Storm Chase 2001: May 27

Munched by the Kansas Gustfront

I started out in Amarillo, Texas at The Big Texan. Chris Kridler and Dave Lewison came by along with Steve Sponsler who works for NASA. Steve flew into Amarillo for a few days of chasing. We had initially expected severe storms and tornadoes, but with additional data checks, tornadoes were less likely. The target area was still under a Moderate Risk by the National Weather Service which meant severe storms were likely, not necessarily tornadoes. We drove north in a caravan of three vehicles. In Perryton, Texas, we stopped to check weather data at approximately 2PM. Within a few minutes, the gas station was overrun with chasers. There were probably about 20 chasers including Jim Leonard and Charles Edwards of Cloud 9 Tours, Roger Edwards and Dave Gold of Silver lining Tours, Gene Rhoden and Richard Bedard. We exchanged forecast ideas. Unfortunately, the table phones were not good enough to get weather data. Jim Leonard used his cell phone modem to access the data and we all discussed possible options (1V). There was no clear target area except generally to the north. Winds were all from the southwest. We were also concerned that the storms would be in a large group or line rather than individual isolated storm cells. Chris, Dave, Steve and I decided to go north to Liberal and then Sublett, Kansas. Just north of Perryton, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol had setup a radar trap and were pulling over large numbers of drivers including chasers. I tried warning some of my friends but there was no cell coverage. In Sublett Kansas, we checked weather data. As we expected, the storms were merging into a line. There were a couple of rotating storms but they were imbedded in the line. There was no clear choice. We decided to head several miles north and watch the gust front. At 5:26, the gust front (2V) was visible. We saw a long line of rolling white clouds (3V) approaching us. Below them, it was dark with visible clouds of dust. The air was rather calm and there was no thunder or lightning. The ominous band of clouds (4V) moved closer as speeding cars drove away from the darkness. This was clearly no ordinary gustfront. We took photos and video. The line hit us and we saw a couple of brief gustnadoes (5V) (rotating columns of air that are like tornadoes but form in the turbulent air ahead of gust fronts and squall lines). The dusty front (6V) extended far to the east. We blasted south, barely staying ahead of the storm. The black clouds swirled and curled upward (7V). We decided to stop and experience the storm (since we couldn't really out run it) at the gas station in Sublette. Dave called Jim (8V) just before the storm hit, sending Dave fleeing into his car. We were hoping for large hail but were hit with winds of 70 to 80 miles an hour and clouds of dust and sand (9V) . Our vehicles were sand blasted. Pieces of debris flew past us. As the wind died down, Dave used my wind meter to check the wind speed and it was 55MPH. Dust (10V) still filled the air. We only heard a few claps of thunder. After the front passed, we watched (Steve Sponsler filming Chris & Dave)(11V) a another storm and some lightning from a field. I left early and headed toward Woodward, Oklahoma briefly stopping to view a dying tower (12V) in the setting sun. The line of storms had continued south, knocking down trees, ripping the roofs off buildings and blowing vehicles off the road. I passed a truck that was blown on its side. Many roads were blocked and power was off in parts of the town. I met up with Chris, Steve and Dave for pizza before the long drive to Oklahoma City for my flight at 7AM the next day. Chris and Dave continued their chase trip seeing a nice tornado the next day and later, some damaging hail.

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

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

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