Chasecation 2016 – Days 6 to 8 – Southern High Plains

Several more days have once again passed since the last update. We’ve spent these days roaming around parts of the Texas panhandle, far northeastern New Mexico, and the western Oklahoma panhandle. Chase prospects have been pretty low the entire time, although each day has given us a late surprise.

Day 6 – West Texas & Eastern New Mexico

After waking up late (again) in Lubbock, TX – I think I got out of bed around 10:30am – we grabbed lunch at a BBQ joint with a friend of Mike’s and then headed to a local Starbucks to relax for a bit while snagging their Wifi so we could assess the storm potential for later that afternoon/evening. We decided we would begin meandering southward toward Odessa, TX to check out storms developing farther west in New Mexico. To be honest, we did not have a good feel for how the storms were going to evolve that day and were not too confident that the storms to the south would even produce tornadoes.

About halfway down, while filling up our tank in Seminole, TX, we noticed an isolated storm that had popped up to our northwest – south of Clovis, NM – and looked promising on radar. So, in our typical scatterbrained fashion, we changed course and began making the ~1 hour journey north to check it out. As we approached it – and subsequently crossed into New Mexico – it was evident that we made the correct choice. The storm was still relatively isolated from other nearby storms, had a well-defined updraft base that was clear of rain, and showed signs (on radar) of rotation, at least several thousand feet up in the cloud. Over the course of the next 60-90 minutes, one or two wall clouds formed under the base, increasing our hopes that we might in fact see something interesting. Furthermore, since many of the other groups chasing that day had headed farther south, we essentially had this particular storm all to ourselves. This was indeed a treat since being the sole observers of what was likely a supercell is quite rare nowadays (but not unheard of, especially that far west).

thunderstorm New Mexico wall cloud

Thunderstorm with likely wall cloud in far eastern New Mexico

Ultimately, the storm did not produce a tornado or even a funnel cloud, from what we could see, but was fun to chase. It eventually died as it crossed the TX/NM state border, merging with an east-west line of quasi-stationary storms north of Lubbock. We figured our day was done, so we headed east back toward civilization. On the way, we were surprising to find ourselves in the path of an approaching “dust front”, or “dust storm”, or “haboob”, whatever you want to call it.

haboob dust storm Texas

Mike observing an approaching “dust front” northwest of Lubbock, TX

Basically, a gust front originating from the east-west line of storms north of Lubbock was quickly advancing southward toward us and had kicked up a lot of red/orange dust from all the cropless fields in the area and looked similar to a lot of the photos you see of dust storms in places like Arizona. As it passed, the wind picked up (with maybe 40 mph gusts) and the temperature dropped 10-15 degrees F over a matter of minutes. Gust fronts are, after all, surges of cooler, denser air. This marked the actual end to our day, so we booked a hotel in Plainview, TX and stayed there for the night.

Day 7 – Southeastern Colorado & Texas Panhandle

The chances of seeing a tornado on Day 7 were quite low. In fact, we woke up thinking we might not see any storms at all. Beginning in Plainview, we drove north through Amarillo, TX and decided to target an area in extreme southeastern Colorado where some weak storms were beginning to develop. Upon reaching this area, we located a decent storm west of Campo, CO that looked interesting visually, interesting enough for photos, at least. We grabbed a number of shots (and a few short timelapses) before the storm abruptly died in front of our eyes, becoming nothing more than an orphan anvil with the some mammatus.

mammatus Colorado storm

Mammatus clouds in southeastern Colorado

It was already 6pm and there were no other storms in the area worth chasing, so we drove back to Boise City in the Oklahoma panhandle, ate dinner at a nice little restaurant called “The Angel Cafe”, and grabbed a room at a motel. We had moved all our stuff into our room by 9pm and were getting ready to chill for the rest of the evening (and watch Game 7 of the Golden State vs. Oklahoma City NBA Western Conference Finals) when we walked outside and were promptly greeting by this view to our south.

mammatus Texas Oklahoma storm

More mammatus clouds from a strengthening thunderstorm near Dalhart, TX – observed 60 miles north in Boise City, OK

