May 25, 2018: Supercells and Lightning Fire in Texas Panhandle

May 28 2018 Convective OutlookWhile not the type of supercells that we expect to see, Tour 2 witnessed a common and extremely dangerous result of lightning after a low-precipitation supercell started several wildland fires north of Allison, Texas.

Lightning is a major factor in wildland fires. On average, the number of acres burned per fire is higher with lightning fires than from fires caused by humans, according to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association.

In addition to causing fires, lightning strikes are one of the biggest risks associated with thunderstorms, and this would also include storm chasing since we’re often with the range of a lightning strike. The general rule-of-thumb is: if you can hear thunder, you’re close enough to be struck by lightning.

Much of the Texas Panhandle has been rain deficient for several years now, so it doesn’t take much for a wildland fire to get started.

We stood in awe as lightning was hitting the ground around us and nearly every lightning strike was setting off a new fire to the point that local firefighting crews were getting overwhelmed while some fires flared up from a spark to engulfing small forested areas within mere seconds.

May 04, 2007: Arnett, Oklahoma – Tornadic Supercell

May 4th originally brought us to western Oklahoma along the border of the Texas Panhandle where we intercepted a severe warned supercell that quickly produced a needle shaped tornado which lasted for nearly 20 minutes.  This supercell would later track northeast across the Kansas state line and become tornadic again after dark, producing the first ever EF-5 tornado (on the new Enhanced Fujita Scale).  Due to the fact that these events took place in different states and a few hours apart, we’re entering them as different events and there will be another entry for the Kiowa County, Kansas tornado that struck Greenburg on the evening of May 4th.

April 23, 2007: Tornadoes near Protection, Kansas

day1otlk_20070423_2000_prtWhat a day this turned out to be! Not only did the folks on Tour 2 get an up and personal meeting with a tornado on the 21st of April. But, just two days later they saw seven tornadoes in Southwestern Kansas on the 23rd!

The day presented many challenges with a couple of interesting target locations. The Texas Panhandle and southwestern Kansas were both in-play.

The Storm Prediction Center issued a Slight Risk area extending from near Lubbuck, Texas to northwest in extreme southwestern Nebraska. Additionally, there was a Moderate Risk area covering most of western Kansas.

Starting off from Amarillo, Texas, our original target was the northern Texas panhandle. But, it became evident by early afternoon that it was the wrong play as moisture was just too limited in this area with low dewpoint values. We repositioned on the second area of interest in southwestern Kansas and northwestern Oklahoma.

The first storms of the day were intercepted near Buffalo, Oklahoma. We witnessed our first brief tornadoes of the day (I believe there were three out of this storm) just to the north.

That cell died out and a new cell formed on its southern flank. As a result, we drove north to intercept the new supercell as it crossed into Kansas.

When the storm finally caught up to us it went crazy! Producing tornado after tornado for a show that lasted several hours.

As the evening progressed and sunlight grew dimmer, we moved a few miles to the west and continued shooting video of this tornado producing beast.

We caught a total of at least seven tornadoes between these two supercells. Spending much of the early evening hours photographing lightning out of this thing as it moved away from us to the northeast.

What an incredible day for an already incredible tour!

May 29, 2004: Central Kansas – Tornadic LP Supercell

day1probotlk_20040529_1630_torn_prtMay 29th was the type of day you live to chase for, a “classic triple point” with a strong dryline punch in central Kansas and a deep low pressure system near Wichita and 1800 CAPE on the DDC 0z sounding.  SPC had issued a high risk area covering most of the central plains, a very large area which was more or less useless when you need to narrow it down to a single corn field.  I choose to play the dryline punch as opposed to the triple point and it paid off extremely well.  My late afternoon cumulus towers began to build and shortly after a couple of low precip supercells formed between Highway 54 and the OK/KS state border.  We could monitor both storms from one location, but quickly got into position when a wall cloud began forming on the southern cell.  With more cells popping up just south of the OK border, the pressure began to build, our storm was rotating, but it wasn’t in a hurry to produce a tornado.  Meanwhile, tornado warnings were being issued across north-central Oklahoma, and we had time to get to them.  I decided to wait as patiently as possible and not long after that, our storm tapped into some extremely moist air with dewpoints in the high 60s and began to spin like a top.  We were positioned less than a mile from the first tornado formed, giving us easy access to pursue the tornado for several miles during its 31-minute lifespan.

April 23, 2003: Clarendon, Texas – Tornadic Supercell


Not the most productive storm chasing day of 2003, but we ended up with a brief tornado near Clarendon, Texas.

The Storm Prediction Center issued a Moderate Risk for the area in and around Wichita Falls. A much larger Slight Risk area extended from the Gulf of Mexico to the Colorado/Nebraska Panhandle.

We started our day from Liberal, KS. The initial target area was near Wichita Falls. However, as we were driving south through the Texas Panhandle we crossed the Dryline and made the decision not to proceed to our initial target near Wichita Falls.

Most of the day was spent monitoring conditions via satellite. We parked at a truck stop along Interstate-40 at the State Highway 70 Intersection.

This is about 25 miles north of Clarendon. By mid-afternoon, we visually noticed towering cumulus to our southwest and opted to begin our day’s chase operations.

Storm development began in dry air. As the developing storm crossed the Dryline boundary, the skies grew dark very quickly. At times we encountered some large hail, about golf ball size. The windshield on the storm chasing tour van ended up getting a large crack in it.

Chasing in this part of Texas is always a wonderful experience. The paved rural roads greatly help in intercepting storms without risk of getting stuck. We got on the storm and stayed with the updraft base, which at times became wrapped in rain with a strong rear-flank downdraft present.

Staying southeast of the east traveling storm, there was a quick break in the occluding rain curtain that gave us a quick peek at a tornado as it was weakening.

All in all, as stated it wasn’t the most productive day in terms of tornadoes, but any day with a tornado is worthy of a celebratory dinner. We traveled to Amarillo and had dinner at The Big Texan, a landmark of the Texas Panhandle.