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Published: August 6th 2007
21/04/07 Amarillo, TX
We were heading toward Conway on the south frontage road in order to spy the Bug Ranch - a kind of homage to the Cadillac range, only with VW Beetles, when we spied a white SUV with about 6 or 8 aerials on it’s roof, parked on the shoulder. “Stop, stop” I shouted to Jen, “they might be storm chasers”. Sure enough, as we pulled up we saw the logos on the back and side of their car - “The Kansas Storm Chaser - www.kschaser.com” and “Storm Chaser”. We had seen a severe weather warning for Amarillo on the Weather Channel a couple of days back, but to our untrained eyes looking at the sky there were no obvious signs of bad weather so we had assumed that it had passed - little did we know.
I was excited to meet some storm chasers, having seen documentaries on TV and of course films such as ‘Twister’ and we asked all about their equipment and what they were expecting for the day. They were watching the cloud lines and advised us that we would probably see more chasers that day further along the road. After a while
we parted and headed on to the Bug Ranch, north on the 207 crossing the Interstate 40 and stopping at Loves Service station to use the restrooms.
At the service station we spotted an Eyewitness News truck and SUV as well as another vehicles with multiple aerials and a guy in a storm chasing T-shirt in the service station. We got chatting to Earl and Wayne, two chasers from Oklahoma and discovered that they were expecting the storms to build over the next couple of hours so we asked if could follow along with them and swapped phone numbers so we could stay in touch.
We followed the I40 back West of Amarillo and stopped just East of Bushland where we parked up and watched the storm. Listening to the weather warning as we drove was quite a sobering experience with the recorded message announcing the location of the storm being exactly the area that we were in with words such as “Take shelter underground in your basement….cover yourself in blankets…this is a dangerous storm that is likely to produce tornados…get out of the path of this storm”
The guys pointed out all the details of the
The Kansas Chaser
Logo on the side of the SUV of the Kansas chasers
storm to us with the ingredients that can often create tornados, including the GC (ground connecting cloud) and the war cloud behind the line of rain. The storm had the potential to cause a tornado, but if it did it was inside the rain cover and we didn’t see it, although the lightning show was incredible and the wind really whipped up, whistling through the power lines and pushing the tumbleweed around. A following storm further south was sucking some of the power from this one, so we headed further south hoping to see the second storm produce a tornado.
Dropping south on the I27 toward Tulia, we heard on the radio that a tornado was on the ground in that town but we stopped at the 285 and headed east based on info from another chaser. Eventually we stopped on the edge of the storm at a small intersecting road with nothing around but farmland. By now it was getting dark and we knew that the storm was headed in our direction. It was hard for the chasers to decide whether to back out to the west in case we were getting too dangerously close for comfort to
The Oklahoma news truck that we spied at the service station. A clue that the storms may be bigger than we originally thought...
the action. A farmer pulled up in his flatbed and shouted to us over the wind that he had a basement nearby if we all wanted to take shelter. We thanked him for his offer and pointed him to Earl and Wayne to find out what they wanted to do.
Suddenly a convoy of vehicles came flying past heading east. We spotted a radar truck and then a vehicle that looked like a bat-mobile, followed by a series of SUVs, all with their hazard lights flashing. We immediately followed them into the small town of Wayside, where they all stopped and made a u-turn, heading back slightly west before stopping once more in the middle of the road. As we’d followed them, the visibility had been appalling with severe rain and hail. I’d barely been able to see the road with the wipers on maximum speed. We had a few minutes to chat to people from the other vehicles before they had all u-turned, which included a film crew with Imax cameras that were making an Imax movie. The cameraman found it hilarious that we were two Brits storm chasing in our Birkenstock sandals.
The bat-mobile turned out
A lightning strike from the first storm hits the ground reasonably close to us
to be the TIV, Tornado Interceptor Vehicle. The guy is hoping to drive it straight into a tornado with cameras rolling!!
Suddenly with all the vehicles stopped on the road, someone shouted back down the line of cars, “Tornado on the ground, touch your lights”. We hit the car lights and stared into the darkness ahead. As the sheet lightning lit up the sky again and again, we could clearly see the tornado passing about a mile in front of us moving north and crossing the exact area that we had previously sat at the intersection wondering which way to go! It was an atmospheric and exhilarating experience that we’ll never forget.
The tornado had taken down the power lines, which lay across the road, blocking our route back to the Interstate so we had to follow the 285 to the west and south before finally managing to head north again on the 207 toward the Interstate 40, dodging a fresh rockslide as we passed through a canyon area and standing water and other debris on the road.
We stopped to say goodbye to Wayne and Earl before heading East to find a motel. We drove to
Blocking out the Sunset
The first storm starts to block the light of the setting sun
Shamrock where we crashed out in the Shamrock Inn exhausted from our exhilarating experience and adrenalin rush and feeling sorry for our new friends from Oklahoma City, knowing that they had a 4-5 hour drive still ahead of them.
The next day, in touch with both Earl and Wayne again, we discovered that the first chasers we had met turned out to be Joey Ketcham and his friends, who all use the same storm chasing Internet forums. They had had quite a day as they were actually caught in one of the tornados crossing the interstate as they were running from another one!
We were unable to catch any images on our cameras in the darkness, however Earl and Wayne kindly sent us some still images of the tornado that they pulled form their video footage. The images are understandably grainy but you can clearly see the twisting shape of the tornado that passed us by.
Altogether it was one of the most exciting experiences of our travels to date - and completely unplanned! A big thanks to Earl and Wayne for letting us tag along with them. Many chasers spend hours of time and money chasing
The Wall Cloud
Sun Rays behind the Wall cloud. Bigger and blacker than any clouds we've ever seen
round the countryside before they witness their first tornado and somehow we managed to see one on our first attempt as well as witness the full ‘storm chasing circus’ convoy of unusual vehicles… AND… walked away unscathed!! I guess we have to call it beginners luck. ☺
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