West Texas Tornadoes - March 28, 2017
Storm Season is HERE and Tornadic Expeditions is on the tornado board!
Last Tuesday provided opportunity for severe weather and tornadoes throughout West, North West and Central TX. Though there was some uncertainty with concerns of widespread early day convection wiping the developing unstable air mass clean of instability potentially causing a messy rain event instead of supercells and tornadoes.
Tuesday morning we left from Sherman, TX and headed towards Vernon, TX where we planned to stage for a short time to look over data trends and grab a bite to eat. Our target area was to be near the triple point where the warm front and dryline intersected. I figured this area would be from Guthrie to Crowell to Seymour, TX. After eating lunch it was decided it was best to head SW from Vernon to Guthrie since the dryline was hanging back a little further west than anticipated, along with the warm front making a slightly slower northward retreat. Storms were beginning to fire by this time but were very disorganized, linear and on top of each other - which was very concerning the day was going to bust. As we made the trek to Guthrie a couple of storms began to show low level mesocyclones. A storm near Dickens just west of Guthrie was the storm we were most interested in and kept close eye on as we made our approach. Another storm north of Dickens had just gone tornado warned but the surface observations near the storm and north of the storms path were showing a cool environment which represented the warm front had not lifted far enough to give that storm enough time to have better tornado potential. The low level shear along the warm on this day was very strong and storms that interacted with it during their mature stages would have great potential to produce tornadoes near it. The northern storm in fact had a couple reports of brief tornadoes, but when I was comparing the storm we were targeting versus the northern storm our Dickens storms had a more organized mesocyclone. Both storms were within play but I liked the near storm environment on that southern storm. Examination of the Dickens mesocyclone also showed that it was moving more easterly compared to the parent storm motion, indicating to me that this storm was being better influenced by the warm front. We arrived into Guthrie and headed west on HWY 82 towards Dickens. A few miles outside of Dickens we found a rest stop area on top of a large hill in perfect position of the incoming storm. Due to no good road options we waited for a good half hour as it moved into our direction to get a view of the base. Our storm was really starting to fall apart due to seeding of precip from the storms directly to the south of it and rain cooled air. The base finally appeared which had a decent appearance and that was fairly surprising considering the radar presentation of this storm looked like the atmosphere had puked. While sitting on the hilltop the lightning increased and a nice little RFD began to cut the base. WOW! This disorganized garden shower had rotation and trying to perform the act of tornadogenesis! The weak rotation came nearly overhead as it was fun to observe since it was coming from practically nothing of a storm. This told me the shear was very strong in our location. Since the storm began collapse we decided to head back east towards Guthrie with the intention to see if we could get into position for a newly developing storm towards our south. Well, that didn't happen. Right between Dickens and Guthrie a new updraft had exploded behind us to the south of 82, almost immediately behind the dead storm we were just on. Literally in just a few minutes this storm developed a strong low level mesocyclone and the storm was just a baby! Needless to say, we turned around and went back west and in a few minutes we had a breathtaking view of a classic supercell complete with a rock hard wall cloud.
The sight of this supercell was a weight off the shoulders that we had placed ourselves in the right place, we knew at this point we had a strong shot at a tornado. We sat along 82 watching as it approached towards us and the intensity of the rotation began to increase, soon the RFD began to cut away at the base. We moved into position to make sure we would be safe and in good view of what could be an immanent tornado developing. We moved in behind the circulation and the rotation became very strong and steadily tightening - then it happened! TORNADO! A beautiful funnel extended half way to the ground with weak tornadic winds at the ground. The tornado was brief but a sweet reward for our efforts and to break the 2017 ice! The circulation then quickly disorganized and we headed east a short ways before encountering a nearby ranch off 82 that been hit. There was no major damage, some small trees uprooted or broken and sheet metal ripped off a steel framed building. The damage location seemed odd to us because our tornado was north of 82 and the ranch was to our ESE. No more than 30 seconds of passing the ranch I shouted TORNADO once again! Almost to our due north there was a beautiful Elephant trunk tornado! It was brief but it had a pretty cool rope out as it dissipated, while it was dissipating there was tornado #3 in the distance! A broad V shaped tornado well in the distance, and then it became quickly rain wrapped. 3 tornadoes in a period of 15 minutes. Very awesome!
After the tornadoes, the storm lost much of its structure and began to fall apart so we went east to catch up with some new storms that were moving into the area east of Guthrie. We were able to get on two more tornado warned storms but both of them were uneventful for us. The last of these two produced a nice tornado near Stamford, TX but due to a lake between us and the storm we had zero SAFE road options to make it in time, so we waited north of the lake for it to come to us. It tried very hard to produce a tornado while crossing HWY 380 and it's very possible it did but would have been deep in the rain by the time it got it done.
Overall, it was a great day of storm chasing and our first tornadoes of the season! We had 2 folks with us who had never seen a tornado so it made they day even more special.