From The Vault – 27 May 2001 – People Chaser Derecho Video!

From The Vault – 27 May 2001 – People Chaser Derecho Video!

Commentary adapted from the original SUMM.

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This is one of the most memorable chase day’s I’ve ever had, and I ended up seeing some of the most amazing structure I have ever seen.

Started the day with a trip out to the Amarillo National Weather Service Forecast Office (many thanks to Meteorologist in Charge Jose Garcia who welcomed me for the first of three consecutive morning visits). Amazing to see that AMA NWS FO almost devoid of chasers… one day I too will have a laptop, the tool that allows the chaser to be fully independent! I chatted briefly with Chuck and Vicky Doswell and a father and son chase team from Oregon.

With sfc and mandatory maps in hand it was back to the motel where I joined John Moore and his daughter Beth to check out some model guidance (along with phone discussions with Al Moller and Lon Curtis). Along with John’s and Beth’s chase partner Jim Williams (Los Angeles, CA) the caravan included Greg Breneman (Chandler, AZ) and Linda Kitchen and Kathy Velasquez (AZ). Matt Crowther and Betsy Abrams (Weather Channel – Atlanta) soon arrived and we all left to head N to play the boundary in SW Kansas (we briefly saw Dave Gold/Silver Lining Tours at the Gas station before leaving AMA). I am not as inclined to caravan as I was in past, but wanted to today as I was going to into a data void (as everything library-wise would be closed on a Sunday) and many of these folks are old friends!

What followed became a ‘Tale of Two Chases’; the first with the caravan that saw the storms up in KS, and the second portion of the chase on my own in NW OK.

15z Surface hand analysis:

SW KS was the the target with good sfc dewpoints and surface boundaries. The day also advertised stronger deep-layer shear than in any of the previous days, prime lapse rates (again!), and the potential influence of an weak upstream short-wave trough. We headed N up 287 to Stratford and NE on 54 through the OK Panhandle, which was one of the few area where my cell phone did not work. Kudos to Canada’s Bell Mobility for having me ‘set up’ to work in such a wide area of the plains (I had a 1600 minute, all inclusive bundle in cheap Canadian Dollars)! It seems that some local cell companies just won’t participate in the roaming agreements. As soon as I crossed in to Kansas there was an immediate return to full service (I had a similar problem with one cell near Big Spring on 26 May).

Our caravan stopped for gas in Guymon – except I had to top up on oil (2 litres – hey, its an old, but reliable car) and didn’t have time to get gas – a circumstance that would greatly influence events later in the day! We headed up to Liberal, KS, got into chase mode (very near where John Moore and I watched the 22 May, 1995 supercell) and headed N towards Garden City, KS. I talked to Al Moller who insisted we adjust our target to Dodge City Kansas – I couldn’t catch why as our connection was bad – and passed this on to the caravan on the 2m radio. We headed E just S of Garden City and got onto US 50/400 and headed SE towards DDC. Disorganized cells were strung out from near GCK to N of DDC, and things didn’t look all that great (but it was still early!). During out trip to DDC I noticed a Kansas Highway Patrol car on the other side of the road – and he was just finishing up with an obvious chase vehicle. He saw me and the dash mounted video camera, wheeled it around and pulled up right behind me (I was last in the caravan). He stayed behind me for a while and after seeing no reason to pull me over turned off onto a county road (as we were traveling at the speed limit).

As we approached the SW part of Dodge City we noticed the cell to our east was becoming better organized and this lowering formed rapidly. As we were pulling into town right at 4:30 (2011 Edit – where the video begins) we discussed having to get south and avoid the ‘rush hour’ traffic. We turned south to literally ‘get the hell outta Dodge’! As we moved south and then east the clearly non-rotating lowering took on the shape of a large cone!

Unfortunately, I did not take any stills when I stopped as my meter was reading that I need to clamp/tripod and I did not take a chance shooting handheld – as I did successfully on my 24 May sunset shots and later the same day on the structure shots in NW OK (2011 Edit – the Pentax ME Supers I was using back then had a known and very frustrating issue with inconsistent metering – Digital is so much better!).  

I wonder if the increased social interaction when stopping in a caravan can distract one’s judgment – I also wonder if I and other chasers can be (even subconsciously) less vigilant vis a vis lightning issues when dealing with the social aspects of chasing when caravaning or meeting other chasers in the field. I should learn to better balance my natural gregarious desire to say hi with that of safety!

The tornado look-alike prompted over 150 calls to the Dodge City National Weather Service Forecast Office (which is between our location and the cloud lowering in the image) who were astute enough to keep things limited to a Severe Thunderstorm Warning (although someone apparently went ahead and blew the sirens in Dodge City). Kudos DDC NWSFO! 

