I couldn’t put into words how meaningful and special this chase truly was. Not only was it the first chase of the season, but it was with someone very dear to me, my aunt Salinda.
I woke up that morning of March 19th and was still groggy and honestly sore from the previous day chasing. Its crazy, but with the tension of muscles during intense moments of chasing and driving hundreds of miles, you can sometimes really feel a chase and it’s effects on your body the next morning.
I take a seat on the couch, flip open computer and check the SPC (Storm Prediction Center) website and there it was, slight risk of supercell thunderstorms in the area of my hometown in Abilene, Tx! I have always wanted to chase this area but have never gotten the opportunity to chase in this area. Let me add that the day before, I told my wife I was not chasing for at least a couple of days to recover mentally from our chase. Needless to say it didn’t take me long to change my mind.
As the season began, me and my Aunt Salinda were talking on the phone almost daily about different storms hitting the U.S. and I would also share with her stories about the chases so far in the season. I called her after the Knox City chase and was telling her about how cool it was and went on to tell her that one day, if the storms are going to be near Abilene, I was picking her up and taking her on her first storm chase. Little did we know that opportunity would come the very next day. So that morning after checking SPC I called her up and told her guess what… pack what you need, i’m picking you up in 4 hours and we are going chasing. There was one problem, it was already noon and so I was going to have to fly if we were going to catch the storms likely initiating around 3:00 or 4:00 pm.
I got to Lubbock, Texas about 1:30 and noticed a restaurant off of the highway at the Chisum Travel Center in Lubbock called Klemke’s BBQ Joint. I will say right now what followed the next few moments would change my taste buds and life for that matter…forever. Despite me being in a hurry, my stomach did not care and BBQ was just what I was craving. I walked in the door and smelled this appetizing, smoky aroma that consumed this little travel center. I was cautious considering the location of this BBQ joint, but I was also hungry enough that I really didn’t care either. So I walk up to the counter and this older woman with a sharp southern accent and southern charm to match, takes my order. I see on the menu a BBQ Jalapeno Sausage Sandwich and naturally I order two of them. After a couple a minutes my order was ready and the simple brown paper bag with its glorious contents was laid on the counter. I get in my truck and am back on the road. I open the container and realize right away that this sandwich is a two hander. So as I steer with my knees I take the first bite and am immediately blown away! There was an actually snapping sound as I bit into this amazing jalapeno sausage. The sauce was a smoky, sweet and subtle compliment to the sausage. Though this is a small chapter in this epic chase story I had to mention it considering it was the best sandwich I have ever eaten :-)
I arrive in Merkel, Tx by 4:00 and pick up my aunt. We then head towards Clyde, Tx where some storms have already developed but it isn’t long before I realize the storms have formed a line (very bad, I only chase isolated supercells) and I quickly stop to see what we do next. I pull up radar and then see a storm that has formed south of San Angelo, Tx and another close to Junction, Tx. (very far away) So traveling faster than I’d like to admit, we head south.
Along the way we pass through a town called Llano, Tx, one of my favorite little towns in all of Texas. I then began to explain to my aunt how for some reason I have always got this warm, happy feeling whenever I have passed through this town. She chuckled and explained to me that in fact several of my family members were actually from there and were buried there. I couldn’t believe it, all these years and I never knew that! So here I was passing through towns where my family roots began with my aunt by my side as we approach this mighty supercell. It was truly special to say the least.
The skies grew darker and darker as we approached Mason, Tx. I could see it was definitely a high precipitation supercell (very dangerous to chase) and visibility was low. I check my radar and see that the storm had went tornado warned. My heart races, I can’t see any structure of the storm through the rain but could tell on radar that a tornado was very close. I nervously drive though the thick rain shaft and then it happened. A break in the rain, a lull in the wind and a clearing to our west revealed an epic site, a tornado on the ground. I scream to my aunt “There it is! A tornado on the ground!”I hit the brakes and pull over, frantically trying to find a camera. My aunt says calmly “I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it… wow.” There we stand, in the area where my family roots began, beside my aunt on this lowly road outside of Mason starring a beautiful tornado as it briefly touches the ground only to go back up into the sky. It was a truly perfect moment. If I would have gone one mile an hour slower that day we would have never seen it. If I didn’t stop to eat that mouth-watering sandwich, this moment might not have ever happened. We chased a little while longer but tornado never made another appearance . Just to have that moment on the side of the road and see it for only a moment still made my year. It’s a memory I am proud to have shared with her and a memory in chasing I will cherish forever.
Chasing storms and finding roots in my favorite destination, beneath the anvil…