First storm chase of 2011 — sub-severe storms from northern Woods County, OK into Barber County, KS
Sunday, 2/27 was my only day off work during a long stretch of day shifts, and I was swaying back and forth on deciding whether to dedicate the day to a storm chase or not. When I went to bed Saturday Night, I was not anticipating chasing, but was willing to re-consider if things shifted farther to the west. Well, the RUC and HRRR models early Sunday morning were shifting the surface moisture and convergence farther west into northwestern Oklahoma. Also, the remnant cold airmass had lingered around a bit farther south deeper into Kansas, and it appeared that the warm front would not lift back north into Kansas at the surface. The mid level jet streak was also poised to come across West Texas a little bit later and perhaps a bit farther south, so all this led to the possibility of a focus farther west for mid-afternoon strong to severe storms. I decided to target far Northwest Oklahoma based on agreement between the RUC and HRRR model runs, which seemed to be fitting observations and my conceptual model of how the wind, temperature, and moisture field would evolve. I expected a narrow tongue of mid-upper 50s dewpoint air to make it back to Harper County, OK.
The moisture did make it back into far Northwest Oklahoma by early afternoon, but the deep and extremely intense westerly momentum across West Texas did not allow the moisture to remain back west over the far western counties of western Oklahoma. South-southwest winds at the surface were shunting the 50s dewpoints a county or so farther east, and the corridor of southeast winds were not really materializing in the Gage/Laverne areas. I was expecting (and hoping) the initial towers to develop near Lipscomb, TX and then move across the Laverne area and eventually Buffalo, OK and points northeast from there. What ended up happening was towering cumulus development occurring farther south and a bit east in the well-mixed air. The initial group of tower cumulus developed from Arnett to Cheyenne, basically at the longitude I was already at. I needed to adjust east. So I did just that, and when I reached Buffalo there was an elongated cluster of poorly organized bases to my south-southwest. I continued east to near Camp Houston and watched that area develop a little bit more, and radar indicated taller growth into the mid-levels. I was basically right along the front, but the winds just north of the front were becoming southeasterly up to the KS border. I liked this. I thought that if this storm could form rapidly, it may just take advantage of this mesoscale sweet spot from northern Woods County into southern Barber County, KS. I took a gamble with this first development, seeing as the second area of cumulus growth and echo on radar was quite a ways to the south still. (this southern storm near Vici, OK ultimately developed into the long-lived supercell and “storm of the day”). I figured, “bird in hand”, so I’ll play with this thing closer to me and already an established storm.
I went north on N2230 Rd a few miles east of Camp Houston and followed it north into Kansas. Of course, by the time I reached the storm near the KS border, it was beginning to fall apart. It still maintained some structure as it neared Aetna, but it was just so small. I then opted to go east on Hackberry road (instead of continuing north on Aetna Rd. to Hwy 160). The storm continued to move quickly northeast at around 40 mph or so, and as this was going on, the storm to the south, about 60 miles south-southeast of me was beginning to ramp up quite a bit. I continued to observe updraft pulses with the storm just north of me, but the contrast was poor. I came across some roaming bison on this open range that Hackberry Road meanders through. That was pretty cool. I was out of position with the southern storm farther away, and on a day like this when storms were moving 40-55mph, early decisions you make in the chase will largely impact what follows because there is no room for error. I committed too soon on this chase on a storm that was too far northwest with respect to the warm/moist sector. The storm to the south-southeast of me had much more real-estate of CAPE to work with, but the storm was fighting all this intense westerly component low level flow. That kind of bothered me and was one reason why I second guessed the storm. The southern storm ultimately became a very nice looking supercell on radar and an eventual tornado producer that a number of storm chasers saw. Of course, the way I chase, I seek “the road less traveled”, and again it bit me. Nevertheless, it was great to get out and dust off the cob webs (including my forecasting skills!) and kick off the 2011 storm chasing season. Photos from the chase below: