target area. I continued west to Shamrock, Texas. The town was filled with government storm chasers with the National Severe Storm Laboratory along with the Doppler Radar on wheels from MIT and numerous private chasers. Finding parking was difficult at the main gas station. I went south on 62/83 and noticed some vertical development in many of the cumulus. By 1:45PM, one cumulus cloud (1V) was exploding near Childress, Texas, the new target area. I ran into Jason Persoff, and several other groups of chasers in Childress. We talked briefly before I left to find an area to observe the sky just north of town. This seemed to be the right area. I watched a storm form to my south. It was moving to the northeast. I waited until the core (2P) had safely moved to my east and then northeast before I proceeded east on 62 toward Hollis, Oklahoma. Near Hollis, I met up with Chris, Dave and George. Unfortunately, more storms developed, forming a line for about 100 miles.

Dave, Chris, George and I headed south on 5, looking for stronger and more isolated cells. We crossed the Red River on State Road 6 at 4:50PM. The storms were all regular outflow storms. There was a report of some consolidation of the storm west of Quanah, Texas but the storm appeared to loose strength as we approached it. We continued south on 6, encountering areas of rain and small hail. We stopped to observe a pretty storm (3P; pic#1); (4V; pic#2) near Benjamin, Texas at 6:20PM. The storm (5V) was not rotating, but it was interesting with periodic lightning bolts (6V; pic#1);(7V; pic#2) . We had given up on the day when we received a call from Jason Politte who stated that there was a tornado warning for a new storm northeast of Vera, Texas. We blasted east on 82 from the town of Benjamin to intercept the storm (8V) . As we neared it, road options were poor and the storm weakened (9V) . A couple of other tornado warnings were issued but they were too far away. We did try, without success, to intercept a tornadic storm near Vernon, Texas and a related storm to the southwest. As sunset (10V) approached, the sky filed with red, yellow, blue clouds. One small cloud (11V) blocked a part of the setting sun. We watched the dying thunderstorms (12V) illuminated by the sunset before heading to Vernon to spend the night.

This was a very frustrating chase. No tornadoes for us and the tornadic storms that did form were not in expected areas. Too many storms developed at the same time making choice difficult. We didn't expect them to develop behind or so close to non-tornadic storms. There was one confirmed tornado near Vernon that was observed by Jason Persoff and a few other chasers.

1V 2P 3P 4V
5V 6V 7V 8V
9V 10V 11V 12V

May 25, 2002: Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

We started in Vernon, Texas. A chase day was expected but upon further review of the data, any storms would occur far to the south near Junction, Texas on the I-10 corridor. The possibility of supercells was very low, and we would have to return to the Texas Panhandle in a couple of days. We decided to blow-off chasing and go to Amarillo, Texas. Dave, Chris, George and I had a leisurely drive through rural Texas. We stopped for lunch at Billie Dean's Restaurant (1V) in Matador, Texas. They have awesome chicken fried steak. Next to to the restaurant, there was an Allsups. A favorite of chasers, Allsups convenience stores are famous for their beef and bean burritos and other very unhealthy road meals (2P) . We then wandered around Palo Duro State Park (3V) , an area of canyons, rocky cliffs (4P) and red banded rocks south of Amarillo. This park was perfect for photo opportunities (5P) . Many of the cacti were flowering (6P) . Scattered among the brush and cacti were other beautiful wildflowers (7P) . During the hike, Dave (8P) showed us a cave on the side of a steep hill. The park was crowded because of Memorial Day weekend. At the entrance to the park, we watched a Texas longhorn (9V) search for grass through the scrub.

In Amarillo, Texas, we met up with Scott Blair and his chase group and Jason Persoff (10P) for dinner at the Big Texan Steakhouse. The restaurant is famous for the free 72 oz steak. If you can eat the whole steak plus baked potato and shrimp cocktail in an hour, you get it for free. There is a wall with the list of everybody who has ever completed the challenge. The youngest is about 8 and the oldest is in the 70's. The restaurant also serves rattlesnake. I tried it a few years ago and it is rather bony but does taste like pork, not chicken. We talked about weather forecasting and recent chases at dinner. After Scott's urging, Dave ate a whole Texas-sized pepper and was sweating through much of dinner. Later, I spent a few minutes riding a horse (11V) that a local rancher brought by the restaurant. In the parking lot, Scott showed off additional hail dents in his car (12V) . Scott had encountered baseball sized hail last week. He has a hail shield to protect his back window, but the front was cracked and broken. We then met at Scott's hotel room to view storm and tornado video and to show off the latest catch. It is also interesting to compare how a storm appeared from different viewpoints. Jason Persoff, a physician with the Mayo Clinic, had the best storm structure video from yesterday along with a brief tornado. Scott had cool video while in his car during baseball-sized hail.

1V 2V 3V 4P
5P 6P 7P 8P
9V 10P 11P 12V

No storms this day, but it was nice to relax with friends. There was also the opportunity to take some great nature and scenic photos.

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

Next Page: May 26, 2002

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