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Lake McClellan National Grasslands Tornado Intercept, May 20, 1999
By Brian Morganti

The set-up for today was a slight risk of severe in the eastern Texas Panhandle stretching into parts of Western OK.  By afternoon a triple point would be located over AMA (Amarillo) with good moisture convergence to the east.  Also an upper level speed and vorticity max would be moving into this same area. At 1230 CDT upon entering the town of Friona I obtained a dewpoint reading of 32..definitely still behind the dryline.  A few miles further east at Randall the dewpoint increased to 39 and a few small  puffy cumulus appeared on the horizon to my northeast.  By the time we arrived in AMA at 1315 CDT the dewpoint had risen to 57!  A data stop at 1400 CDT revealed a cold front moving into the Dalhart area back to our northwest which was kicking off some hailstorms, and the dryline was located just west of AMA.  A good rule in storm chasing is to stay 20 to 40 miles ahead of the advancing drying, so we blasted east on I-40.  Our target area still looked good. We exited north on Hwy 294 towards a line of agitated convection and follow this into the town of White Deer.  We watched the developing towers from a CONOCO station in town as Warren Faidley drove by and honked his horn.  After about 15 minutes we have seen enough to know it is time to get out of town to a better vantage point.

A few miles north of White deer we turned onto gravel road CC 23 to watch the now dark base of our storm beginning to get better organized.  Some raindrops and occasional pea to marble hailstone began to fall as a long thin beaver's tail begins stretching eastward into a second storm to our east.  The first thunder is heard and there are no competing storms to our south.  Good!  We headed further east on Hwy 152 to west of Pampa and get into the core of some heavy rain and hail in an attempt to get ahead of the storm.  We held up for awhile as I document on video the 3/4" hail that has fallen.  We were forced to retreat back west then south in order to get south, and eventually ahead of this hail-maker. We succeeded SSW of Pampa and needed to zigzag south and east to stay ahead of this now southeastward moving storm.  Along the way we were treated with a good display of CG's, fast moving scud clouds, impressive dust plumes kicked up by 58 MPH + winds, and even a nice gustnado in the outflow boundary.  There were also many suspicious cloud lowerings to keep an eye on.

We stopped just north of I-40 along Rt 70 as a funnel cloud quickly formed to our east.  Keith shouted, "Hey, is that thing rotating"?  Soon, Bill, Cheryl, and I agreed and quickly tripoded all our still and video cameras.  We ran across the road and up a hill to a better viewpoint and were soon joined by other chasers that had also stopped.  The cameras were clicking away like crazy as a white funnel cloud descended from a black base cut by a clear slot in the foreground.  This was  located above a bright green wheat field which could not have offered a better setting.  The only negative was we could not completely see to the ground to confirm a debris whirl, but this was later confirmed by other chasers.  The V-shaped tornado was about
three miles to our east above the Lake McClellan National Grasslands.  The tornado soon roped out into a horizontal serpentine form, with only a large suspended head still pointing in our direction.  About this time Bill shouted "LOOK OUT TO OUR NORTH" as a large and menacing whirlpool like circulation was rapidly approaching our position.  I foolishly had to get a few seconds of video before running to the truck across the road with the tripod fully extended.


We then shot south to I-40 and then eastward on a frontage road about 4 miles to where Rt. 70 cuts south again.  At this point we turned our vehicles around to face the circulation we had just escaped and witnessed our second tornado quickly extending to the ground and approaching the interstate.  This tornado was backlit by the setting sun and appeared black.  I captured this on video but failed to take any slides.  I have no idea why!  We needed to continue our cat and mouse game and stay south and east and preceded south on 70 to Clarendon, then southeast to Hedley.  There were so many other chasers doing the same (more than I had ever seen) that it was something that could only be described as a "rolling chaser convergence".

At 1915 CDT we turned north at Hedley and soon stopped to better access this storm and take some photo opportunities. The banded striations were spectacular with a heavy rain/hail shaft apparent below the circular lowering. As we were taking our time filming this beast to our north a new lowering suddenly developed practically overhead.  We needed to get moving fast in an attempt to get ahead of this new development.  We now know we should have gone southeast on 287. 

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