I hadn’t realized how exhausted I was from Sunday’s chase until I awoke from 9 hours of sleep in my hotel room in Liberal, KS Monday morning. I was pretty amped up for the chase that day and combined with the long sleep I got, I was ready for anything. I didn’t know then, that the events that would unfold later in the afternoon would make me glad I got all of the sleep I could. I’d need all of that energy later in the day.
Because I had passed out Sunday night, I hadn’t seen any of the 0z models from the night before nor the SPC day 1 outlook either. I cracked open the laptop and started digging in to the forecast. All of the right elements were forecast to be in the Texas Panhandle near or around Amarillo. The atmosphere in the afternoon was going to be juiced with 2500-3000 CAPE, dews in the 60′s, awesome wind fields, and steep lapse rates. Hail was a given, but I thought the tornado potential was pretty decent as well.
The SPC had mentioned 2 areas of focus for storm development that afternoon. There was the classic dryline play which was looking to setup west of Amarillo, or on an outflow boundary leftover from the storms that had passed through the night before which setup south and east of Amarillo. I didn’t really want to fully commit to either so I decided to target somewhere in between. That way I could get to either relatively quickly. I headed southwest out of Liberal, passed through Guymon, OK and dropped south eventually landing in my staging target of Pampa, TX. I had quick access to I-40 if the dryline went and could get west fast, or I could drop south to 287 near Clarendon where it looked like the outflow boundary was setting up.
After waiting for 3 hours or so, nothing was really happening. The parameters still looked good, but nothing was developing. The dryline which I thought would eventually retreat east a bit, never did and sat right on the TX/NM border. Around 5pm, Tony Laubach got in touch and said that he was abandoning his Canadian, TX target and would be stopping in to Pampa where I sat as well. It was shortly after he arrived that a mesoscale discussion finally went up for our area. The focus of the MD was basically to say that the outflow boundary didn’t look as strong as it once did and that the dryline would be the play. So we started moving west and within 15 minutes, cells started developing on the dryline.
3 cells popped due west of Amarillo and it wasn’t long before we were on them. We got on the storms right near Boys Ranch (which is the weirdest/creepiest town name ever). They issued a severe warning for the northern cell and as we got closer, it fizzled out.
We waited around for about 20 minutes to see if any of the other cells in that same cluster would strengthen or give us a cue about which way to go. Sure enough, the southern most cell started to pulse up and grow.
We made our way back to the business loop around Amarillo and dove south after the new storm of choice and got under it near Canyon, TX. We drove under it a few times, getting a pretty good hail dump each time. This shot captures an ironic prelude of what was to come later…
The storm continued to look strong as it moved its way east eventually passing right over the Amarillo radar site. It was then that we finally had a chance to jump out for some quick structure photo’s.
The base of the storm was pretty elevated and we had already sampled the core a few times, so we decided it was time to move on. The outflow boundary that we had long forgotten about was now spitting out new storms that were intensifying very quickly. The first had formed and was north of Clarendon and was moving north toward the I-40 corridor. We figured that we could get to I-40 and get east before the storm crossed, or we’d at least get in the vicinity to make a play on it. We got east on I-40 as quick as we could but the storm fizzled out near the town of McLean. We both needed gas at that time so we filled up and assessed the situation. There was another cell down south near Clarendon that was coming up north to where we were sitting. We could either wait for it to get to us or we could go south out of McLean to meet it. We decided to head south to meet it in case it took a right turn and started making tornadoes. A logical, yet costly decision.
The route south was a pretty direct shot and would put us in great position on the storm. It appeared on radar that we would skirt the outside of the storm and wouldn’t have to punch the core. We started south and had a few conversations and laughs over the radio about a bunch of other storms that were producing tornadoes in southern Kansas that nobody saw coming. Spirits were jolly, shall we say. The storm we were skirting around did have a hail marker on it on radar but it was for 1.75 inch hail. Rarely do the hail markers in the software reflect the actual size of the hail falling. Usually, it over estimates a bit. I feel now is the time that I should point out that I’m not really a “hail” chaser. Hail doesn’t do much for me. I’ve never understood why other chasers are so fascinated by it. It’s a ball of ice. Whoopty do. Having said that, I did have fun driving through the cores earlier in the day which were quarter sized hail at the most. As we continued closer to the storm, it did start to build a little bit more. The 1.75″ hail marker grew to 2.25″. Still no big deal I thought. It then became apparent that to get in position on the storm, we might have to punch the outer core since the cell had started to right move a little bit. Again, no big deal. It’d be just like all of the other cores we went through earlier. A few clunks on the roof, and perhaps a few new dings. All outcomes I could live with if it meant getting in better position. We started to penetrate the outer core and all that was falling was rain. ”See, no big deal” I remember thinking. That didn’t last.
