April 11 - 20, 2009 Severe
Researching Weather in the
States of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas
Randy Ryan and Tom Dolan
Saturday April 11, 2009
We arrived at Oklahoma Airport and headed off Southwest to Altus, Oklahoma
where we were able to observe a nice lightening show. The lightening picture
above was taken looking North of the town of Altus.
then proceeded south and waited for an approaching storm at the Vernon Airport.
Skies were dark with a strong breeze from the southwest.
We decided to leave our position promptly from the Vernon Airport as
noted by the white arrow in the view below left as the National Weather
Service (NWS) issued a hail warning the size of golf balls for our
location at the Airport.
The screenshot to the left is the Doppler radar display image of this storm
we were monitoring. The purple within the cell indicates hail formation within
the thunderstorm. The red boarder is the warning area and the storm track is the
white line with the storms movement headed north northeast. The warning details
is displayed in the box above.
Sunday April 12, 2009
Our travels took us east following the storms that had past our way
overnight at Henrietta, Texas. We found it challenging to intersect the remnants
of this storm once we were close to the Dallas Fort Worth area due to traffic.
We decided to turn our course north to enter Oklahoma near Greenville, TX.
Earlier in the day the NWS had issued weather statements for Thunderstorm
activity in the afternoon for Parts of Oklahoma and Northern Texas. Once we
arrived in Ada, Oklahoma we decided to start heading west to intersect a series
of Thunderstorms we could see on the Doppler Radar coming from Northwest Texas
We stopped on the Oklahoma side of the Red River just North of Muenster, TX
to observe the Thunderstorm pictured above. We decided to keep north and east of
a series of severe storms.
We saw what appeared to be a funnel dropping on the left side of the storm
above but due to our distance we were not able to confirm rotation.
While observing the thunderstorm a trained spotter had advised the National
Weather Service (NWS) of a tornado.
The NWS issued a Tornado Warning as noted below for this storm.
The Tornado warning is for the County of Montague, TX.
Tornado warnings are noted in purple on our software display screen above
and the warning message is displayed in the text noted below.
reported the sighting of a tornado in this storm.
Lightening is streaking behind a wind mill farm.
We moved our position closer to the thunderstorm staying on the Oklahoma
side of the Red River to photograph the storm while it passed by traveling east.
The screen on the left provides a view of some of the internal rotation
within the thunderstorm during the period of the warning. The earths curvature
prevents the Doppler radars from seeing all the way to the ground.
Our view of
the Tornado was obstructed as we were on the rain side of the storm.
We decided we would cross the river behind this thunderstorm to position
ourselves for the next thunderstorm that was approaching from the west in Texas.
The Tornado was on the daily Storm Reports and the only one that occurred
for April 12, 2009.
Once this storm passed our route across the river we headed to intersect
with another storm that was approaching from the west. We were able to track the
forward progression of this new storm and the NWS issued a Severe Weather
Warning for this storm for Hen Egg size hail.
We detoured south on a small rural road just west of St Jo, Texas to allow
this one to pass our position to the North. It was a slow moving storm at 25
MPH. Our location is the circle with the dot in it in the picture above.
The purple area in the storm center is considered the hail core with the
hail generally falling in front of the storm along its path which in this case
is from the left to the right.
Once the thunderstorm slowly passed our position we headed back to St Jo and
stopped about 2.5 miles short of Town to examine the Half Dollar size hail that
was covering the ground.
We later sent photographs and descriptions to the NWS which is helpful for
them to validate their warnings from Doppler with actual observations on the
The picture below is from the storm clouds we observed in Southern
Oklahoma before heading into Texas.
Monday April 13, 2009
The weather was now clear for all parts of the region so we decided we would
start traveling south to visit San Antonio, Texas. We took a detour to a highly
recommended meal establishment called the Salt Lick. We were not quite sure what
the dress code was but figured we were good enough since they sold the meat by
Tuesday April 14, 2009
We spent the morning touring the Alamo and then part of the River Walk in
the San Antonio downtown area.
