On the final day, Day 7, of our storm chase, we returned to the Red River Valley to stalk storms forming on the Texas dryline. We knew conditions wouldn’t be right for tornadoes, but at least we’d be close to Oklahoma City, our departure point the following day, Saturday.
So Friday’s journey took us from Salina, Kansas, to north Texas, essentially where we’d begun our hunt the previous Sunday. As we passed through a toll booth on the H. E. Bailey Turnpike, a toll collector, in a very distinctive Oklahoma twang, said, “You guys chasin’ ‘naders?”
Chris, the Aussie, sitting behind me, asked, “What he’d say?”
“Something about tomatoes, I think,” I answered.
Tom, our driver: “He asked if we were chasing tornadoes.”
Well, we knew we wouldn’t catch any ‘naders that day, but we hoped to bag a nice supercell or two. Even that, however, seemed a long shot as we watched several storms come off the dryline south of Wichita Falls and do the ol’ pop-and-drop routine.
All the while, our tour leader, Roger Hill, monitoring radar, had his eye on a supercell about 60 miles to our northwest. The storm was lumbering eastward along the Red River, but Roger feared it, like the others that day, would kick the bucket before we could intercept it.
Still, it was the only game in town, so off we galloped through 100-degree heat. Halfway to the cell, the inevitable happened. “It’s falling apart,” Roger announced. [Collective groan.]
We slowed our pace and began thinking about where to eat dinner.
Then Roger brightened. “Hey, this thing’s making a comeback!” he said. [Collective cheer.] Was it ever. It exploded into a supercell the size of Rhode Island, spitting out teacup-sized hail underneath a 67,000-foot cloud top.
PHOTO: From our chase van’s laptop: a radar image of the Rhode Island-sized supercell along the Red River. The storm’s massive hail core is denoted in purple. It’s moving east. Our position is at the center of the yellow rings. We’re running north to intercept the storm.
We finally caught up with it just ENE of Wichita Falls. As we stood on a lonely farm road watching the seething blackness approach, Roger called out, “Hear that?” A steady low thrum, like distant thunder with no rumbling, surged across the plain. “That’s a hail roar! Huge stones aloft bumping into each other.”
Something new for my meteorological lexicon.
“Hey, you know what,” Roger continued. “There’s a little town up ahead. The hail core is aimed right it. If we can find a car wash there to hide in, we could get some super video.”
Or, if there’s no place to hide, a new windshield.
But wonder of wonders: one gas station, one store (maybe a few more), and… a carwash.
We hunkered down in it to wait and watch. But, lucky for the little town—-Petrolia, the lettering on the water tower proclaimed—-and unlucky for us, the hail core petered out and swept by just to our north. Nothing but marbles.
Thus our adventure ended. No ‘naders, but lots of indelible memories.
Some final thoughts tomorrow.
-May 7, 2012-
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