All images and text © copyright Gene
unless otherwise indicated.
This storm chase day started in the mountains of New Mexico where I lived in 1991. We were at 7900 feet (750 millibars) next to the Lincoln National Forest. While I was working up the forecast on the laptop the sky got dark and snow flakes the size of quarters begin to fall. An upper level system (short wave) was moving over the area and if I wanted to get down the mountain to west Texas I need to leave now. The maps indicated a dryline developing over eastern New Mexico, but the push of westerly winds had not started; I still had time if I got to Mayhill before the roads got bad. I made it over the top at Cloudcroft in good shape and down the other side past the ski area. As I dropped below 7000 feet near Mayhill the sun was coming out. Also the west winds were getting strong. The drive across eastern New Mexico is beautiful, but I was glad to get out of the winding mountain roads and hit the straight and flat. I passed the refinery at Artesia and made it to Lovington in three hours. The winds were howling from the west and a couple of high based thunderstorms were developing to my southwest. My target area was southeast of Lubbock, Texas. This area had old thunderstorm activity moving into the region during the morning. I thought it might provide a boundary for the dryline to work against to build new storms.
I get pretty tight about being late to these storms so I was pushing east before the action got going. An old storm was still in progress in my forecast target area and new cumulus towers were piling up on the south side. After topping off the tank at Post, TX it was a straight shot into Kent Co. Near the town of Clairemont I turned north and my dull but hurried day changed dramatically.
A large expanse of dark blue stretched was across the windshield to the north. It looked somewhat nondescript. I pressed north a couple of miles and met a brisk north wind. Very low scud clouds were pouring out of the storm from the northeast. The thought was to turn back to an east road a had just passed. I would get hit with hail if I remained here. While traveling south I noted I was not gaining on the low scud clouds; they were screaming to the southwest. I could see the intersection to go east in the distance, then a curious thing happened. A huge pawl of dust rose off the field to my southeast and shot straight west through the low clouds to a line of intersecting towers angling in from the southwest.
Upon careful examination of this line of flanking towers strong rotation was pulling the dust in from the east. Not wanting get in a trap I blasted straight south allowing it pass. Just as it got south and clear of the updraft area more dirt and dust came off the fields and rose into the storm base. This turned into a massive boiling dirt ball that filled the air and the clouds with red color. Further east the tornado became apparent in this mass of dust as the circulation tightened. I had been very close, but I sat and let the dirt clear out of the air before traveling east in pursuit.
The storm with through quit a few changes due to the rapid
motion of the dominant circulation on the back side. This image shows the bell
shaped cloud (common to tornadic storms), but this one was not smooth. The
violent winds were tearing it apart. Dry air was cascading down the back side
of the storm like a waterfall evaporating all the clouds it touched. Soon the
bell was gone leaving in it's wake a large rotating cylinder. During this time
I traveled directly south of the tornado, and back twice to get close and wide
angle shots of the storm. It was moving slow enough to allow
This it the tornado at its largest. I later drove in behind the
tornado and measured the fresh damage path across fences to be 5/10's and
6/10's of a mile wide. A large tornado indeed. The light dust in the foreground
of the photograph is moving east and southeast. The higher darker dust in the
background was moving west into the tornado. Soon after this image while I was
changing position the tornado split into two tornadoes. One went east and
became buried in the dust to later dissipate. The other tornado remained
further west. I continued to photographed it until it too became
|These images are of the remaining
tornado as it
persisted and moved east. Massive amounts of dust were carried into the storm
and dropped downwind. At times the dirt seemed to pour out of the clouds. The
tornado had narrowed and was probably about 200 meters wide; although, I did
not measure this part of the damage path. The storm look as it was weakening.
New storms were developing to the southeast.
After this image the tornado became so deeply buried in dirt and dust. I traveled south and southeast of it, but could barley get shots through the obscuring dust. Instead of staying with this storm I drove southeast toward a strong looking cell that had recently developed.
The next storm was producing a tornado near a town called Old Glory. For a while I observed an elephant trunk tornado in progress in the distance as I drove southeast. The tornado crossed TX 380 near Old Glory chewing up trees. The damage path was not very wide at this point. Looking north the tornado was gone, then I saw a rope funnel hanging in mid-air spinning itself out. It was the end of that tornado.
The storm was blocking my route east so I tried to drop south on on #283 and go north to beat the storm across #277, but could not make it. I could see the wall cloud with a gust front wrapped into it and a dark mass to ground. The hail over ran me from the west. ending the chase. I was a few miles south of Haskell, Texas. The next morning Haskell was on the national morning news. They were showing damage overflights of a tornado path that had cut through the town.
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