We headed to Del Rio, Texas near the Mexican boarder as we were hungry for
some real Mexican Food, well that was only part of it, we actually were going to
attend a SKYWARN® class taught by the NWS.
This is an official class to allow participants to take an active part in
sighting and reporting severe weather. The class was well presented and we had
the opportunity to discuss some of our early observations and methods with the
meteorologist. Providing accurate and timely storm reports to the National
Weather Service can speed up essential warnings when severe weather is
occurring. Reporting criteria include winds in excess of 50 miles per hour, hail
that is penny size and larger, rotating wall clouds and funnels and of course
Tornado's that are seen on the ground.
NWS Spotter training courses can be found at:
Wednesday April 15, 2009
Off we were to head as far north as we could today in preparation for the
severe weather that is planned for Friday and Saturday. We attempted to follow a
few developing storms late in the afternoon up near Turkey, Texas but they
dissipated shortly after forming.
The Chase begins...
Thursday April 16, 2009
We started our day on Thursday from Childress, Texas and decided to follow a
few early morning storms moving east back over in Oklahoma.
We stopped along the way taking a few pictures of the Red River. The river
runs through very red soil so the name is most fitting.
We had several tools at our disposal to assist us in finding and routing to
and around the severe weather. We had 3 GPS units. One was used for routing on
the roads, the second was used with mapping software to assist with distance
planning and the last one was integrated with the software to view the updates
form the NWS.
With these tools we were allowed to track our position in relationship to
the storm motion so we could steer clear of the primary path of the storms
allowing us to avoid the hail fall and to plot intersects to position ourselves
with the best views of the storms from the rain free southeast side.
With these tools we were allowed to track our position in relationship to
the storm motion so we could steer clear of the primary path of the storms
allowing us to avoid the hail fall and to plot intersects to position ourselves
with the best views of the storms from the rain free southeast side.
This provides us with the best view of the storm to photograph and observe
without the view obstructed by the falling rain trailing the storm.
Looking at the farm house and fields to the left we are sitting just west of
the town of Elmer, Oklahoma. The skies were all cloudy but we were able to sit
on the fringe of the passing storm with our ability to see the storm data.
Safety equipment included both our cell phones, a satellite phone, a weather
radio and a HAM radio.
The laptop uses software that can utilizes data products that are collected
from the National Weather Services WSR-88D Doppler radar sites that are
distributed throughout the country. The Doppler scans the skies and then
provides data that is updated roughly every 4 to 10 minutes depending on the
This can be a long time for an update to occur if you are watching severe
weather approaching. This creates a gap in the information while the Doppler
makes its sweep of the sky and then the information is pushed out in various
products for analysis and review.
We were then off to follow a few storm cells or should we say dodging hail
storms south of Altus, Oklahoma. We would follow the track of the storms from
the side and then would pull back if we were near any hail or severe rain. These
storms in the morning were tapering out so we headed down to Vernon Texas where
we had been earlier on this project. Since it was now early afternoon we decided
to find lunch and see what developed. Chinese brunch in Texas sounded good.
We were getting gas and getting ready to head off to the panhandle of Texas
to catch the thunderstorms that were rapidly developing. The lady next to us at
the pump says, "Are you storm chasers?, Yep!, Is there a storm approaching?
Yep!, I gotta go! I can't get my hair wet!" and off she went. Must of been the
radar display, lightening flashes, antennas, radios alerting that gave us away.
We arrived southeast of Tulia, Texas where a very severe thunderstorm had
developed. Super strong inflow winds with moisture laden clouds were being drawn
into the storm from the east feeding it with enough moisture that it was
reported that 5 inches of rain fell from this severe event. The town of Tulia
made the news that evening for the large amount of hail and rain it received
with localized flooding.
A wall cloud was visible as shown dropping below the cloud structure in the
photo. Our vantage point on a farm road provided an excellent view with this
We stayed away from the drainage for this area and positioned on the lower
Looking northwest from our position was the town of Tulia which was
receiving the brunt of the storms rainfall and hail which the photo to the right
A 3D view into the clouds is shown. This particular storm at Tulia, Texas
went up to about 40 thousand feet. The best clear views generally are from the
south east area. If you look at the hook that is present a tornado typically
will form within that hook area but can drop from anywhere in the storm.
