11 June 2011: Texas panhandle funnel and tornado

The southern Great Plains chase season is rapidly dwindling as the ridge builds in. But, we managed to squeak in at least one more chase in the Texas panhandle this past weekend. We brought along Michael H., who just recently joined CAPS. He had never photographed a supercell before, and we thought it likely that we could help him achieve this modest goal for the day.

Pileus cloud on top of a pulsing storm near Buffalo, OK

Pileus cloud on top of a pulsing storm near Buffalo, OK

We were initially attracted to extreme SE CO because of high-resolution model solutions indicating the potential for supercells there. However, we also noticed that those same model solutions indicated that the supercells would grow upscale into an MCS within a few hours. We departed Norman around 11 a.m., reaching the panhandle just after 2 p.m. A cluster of “junk-vection” had developed in the area just south of Woodward, while supercells had indeed begun to pop up in eastern CO – more than three hours away, and very out of play. We gritted our teeth and held up near Logans Corner, OK, where we watched a multi-cell cluster pulse and produce photogenic precipitation shafts, but never quite got its act together. We followed it as far as Buffalo, OK before giving up.

We were a bit disheartened, but took some hope from the fact that it was only 4 p.m. and we had more than five hours of storm environment evolution with which to work. The OK Mesonet indicated that the richer surface moisture hadn’t quite arrived in the Oklahoma panhandle yet. We returned to Logans Corner, OK, where we met up with fellow NWCers Michael C. and Jim C. By then, convection was firing up in discrete, widely-spaced cells stretching from E CO all the way back to central OK. A cell near Spearman, TX caught our attention when it began showing signs of rotation, so we dropped south to Darrouzett, TX. Along with other NWCers (Kiel O. and his entourage), a nicely sculpted LP supercell was there to greet us:

Darrouzett, TX supercell panorama

Darrouzett, TX supercell panorama

Darrouzett, TX funnel cloud

Brief funnel cloud near Darrouzett, TX.

We watched the supercell spin and creep closer for about an hour. I hadn’t been privileged to witness a southern Plains LP in a while, so I just sat back, enjoyed it, and shot some time lapse. Around 7:13 p.m. CDT, a clear slot began to appear, and the supercell produced a sharply-pointed, photogenic funnel cloud, of which I managed to capture a few seconds of video. (I was trying to tripod, and by the time I got the funnel framed, it had eroded back up into the cloud base and was gone.) Our storm continued to move east, its base increasingly turbulent, producing more and more precipitation as it went. Evidently, the deeper 60+F dewpoints had finally arrived!

Follett, TX washrag wall cloud

Elongated wall cloud near Follett, TX that produced a brief tornado around 7:43 p.m. CDT.

We headed east from Darrouzett on TX-15, trying to get ahead of the hook. A wall cloud took shape, but was terribly deformed by strong, precip-driven outflow that wrung it out like a washrag. We stopped about 1 mi. W of Follett, TX, just as the tornado sirens blew. I kept waiting for it to fall apart as the storm became outflow-dominant, but somehow, it clung on. A couple of gustnadoes spun out from under it, as well as a brief, near-surface condensation funnel that I’m convinced was part of a brief tornado. (An off-duty NWS employee, Doug S., was parked very close to us and called in a tornado report to the Amarillo WFO.)

After the wall cloud passed by to our north, it quickly filled in with rain. At the same time, a new cell came up to our south, and the two quickly merged as we tried to follow the hook east. We soon found ourselves deep in the murk, blasted by horizontal rain directed variously out of the northwest, north, and northeast. Suspecting a circulation might be forming right in front of us, and lacking radar data, we decided to pull our vehicles over, put the hazards on, and wait until better structure presented itself.

Sunset-lit wall cloud S of Follett, TX

Sunset-lit wall cloud S of Follett, TX

After several minutes, we dropped south out of Follett, initially intending to follow the original target storm (by then near Catesby, OK) along a more southern route. However, in the meantime, a new, classic supercell to our west presented a photography opportunity. We decided to pull over on a dirt road about 12 mi. S of Follett, and shoot this storm at sunset. It produced a beautiful wall cloud with double-tiered structure. We chose, once again, to sit back and enjoy, shooting plenty of video and stills as it passed by us to the north.

We called the chase off at dusk. On the way back, at a Seiling gas station, we happened to encounter Mr. Michael Fish (British TV superstar weatherman) leading a group of chase tourists back to I-35. (I had met Mr. Fish before, taking a previous group on a tour of the NWC.) They were on their last day of a two-week chase trip, and happily reported that they had witnessed a tornado near Beaver, OK earlier in the evening. What a nice way to cap off a tour! I congratulated them, and wished them a safe flight back to the U.K.

Video highlights of the day: