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Texas Hill Country & Storm-Chasing

Part 17:  West Texas

  After the big storms over the weekend, David really felt the show was over for the most part, but there were some possibilities in western Texas, so since everyone was dead tired, we spent Monday driving from Childress to Lubbock and declared it a "hard down day" to give the group time to recoup.  Bird-wise, the most interesting thing on the drive was a Chihuahuan Raven, and surprisingly, the Kestrel turned out to be a new trip bird!  Mississippi Kites seemed to be all over, hunting in pairs. I think it was this hotel that provided a "free" Happy Hour (even I took advantage of that one), so several of us gathered there at 5:30 where Alister had us in stitches telling his stories, the best one being of the firemen who virtually destroyed his house trying to get a squirrel out of the vent!

Tuesday David didn't seem too hopeful, but there was a possibility for some activity off the Davis Mountains and even as far south as Big Bend (!), so we headed south but ended up exploring a squall line developing around Seminole.  Gene needed some flash flood pictures J so we decided to ride out the storm, and experiencing that gust front with torrential rain and zero visibility was really something!  (We were sitting in a parking lot, not driving, as were most people on the road!)  We were expecting substantial hail, though, and that never materialized.  But flooding there was: most of the streets became rivers very quickly, and our British friends were especially awestruck, never having seen anything like it in London!  (David mentioned in passing that he and Bill Gargan almost died in a flood, and when he left it at that everyone in our van begged for the details...)

We decide to follow a squall line that at least might let us experience heavy rains...


...which we did (along with everyone else in Seminole)!

  Their drainage system was good, however, so we were soon on our way.  During a snack and potty stop (where the Japanese van got a flat and we all got a kick out of the fact that their cameraman was Johnny-on-the-spot even for that), they noticed that some supercells were forming along the leading edge of the thing, so off we went, barreling east on US 180 and north past Fort Griffin State Park, tracking what turned out to be a beautiful little supercell (that did form a tornado 30 minutes previously, we found out...), so we enjoyed that until it started to fall apart (along with singing Grasshopper Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlarks).  Then we headed south a little and experienced this giant shelf cloud rolling over our heads (colloquially known as "The Whale's Mouth"), and when the gust front stole my hat it was time to jump into the vans and head east!


Supercell that formed on the leading edge of the squall line, and did produce a tornado (30 minutes before we got to it…)


...but that wall cloud looked pretty organized, so we were hopeful as we drove into the jaws of the Beast!


Unfortunately our wall cloud turns into a "gecko", then falls apart altogether!


It looked like it wanted to form a funnel, but then petered out and just dumped a bunch of rain...


Heading south, we encounter a huge shelf cloud that we stop to enjoy!


The storm provides lots of good photo ops as we let it pass right overhead!  Once the shelf cloud is directly overhead, you’re treated to the rough-looking cloud base, affectionately known as The Whale's Mouth!

Meanwhile, the cell we had given up on was re-forming again (figures—that happens a lot...), but we weren't in a position to chase it.  But cells were forming left and right, although there was nothing tornadic.  As we raced ahead of the shelf cloud that had overtaken us (almost running over a Turkey in the process), another Harrier hunted unconcernedly (they must like these storms), and when we stopped again to admire the storm structure, a large flock of Black Vultures were taking advantage of the turbulence and circling in the distance, gradually making their way overhead (David said it wasn't a thermal as such, which we normally associate with circling raptors).  Some Turkey Vultures were circling closer to the ground.  On the way to Wichita Falls, we ended up driving right through The Beast (as David called it) and again experienced torrential rain and heavy winds (some of the gusts were in excess of 70 mph, they were saying).  No major hail to speak of, though... Meanwhile, we lost Gary again: the water had done a job on his engine, so he was hanging back in Seminole to get it fixed…


Racing ahead of the storm...


Gene and Bill S (I think) admire another shelf cloud

We wheeled into Wichita Falls (Karen was thrilled to hear a major storm was bearing down on them L), had dinner at a great Chinese buffet, then called it a night.       

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