BIRTH OF A HIGH PLAINS MONSTER
With other members of my chase group, I’m standing on the high plains of the Texas Panhandle, west of Lubbock. A stiff wind, inflow to a supercell aborning, slams into my back as I snap pictures of the strengthening storm. I struggle to stay upright; to hold the camera steady. Daggers of lightning lance into the field in front of us.
Our tour guide, Roger Hill, raising his voice to be heard over the galloping wind, says, “This thing could turn into a real monster.”
Minutes later, a wisp of dark scud appears beneath the underbelly of the storm. “Watch,” Roger says, “this may be the beginning of a wall cloud.” What? That dinky little misty thing? (See photo below.)
More and more scud appears, dipping, darting, circling. It happens fast. Within minutes the base of the storm is seething with rotating black clouds almost touching the ground
To our right, a plume of dust streams across the road, riding the inflow. The storm is even stronger now, advancing on us. It’s not more than a couple of hundred yards away. Then it’s over us.
“To the left,” Roger yells. “Look. That blowing dust is the downdraft.” It’s dust whipping out of the storm now, not into it. (See photo below.)
The dust expands rapidly, spurred on by 60- or 70-mph winds. Dirt and grit fill the air as we scramble back into the van. We flee south and watch the flat landscape to our rear disappear in wind-driven blackness as Roger’s monster crosses the road. Cars and trucks heading toward it pull off to the side and stop, giving the now-classic supercell due respect as it barrels toward Lubbock.
We monitor the storm from a safe distance, paralleling it as it churns eastward. Radar indicates it harbors a rotating mesocyclone, a precursor to a tornado. But it doesn’t drop one. Lucky for Lubbock.
So, no tornado. But I don’t care. How many weather geeks get to witness in real life, up close and personal, what most only read about in textbooks—-the birth of a High Plains monster, a classic supercell thunderstorm?
-April 30, 2012-
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