Doppler radar cannot see the lower section of the clouds due to the curvature of
the earth. This creates the need for storm spotters to be active around this
stronger storms to spot and report actual tornados, hail, and damaging winds. In
this view filters were applied to mask soften the outer layers to allow better
viewing of the core structure. We typically see the clouds outer layer which is
the blue. Lighter rain falls with the green with stronger rain in the yellow.
Red is intense rain and the pink to white is the hail section of the storm.
Randy observing the storm.
The hail tends to fall in front of the approaching storm as it is drops out
from the top or from the bottom as gravity takes over. The hail will grow larger
the stronger the updraft winds are. The above right picture is a view of the
rotation activity within the storm. This information seen by the National
Weather Service would be sufficient to activate warnings that a Tornado may
occur. On this storm no actual tornado dropped from the storm but the potential
for it to occur was present.
The scud clouds seen here are present below the wall cloud where warm moist
air interacts with the thunderstorms downdrafts.
We decided to head back east to work our way around a series of additional
storms that were approaching. On our route that would pass by Quitaque, TX the
forecast was for nickel sized hail that we wanted to avoid. As we came near to
the storm track we started to be hit by pea size hail. We turned the vehicle
around and back tracked out of the storm path to a high view spot to allow this
storm we encountered to pass us by.
Once the core section had passed we continued on our way heading to a
location on the southeast side of the cell that was approaching Motley County,
Texas. We wanted to be on this side as evening sky was darkening and we would
find a spot for viewing the evening lightening. There was a large amount of
thunderstorm cells in our region of storm tracking.
The Motley County cells were also expected to have large hail. In the view
of all the County seen here we had started our day up in Childress County and
worked our way into Oklahoma before dropping down in to Texas on the east side
of the view. We then went over to Swisher County for the Tulia Storm.
Now we are heading to the center of the screen in Motley County. The circle
with the dot in it is our position which on the right hand side is the reading
for our Latitude and Longitude. Our speed and bearing is displayed and if we
check the "Center Display" then we are centered in the map and our movement
relative to the storms is easy to navigate. On the storm heading towards the
center of Motley you can see a white lie that has three additional marks on.
Each mark is the storms anticipated position every 15 minutes. Once we passed
this storm we found a nice view location of this storm for the multitude of
lightening flashes. The warning boxes in the right hand lower corner shows the
county of the warning and the expiration of the warning. We can click on the box
and it will give us the warning details. The warnings areas are displayed with
the red boxes and the tornado warnings have the pink boxes.
We decided to head to the large town of Lubbock, Texas for the night. We
stopped in the town of Floydada at the only open spot we had seen which was a
Dairy Queen. It was one that had the large glass windows going all around it
with views of the black sky all around. We carry this little lightening detector
but for some reason it doesn't work well in the car with all the metal. When we
took it out for the stop it was going crazy and we could see lightening flashes
through the windows of the restaurant.
We then were back on the road heading south and once the storms that were
traveling through Lubbock, Texas had moved on we would head over to find a
We were observing the dark sky as we traveled south that was occasionally
lit up by lightening strikes. The country roads had few establishments or lit
structures so we had a wide open view except it was fairly dark.
Eyes were tuned for any transformer flashes as this could be a sign a
tornado was on the ground. Our weather radios were active with the many alerts
within the region when up came an alert from the NWS. Trained spotters have seen
a Tornado near the town of Idalou and it has hit transformers.
This Tornado may be rain wrapped and is headed to the town of Idalou. Well
we decided we would wait to cross over west until after the threat had past. We
took the intersection ahead and went east up until we would be near another
storms path and waited for the tornado threat to resolve.
Once the storm past our route we had clear skies to head into the town of
Lubbock. We past the point where repairman were already out working on the power
pole that was hit. We saw flashing lights ahead and we stopped at the road crew
to find out what was up.
They mentioned the next quarter mile was flooded but passable and we were
instructed to proceed. He looked in on our Doppler display and asked if anything
else was coming. We told him it was all clear to the west and stars were visible
as well. So we proceeded on our way driving on the road with 4 to 6 inches of
water on it.
The best navigation was looking ahead to the openings in the lanes ahead to
stay on track with the road. We arrived in Lubbock to find the first two motel
areas were full. Seems there was a triathlon in town. We eventually found a
place to stay and being in the clear had a very restful night.
Friday April 17, 2009
We were able to travel back on the routes we had traveled the night before.
Twelve hours later the road we traveled was still partially flooded and the
drainage in the area was still flowing rapidly.
We had a very nice drive through as we routed back to our staging area in
Childress were we can wait and see what would develop for the afternoon by the
dryline that ran north to south at the Texas and Oklahoma border.
The views along the route were wonderful. The soil was red, the fields were
green, the sky was blue and the cumulus clouds were growing white.
We staged in the town of Childress, TX to have a nice lunch while we waited
for the afternoon to start up.
Tom taking in the view of the Texas Panhandle.
The Thunderstorm developments have been starting
up around four in the afternoon and we decided to move our staging location a
little further southwest of our location. We staged in Childress TX then
started to adjust our location to the south.
Reviewing the radar data we stopped our movement to further evaluate the
situation. We were soon seeing a rapidly developing cumulus cloud gaining
vertical height just behind our location.
We evaluated our routes so that we could now follow this developing storm
and found we could follow it north towards a bridge across the Red River back
We found a nice vantage point overlooking a farm where we could see the wall
cloud development below the base of this thunderstorm.
On the radar image shown on the right we are in a great position to view
this storm as we monitored the ever changing wall cloud at its base. Our goal
was to parallel the storm as it moved northward.
We continued north following the storm and its ongoing development. Here is
what appears to be a lowering scud cloud can be seen that briefly developed.
The road turned to dirt for a short while as we stayed behind the wall
The bridge crossing the Red River appears to be an old train trestle style
bridge with planks on it.
We stayed behind the wall cloud so we were not on the bridge if something
developed. The bridge didn't seem to shake to bad while we crossed it.
We saw what appeared to be some light rotation at the left end of the wall
cloud but nothing developed as the crossed the town of Hollis, OK.
We traveled further north and waited until the hail section of the storm
passed Hollis, OK before we proceeded. As we crossed behind the storm felt
several strong gusts from the storm. We then found a small road running parallel
to the storm and followed it for a short while on the south east side.
We saw numerous storm chasers and TV crews following this storm as well.
We then decided to head west to observer a few smaller storms coming from
that direction. We found a nice view point on a farm road to view these storms
Hail streaks as rainbow starts to form on an Oklahoma farm.
We were even treated to a nice sunset.
After this we decided to head up to Interstate 40 so we could be positioned
closer to Northwest Oklahoma and the Lower western side of Kansas based on our
research of possible good weather activity for the next day. We pulled into
Altus, OK and hit the drive through as we needed to keep ahead of several storms
that would be tracking with us on our way. We saw numerous cloud to ground
lightening strikes on our way and just pulled out of Altus when the real heavy
rains commenced. We ended up the days adventure up in Elk City, Oklahoma.
Saturday April 18, 2009
The day started fairly calm as the ground was wet from the evening rains and
a fog had developed locally. We made our plans to head further to the north east
of our location to be in position for the days expected thunderstorm activity.
Cumulus activity started early in the afternoon so we were treated to some
nice cloud formations to watch as we waited to see what would develop.
It did not take long as by 1:45 PM CDT storms started to kick in northwest
of our location up in Kansas. These initial larger storms up in Kansas were
warned as possible Tornados and one actually had developed as later reported.
We had ourselves positioned to the southwest of the developing storms in
Oklahoma. This provided us with a great opportunity to track the storms that
were now popping up in our area. A line of storms started to grow all the way up
So by 2:50 PM CDT we had plenty of storms to follow and we started heading
into Woods County to get our best angle to observe the closest storm with that
had activated the warnings.
