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May 29, 2001 Texas Panhandle Chase

Panhandle Magic! as it was described by Storm Chaser Tim Marshall.  On this day my wife & I witnessed 3 tornadoes including the wedge that produced F3 damage south of White Deer, Texas. 


We started the day in Dodge City, Kansas.  Our check out time from the Super 8 was Noon so before we left the hotel we got the 1630Z convective outlook.  Earlier in the morning I did a quick hand analysis of the upper air conditions at 12Z.  At that time the Low Level Jet of 45 Knots out of the SSE @ 850mb extended into southern Kansas.  At 700mb there were strong winds out of the SW (30 Knots) over the Texas panhandle.  The Jet stream at 500mb showed 50 Knot WSW winds over Amarillo.  The upper air conditions seemed to point to good speed and directional shear over the northern-northeastern Texas Panhandle.  Combining with strong instability would lead to good tornado potential.  SPC forecasted good tornado potential if the cap broke by 7pm and the potential for large tornadoes if the cap broke by 4pm.  So we headed out and drove southwest towards Texas until we got to the town of Stratford near the Texas/Oklahoma border.  We stopped in Stratford's local Library (Especially for budget conscious chasers: I highly recommend using local Public Libraries for data, such as the 20Z SPC update.  Libraries are usually free and have fast connections. Most Libraries will let you either save data on a floppy disk or print out a few pages on their printers for the price of  equivalent photo copies.) We wanted to get a weather update shortly after 3pm (the SPC 20Z Outlook).  Before we checked the data it was apparent we were already near the dry line as the stratocumulus cleared out and we had scattered cumulus with some Turkey towers overhead and to our Southwest.

The 20Z SPC outlook called for a potential for tornadoes near a warm front/dry line as a surface low moved northeast out of New Mexico across the Texas Panhandle.   At this time there was a mesoscale discussion and a PDS Tornado Watch already issued for the the Texas & Oklahoma Panhandles as well as Eastern New Mexico.  So we knew we were in the right area and we headed south to Amarillo, we drove under a cell that began to strengthen 15 miles Northwest of Amarillo.  We topped off our gas tank in Amarillo and it was off to the chase.

The "Northern" storm was rotating but did not develop any impressive structure until after it moved Northeast of Amarillo (possibly into an area where the 850mb jet was stronger since it was only at 10 knots over KAMA.)  A few rotating wall clouds appeared Northwest of Amarillo before we moved to the Northeast side of Amarillo to get into an area with a better road network.  To our south was the "Middle" storm, of the three Supercells in the PDS Tornado Watch.  It looked like a beautiful LP but I figured that there was better tornado potential with the storm to our North since it had a lower base and had produced a few rotating wall clouds by that time.

After about 6pm CDT the storm finally began to mushroom and take on a more explosive appearance.  A short time later the tornadoes started.  We could see the first low contrast tornado as it roped out.  We missed the second tornado but we were just a few miles South of tornado #3, which had a brief touchdown and proceeded to develop a rather large funnel before it weakened and roped out. 

We drove east on farm road 293 to cut through Panhandle and reach State Highway 60.  Many of the residents were outside on their front lawns watching the storm.  When we drove through Panhandle to get to Texas State Highway 60 we noticed a large white elephant trunk funnel to our northeast.  The funnel became highly visible east of town until it began to pick up dust and dirt, turning the funnel gray: a very poor contrast against a dark blue background to the Northeast of the tornado.  The funnel barely became visible from our vantage point (about 4 miles to the Southwest) as it crossed Highway 60, knocking down power lines and cutting us off from chasing it any further.

Click on an image for a larger view in separate window (close window when done with each image).

Storm slowly gets its act together. First rotating wall cloud appears. Larger rotating wall cloud forms: prompting tornado warning. Another rotating wall cloud later.
To our South: the "middle" storm. The "middle" storm was obviously a spectacular LP. Back to the north the supercell begins to intensify. The storm exhibits strong inflow with a beaver tail.
Convection begins to mushroom NE of Amarillo Tornado? A brief tornado was reported with this funnel. The funnel cloud widens, but fails to touch down again. The funnel finally ropes out.
Tornado northeast of Panhandle. Tornado grows as new wall cloud wraps around it. Supercell column looks like a giant cylinder.  Large Barrel shaped tornado stays in open country.
Tornado continues to strengthen. Close up of large barrel shaped tornado.  It is still growing. Tornadic Supercell: The tornado is not visible from our current position. ** Wedge tornado crossing Texas Highway 60. Can You See It???

**Dangerous Tornado: Large wedge with no contrast.  (** Denotes Video capture with contrast enhanced.)

The Big Tornado:

7:15pm CDT Tornado Warning

7:45pm CDT Tornado Warning

The Outbreak:

Amarillo public weather statement

Roger Hill: chased the "Turkey Storm"

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