The Unique Severe Storm of Irion Co. Texas
27 May 2002

 

After a hard drive from San Antonio, TX to Midland my chase was not rewarded as I had hoped. Another spring day had slipped by and numerous tornadoes were reported, but few were seen or photographed by the hordes of chasers. The dryline turned out to be a dud, which was the case most of the time this spring. The Midland storm of that day was a huge exploding monster that quickly became outflow dominant with high wind and blowing dirt. Unfortunately, the cloud base was quite high on this storm, about 10,000 feet AGL, which is 2 miles up there. Very few tornadoes of consequence come from storms like this. Interesting though, tornadoes were reported, one in association with long white hail shafts near the back of the storm, although the pictures of this funnel are not as convincing to me as others. Fleeing from the camera clogging brown winds I back tracked east along the outflow boundary (OFB) left by an early supercell. It was getting late and the convection along this boundary was still weak looking. Remembering where I last drove out of a narrow corridor of strong south winds, I returned to this spot and waited, expecting the day to end with at best a few lightning shots. During this time a lowered base developed to my northwest and I could see billowing clouds reaching for the late sunlight. The events that transpired in the following hour led to the most photogenic boiling severe storm I've seen in two years.

All images and text © copyright Gene Moore unless otherwise indicated.

 
  first hint of a developing storm on the horizon
 


A wide open south Texas panorama reveals the first stages of the developing storm.......and no stinking power poles to clutter the picture! This storm developed just north of an outflow boundary left by previous storms that day. This National Weather Service (NWS) radar shot shows the OFB boundary south of the storm as a narrow arching line. This was the leading edge of a wind shift with cooler air, often a trigger for new storms to develop. On the radar map the cell we are looking for is one county down and three counties right (east) of Midland, marked MAF, or one county right of San Angelo (SJT) where the radar was located. The two small storms to the NW dissipated.

  clouds lower as the storm grows
 


In this scene it's beginning to look like a storm with a large rain free base across the horizon. There was strong up motion on the right (east) side of the cell with moisture feeding in over the top of the OFB . The radar shows a light echo pattern from the edge of the OFB to this storm. During this time I could see a line of towering clouds feeding into the storm from the south which I believe were showing up on the radar screen. As I got around to the south side of the storm it begin to develop large towering clouds. The best was yet to come though, as orange and purple clouds laced with lightning and hail streamers would fill the sky.


east side of storm with towering clouds   looking west at the south side of the cell

As the storm grew it seemed to blow out all the low stratus clouds in the area reveling a large towering complex. The lighting started out typical for an evening storm then the deeper colors set in and light filtered through the ascending towers as they reached the anvil canopy.


   

A wide view to the south shows dark bases of growing cumulus clouds merging with the storm and keeping the thermodynamic motor running. The one color that didn't come out on the film was green, which I could see in the higher cumulus towers. Perhaps Al Moller, the only other chaser on this storm, was able to capture all the colors. Unfortunately, Al doesn't have a web site, so I guess we have to wait for him to publish the shots.

radar showing storm and OFB boiling clouds fill the western sky

The storm gave the appearance of splitting as two echo areas are shown, but these echoes rejoined before the storm pushed to the southeast. During this time the vaulted area of the storm was the most photogenic with intracloud and cloud to air lighting weaving through the hail streamers. The bright sun filtering through the storm blinded the camera to many of these bolts, but one can barely be seen in this shot.

Note the two individual precipitation areas of the storm shown here and well depicted on NWS radar. The rain and hail on the right side of the image is falling from the anvil out ahead of the convective updraft. This region is usually called the forward flank and commonly contains large hail in a severe storm. The vertical wall on the north side of the updraft looked much like a supercell.


roaring hail is heard during this shot   storm begins to push southeast

One last major change in the structure occurred just before the gust front begin to take shape. The vertical wall of convection with the deep optical vault gave the observer the feeling of being in a cavern filled with a continuous roar from the nearby hail falling to the ground.


   

The storm began to lose it particular character as it surged to the southeast. Radar indicated both the gust front, the arch associated with the echo and a remaining inflow notch on the northeast quadrant. The storm persisted for at least a few more hours as it tracked along Interstate-10 with continuous lightning and large hail.

 

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