Little Sahara State Recreation Area is south of Waynoka, OK where we came
across very large crowds roaming the streets making travel through this small
area a bit more challenging. There likely were thousands out camping outdoors
for this annual event. It was quite colorful with all the four wheelers,
motorcycles, tent that were in and around the city. We were discussing how it
would like cause quite an impact should one of the upcoming thunderstorms
tracked through the town. There was little refuge other then tents and vehicles
to scramble to should a storm hit. In looking at the events website it appears
it is an annual ride with such activates as live rattlesnake catching and other
festival events. The event is the Sahara Snake Hunt Weekend which occurs the
first weekend following Easter. Rattlesnakes are measured for length, weight,
We arrived to the first storm to view with a great vantage point overlooking
the open farmlands.
The wall cloud visible here was constantly changing shape and a tornado
warning was issued while we were observing it.
A rotating funnel could be seen dropping out on the left side of the wall
We were able to record the action on the camcorder until we had to move as
the hail started to fall with increased intensity.
We pulled back east and then south to pull away from the pea size hail that
was coming down rapidly.
While viewing this wall cloud and funned the National Weather Service issued
a Tornado Warning based on Doppler Radar information for this area. In this shot
the clouds on the right are being pulled into the funnel as it rotated.
We had to move our position as the storm was now dropping hail on us. We
were pounded by pea size hail as we worked our way east and then moved parallel
to the storm south. We stopped at various points observing the wall cloud as it
moved back towards our direction.
We noticed that the clouds had taken on a green color while we were
We had stopped along a pull out in the road and after having our ears pop
from a pressure change we looked up to see the rotation of the clouds above us
and a clearing in the dark cloudy sky in the middle of the overhead funnel.
After snapping the picture of the rotation and clearing over our heads we
moved our vehicle further south to take additional pictures and videotape of the
funnel that had developed.
Here is good picture of the funnel we were observing and been briefly parked
Below is a view of the funnel as it slowly rotated and moved past us.
In the video images the trees located in front of us started to shake
vigorously as the funnel past by but with the ground damp there was no dust
Likely to weak to be considered a tornado but was close to the making.
We had lost internet reception in these northern hills of Oklahoma so we had
to rely on the weather radio broadcasts, area maps, our GPS systems and visual
clues from the storms. We had attempted to move towards the town of Alva but the
storm had stalled in front of our travel so we retreated back. At this point a
second storm we were trying to avoid was rapidly moving in our direction and the
road we needed to take turned directly into its path. This coming storm was also
warned to have large hail so we wanted to avoid a direct path with it. Normally
the volume on the laptop GPS was off but was on assisting with the route
finding. Suddenly the GPS voice blared out "Lost Satellite Reception" now
normally you see this when going in forest or under buildings, but looking
outside the windows all we had was farmland and cloudy skies. Skies, the GPS
must be blocked by..."Hail". So we promptly started looking for some type of
shelter as first the small stuff started raining in. We pulled under a small
tree but it had very few branches. To our left we saw some concrete silos in the
town of Avard, OK but the road to them seemed to be a bit dicey should much rain
fall and turn it to mud. We had little choice for cover so we managed to back
the car up ever so tight to the backside of the silos allowing it to be the wind
and hail break. We were pounded for some time with most of the hail glancing off
the very front of the hood followed by torrential rain. Once this all subsided
we would edge out and peak around the corner to make sure nothing bigger was
coming. After a bit all settled down and we headed back to Waynoka.
The tent city in the town of Waynoka was awash from the same storm that
A large crowd had gathered around some folks that were trying to get
the truck out of water that was up to the top of the trucks hood.
When we arrived in Fairview and were able to get additional storm updates we
started to travel south but it appeared the road was blocked with emergency
vehicles. On further investigation the road had made a turn at this location and
a large SUV did not make the turn and clipped a utility pole clean off its base
and below the wires.
