May 25, 1996

Friona, Texas Supercell and Tornadoes

A visual chase report from video stills.

People in England often name their estate and post the name at the entrance to their property. My wife and I found this example while in southwest England during February 1996.
The storm began with a flat rain free base. Note the sharp edge to the rain core and the rain foot, often an indicator of high straight line winds. This image was shot through my van's windshield. The black spots were rain drops on the windshield.
Looking SSW - a shallow wall cloud formed and scud clouds rushed out of the rain core.
Looking SSW - the rain stopped and storm chasers jumped out of their vehicles to observe the storm. Note the shallow linear cloud bands running from left to right at the top of the picture, under the rain free base. Inflow bands similar to these often form before any other evidence of rotation or intensification is evident, either visually or from radar.
At first, the storm did not appear to have much promise. As a result, there was a general feeling that greater thermal instabilities and more intense storms would be more likely farther south near Lubbock. However, I felt that this storm had promise. After considerable discussion, we agreed to give this storm a chance to mature. Looking north as we caught up to the storm - a low wall cloud could be barely seen through the haze in the shadows under the rapidly intensifying storm.
Looking ENE, partially shielded from view by wrapping rain curtains, a tail cloud extended SE from beneath the rain free base.
Looking northeast, the wall cloud became more ragged as it grew larger and lower. It appeared that the storm was feeding on the moisture and energy rich boundary layer air.
Looking east, the first brief tornado that we spotted produced a dust whirl beneath this funnel shaped lowering at the southern end of the wall cloud. We were out of the range of the closest amateur radio SKYWARN net, so Jason Jordan reported the brief tornado directly to the National Weather Service via cell phone.

Looking ENE from Bovina, the wall cloud was almost totally hidden behind wrapping rain curtains. This image provides proof that approaching a storm from the "back side" usually does not allow a view under the wall cloud.

Looking ESE at the southern end of the lowered base of the flanking line. I had driven under the rear flank downdraft (RFD) slot just before this image was made. The western edge of the rain free base was being ripped apart and pushed violently downward by the RFD.
Looking ENE at the ragged underside of the flanking line. The main updraft and its associated wall cloud was located to the north (left), but was obscured by the dark shadows under the main storm tower. The funnel shaped lowering on the right side of the image exhibited only linear upward motion when it first formed. It was not rotating.
The aforementioned updraft, just left of the telephone pole, continued to be linear.
The updraft quickly intensified and rotation began abruptly.

Looking ENE, a dust whirl was visible on the surface beneath the tornadic funnel.

Looking NE at other apparently non-tornadic dust whirls (gustnadoes) along the RFD / inflow shear line interface.
Looking WNW at another funnel after turning northward toward Friona.
Looking NW, a large violently rotating wall cloud slowly emerged from the darkness.
Looking NW as Al Moller, Chuck Doswell and Joe Nick charge ahead.
Looking NW - an RFD notch opened and allowed diffuse sunlight to illuminate the southern side of the wall cloud.
Vertical ribs formed as a funnel shaped lowering descended toward the Earth underneath the center of the wall cloud.
Looking WNW at a developing tornado. We saw entire families, including mothers clutching their babies in their arms, running for shelter as a tornado touched down on the western edge of Friona.
Looking WNW - the tornado began to break into multiple vortices. In the image, one vortex is located to the right of the pole and one is partially hidden behind the pole.


Looking west from highway 214 north of Friona - the tornadic wall cloud moved west-northwest at an amazing rate of speed. A writhing amorphous froth persisted underneath the wall cloud for several minutes. I know of no chasers who were close enough to determine whether it was a tornado or not.

Looking west at another view of the wall cloud NW of Friona.
Looking north on highway 214 at the underside of a "beaver tail" inflow cloud structure. Cloud elements were flowing west toward the mesocyclone at a high rate of speed.
Looking west from under the "beaver tail" inflow cloud - a low tail cloud became visible below the rain free base, west of an RFD slot (the light area located top left). Both inflow clouds were feeding into an intense updraft located out of the image to the left. Al and Chuck accelerated to sample the environment under the tail cloud before the wall cloud crossed the road.
Looking SW, a tornado touched the ground about 1/4 mile south of the highway. Al and Chuck were in the path of this cyclone.
Looking west as Al rapidly retreated as the next tornado developed over the highway.
Looking west, tornadic winds brushed the wet plowed field just beyond a farm house, about 300 yards distant.

The circulation expanded but weakened. However, if this had been in a town, there would have no doubt been considerable structural damage to homes and businesses


The circulation continued to weaken, as the occluded flank began to curl into a donut shape.

Backing up a bit, this image was made using a Canon ES-5000. The previous images were made using the A1 Digital. The ES-5000 provided somewhat better contrast and more realistic colors in the low light.

Close-up of the circulation on the ground, using the ES-5000.
The meso appeared to grow a mustache.

Another shot showing the curling of the occluded flank.

Back to the A1 Digital.
Further north, looking west, the old meso intensified again.

Turning east, we passed under a new meso that was developing overhead on the east flank of the storm. We drove several miles east and then several miles north, before turning west again to intercept the storm.

We caught a glimpse of a stove pipe tornado, partially hidden by wrapping rain curtains.
The tornado roped out and disappeared into the distance.

Copyright 1996 - Samuel D. Barricklow - All rights reserved.

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