Brownfield TX Tornados of 3 June 89

The images from this day depict a busted chase when initial activity near Plainview, TX dissipated early leaving many chasers clueless about what to do next. Meanwhile a tornadic supercell exploded near Muleshoe, TX surprising the out-of-position chase crews. Only a couple of chasers got the Muleshoe storm.

My original chase plan was abandoned when I turned back from Midland (MAF) to go for the early storms near Lubbock (LBB). This move cost me a tornado that occurred in my target area near MAF. That activity later died. I proceeded southwest after reevaluating the synoptic situation and deciding the Muleshoe event was out of range. Late that evening a second supercell developed southwest of Lubbock near Brownfield, TX. The storm collapsed producing a shelf cloud type gust front that later turned into a spectacular bell shaped mesocyclone. This storm was late and in low light, but was more than enough to save the day.

  Developing mesocyclone

The first images shows the remains of the outflow boundary with a striated shelf cloud. Note the chunks of inflow cloud on the bottom right of the image. They were moving rapidly toward the center of this structure where the base was the lowest. The northerly inflow was shallow at the time of this image. Strong southeasterly inflow rode across the top of the cloud producing banding on the leading edge.

  Inflow tail cloud develops on north

This image looks much like the first one, but subtle differences indicate strengthening in the last five minutes. A tail cloud was beginning to form as the north side off this feature was becoming vertical. Strong up motion lifted condensation into the original convective storm base. No precipitation was occurring in the vicinity of the updraft. The southern extent of the precipitation is located in the far right side of the image. This cloud spun up quite fast and the midlevel mesocyclone was probably in place, but I had no radar to confirm this opinion. Another image taken about this time depicts the southern edge of the old outflow boundary thinning as the circulation becomes more concentric. After this image I moved south as the storm moved more south of east. The sun had set and I was working on waning twilight.

  Bell shaped mesocylone with debris

While I dropped south a strong rear flank downdraft (RFD) surged along the back edge of the mesocyclone. As it got near the south edge of the cloud it turned to the north cutting off the edge of the convection and leaving a bell shaped feature. Dust and dirt began to rise under the bell shaped cloud and vortices spun up across a broad area. One spin up turned into a small tornado that lasted about 5 minutes. A funnel was associated with this tornado and it may be seen on the far left of the mesocyclone. A second circulation is about a quarter mile under the cloud base while the strongest circulation was on the right. This northern circulation was becoming tornadic at the time of this image and contained two separate circulations that rotated around each other.

  Tornado in progress

During this shot the bell shaped cloud was rotating violently with strong up motion across the front face. Under the base a circulation about one mile wide contained multiple tornadic vortices. Two of the debris circulations were persistent and strong enough to be called tornadoes. Many other brief tornadoes formed and dissipated after traveling about a mile. The cloud base was about 1500 ft. AGL and the dirt debris clouds reached the base. I was about 1 1/2 miles NNE of the circulation. The debris cloud in the center of the image became a full condensation (elephant trunk) tornado after crossing the dirt road on the left. My strategy was to back up with the system trying to maintain photographic light. When the condensation funnel was planted I took numerous shots aimed SSE, but they did not come out due to low light; although, I could visually make out the tornado quite easily. I began to receive large hail and light rain as I proceeded east. The storm took a turn to the right finally forcing me out of my optical vault and into the hail, thus losing my light and perspective on the tornado. After this chase I began to carry very high speed film.

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