Date: Sun May 6, 2001 8:06 am
Subject: Saturday 5/5/2001
I'm not sure about the air in NW Texas. By 2:00 PM, the dewpoint at SPS was up to 61 and the temp was 73. By 3:00 PM it was up to 63, which was about as high as I had hoped for. We had great clearing in the area and practically full insolation most of the day. The anvil blowoff from the storms in the San Angelo and Abilene areas stayed well to the east. While we sat in Vernon checking data around that same time, our CAPE was 2500 plus, which, according to the SPC Mesoscale Analysis page, was the best to be found at that time. I would have liked more, but it was enough to do the trick. Still not what one expects in May, however. The southern extent of the red box was there and the first storms that fired were just across the river, well within visual range from the first bubbling cu. We saw the initial tower from our spot north of Vernon.
We followed that first tower to the north and stayed with it for quite some time, watching it evolve through several stages of decay and regeneration near Altus and up into the Hobart area when it finally went nuts and began rotating, displaying prominent striations around a somewhat elevated base. As rain cooled air attached to the updraft region the base lowered, and the updraft was the most vigorous I've ever seen, like watching time-lapse in real-time. The motion and explosive development was remarkable. We have good video of that. We worked our way to the east and got out ahead of it to watch.
While this was happening, more than 100 chaser in at least forty to fifty vehicles appeared along the countryside, parked all over the place and driving back and forth, this way and that. They chattered on the radio constantly, begged to know where everyone was going, and made strange and spurious observations. Unfortunately, we didn't shut it off since between some of the more useless reports came a few good observations from serious chasers.
We watched the base of our developing supercell, then noticed the strong inflow had cooled some, and was being contaminated by a storm to the southwest. This storm was rocking and rolling, spewing forward flank precip toward our developing cell. We heard a report of a severe warning, and a 73 dbz core with the southern storm. The base of our storm began to look more ragged, although the updraft tops were crisp. We heard a second-hand report of a "stacked plate" configuration to the updraft of the southern storm and a "significant lowering." Based on the combination of these observations and radio reports, we bolted east and south to get a view of the updraft south of us, and, initially, it looked nice, though not what we expected. Tim Marshall calls this a "grunge storm" in his report.
Most of the stormchasers in North America were parked along that road, including the DOW trucks. Within ten minutes, the southern storm became outflow dominant, and as it disorganized, the first severe warning came out for the storm to the north--the one we'd abandoned. At almost the same time, chasers on 146.520 began hollering about a tornado on the ground up there. We weren't clear who had seen this, spotters or chasers.
We stayed put for a moment, not anting to continue to drive back and forth on bad information. The northern storm was fifteen miles away and moving northeast at 30 knots, and we thought our chances of catching it were poor. There was the possibility the southwestern storm would reorganize, and for a moment it strengthened again. We'd committed ourselves, and decided to stick with it until it proved unworthy. Soon, an official Tornado Warning came out for the cell over Cordell, with reports of a tornado having been on the ground for some time, which later proved to be false.
At last we raced back to the north, but too late, like dozens of others. We drove north to the interstate, had dinner and came home.
I'll say a few things about the day. The sunset through the forward flank precip of our southern storms was breathtaking. The updraft of the northern storm, the one that became tornadic as soon as we left, was for a time the most vigorous I'd ever seen, with exploding condensation that hypnotized.
On the more negative side it always stings to again miss a tornado by inches. But if I had everything laid out on paper for me, and everyone agreed at dinner, we'd have made the same decision. There was at the time no reason to stay with the northern cell. A television station spotter came into Denny's while we ate, and said even his station met director had ordered him off the northern storm to the southern cell. He was as despondent as we were, and I can only imagine how all the false and stupid reports flying around managed to contaminate the data inflow of even an official media outlet. It was a weird, weird phenomena, and I've never seen anything like it.
On the positive, we saw lots of amazing stuff, and were in exactly the right spot for initiation. We followed what became the Cordell supercell from the time it was born. Marshall also targeted SPS and must have adjusted a little west and north.