Wednesday, January 4, 2017

November 16 2015 Chase Log


A surprisingly potent nocturnal outbreak on the High Plains becomes the most prolific tornado event I've chased in the Texas Panhandle. After initial concerns of cloud cover and meager moisture, multiple large tornadoes traipsed across the eastern Texas Panhandle, with Pampa coming out lucky after 2 encounters with some beastly wedges.

What a day this turned out to be. This day had appeared roughly 5 days out as the last hurrah on the Great Plains for some spinning water vapor, with a rather impressive trough progged to make it's way through the Four Corners region. Initial concerns of cloud cover due to rapid moisture return over southern Great Plains and southwesterly 850s across much of the Panhandle/western Oklahoma, which is almost assuredly a death knell west of the 98 degrees, appeared more and more likely with each passing run of the GFS and Euro. The trough coming in slower also exacerbated worries about a late show or a complete no go for initiation before dark.

I was unable to leave Norman before the afternoon, but was blessedly able to bum a ride with Sean Ernst on his way out. It became incredibly clear by midday that the eastern Panhandle beyond the 10% was the place to be and we set off at a rapid clip to hopefully reach the edge of the Llano Estacado before things got good. As we got west of Shamrock and began our slow ascent, the first healthy looking storm of the day exploded to life near Tulia not long after 21Z.

We raced to get in position as it entered Palo Duro Canyon. As it began to make it's way into the canyon, it predictably took on a more beefy radar display, and the storm visually had a solid updraft with a massive, thick anvil. We jumped off I-40 at Texas 70 and quickly made our way past Howardwick, met up with some other people from OU in Clarendon and then ran west towards Goodnight on US 287.

Just east of Goodnight, we got our first good view of the base in fading light. A blocky wall cloud was emerging from the rim of the canyon and was rapidly drawing in scud.

We didn't attempt to move closer as we had found the perfect vantage point on the flat edge of the Llano. Shortly after the photo above, a thin funnel began to snake down and I watched the first tornado of the day briefly move to the southwest. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my tripod in haste to get out of Norman, making the shots I did get incredibly poor.

The tornado fizzled and shrank away as the base became more and more featureless in fading light.

We continued west after the tornado's death and entered the small community of Goodnight (named for Charles Goodnight, the scout and cattleman who partially owned the old JA Ranch which included Palo Duro Canyon). We stopped to watch the storm bringing up the rear but didn't note anything of particular interest as it casually drifted north towards Groom.

But as we continued west towards Claude we noted a suspicious lowering back in the rain that eventually became hazily visible as an ongoing tornado just north of Groom. We quickly turned heel and headed back east, attempting to use 287 to get leverage and then jump north. As most chasers already know the roads on the edge of the Llano are unforgiving, especially after dark, which hampered our ability to catch back up. After hitting one particularly bad divot, we decided to just haul it back to 40 as supercells continued to increase in number and tornadic activity.

Shortly after running east on I-40 we stopped at the edge of the Caprock near the Gray County Rest Area as a flash to our north brightened the base of the now beastly supercell running through Pampa. It illuminated the first Pampa wedge in full and we sat and watched as the tornado and parent supercell continue north and east away from Pampa. The parent storm was particularly impressive looking, with a very small to non-existent anvil but a rock solid updraft tower that was still visible with lightning and the last rays of light on the High Plains.

After watching this display we noted that there was no way we would catch up to the other tornadic supercells now rampaging across the northeastern Panhandle and decided to make our way home. All in all, a fantastic day that would have been my #1 had it occurred during the day (and maybe a bit further west back onto the Staked Plains).

Chase Stats 
Miles Driven: 530.8
Cost: $20
Tornadoes: 3
Hail: None
Highest Wind: N/A

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