The first baseball that impacted snapped me back to reality. Tony slowed down and I followed suit as we pulled over. More baseball’s hit the road in front of me and smashed into pieces. The stones that landed on the grass in the median bounced up in the air and that’s when I saw the size of them. It was trouble. A second and third stone hit my hood and I could see the dents they left right away. Seconds later, it was a total onslaught. First my windshield got cracked right across my line of sight. It was relentless as the baseball’s crushed in to me. It only took a few more strikes for my windshield to be completely destroyed. I then went in to panic mode. ”I gotta get the hell out of here!” I thought, so I flipped a U-turn and started heading back north. In my head I was thinking that going north would be safe because that was where I just came from and there was no hail up there! Not true, it turns out. The storm was moving north, so I basically just drove back in to the strongest part of the core again. Panic mode is not good. It makes you do irrational things. Tony yelled over the radio, “don’t go north!” or at least I think that’s what he said. It was so loud, I couldn’t tell or hear. I did stop though, and more stones hit and broke out my back window completely punching through and in to the car. ”Come south, come south!” Tony said on the radio. But panic mode was still in full effect for me, so I continued irrationally looking for refuge. I spotted a grove of bushes off the side of the road, so I went for those. I pulled up as close as I could to them to hopefully have some sort of shield from the hail. It didn’t do anything, plus ultimately, the damage was done. Panic mode subsided and I believe some form of acceptance kicked in. I pulled out of the ditch and sat on the side of the road and watched a few more craters get formed on my hood. It had passed.
Like I said, I’m not a hail chaser. In 6 years of chasing, I’ve never lost a windshield from hail. I’ve never had more than a ding or two on my car caused by hail. This was a new situation to me. I’m a “photo the awesome structure” from outside the storm kind of guy. Again, an ass man if you will.
But not this day. I crawled south and met up with Tony who was already outside the car looking at the damage. I didn’t want to look. I had destroyed my windshield, and my back window was gone completely. Tony’s windshield suffered the same fate of course and both of his side mirrors were done for as well. My sunroof was cracked but had not shattered completely. I still find that to be a small miracle. And then the body damage of course.
Tony suggested that we go back up the road to look at and measure some of the bigger stones. I didn’t want to but in my state of shock and disbelief, it sounded like a great idea. We pulled off and got out looking for the bigger stones. I grabbed a few and looked at them for a second or two tops and threw them away. What was I doing? I continued my search by walking down the side of the ditch and proceeded to step in a puddle of rain that completely soaked my shoes and socks. Just what I needed.
We both went back to our cars and noticed that the cell coming up to us had really started to look good. It had a hook on it on radar and had a few TVS markers. We should probably get after it. Maybe we could pull a tornado out of this day? I certainly felt like I had earned it. We got south back to 287 near Clarendon and saw a big blocky wall cloud. We pulled off the side of the highway and had a great vantage point of it. I snapped out of my haze for a few minutes and got a few decent shots.
It sure looked pretty for a few minutes, but it never produced a tornado. We turned around on 287 and got south again trying to stay ahead of it to see if it would have another go. It didn’t. We sat on the shoulder of the highway and decided it was time to call the chase off. I had to figure out if I was going to be able to get my crippled car back home to Denver, and Tony was headed off to Oklahoma City to chase Tuesday.
For me, it was a pretty straight shot home. I just had to take 287 all the way back up through Amarillo, Boise City, and then it would eventually spit me back out on to I-70. The problem was, another storm was sitting on 287 a few miles up the road that I knew I was going to have to go back through, busted windows and all. I was mentally done. I had nothing left in me. I just wanted to go home. I didn’t want any more storms. Regardless, I trudged on and as I hit the core of the last storm that kept me from freedom, it intensified on radar and barraged me with hail again. It wasn’t baseball’s like earlier but it was large enough and in enough quantity that I couldn’t see. So I pulled over again on the side of the road and glanced toward my back seat to see piles of hail coming in through my broken window. I was shivering from the cold, my socks and feet were still soaked, and my car was destroyed. I was broken at that point.
The core sat on top of me for what felt like 30 minutes although in reality it had only been about five. A semi creeped along up the road and in my mind, he looked like a great shield. I pulled out on to the road right behind him and crawled along for a few miles out of the core and into clear skies. As I passed him, I gave him a wave. At that moment, that dude was my hero. The rest of 287 looked like a complete war zone. There were abandoned cars with broken out windows all over the place. Tree limbs that had broken off, were scattered all over both lanes. Shredded leaves covered all of the pavement. It was surreal.
The car, despite its new physical deformities actually drove pretty well. Fortunately, the spider web of cracks in the windshield had left me a decent sized viewing portal on the driver’s side, so I could at least see out of it pretty well. And the back window being gone wasn’t that bad. I thought my car was going to be freezing but it didn’t have too much of an effect at all.
I drove home pretty much non-stop and only had to make one fuel stop on the way. The drive gave me plenty of time to calm down about the whole situation and kind of allowed me to get back in to being Scott. I had seen on Facebook that a lot of other chasers had met the same fate as me, so that made me feel better. I wasn’t the only bone head out there. And finally I came to the realization that it’s just glass and some dents. It’s not that big of a deal.
If past instances of chasers damaging their cars dictates how I should react, then it should be in one of two ways. I should either take the macho road and yell about how I have no regrets, and that I chase hard and die hard doing it. Roar!! Or, there’s the feel sorry for me route where I’ll claim that I’m never chasing again and that enough is enough, but then I’ll come around when all of my friends say that I’m awesome. Well, let me forge a third path here; I do regret the situation, but I can live with the consequences. You know, the learn from your mistakes route. Next chase looks to be on Sunday, and I’m driving!
2012 Chase Statistics:
Mileage This Chase: 1,364 (both Sunday and Monday combined)
Total 2012 Mileage: 5,481
Tornadoes This Chase: 0
Total 2012 Tornadoes: 6
Milestones This Chase: First broken windows from hail in my career.
Album of the Day: ‘The Private Press’ – DJ Shadow