Likely the vehicle hydroplaned on the rain water or hail that passed through
the area and could not negotiate the curve.
We left Fairview and headed to move to intercept the next storm coming from
the west. When we came over the rise we could see a shelf cloud had developed
and looking at our radar image a hook echo could be seen as well in the
When you look at the image to the left you will see that the center is
pushed forward like a backward letter C. Our plan was to intercept the forward
edge and then head south to observe it pass by.
Strong downdrafts are pushing the storm forward which creates the bow effect
and strong straight line winds can be experienced.
Our first view of the shelf cloud had it spreading wide in both directions.
As we cleared the trees more came into view.
And then we intercepted its advance. The shelf cloud continued its eastward
advance and we setup to record its passage.
It was quite the site to see as the large shelf cloud running so low to the
ground and the dark rain core that followed it path.
Lightening in its core would flash with the thunder following only moments
later. We felt a strong gust of cold air rushing in behind as the shelf cloud
passed our location. We promptly loaded up and were on our way as the rain
started to fall in its wake. We spent some time on a high ridge overlooking the
expanses of Oklahoma watching some of the evenings lightening activity. A
passing highway patrolman pulled over to make sure we were doing well and just
as courteous wished us a good evening. We worked our way back to Fairview for
the evening to what seemed to be the only hotel in town. We were handed a room
key which in this day of electronic door keys was quite refreshing. Our evening
dinner was at the local pizza hangout were the areas teens used for gathering
Sunday April 19, 2009
We decided to follow the remnants of the storms that had passed the evening
before going east and to see what the territory looked like for future trips. We
checked out late from our room and inquired with the staff when turning in our
key where a nice place for Breakfast might be. She was awestruck and responded
it's already 11 AM. She then responded, well you might be able to get a burger
at the bowling alley, there's the pizza place, and the drive thru. We thanked
her and investigated our dining options. The bowling alley was closed for Sunday
so we went for the drive thru. We headed east and found much of the territory
was hilly and obscured by trees for any great distance. We arrived in Arkansas
and took a brief look around before heading back towards Oklahoma City.
There was a large section of territory where it appeared the trees had been
knocked down by an ice storm some time in the past.
We arrived in Oklahoma City and went to see the memorial in the early
evening. Today had marked an anniversary of the event and early in the day it
was cold and wet.
On our arrival the sky was clear and calm. We toured the grounds and it was
nice to see how respectful of a memorial site had been created.
We started to travel north of Oklahoma to move towards the Kansas territory
to see how this terrain was setup.
We pulled off in Edmond to find some dinner and to stop for the evening. We
found a small restaurant that had both of buffet and grill. The grill was closed
as they were cleaning up for the evening but the staff and management greeted us
warmly and let us enjoy their buffet. The hospitality was exceptional even
though they were done for the evening. When we went to pay we were told fourteen
dollars, we said there were two of us, no just fourteen. This was a real treat!
Monday April 20, 2009
We toured north heading towards Kansas and decided to swing by the little
town made famous by the movie Twister.
The little museum was closed until 1 PM so we headed into Kansas and
negotiated the long farm roads around to get us finally back to the highway to
make our trip back south.
We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
In the little gift
shop the movie Twister was finishing up with the team being hit by the last
large Tornado. Seemed a fitting end for our little weather adventure.
Trip log of daily starting and ending locations, miles driven and time
Equipment used for forecasting, monitoring and
navigation for storms.
HP Pavilion Laptop, IBM Laptop, Dash mounted GPS unit for streets, Garmin
Hand Held GPS 60CSx used to integrate our position with the Doppler Software
including a remote dash antenna. Garmin eRoute GPS software integrated with
window mounted receiver, Software, Ham Radio with roof mounted antenna, Hand
Held Weather Radio, Satellite Phone, Cell phones, Verizon Aircard with roof
mounted antenna, Hand held Barometer, Paper maps of States. GR2 Analyst and GR3
Weather Software. Four port cigarette lighter adapter. DC to AC converter.
Garmin Topo software to evaluate terrain for flooding and rural escape routes.