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Texas Hill Country & Storm-Chasing

Part 15:  Outbreak Day!


The next day was supposed to be a similar outbreak day, and we actually ended up crossing the damage path of the Greensburg tornado. Unfortunately for the locals, it started looking like another tornado might develop in the same exact area, which is unprecedented, David said. Going through Greensburg was impossible, of course, so we had to plan our course carefully. Bird-wise it was quite productive as not only were we close to Quivira NWR but many things were utilizing the flooded fields in the wake of the Greensburg storm: lots of Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, and Shovelers were about, and while there were shorebirds, the only ones I could ID on the fly were dowitchers.  Roger pointed out some pheasants (new trip bird) to me that we almost ran down chasing the storm! At one point we scared up a flock of songbirds and one of them made me think, "Wait a minute!  They don't have Hooded Orioles up here!!" But with a little thought the only other candidate that would have even a remotely similar pattern at a glance would be a Bobolink...


David plans our attack route while Gene looks on hopefully!  Live data from Roger’s computer in the van help determine where the best action is going to be.

SPC’s version of The Scream


Poor Greensburg is in the thick of it for a second day in a row!


Damage from the Greensburg tornado


It didn’t take long to find some significant developments, and also as David predicted, the area was stuffed with storm-chasers! Our first funnel was a huge white nubbin, very pretty, but just a funnel, or so we thought until the guys later analyzed their video and discovered that there was a debris cloud under it, however brief! Tornado #1! Shortly after that another white funnel descended, and although I couldn’t tell if it had "touched down" or not as we screamed along the road, the guys could, so I took Tornado #2 on faith! 


Left:  Red box outlines a tornado warning for our area!  Right:  Tail cloud, sometimes mistaken for a funnel


The group watches an ominously-developing wall cloud; something's happening!


We have a funnel!!    (...and we thought that’s all it was until analysis from the video showed a small debris cloud on the ground, officially making it a tornado!)


We had many more funnels that didn’t quite make it...



An outbreak day for storm-chasers is somewhat analogous to a good fallout day at High Island...


  Gene and Roger try to will the storm into "dropping a hose"...  Meanwhile, we’re still under a tornado warning!  (NWS will issue a warning based solely on rotation picked up by radar, not necessarily based on an actual tornado seen on the ground…)  Our second true tornado only briefly stayed on the ground and had truncated by the time I was able to shoot it...

We were chasing that one on a slick dirt road as well, and while David was afraid of getting stuck, Alister was pining from the other van, "It’s not that bad!!" But we ended up turning around (which is a trick for five vans) and heading out in another direction. Radar showed another huge monster, so off we went, and before long Roger excitedly announced that we had a huge wedge on the ground, and at first all I could see was what looked like a rain core, but as we stopped and hopped out, sure enough, it formed into a truly huge tornado (actually a cone) that made its way across the road! Alister’s dashboard videocam was running during all of this, and when the rain hit, the scene changed from awestruck captivation to a mad scramble to the vans (complete with Barry trying to get in the wrong one)! That was Tornado # 3!


It’s barely light enough to photograph this huge monster that went barreling across the highway!

I think David wanted to get north, so we had to go east to get to a north road, but just as we started yet another tornado formed right next to us, just a couple hundred feet away!  Since it was heading away from us Roger let us all out, and unfortunately it was too dark for my camera, but Alister got awesome video of the thing; I was just transfixed watching the rotation through my bins! It was like a giant dust devil, attached to a white cone in the sky! Tornado #4, up close and personal!

Tornado #4 formed right next to us!  (Photo taken by Roger Hill)

We finally got on our north road, when yet another tornado formed to our right, this one a multi-vortex tornado! We didn’t stop for that one (#5), as we were chasing what we thought was our original Big Guy, but again, the guys analyzed the movement and the shape, and determined that this was yet another large cone that had formed, making it Tornado #6!!

What turned out to be Tornado #6 makes its way past an oil pump!

But the excitement wasn’t over: David was watching the radar, and he noticed yet another tornado bearing down on us that we couldn’t see! So he ordered us to turn around and get on the eastbound road, which we did, but we ended up behind the three-van Japanese crew (which was going way too slow, naturally)! So while David rolled down the window and in his own way attempted to encourage them to get a move on (they may not have understood English, but I doubt few people could have misinterpreted his meaning…), I looked behind us and only saw rain at first, but then emerging out of the rain was a tornado along the lines of the famous "Underpass Tornado", right on our heels! I was too awestruck to be scared (and like the rest of the guys bemoaned, if it had only been a couple of hours earlier in the day—what photos!!)! We obviously got ahead of it, but that made Tornado #7!!! What a day! Although Big Guy (#3) did end up flattening some buildings and was herewith dubbed the Macksville Tornado, no one was hurt to my knowledge, and it just proved the point that the vast majority of these things are harmless.

We made plans to bed down in Woodward, Oklahoma that night, but the excitement wasn’t over: there was yet another tornado literally on a collision course with us between us and Woodward! We found an intersection and decided to wait a few minutes, giving the storm time to pass to our south, and in the meantime lines and lines of cars were coming up from the south, evidently evacuating (it was close to midnight already)! We continued on through a little town where the sirens were screaming and the cops were patrolling the empty streets, and it was quite eerie; were it not for the fact that we knew (thanks to the radar) that the storm had blown itself out, it would have been quite scary!

Go back to the Day of the Greensburg Tornado

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