2019 began in the most frustrating way possible for me. A storm in late March occurred while I was on Spring Break. A mid-April event saw my group puttering around the I-40 corridor with landspouts occurring to our north in Ellis County, OK. Finally, on April 30, a meeting at school kept me from leaving for a moderate risk until it was just too late – we arrived on the tornadic supercell near Petrolia, TX just a few minutes too late to see it produce several tornadoes. The last one left me feeling dejected.
With TORUS beginning on May 13, time was fairly limited regarding when I would actually be able to freely chase. That’s why on Sunday, May 5, despite a somewhat underwhelming forecast from the SPC, I felt the urge to try my luck in the Texas Panhandle.
The odds of a tornado were generally pretty low, given dew points forecasted to only reach the upper 50s and marginal low-level shear. Still, it was May and with a consistent signal on the HRRR for a discrete supercell in the northern Texas panhandle, Sam, Tyler and I set out for Canadian, TX around midday.
We arrived in Canadian and gassed up as convective initiation began on the far side of the Panhandles. Cutting west across the great expanses of the High Plains, my car gradually began to fall under the shadow of the storm’s anvils. The initial convection formed in a loosely organized MCS from near Boise a City south to Dalhart, and we tracked toward the southern end of the complex, hoping that the storm there would attain supercellular characteristics. Toward 6:00 p.m, just over ten miles north of the town of Sunray, we got our wish. The southernmost updraft slowly began to carve out a supercellular base off to our northwest, and in a surprising veer to the right of the prevailing eastward motion began to angle toward us.
Sam thought it would be prudent to drop south to avert the developing lightning core, so we repositioned to the southeastern edge of Sunray itself. That’s where we experienced a remarkable interaction. A boundary, whose origin I never figured out, could be seen approaching from the south both visually and on radar. As it approached, our storm exploded, with a completely new updraft taking over.
Although we were several miles south of the new base, it became clear that the storm was carving out a small RFD cut right at its inflection with the boundary. Rotation in the cloud base rapidly accelerated and from 6:38-6:41, we could see a rotating column of dust being lifted near the surface.
This seems to have been a weak mesocyclonic tornado caused by the boundary interaction. Further to the south that day, a similar boundary interaction had led to a widely-viewed tornado near Tahoka, Texas. This occurred in an area of higher dew points, and presumably the parent storm had a more mature updraft than the developing one that we saw. However, I think there are parallels between the two.
Following the demise of the circulation, we drove back north a ways to try to get underneath the circulation. For a bit, it appeared as though the storm might produce a tornado during its more mature phase, but a cold outflow overtaking our position signaled that the storm’s chances were near zero.
With the Sunray supercell outflow dominant, we made the decision to reposition to a promising-looking supercell further to the east. This meant navigating the sparse road network of the Canadian Valley Caprock east of Stinnett, and subsequently we never got close to the storm. It did end up producing a tornado near Miami after sunset, but in truth the beauty of the storm’s updraft as the Panhandle sunset faded was more than enough to satisfy the itch I had felt that morning.
With the sun setting and final exams beginning the next day, it was time to head back to Norman. Even that proved to be eventful. Entering Pampa’s residential zone, I was pulled over for going 45 in a 40. The officers who pulled us over said they were going to let us off with a warning… and then we proceeded to wait, while in the meantime a second officer showed up and shone their flashlight into the car. Eventually, the cops informed me that my license had been suspended for an “alcohol violation”. No such thing had happened, but not wanting to antagonize Pampa PD and risk arrest, I agreed to let Tyler drive us out of town. It was a bizarre and fitting ending to a somewhat bizarre day.