Storm chasing is, in relative terms, a new kind of tourism. Television shows like In Search Of… (1978) and movies like Twister (1996) introduced professional storm chasing to the wider public, and over the last twenty years or so, a number of tour companies have sprung up offering people the chance to join in with the chase.
The Adventure took us over 3500 miles in 7 days, and through eight different states including Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. During this trip we saw SOFTBALL sized hail, 4 - 5 tornados, an amazing cumulonimbus cloud mushrooming right in front of us, and incredible thunder and lightning storms.
As our guests know, we stop at local Tornado Alley eateries as time allows. Headline regional fare includes Tex-Mex, barbecue, big farmer breakfasts and, of course, chicken fried steak (CFS), sometimes referred to as the “National Dish of Texas.” Our president and native Texan Martin Lisius is sharing his tasty chicken fried steak recipe for our guests to enjoy at home.
Bill was wanting to drive up to Rapid City, SD, where models were wanting to initiate thunderstorms. Along the way, we stopped in Edgemont, SD for a pit/fuel stop, and we noticed a cell a few miles away. Bill liked the look of this storm, and it was isolated from the activity near Rapid City. We decided to hedge our bets with this cell, and we definitely were not disappointed!
I made my way to OKC on Tuesday, May 2, and with Bob C. and Bill S., rounded up five guests from Tour 1 and Tour 2 for a chase into northwestern OK. We left OKC really late, at 5 p.m., but that was not too much of a problem as the upper-level support was late and nothing had developed yet. I was hoping that the models which showed early evening development into extreme western OK would come to fruition.
The models that we looked at mid-morning were a bit weak and wishy-washy with regard to storm development near the surface low and down the dry line. It is never fun to wake up and see a downgrade by SPC, but I did not necessarily disagree in this case. I think I told the group that we would be playing the triple-point at the surface low. The instability and shear would be excellent to our east and southeast later on, towards Salina, and we would just have to cross our fingers that the cap would not be too strong.
The look of the sky was not helping too much yet. Chris was a little nervous about chasing south of I-40 in the eastern TX PH, where there had been flooding problems the previous evening. I elected to stick with the NW OK target. We were there, and on paper it was looking about as good as the southern play. We went back north to Shattuck…and north to Laverne. Deja vu! Eventually some towers developed…yes!
After about another one-half mile, we stopped and got out to see a gigantic dust tube spinning rapidly just to our WSW, perhaps a half-mile away. (CR 39 goes WSW-ENE here.) The tornado moved rather methodically to the NNE, and we were able to watch without too much concern for our safety now! I managed a bunch of stills and video — this tornado was quite strong and quite close and absolutely spectacular. What a moment this was!
I made my way east on I-10 and, with the help of Chris, determined that the place to be by 2 or 3 p.m. was Fort Stockton, right on I-10 in Pecos County. I arrived in town around 2 p.m., and clouds were starting to build above the sun-bathed desert landscape. The Storm Prediction Center was not especially impressed with the setup today