Southwestern Fannin County, May 6 2008


This is more a chase narrative than a strict report, but I'll integrate some meteorology for compliance. Frankly, my meteorology today wasn't very interesting--was yours? And I don't want to process any more damn wall cloud photos right now. Wall clouds are like dreams---to paraphrase Cormac McCarthy's great character Sheriff Ed Tom Bell in No Country for Old Men, they're really only interesting to the party concerned.

The day's first precip came in through the air conditioner about 4:30 AM. This was a window unit badly installed in the back wall of Room 31 at the La Siesta Inn of Seymour. And it was no trifling leak but a concentrated stream from around the unit and through the plastic grill onto the floor. I flipped on the light, a bare bulb screwed into the ceiling, and watched the puddle gather on carpet the consistency of Astroturf. If the water had been hail it would have bounced.

I found a second leak, in the bathroom, bubbling through fresh paint and collecting on the window sill and floor. After a radar check I went back to sleep, trying to imagine that I was camped near some meager waterfall.

In the morning my hostess agreed enthusiastically that the leaks in #31 were pretty stout, as if she and I were a pair of dour building inspectors and not the owner and her customer to whom she'd omitted any mention of these novelties the night before. I shook my head and left, driving around new roofing materials stacked in the parking lot.

Breakfast at the Rock Inn Cafe was delicious except for the raw pancakes. I didn't complain though because the waitress reminded me of the sweet, hard-scrabble women I worked with at the Bonham Dairy Queen when I was a kid. In those days the fast food staff consisted of these women, usually divorced and down on their luck, and us high school kids making extra money we didn't need, to spend on things we had no business buying. Along the front counter old-timers filed in and out for coffee and the latest news from the fields or their friends' families. I text-messaged a friend who also grew up in a rural Texas place. I said the old guys were lining up for breakfast and he quickly corrected me. "Bullshit," he wrote back. "They've been awake since at least 5 and are just going to sip coffee and shoot the shit." He was right, of course. It had been a long time since my days serving thirty-five cent cups with free refills to this crowd: these unrepentant smokers, hearty laughers, and the best storytellers in the world.

I waited in Seymour a while to see if skies would clear and offer some cold-core hopes later in the morning. It seemed we had several ingredients in place: more than adequate moisture return, ample mid-level cooling, and strong CVA between 18-22z. I shifted east to Ringgold and waited some more. Scattered cu thickened and surface temps hardly budged. The surface low drifted just north of the river. Seemingly all of chaserdom paraded past me and waved as if I were some friendly local figure, the mayor, perhaps, or a clueless volunteer fireman. They wore big smiles like a gang of kids headed for Six Flags. The big event of course was the impending Tornado Outbreak in northeast Texas, my old stomping ground.

I knew parts of Fannin County are tough for chasing; there's the Leonard Hills on the south side where local kids still "ratrace" and occasionally end their nights in violent collisions. I don't like chasing east of 35 when I can help it. But maybe today was the right day, I thought. I drifted further east to Gainesville and within thirty minutes showers appeared west-southwest of Denton. On my way south I realized I was wearing my "Bonham Boogers" t-shirt---a gag gift from a high school pal to celebrate the Texas-Oklahoma League semi-pro baseball team of 1922. The team had disbanded, along with the whole league, when a railroad strike prevented travel between competing cities. It's the only article of clothing I own with the word "Bonham" on it and I'd picked it thirty six hours before, a random choice prior to leaving for west Texas.

Outside Melissa our storm began to spin. With a large church in the foreground Robert Hall and I watched the rotation tighten up. It took a while but at last we had identifiable structure, so we started north up 121, towards Bonham, keeping the updraft in the sideview mirror and u-turning for occasional glances or a photo. We saw a few RFD cuts, a few odd, anti-cyclonic circulations, but mostly HP structure with a ragged, unpromising base. The storm had started as a linear segment, transitioned to a multi-cell cluster, and, despite a temporary flirtation with classic/HP mode, it never overcame its tendency to line out and split.

Before I knew it we were in those same Leonard Hills, then headed north on 78 into Bonham. At the Braum's on Sam Rayburn Drive ("Mr. Speaker" being Bonham's most prominent son), we gave up the chase. I ran into someone in the restaurant who I hadn't seen in twenty years. I apologized for not remembering her name. The teenagers behind the counter overheard us and asked if I had had this or that teacher in high school. Many are still teaching there. After dinner I drove around the old streets, narrower than in my memory, and thought that for a busted chase, I'd seen worse.