The Best Regret: Knox City Chase- March 18th 2012

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(above)Beneath the anvil of the Knox City, Tx supercell (below) wall cloud with rapid rotation. Image

What was so great about the month of March was the storms that were observed so early in the season, to be able to chase four storms by April was a great bonus! Normally in years past it has been until April that I have got into any stellar storms, this year was a nice exception.

On march 18th we headed to Shamrock, Tx as a staging point and we were not alone. We pulled into town and there must have been over 200 chasers! I love that moment when you pick a staging point and there are tons of chasers around (sometimes), it lets you know you weren’t alone in your judgement. Although from that point on during the actual chase I could do without some of those crazy drivers around.

We stopped at a McDonald’s (free WiFi for good radar signal) and took a look at some radar and decided what to do from there. Nothing was showing on radar but we decided to leave the crowds behind and head to Childress, Tx where I was thinking some storms might initiate. About twenty minutes into our drive near Wellington, Tx we observed a large cumulus tower forming fast and was already producing a thick anvil. its location was south of Childress, Tx. So onward we went and arrived south of Childress to meet this monster up close. It had a very large rotating wall cloud and a nice,dark, well defined rain shaft. Me and my wife pulled over on some old ranch road and watched in awe. I really felt like this beast could produce a tornado any moment, but it didn’t. My storm gut was telling me head to Hollis, Oklahoma and I Informed my wife maybe we should shoot for there, but shortly after we discussed that option I glanced at the radar and saw a huge storm developing near Knox City, Tx. Being anxious, we just drove straight to what was developing.

About thirty miles from Knox City we saw that the storm went tornado warned. Adrenaline started to pump, excitement filled the air. I told my wife “This could be it, we might see a tornado this early in the season!”. We drove through the curvy roads and hill surrounding Knox City area to try to get in position to see the rear of the storm where the potential tornado would be. As we came up on this hill and through a clearing we  finally got a good glimpse of the storms structure. We could clearly identify a wall cloud rotating very rapidly. I looked over at my wife her eyes were so big, she had the look of awe, fear and respect. I kept screaming at the storm “Do it! Do it!”. It was so majestic, so violent, so graceful but a tornado was not to be.

As we get back into the truck I receive a text from my friend, Meteorologist Chris Kimble. The text stated “I hope your in Hollis, Oklahoma!” regretfully I picked up my phone, pulled up radar and saw what was very strong velocity on radar indicating a real possibility of a tornado. I kept thinking to my self that I should have trusted my gut. I should have just headed to Hollis to begin with! Turned out a tornado had been spotted and it was a storm with beautiful and epic structure.

One thing I can say is that every year I have noticed a pattern when storm chasing season begins, it’s a pattern of anticipation. Each storm chased seems a little stronger, more unique and more likely to produce a tornado until the big moment arrives. I love this build though, the hunger it brings, the climatic build to the perfect chase. It often plays like a great movie script where the best chase happens at the perfect time of the season and right when you are thinking it will not happen, it does. Even though I felt some regret, overall I felt calm and collected. I remembered that this was all part of the story of the season.

I was telling a friend just the other day that as long as I see a wall cloud on a chase, I will always be satisfied with that chase. Just seeing mother nature create such amazing storms is more than enough and I hope it always will be.

First Chase: March 16th 2012

Supercell north-east of Abernathy,Tx

The first chase is always special… and vital. It’s a new season, a new beginning and its a time to get all the chasing anxiousness out that’s been pinned up inside for months. I know for me and my wife Leslee is a time of sync. To me its crazy how our personalities work together on a chase. I have this weird sense that always tells me where we need to be and also can tell on radar what town we will need to head to meet the storm at its peak time… problem is I have terrible sense of direction. Yep, I will admit it. Most guys have this amazing sense of direction, can read any map and always know where there going. This guy does not. My wife just so happens to be the best map reader ever, so we work well together and these first chases are so vital in us getting synced up and ready for the season.

So we leave the house, cameras ready and packed, rain x on windows, full tank of gas and our chasing blood running strong. With fat smiles on our faces we hit the open road and head towards Lubbock, Texas (we live in Amarillo). So even though there is not a cloud in the sky yet… I know there will be. I checked some data the night before and again that morning and conditions were decent. Most important of all though i had that special feeling inside I get when its going to be a good chase.

Now I will add there were two sets of chasers… both somewhat famous (no names). One group was located in Childress, Tx and the other group was in Midland, Tx. I will tell you one thing I do not do is fellow chasers or look up where there going and meet up with them. I use some weather data and a lot of gut. Ninety percent of the time this combination works so I go with it, plus it always feels good to be on a storm no one else is on (very rare).

Very weird fact about me, during storm chasing season when I wake up some mornings and often know the exact towns the storms will form near… no data just this crazy, peaceful feeling that just tells my gut “go here!”. On March 16th my gut said Lubbock, Tx, despite the popular choices of others to go to Midland/Odessa or Childress.

We get to Tulia, Tx and I tell my wife maybe we should just head to Childress since that’s where everyone is hyping up the potential storm activity. I thought to my self maybe my gut was wrong… so I turn down this lone road and B line it to Childress. While we are driving about 10 miles down the road east of Tulia, my wife  says “look over there towards Lubbock!” It was the most beautiful thing I have seen since last season! A huge cumulus tower starting to form an anvil! I will tell you as a chaser, nothing is more beautiful and will get your blood running faster than when you see that first anvil of the season. Then only thing even better is the first wall cloud.