It was already 9pm, but were hadn’t seen anything interesting all day and were kind of curious what this storm to our south would do. So we hopped back in the car and headed to Dalhart, TX. We were treated to a nice little lightning show on the way as the storm intensified, becoming severe south of Dalhart. To get out ahead of the storm, our travel options would have required us to punch through an area of heavy rain and small hail. Because of this, and since the storm was growing in size and morphing into a large blog, we decided to follow behind it, watching the lightning show and looking for hailstones that had fallen as the storm passed. We did find a few stones that were a little wider than quarters and reported them to the National Weather Service office in Amarillo. By 11pm we gave up and made the ~1 hour drive back to Boise City and went to sleep.

Day 8 – Oklahoma Panhandle & Northeastern New Mexico

We were a week into our chase, it was June 1, and there were no severe storms forecasted to develop within 200 miles of Boise City on Day 8. In fact, we would have had to have gone all the way down to far southwestern Texas to have the best chance at seeing a supercell, according to everything we were looking at.

Early in the day, some weaker storms did develop over the mountains in central New Mexico. We had no interest in those and instead decided to watch a weak convergence boundary over the northern Texas panhandle to see if any storms would fire along it. Nothing had happened by 4pm so we abandoned that idea. Figuring that the day was lost, we went to Black Mesa State Park in the Oklahoma panhandle, west of Boise City, and planned to camp there that night and hike the Black Mesa in the morning. Black Mesa is the Oklahoma state highpoint at 4,973′ above sea level. While there, we also visited the Oklahoma-New Mexico-Colorado triple point!

Amazingly, just before we were about to begin setting up camp, a fantastic little thunderstorm developed just 2-3 miles west of us. Within 30 minutes it began taking on a supercellular structure, with obvious rotation. It was slowly moving southwestward, so we followed it into New Mexico around sunset and saw it morph into one of the most beautiful supercells I have seen to date! You could see the entire rotating updraft column all the way up to the anvil at one point, which was incredibly photogenic when accompanied by lightning.

supercell New Mexico storm lightning wall cloud rotation

Incredibly photogenic supercell in far northeastern New Mexico, near the Oklahoma panhandle. A small wall cloud may have even been present below the rotating updraft column

We stayed on this storm for over an hour until well after sunset, watching it closely to see if it produced anything of interested near the ground. It was accompanied by a wall cloud and some very “trolly” low clouds near the ground for a brief period of time. As the storm began to fall apart, we headed back to our campsite and enjoyed some hot dogs and smores before heading to bed. We noticed lightning to our northwest and were somewhat surprised to learn that there was a line of storms in southwestern Colorado quickly approaching us. There were also some small cells popping up around us and we realized that this was quickly turning into a stormy night. So, despite the fact that it was nearing 1am, we packed up, headed back to Boise City, and booked another room at the motel in town. I think we made the right decision since it poured most of the night.

Down Days – Oklahoma State Highpoint and Traveling

The following day was a down day. The storm potential had finally dropped to zero for everywhere except extreme southern Texas, and we definitely weren’t making that drive. So we took the opportunity to hike the Black Mesa to the Oklahoma state high point. We are all geography nerds as well, so checking state highpoints off our lists is always a plus. Below are several GoPro photos from the hike, which is 4.2 miles each way and gains about 600 feet in elevation. The highpoint is only a quarter mile from the New Mexico border and is marked by a fancy obelisk standing about 10 feet tall. There’s also a scenic overlook a few hundred yards to the south that is worth checking out. All in all, certainly worth it!

Black Mesa Oklahoma Panhandle

Black Mesa Oklahoma Panhandle

Black Mesa Oklahoma Panhandle

Black Mesa Oklahoma Panhandle

Afterwards, we drove about 2 hours northeast into Kansas and camped outside of Lakin, KS for the night. The next day we drove all the way to Omaha, NE (~8 hours away) to meet up with a cousin of mine and her husband, with whom we stayed that night. This set us up for today, in which we hope to chase some storms in northwestern Iowa. Stay tuned for my next update to find out how the chase went!