Storm chaser stories is a new series of articles in which we give chasers the chance to share their most memorable chasing experience. It will then be presented in the form of a story.
The first storm chaser story comes from Manitoba Storm Chaser Jordan Carruthers. Carruthers tells the story of his close range intercept of the May 2019 Tahoka, Texas Tornado. So without further ado, please enjoy!
May 5th, 2019, is a day that will not soon be forgotten, this day started off like any other chase day, we woke up, picked our target, and hit the road. About an hour after reaching our target the storms began to fire, one to our north and one to our south, It was decision time which storm do we go to? They both looked similar on the radar and were in similar environments, so we had a 50/50 chance of picking the right one.
We happened to notice that the one to our south was developing over a town named Ropesville. So now it was obvious which storm we needed to head for, as we got closer to this cell we started to notice it was attempting to do a classic ‘right-split’. This meant the southern half of the cell was feeding into a better environment and splitting off of the northern half which was in a less than ideal environment. THIS WAS GOOD NEWS FOR US!
After determining which direction the southern half of the cell was going to go, we hopped in our truck and started moving to get into better position to intercept it again, as we were traveling to our new spot. We ran into a couple of storm chasers that we knew from Australia so we pulled over on the side of the road and watched the storm for about 15 minutes, during this 15 minutes the storm did something that we weren’t expecting.
It turned into a high precipitation (HP) storm which is not what we wanted, this meant that if this storm produced a tornado, it would likely be rain wrapped and invisible to our eyes. We continued to watch this storm struggle to stay alive as it became outflow dominant, which in layman’s terms meant it was spitting out all of its potential energy and dying…BUT THEN SOMETHING MAGICAL HAPPENED!
The storm ran into an outflow boundary that was sitting to its south, and when this occurred, it quickly began to rotate right beside us. As we were traveling south towards Tahoka, Texas, my guest in the backseat started shouting, “Look on the ground, Look on the ground”.
I turned my head to the right, I quickly saw what she was shouting about. There was a large area of dust beginning to spin on the ground about one-fourth of a mile to our east. So I quickly pulled the truck onto the side of the highway and hopped out, video camera in hand, and started determining what was happening.
There was no real Wall Cloud or funnel present so at first, I was thinking this was just a Gustnado being caused by the gust front (outflow) of the storm. However, I began to notice the rotation within it. THIS WAS A TORNADO! As I stood on the side of the road, filming the development of this tornado, it began to condense. It quickly became a large, dusty stovepipe Tornado. THIS HAPPENED RIGHT BESIDE US!
I happened to look behind me to see if there was any traffic heading towards this that I had to warn, I noticed a large wall of dust heading straight for us. This was the Rear Flank Downdraft (RFD), if we became engulfed by this RFD we would no longer have visual of the Tornado. There was a possibility of being hit with debris that was picked up by the Tornado.
THAT WAS WHEN I MADE THE DECISION THAT WE HAD TO MOVE! We had three choices,
- Stay between the Tornado and the RFD.
- Try to beat the Tornado and get to the other side of it.
- Drop back behind the RFD and possibly lose visibility.
I chose option two! I hopped in the truck, punched the gas pedal and started racing the Tornado. I started catching up to it, however it came very obvious that we were not going to be this thing. As I was travelling south, the Tornado was travelling southwest. It became clear we were getting closer to each other, so I pulled over onto a median. I watched the Tornado as it crossed the highway about two hundred yards in front of us. At this point in time, we were still in a safe position between the Tornado and the RFD attached to it.
Having watched the Tornado cross the road a mere two hundred yards in front of us, I was once faced again with a decision – moving south or moving north through the RFD. I looked behind me and noticed a clearing in the RFD that I could easily punch through, and get a better overall visual of the Tornado. So essentially, that’s what I did. I turned the truck around and started driving through the RFD. Once I got through, knowing we were safe, I pulled onto a pull-off on the highway. I hopped out of the truck and carried on shooting. What I saw was one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen!
This big dusty stovepipe Tornado was pulling dust from miles around it. It was like a scene from the movies, I knew I had to stick with this thing. I quickly hopped back in the truck and started heading south, chasing the Tornado once more! By this point, the RFD was in a position that it wasn’t obscuring our view. However, it was beginning to drop hail in our path. So now, we had to be cautious and stay as close as we could to the Tornado, without getting into the hail. Every time we would start getting into the hail, we would pull over and let it move away from us again.
By this point, the Tornado was becoming severely rain and dust-wrapped, becoming harder to see. We were driving south on the highway and happened to notice the Australians that we ran into earlier parked off to the west of the highway. We pulled in behind them and began our celebrations, we showed them our photos, and they showed us the photos they captured. We just sat there describing what we just experienced.
This was the moment that we decided to call the chase off, as we could no longer see the Tornado, due to dust and rain. It would be far too dangerous to intercept it once again. Find some of my favourite photos in the gallery below.
Wow, what a story. Thanks to Jordan for sharing his story with us. Links to Jordan’s social media outlets relating to chasing can be found below.
Thanks for reading our first storm chasing stories article, stay tuned for the next