I hit the brakes, bust a U and head towards Lubbock. We are smiling ear to hear, chattering, giggling and of course breaking traffic laws enforced to warn you to maintain a certain speed. I tell her “Its finally here, our first supercell!” It was beautiful! We met it north-east of Lubbock. We got near the right/rear of the storm (generally where the wall cloud and tornadoes form) and saw its wall cloud. The smell of the rain was so sweet, so fresh. I could not believe the moment had finally arrived and we got to see our first storm. We chased it for a while down dirt roads and small towns until it weakened a bit. I will add a did form a brief funnel and some small hail but no tornado.

So with chase one down and us feeling one with each other and one with the chase, we were finally all go and ready for the season ahead. Where was the first place we went after our first big chase? Dairy Queen in Abernathy, Tx of course! It was so amazing! Just sitting there with my wife eating in this little Dairy Queen parking lot and watching the anvil of this beautiful storm fading into the horizon. A perfect beginning to what would become an epic chase season.

It wasn’t the most powerful, it wasn’t the most photogenic, but it was our first supercell and know one else was on it…

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The Call of the Storm: A New Season Begins…

This will be my seventh year to chase storms, but this season I am more excited than ever. I can remember the first year I chased, driving a 1996 Pontiac Sunfire and not knowing a thing about chasing. I would wait till a tornado warning flashed across the T.V. screen hop in my car and race towards this fast moving supercell thunderstorm across the vast Texas Panhandle plains. Of course once I caught up to these fast moving storms they were usually already dying down and any tornados that did form were already gone. I would be so frustrated. I decided after that first season I would dedicate my free time to learning all about supercells, how they formed, what conditions they thrive in and of course how to pursue them more efficiently.

Here we are seven years later, having chased hundreds of storms, reading books, going to the local National Weather Service asking questions and chasing with my friend and meteorologist Chris Kimble… I finally have become a seasoned vet. Let me tell you right now, there is no feeling in the world that can even come close to that of going on a big chase.

It starts out by me reading data from a web site predicting severe weather a day or two out from the chase. My excitement starts then, seeing what could form and where. My heart starts to beat, joy and adrenaline fills my body. That feeling of anticipation of knowing I am about to embark on an exciting journey. Perhaps with friends or even my favorite chase partner, my wife Leslee. Finally the big day arrives, the chase begins. I will confess to you right now I am not what you would call a “multi-tasker”, but when I am on a chase I become one. I will also confess that I don’t always over prepare for situations, but as a chaser, I do. So when its time to chase I can just hop in the car and fly.

The chase begins, I get in the car, smiling from ear to ear, my movements frantic, my mind in a complete state of focus. I know that storm is going to form and I cant wait hunt it down. I drive, the white lines of the road and the cars that they encompass all become blurred as I fly towards this great atmospheric opportunity. Then, after driving miles and miles I see it. Its anvil touching the atmosphere sometimes 9 miles high, the storm it self moving sometimes 60 plus miles per an hour, it awaits before me. I am ready. I know already the roads that surround it. I can see its path on radar, there is no stopping me now. The storms white glowing appearance gets darker as I get closer. I see its belly, dark churning of clouds, the wall cloud, its inflow where its pulling warm moist air inside, I can see its outflow and shelf cloud where it’s pushing cold air out. It’s literally a moving, breathing atmospheric phenomenon. My emotions cycle through many stages, from awe, to anticipation, to fear. Not a fear that keeps me from pursuing, but a fearful state of curiosity. I think you must always tap into this state to always be aware what nature can do and safely respect what it will do. This will always keep me aware of the safety of my fellow passengers.

So the moment arrives. I am haunted by its dark beauty. Its winds raging, its hail falling and its lighting crashing. It can only be described as natures rock show and I am its loyal roadie. Its funnel begins to peek down from is pronounced wall cloud, teasing me behind its light skirt of rain. Like hormonal adolescent my veins surge, I want more. I want the satisfaction of watching it in its seductive dance across the warm grassy grounds of the plains. Finally in this climatic state, the most rare thing happens, she dances, her twirling tail touches the ground. The grace of her movements and precision of her determined path pulls up dirt, flattens the soft grass and churns the once mighty trees across the landscape. Moments pass and as quickly as she began, she is gone. Roping out and fleeing the dark skies. I see this once mighty storm begin to thin out and slowly vanish across the plains.

I am left with the humbling satisfaction of knowing that I saw the birth of this once small cumulous cloud grow in a giant supercell only to eventually fade like a ghostly apparition across the dawn of the plains. It leaves behind only its puddles for me to ponder and its memories of the journey it bestowed onto me on this single spring day.

People ask me why I chase. Its simple, it’s because of the journey these storms take me on. Maybe its towns I’ve never seen, conversations i’ve never had or even seeing the atmosphere create something that only happens a few times a year in just a small area of the world. Simply put, every chase matures me a little more, leaving my respect for life a little greater and bonds with friends a little tighter. Thats why I chase.

So with a new season approaching, I can only wait with anticipation as I know the good times that await, the memories that will be made chances that will be taken and this will all take place in one great destination… beneath the anvil.