I continued to SE of Dodge with the best cloud base rotation of the day evolving to our north. Of course ‘Murphy’s Law’ came into play as I had inadvertently touched the ‘Special Effects’ button on the camcorder as I made an adjustment while mounted on the dashboard. Ergo, the part of the chase with the best cloud based action is captured in ‘Mosaic’. You can guess the nature of my comments when I got to our next stop and took the camera off the dash to film and noticed the error. Why in tarnation they put this crap on video cameras I don’t know! I continued SE of DDC with John, Beth, Jim, et al.

While the caravan began to encounter other chasers and happily exchange stories, I began to become concerned about my fuel situation (I was now on 1/3rd of a tank and began to realize how far I was from a urban area – I really had it laid out for me as the caravan pulled into a town and the power went off just as I saw the gas station!)! As we headed W on US 160 from Ashland it was evident that the nature of the convection was changing. I really want to thank John Moore for patiently giving me all my potential road options over the 2m – thus allowing me to keep moving with my eyes on the road. I am now sure that if I had to stop and study my options I would have been ‘eaten’ by the impending derecho and missed the structure you’ll see below!

I decided on the south option down US 283, and noticing the evolution of the convection suggested that John et al do the same for meteorological reasons! They did and we stopped one last time together just inside the OK border – the shelf structure was beginning to get much more organized and was awesome (I think I shot some video)!

I chose Laverne, Ok as a target to get gas (as I had in ’92 & ’94 and hoped there were still stations in town) bid my friends farewell and got down to US 64 and E a few miles to head south again on US 283. As soon as I stated down 283 I began to notice I was not pulling ahead of the monster on my tail. Something hit my windshield hard from above – it was dark and made the glass shudder (probably a wind swept bird). I pushed hard to get to Laverne – the key was to get there while there was still power (if there was any to begin with!) but this derecho was still right on my tail (the speed limit in Oklahoma is 70 m.p.h. and that’s all I’ll say – this was now a safety issue).

So I get to Laverne and saw a station on the right with power on and an open fueling slot. It had old style ‘analog’ pumps that were FAST and I put $20 worth in with a perfect pump! I made the quick payment and made some quick comments about the impending derecho (now entering the town). I stuck with the speed limit in town as the storm started to envelope me, but floored it as soon as I hit the open road. I had never seen a storm move so fast. Over a period of about ten minutes I put enough distance between myself and the storm to start to gain some perspective. I had the ‘Mother of all Haboobs’ (to quote another chaser’s assessment) to my west and a HP stack of plates to my east! I never got around to photographing the haboob (I *may* have some video – I certainly have the memories!), but I did get the derecho depicted below.

South of Laverne (exact locations and all times for this sequence are pending video review and I can’t access the audio portion of the video with my current VCR – this will be rectified and updated in the near future). Looking east. I was awe struck!

Further south on 283 – still between Laverne and the Canadian river on US 283 (exact locations and time for this sequence are pending video review). This and the following two images were metering insufficient light to hand hold the shot. There was NO TIME to set up the window clamps and shutter release – this thing was moving that fast! As you can see, I held the shots steady and they exposed properly! Lesson learned again: always try to get the shot!

I will never forget this scene. These two images were taken just south of the Canadian River on US 283. Both were window clamped and cable released. This is as it was – all purple with some pink – and metallic and laminar (no alterations made to these images – they are true to the slides which were true to the sky). The image was photographed at approximately 1/4 to 1/8th of a second and the pull off I used offered the ability to circle around in my vehicle to determine the best framing opportunities.

There are other slides I took in this sequence and it is remarkable how quickly the structure changed from the image above. I am glad I found the spot to take this sequence at just the right time. And with all issues surrounding chase ‘hordes’, it was ironic that the most amazing HP structure I’ve ever seen was while back chasing alone (though Amos Magliocco, Chuck and Vicki Doswell, and especially Bobby Eddins were also on this ‘derecho that evolved into a spaceship’ for varying periods and had differing perspectives).

I really wish that the folks I had left 40-50 miles up the road had also had the opportunity to see this in all its glory this as well (at least they saw the very impressive early stages). Because I drive an old (but great!) car that required some extra attention back at Guymon, OK and I had no time to gas up at that time, I had to pull south and had the opportunity to be in position to see these images. It was then my skill as a sky observer and chaser and my wits that allowed me to judge and stay ahead of this monster derecho and get these images (especially in judging and dealing with the seven mile eastward jog that brought me into Arnett, OK, and into the edge of jaws of this monster!) . Of that I am very proud!

Again, thanks to AMA NWSFO for the maps and hospitality, to the early day nowcasters Al Moller & Lon Curtis, and to John Moore for the late day navigation help! It is my intention to make sure that images and video are forwarded to the appropriate NWS offices and SPC.