5-22-16 SPC Outlook
5-22-16 SPC Outlook

Not a planned chase day. Ok then!

This was the day I was driving out to Oklahoma City to stay with my aunt. 1

…whoa, that’s weird. The word “aunt” doesn’t look right, even though I know it’s right. I keep staring at it.

Sorry. I got sidetracked. That’s the theme for today’s chase incidentally.

Anyway, driving day. I was headed to Oklahoma City via I-25. It runs south through eastern Colorado into northeastern New Mexico. Once you get to Raton you hang a left onto US-87, and pretty much just folllow it until you hit the I-40.  On the way you will pass through small towns like Clayton (which I tried to camp at and failed), Texline (a slightly more original border town name than “Kanorado”, and I’m not making that one up), and Dalhart (I don’t like Dalhart).

It’s a fairly long drive, but not difficult. Unless you’re headed east and watching storms go up in the distance. Then the storm you just happen to be near gets tornado warned and it’s only 15 minutes away. I figured that was doable.

I mean, c’mon. That’s really tempting! (Dashcam snapshot, hence the odd black thing at the top right)

So I deviated to the east a bit, turning east at Hartley and moving east to Dumas and started stair stepping my way north and east. The supercell I was moving southwest which I thought was a little unusual.

I’d been seeing a few signs of heavy rain as I was moving through northwest Texas, but it became apparent that the northeast panhandle had been thoroughly soaked before I got there. Entire fields were flooded and the county farm road grid was untrustworthy, to say the least. This would make intercepting the storm a little more difficult for escape options, but not too bad.

I got to FM-281 (a farm road but paved) and turned east again. I was getting pretty excited. There was a confirmed tornado on the ground, the storm was moving nice and slowly, and I was all set up to get right into the best position. Because of the storms structure and my angle of attack, I’d have a beautiful front lit view of any tornado, provided it wasn’t rain wrapped.

Then about eight chasers passed me, heading west. 2

Now that made no sense. I figured I had a perfect shot into the storm, which meant they did too. Why would they be going west instead? I decided that maybe they were making a play further south. I was still going to go for it.

About 5 miles down, the road turned north abruptly, then back east. Just a little ways past that, everything stopped.

So much for that. (Dashcam snapshot again)

Another tornado had been through this area before I had arrived. There were telephone lines down right on the road.

Sometimes it pays off to watch other chasers. This is also why I need to stop stalling and go get my ham radio license. This was probably mentioned.

A little frustrated, I decided to retrace my steps west and look for a paved road south. This is when the road conditions really became a problem. Nothing looked safe. Google Maps attempted to drown me every half mile, suggesting roads that resembled mud wrestling pits, or left turns leading directly into fields that looked like bogs. I finally just shut it off.

A little ways ahead, I saw another vehicle pulled off onto the side of the road, its driver staring at the storm to our south. I stopped, thinking it was a chaser. I figured I’d warn them about the road behind me.

Nope. It was a farmer, and he was mostly looking at the field in front of us. It was his field and he said that about 60% of his crops had been damaged by hail over the past week or so. I felt bad for him. He left soon after so I resumed my attempts to actually chase something.

Nope, that’s not a pond. That’s one of his flooded fields. (Dashcam)

The road east of Spearman, Texas looked pretty good, so I headed that way, then turned east again. Things were going great…until this.

The road ahead, flooded. (Dashcam – blurry. The window kept fogging up)

One of the fields was just pouring water onto the road in front of me. A couple of trucks pushed through, but all I could think of was my low clearance, and the Skywarn videos we watched. You can actually see the drivers thought process by watching the car randomly jerk forward, as he looks at the flooded road ahead. Then they charge in. Never ends well.

I turned around again and went back west a little ways. While driving, I noticed that that the sky was gorgeous.  I stopped at an intersection and took some pictures with Heather’s camera.

Taken around 8PM local time. (Canon 60D)

Then I tried some lightning photos, using what little I know.

The best of two actual lightning bolts I got. Add another three dozen photos of nothing to that. (Canon 60D)

After that it was back to Spearman. While there I ate a very boring burger at Dairy Queen and figured I’d give up chasing for the evening. I would just head to Amarillo and get a room there, since the next days play was going to be north Texas/southern Oklahoma.

On the way out of town I saw that the lightning show was still going to the east. I got an itch to try some more lightning photography.

I wasn’t sure if my earlier lightning attempts were on the right track. So I called Heather. She looked up Dan Robinson’s lightning photography tips and read them to me, also offering her own advice. I stayed there for about a half hour, taking photos and talking to Heather with my iPhone earbuds in. The car’s BlueTooth would occasionally steal the audio back and I’d lose her, which was annoying.

This was the result. Terrible. The storms were too far away at this point, I couldn’t get a cloud-to-ground strike to save my life, and I stupidly decided to set up right behind the car. (Canon 60D)

I also found this little guy while I was out there, as well as dozens of his friends.

“Go away.” His eyes seem to say. (iPhone)

I tried very hard not to run them over, but I understand the old arcade game Frogger a little more now. As a kid I didn’t understand why a frog would want to cross a road. As it turns out, THEY JUST DO, OK?!?

I was impressed with his perfect asphalt camouflage.

I got to Amarillo around 2AM. No tornadoes today.

Lessons Learned:

  • When a flock of chasers pass you, there might be a good reason.
  • Don’t try lightning photography from directly behind your car with the lights on. The red brake lights show up in every single picture.
  • There’s a lot of frogs in Texas. And they all have places to be.
  • I am very glad that this fourth bullet point isn’t “Don’t drive into a flooded road.”

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