5-5-2002 - Wayside Texas Supercell

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Don Lloyd's Chase Report

By Chris Gullikson

Talking with Don Lloyd on Saturday morning, we decided that this week would be fairly active in the southern plains until a cold front swept out the moisture on Thursday. We left on Saturday morning with 2 target areas in mind for Sunday, north central Kansas or the Red River Valley in TX/OK. We decided to drive to Kansas City on Saturday, do a quick look at data in the morning and decide which target we would choose. Unfortunately, the 12Z RUC on Sunday morning painted a rather ugly picture for extreme SW OK with subsidence at 700 and 500mb. We wasted precious time waiting around for the 12Z ETA which gave us much better hope for SW OK when it finally came out.

Leaving KC at 10am with a target of SW OK does not leave much time when you are expecting initiation to occur sometime after 21Z. Don was able to download surface and satellite while I drove and it soon became apparent we would have to go further west to the dryline since the initial target was socked in with low clouds along the surface boundary, limiting good heating. We were hoping to get close to Amarillo on I40 before initiation occurred but we soon noticed a beautiful cell to our north after crossing into TX. This storm was out of reach, moving to the NE and at least 50 miles away. We continued west towards Amarillo with plans to duck south on 207 to intercept a tornado warned storm that was moving across Canyon. This is where our big mistake happened, I40 was under construction, the exit for 207 was poorly marked and I missed the exit. We were forced to continue west on 40 towards Amarillo for several miles before getting to the next exit where we tried going south on ranch roads, finally heading back east to drop south on 207.

We drove across the Palo Duro Canyon and encountered the Supercell about 2 miles west of Wayside that had just dropped a large tornado in the town of Happy, only a few miles west of our location. The storm had a large lowering as we approached from the east but it was clearly not tornadic at the time. We observed this lowering become more ragged then headed back east as the forward flank was threatening to drop large hail on us. We positioned just south of Wayside and observed the storm as it slowly moved towards us, showing lots of motion in the ragged lowering with spinups out in the field to our west but nothing that you could call a definite tornado. Don decided it would be best that we drop south and east to intercept the storm on the east side of the canyon. We stopped near Silverton on 256 to watch a small needle funnel in the rear flank of the supercell, while to the north east a tornado was obscured in the RFD. It was getting close to dark so we decided to call it quits and drive back to Amarillo for the night. Driving north on 70 we encountered a damage path with many poles knocked down from an apparent tornado since the poles were laying to the east, then to the west as we drove north.

It was a frustrating day missing the Happy tornado but we got on a nice supercell so it wasn't a total bust. I enjoyed my first chase in Texas, the Palo Duro Canyon is beautiful, would love to fly my ultralight there someday.