May 8, 1998
North Central Texas Storm Chase Report by Sam Barricklow
The moderate risk verified! However, not with huge tornadoes, but instead with widespread large hail, rain wrapped mesocyclones, and widespread wind and hail damage.
Al Moller and I left the Fort Worth National Weather Service Office at noon and drove northwest to the area between Wichita Falls (SPS) and Abilene (ABI). But, after looking at the high based, soft topped storms that were developing in the mid-50s Td air, we (Al Moller, Robert Willis, Brian Curran and I) decided to dive south in search of "higher" dew point (Td) air near Abilene (61F Td). As we approached Baird from the north (Baird is east of ABI on I-20), San Angelo NWS issued a tornado warning for a radar indicated meso just SW of Dyess. No visual confirmation by local spotters. (The warning was later cancelled.) The haze severely restricted our visibility. The anvil was mushy, with a badly scalloped southern edge. It was very multicellular in appearance. Other storms farther south and southeast were worse. They had the appearance of late winter, high shear, low CAPE mush balls.
When the tornado warning was issued, Abilene TV stations started airing radar images with commentary, revealing a larger storm echo in Stonewall county to our NNW. We hesitated to leave a developing storm that already had a meso and a tornado warning, which we believed was also in higher dew point air than the Stonewall County storm. We continued toward the Dyess storm and intercepted the tiny LP storm base north of Dyess. It still had a low level meso according to the Dyess AFB radar op. The storm base was really tiny, consisting of a small wall cloud with hardly any rain free base around it. Puffs of convection were being ripped off by the strong upper level winds. Although still producing precip and small hail, it was not an impressive sight.
Meanwhile, a tornado warning was issued for the Haskell County storm. The storm was the largest echo on the radar, with high reflectivities and an apparent eastward facing inflow notch. We heard reports of golfball to baseball size hail from the local SKYWARN net. We gave up on the Dyess low precipitation supercell (LP) and drove north to Stamford with hopes of intercepting the Rule/Haskell/Throckmorton (and later it became the .../Decatur/Denton...) storm, but we couldn't catch it. We heard a report that the storm destroyed one of the last operational drive-in theaters in this part of the country, at Rule. Bruce Haynie was on this outflow dominant HP supercell. He left the storm after tiring of having to run from the quickly advancing hail core.
We then turned our attention to a cluster of storms that were trailing the Haskell County complex and witnessed a storm merger SE of Stamford. Prior to the merger, the remains of the Dyess storm still exhibited a rounded base, suggesting that the small low level meso was still spinning. It continued to send up occasional puffs of convection. The cluster trailing the Haskell storm had a linear appearance visually and on radar. The trailing cluster was apparently riding the outflow boundary from the earlier drive-in theater storm. It appeared that the low level meso that originated SW of Dyess, merged with the trailing cluster, quickly generating explosive convection to our northeast. Several factors apparently contributed, The low level meso merged with the linear trailing cluster, which was producing still relatively weak but persistent convection as both interacted with the outflow boundary of the preceding storm.
We chased the intensifying updraft base north from the small town of Lueders, southeast of Stamford, to the edge of no-man's land, east of Stamford. The meso was obviously intensifying rapidly. After a brief view of the wall cloud, we had to drive south and east to circumnavigate the virtually roadless area between Haskell and Throckmorton.
We drove east on highway 180 to FM 67 east of Breckenridge. The storm was exploding to our north! A truly phenomenal transformation had occurred. Storm tops were now intruding into the stratosphere! Rapid convection, knuckles and extremely hard towers with boiling convective cells were visible above the meso and beneath a large difluent backsheared anvil.
Daylight was ending and we were within a few minutes of sunset. We raced north on FM 67, driving under the flanking line for several miles to get our last daylight view of the meso. It was low and ragged, with a thick heavy precip core wrapping around the western flank. Numerous short inflow bands converged into the meso from the east and southeast, with a long cigar shaped rose tinted beaver tail feeding the storm from the ESE. Blinding staccato CGs flashed like strobe lights from underneath the low wall cloud. Numerous vertical cloud tags extending toward the ground from the ragged wall cloud (these were NOT outflowish in appearance). Air temperature in the unprocessed inflow region farther south was in the mid-80s. It was in the low 70s near the meso. The base was low, indicating the T/Td spread was not nearly as wide near the updraft.
We drove north to FM 1148 then east to FM 3253, to P33 and then back to highway 180, where we turned east. The storm was developing ESE toward Mineral Wells. We were now in range of the 147.040 MHz repeater that covers SKYWARN activities in Palo Pinto, Parker and Wise Counties. FTW NWSFO reported 120 knots gate to gate shear at the north end of Possum Kingdom Lake on the southeast flank of the storm. Spotters in the area were experiencing intense hail, up to golf ball size (the hail could be heard beating on their vehicles when they made their reports!). SKYWARN spotters relayed reports of softball size hail to NWS. The hail core hammered Graham, Graford and the Possum Kingdom Lake area. The storm was taking a significant right turn toward Mineral Wells, Weatherford, and the DFW Metroplex.
Just west of Mineral Wells,
the meso was within 3 to 5 miles to our immediate NE. Thick curtains of rain obscured
direct viewing of the meso, but brilliant staccato lightning flashes under and ahead of
the updraft briefly silhouetted the ragged updraft base, casting shadows through the
encircling rain and hail. As we entered the western fringes of Mineral Wells, numerous
brilliant blue-green power flashes burst up from the ground to our east and northeast,
some emanating from within
the rain wrapped meso. The light show was incredible. Broken tree limbs, broken windows, a carpet of leaves on the road's surface and intermittent light roof damage extended along highway 180 from the west to the east side of Mineral Wells.
Fortunately, the meso enlarged and weakened as the storm moved into Fort Worth. But, the meso didn't die. The storm continued to produce wind damage across Fort Worth, Dallas, Garland, Rockwall, Royse City and points east. Several homes and apartments were unroofed and numerous trees and power lines were felled across Dallas County.
Apparently there was a thin tongue of moisture feeding this system. Conditions were optimum in the area between highways 180 and 380, where the strong cap ruptured. Considering the large hail, fast forward storm speed and reports of busted windshields by other chasers, we were lucky that we were not able to get on the forward flank of this storm. Due to the intensity of the chase and the extremely poor visibility, we didn't get many images. Overall this was a somewhat frustrating but still an interesting and "educational" chase.
Chase distance/duration - 700+ miles over about 13 hours.
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