2009 MARCH 26: ST. JO, TEXAS TORNADO
The day took me by surprise since I thought the front would stay to my south, then with another look at the surface around 21z, I realized it was moving rapidly north. With the supportive flow aloft and and increasingly unstable air in the clearing west of I-35, I threw the gear in the truck. Lot of wires and disorganization, but it was a no-brainer. I'm a fan of slowly lifting fronts which aren't too cool on the cool side.
I actually thought the front would lift farther faster, so when the Oklahoma storm crapped out I doubled back into Texas across the secret bridge to where the next storm had latched onto the front. I found Jeff Snyder west of Capps Corner (north of St. Jo by 15m or so) where we observed new inflow bands but a generally weak looking, elevated cell. I headed east for Capps Corner and drove through 1.5 to 2" hail which Jeff later measured, and which cracked my windshield and added more dents to my car. It was surprising since most of the stones were soft and disintegrated on impact, but all it takes is one. I tend to find hail cores. Hail covered the road and the stones were dancing in the ditches, a better show than I'd expected for the whole day. At this point the radar presentation was unappealing; a merger had made a mess of the former rotational area, though Jeff and I had commented on how mergers are frequently positive developments. This cell had also recently issued a left split.
Finally out of the hail core I turned south toward St. Jo, where I spotted a disorganized lowering between the trees. Miraculously, I found a wide clearing about four miles north of St. Jo, on FM 677, and snapped the images below as a narrow wallcloud expanded, tapered, and reached for the ground. This happened very quickly: the RFD cut, consolidation of the wallcloud, and funnel. I couldn't see the ground from my vantage, but other reports and Connor McRorey's video from the south suggest this was probably a tornado. The cone held its shape less than a minute, and my efforts to photograph it were hampered by own inability to find the illumination button on a camera I've owned five years, and I changed the aperture instead, then cussed loudly, and shot these pictures at inappropriate shutter speeds and ISOs. Thus the noisy images. Every year I have to go through the early season spasmodics.
Later I met up with Bob Fritchie, Rachael Sigler, Ken McCallister, James from the UK, and others as we pursued the lead storm turned upside down wedding cake--a gorgeous structure--and its sister cell to the west. This latter storm developed a large, blocky lowering west-southwest of Gainesville, but nothing came of it that we could see. Along with Jeff we took a big dinner at Chilli's. Half a tank of gas, a big meal with friends, and sleeping in my own bed tonight is a pretty fair deal for a March chase.
0021z 4m north of St. Jo, Texas 0021z same location, a few seconds later 0022z