May 28, 2002: Storms near Bakersfield in southwestern Texas

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

May 28 would be my last chase of the season as no more severe weather was expected during my vacation period. There was a low moving in from the west. Storms were expected to the south along old outflow boundaries from storms yesterday. I started the day in Abilene, Texas with Chris Kridler, Dave Lewison and Jason Persoff. We spent the morning discussing the current weather data and forecasting strategies. We also looked at Scott Blair's chase vehicle that had been battered the previous day with 3 inch spiked hail. The rear window was protected by his metal homemade hailshield (1V) but the front window was cracked (2V).

Dave, Chris, Jason and I headed south from Abilene, stopping in San Angelo for lunch at a great Tex-Mex restaurant. There was scattered cumulus in the San Angelo area though the main boundary was to the south. We continued south on 277 and stopped in Eldorado, Texas for weather data and supplies. This is probably one of the nicest towns that I have ever encountered while traveling across the Plains. The residents are all very friendly and helpful. The sheriff, who wore a cowboy hat, was very talkative and gave us suggestions on local road conditions. It was a very enjoyable visit. We left Eldorado at 4PM and headed west on 190 and north on 163. We were concerned that the cap would hold. There were some distant towers to the northwest and south but nothing in our immediate area. By 5PM, some of the cumulus appeared to be dissipating. We parked just west of Barnhart and watched the sky (pic #1 L to R: Jason Persoff, Dave Lewison 3V); (pic#2: Chris Kridler 4V). There was an interesting storm (5V) to the west; however, it was a left-mover and would eventually die. The right-mover of the pair was too far south and would soon enter Mexico. We continued waiting. This was chasing at its worst; standing by a hot road in the middle of nowhere, watching dying cumulus and hoping for something to happen.

Eventually, another storm formed to our northwest and was moving southward. We could intercept it. At 5:45PM, we left the Barnhart area and traveled west on 67. Just west of Big Lake, we could see the storm (6V). As we neared it, multiple precipitation cores were visible. The storm was high-based. The storm was pretty against the low mesas topped with windmills (7V). The Pecos area of Texas is rather barren. We turned south and then west on 190 to get a better view of the storm (8V). Occasional lightning bolts flashed in the distance. We finally arrived and parked on an overpass over I-10 about 13 miles east of Bakersfield. The main storm was to our west and continuing southward. There were other storms also forming in the area. We observed a shear funnel (9V) at 7:10 almost directly overhead. To the north, a lowering (10V) appeared at 7:22. A funnel-like structure (11V) formed though no actual rotation was observed. The storm moved southward with a narrow updraft (12V) and long inflow feature by 7:42PM. By 8PM, we decided to follow the slow moving storm. We headed east to Sheffield and south on 349 and then 2400. Multiple cloud-ground lightning strikes blasted the area (only when my video camera was off). We were trying to get ahead of the main storm. State Road 2400 carried us through barren hilly countryside. Along the way, Chris and Dave had an unfortunate encounter with a deer. Luckily, no major damage was done except possibly to the deer. Chris already has a vehicle covered in hail dents.

We stopped about 35 miles from the Mexican border in Terrell County. There were no nearby towns or even residences. It was getting dark and the storm was moving to an area with no roads. We watched the pale towering storm in contrast to the darkening sky. The entire thunderhead glowed with almost constant flashes of lightning (13V pic#1) ;(14V pic#2). The moonless sky surrounding the storm (15V) became clear and black. As our vision adjusted, the Milky Way became visible. We marveled at a sky filled with stars that were bright enough to read by. There were no artificial lights or distant glow visible from our area. No other cars passed us. It was almost complete isolation. At one point, a bright lightning bug flew rapidly along the road with a constant greenish light that lit the road. I briefly caught it (actually a click beetle (genus Pyrophorus ) (16V) with glowing "eyes") before letting it go. We relaxed and joked and experienced the beauty of nature. A clear moonless night sky and view of the Milky Way away from any cities or towns is an awesome experience. I wish more people could see it. Chris, Dave, Jason and I headed to Fort Stockton for the night. We saw some storms but they really didn't matter that day. The night sky made the whole chase day worthwhile.

1V 2V 3V 4V
5V 6V 7V 8V
9V 10V 11V 12V
13V 14V 15V 16V
pic by Dave Lewison
used with permission

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

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