April 30, 2018 Chase - Eastern Texas Panhandle Storms

by John Farley

There was some doubt the night before whether storms would form at all, though if they did, there was a good chance for severe storms. Moisture would be a little better than the previous day, with dewpoints in the 50s to around 60, and instability a little better, too. But although the dryline would surge back to the east during the day, the corridor of moist, unstable air would be narrow, and capping might prevent any storms from forming at all. Models disagreed on whether the cap would be broken, but the HRRR was becoming somewhat more insistent on the idea that at least a few storms would form in the Texas Panhandle southward into west Texas. If they did form, they would be farther east than yesterday, in the central to eastern parts of the Panhandle rather than the western part and eastern NM as on the previous day. And if storms did break the cap and develop, there would again be enough directional shear for supercells, although the stronger wind fields were still one day away.

Keeping all this in mind, I set a target of Turkey, TX after overnighting in Amarillo. I arrived there in time to have lunch and check data in a park at the west edge of town. By now, there were hints at light showers forming, weak elevated convection above the cap. The showers were widely spaced along a NNE-SSW line that ran roughly through Turkey. By the time I finished lunch, I could see that the heaviest ones were in the southern part of the line so I dropped south to Matador. By the time I got there, I could see that the axis of the line on which the showers were developing was already east of there, so I headed east to Paducah, TX. As I did, I could see that one of the showers to the NE was getting heavier, and also showing signs of getting more surface-based. There were heavier showers way south, but I did not want to end up too far south when I knew I would probably be heading for Kansas the next day, and the shower to my northeast gradually intensified. I got ahead of the line axis at Paducah, and decided to head north and see what I could find. At 3:45 SPC issued a severe thunderstorm watch valid until 11:00 p.m. CDT, which mentioned a tornado or two possible. The watch extended from western OK and the eastern TX Panhandle to the SSW into western TX south of the Panhandle. I was pretty near the center of it, so good enough. I was still ahead of the broken line of mainly showers when I got to Childress, so I kept going north. Stronger storms were now developing well down the line south of the Panhandle, but I figured if I was patient storms would develop up and down the line. Especially I thought this because I was seeing more towering cumulus along the line. I stopped between Childress and Wellington around 4:50 to watch a couple of them, one to my NW and one to my SW. Both glaciated; in fact the one to my SW already was beginning to when I first saw it. Ckearly, this one was the stronger of the two, and gradually it took on the character of an LP supercell, hereinafter what I will call Storm 1. I dropped back toward Childress and a little west to watch this storm, with the time now around 5:15 p.m. It had nice tall skinny LP structure, rumbling thunder, and I would guess some small hail in it. Here is a wide-angle picture.

Although this Storm 1 was a good indication that the cap was breaking, it could not sustain itself for more than a half hour or 45 minutes. Short-lived enough that it is probably dubious to call it a supercell, but it did have the appearance of LP supercell structure for a while. I think one reason it could not sustain itself was that another storm 20 or 30 miles down the line, to the west of Childress, was becoming the dominant storm in this area and robbing all the others of their energy. So as Storm 1 faded away, I left it and dropped south toward the darkening skies in the southwest associated with what I will call Storm 2, the one west of Childress, which by now was looking quite strong on radar, though not overly well organized.

I headed down route 83 to 287 in Childress, and headed out of town to the WNW toward Estelline. Between Childress and Estelline, at the exit for the Highway Department, I exited, crossed under the underpasses to the south side of the highway, and had a good place to sit and watch Storm 2 from around 5:50 to 6:35. When I first got on this storm, it had multiple cores of heavy precipitation, and the northeasternmost one seemed to have the appearance of a left split, though it had a hard time moving away from the rest of the storm. You can see that character in this picture, which clearly shows a separate updraft from the rest of the storm as it seemingly tries to split away.

Also around the time I got on it, the storm got a SVR warning, with radar-indicated potential for 1-inch hail and 60 mph wind. A later statement indicated potential for slightly larger hail, up to half-dollar size. Gradually as I watched the storm, the southwesternmost of the cores became dominant, and both on radar and visually, the storm took on supercell characteristics. As you can see in this picture, the storm developed multiple inflow tails at different levels on its north side:

Between around 6:00 and 6:20, reports of hail of various sizes ranging from .75-inch to 1.5-inch came in as the storm reached its peak of intensity during this time. Here is a wide-angle picture taken around 6:20:

It also had some pretty good CG lightning in it:

By around 6:40 the storm was getting farther away, so I decided to go back to Childress and head north on 83 to re-intercept. However, by now it became evident that my Storm 2 was weakening, and as I drove north it gradually faded to nothing. Such as it was, this storm was probably the storm of the day in Texas, and video of it from a couple chasers was shown on The Weather Channel. At least one of them (I do not recall who it was) was the kind of chaser who will drive into the core to see the hail; I try to stay out of the hail unless I have a solid roof I can get under.

The day was not quite done yet, though. One more supercell (Storm 3), again LP-ish in character like my first storm, popped up ahead of me to the southwest of Shamrock, as I drove north toward Shamrock to pick up I-40 and get lodging for the night. It intensified for a while, and a fair number of chasers raced up 83 and eventually east on I-40 in pursuit of it. Here is a picture of it as I headed up 83 toward it:

As you can see in this picture, it had some very nice structure for a while, and as isolated as it was, I (and quite a few other chasers) thought it might have the potential to do something. Although it never quite got a SVR warning, it did get a significant weather advisory for possible nickel size hail and 50-55 mph winds. I did not see any reports of severe weather from it, though. As you can also see in the picture, I was looking through some rain at the base/wall cloud. I enhanced the picture to show the storm structure better, but after doing that I could not really get the color right, so I just made the picture black and white. As I headed east into OK the storm weakened as it moved off to the northeast, and it was pretty much gone by the time I got to Sayre, where I stopped for the night.

Here is a map showing the portions of my route for the day when I was observing the three storms:

Finished the day with evening chaser convergence in the pub (great idea!) at the AmericInn in Sayre, visiting over dinner and wine with a couple chasers from Traverse City, MI and Dallas, who had started from Dallas early in the morning but made it in time for a couple of the Panhandle storms. Sorry, didn't get names, but it was a good visit!

Chase distance for the day: 343 miles.

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