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Chase May 29 2001

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Route:Amarillo (TX) - Panhandle (TX) - Pampa (TX) - Wheeler (TX) - Shamrock (TX)
Chasepartner(s):Herman Harperink, Harald Edens and Floris Bijlsma and later on Michael James and Oscar van der Velde


CHASE LOG:
The day started off with lots of convection and a few weak thunderstorms which had lived through the previous night. At about noon some more storms developed and we decided to go after one of these. It produced merely rain, however, so we went back to our motel. At 2:30pm, a tornado watch was issued for the entire TX and OK panhandles, and after checking the latest SPC outlook at 3:20pm, it was about time to go out. We stopped north of Amarillo, and saw some sort of rotation in the clouds, but we didn't see any clear wallcloud structure. The RFD is clearly visible.
We got back in downtown Amarillo and spotted another supercell very quickly. We went east over I-40 and not much later, we entered the precipitation zone. This consisted of rain at first, but just east of Amarillo it became hail, as we got deeper in the zone. Image from video. We were wondering if it was safe to drive on, with respect to the car, which we'd rather not damage... or worse yet, loose the windshield. We slowed down and inched our way into the storm...it didn't help much, slowing down. By this time, we got hail measuring over 1" and we stopped under an overpass to wait. Great sound... the sound of large hail hitting ground and vehicles!
The next tornado warning came. Where... could we reach that area? Three storms were active at that time, all supercells and all capable of producing tornadoes. At the town of Panhandle, it got crowdy. And yes - our stormchaser's dream became reality! In the center of the wildly rotating wallcloud, a funnel appeared. A yell of awe and a request for champaign of the DCST could be heard over the Plains. A tornado formed right in front of us! The funnel disappeared shortly, and came back two times as a thin, rope-like funnel. A police car, with lights up, nervously went around the road and chasers were gathering from everywhere.
The sun was low in the west (which was clear sky) and made for a rainbow next to the tornado - what a combination! The tornado showed up for a fourth time, and this time it became a serious one. With regard to its size, it looked like an F2 to F3 (it was fairly thick). The rear-flank downdraft quickly wrapped around the tornado and in our direction, and we got some rain. Wind was moderate, but not so extreme like you'd expect close to a tornado. We were about 1 mile distant.
Sometimes we could clearly spot the dustclouds above the fields. Unfortunately the tornado was low contrast, but we had the time of our lives.
The rainshield came in front of the tornado, making it invisible, so we decided to find a road east. Highway 60 was a good choice, leading in exactly the right direction. Sadly, there was a lot of police cars out there, and we were told to take it easy and get on the shoulder. This was absolutely not what we wanted, so we drove over the shoulder very slowly and inconspiciously. The tornado wasn't visible anymore - but it had to be there somewhere, since the cloud mass in front of us was still rotating around, just ahead of us over Highway 60. Just west of the town of Cuyler the police set up a road block. Slippering and sliding, we crawled along a dirtroad, but at some point the car would no longer go where its driver wanted it to go - and off onto a corn field it went. We managed to reverse the car out of the ditch, drive backwards and turn south, on a better road. We stopped over at an intersection to think about what to do next.
South of the town of Pampa we stopped for photography. To the west a huge flanking line was obscuring the sun, with a bizarre smooth and slanted shelf-like cloud structure. To the east the tornadic supercell was receding into the distance. A bright orange sun pierced through the flanking line, illuminating beautiful mammatus to the southeast. Bright cloud rays shot over us - we shot a whole lot of film out there. Flanking line with a bizarre smooth and slanted shelf-like cloud structure!
After the sun had set, we went on to the east, where most lightning was going on. In Shamrock we decided to go back, but Oscar and Michael caught some great lightning in Oklahoma.


PICTURES:


VIDEO STILLS:




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© 2001 Bernard Hulshof