April 7, 2008 - Electra, TX Tornado / Supercell Structure

Documented by: Scott F. Blair

I departed northeast Kansas by early morning after a midnight shift with an initial target of Lawton, OK. Meeting up with Bob/Rachael in OUN, we had the lunch of champions at Raisin' Canes. Once in Lawton, we noted persistent enhanced cu across far NW TX and we drove southeastward to acquire an improved view. Shortly after our arrival and meeting up with Amos, three cells competing for inflow merged into one large updraft and a rapid evolution of a large wall cloud followed just west of Electra, TX. This wall cloud had impressive rotation and from the appearance we concluded the storm would attempt to produce a tornado within a short period of time. We repositioned in anticipation of such an occurrence.

We drove south out of Haynesville on Hwy 25 into Electra. I shifted 1 NE Electra to flank the updraft and improve contrast. The sequence of photos was taken from the same location (use the radio tower for a reference of storm motion). The RFD began to wrap around the area of rotation all-the-while a tail cloud developed just off the surface and moved into the wall cloud. The storm produced three notable periods of tornadic activity. The first photo shows a tight funnel that briefly condensed down to the surface at 5:01 pm, followed by another laminar funnel with a dust whirl in the second photo at 5:07 pm. As the occlusion became wrapped in rain, the storm produced a fully condensed tornado for several minutes. This was not visible from my location, but the backside of the storm. With the very rapid and tight rotation of the wall cloud itself, its possible tornadic wind speeds were realized at the surface for much longer periods than the 'visible' tornadic activity. Only high-resolution DOW radar data would be able to provide additional information.

I flanked the storm hard after the tornado and stopped 4 ENE Iowa Park, TX on Hwy 369. The storm looked significantly less organized, although I was hopeful this would be a temporary lull. Still, the updraft contained an impressive vault and well-separated updraft/precipitation. It was nice to sit back and enjoy the supercell moving over the glowing green spring grass. With time, the storm appeared to have lost its low level organization, with little discernable rotation in the lowest levels. It was slowly trending a little more elevated, but I still shifted east to stay ahead of its motion.

I was able to investigate the outskirts of the hail core, which only produced slightly larger than 1" diameter stones. This was a telling sign of a weakening storm. I stopped 6 NNE Wichita Falls, TX with Amos and Bob eventually meeting in the same spot. Visually, the storm was simply a shell of its former self. The radar presentation was average, but it was clear the storm was on its last breath. We regrouped and made a fuel and food stop at Burkburnett, TX. It was still relatively early in the day, so we debated whether SW OK or NW TX might be a good play. The northern area contained much better wind shear for organized convection, but concerns existed with the quality of moisture and effect of the aforementioned supercell setting up an E-W outflow boundary prohibiting further moisture advection. Ultimately, we decided to drop southwest out of SPS as the atmosphere in that region remained untouched and two cells were showing trends of intensification.

Dropping southwest to the new convection was an excellent choice. We observed a second supercell along Hwy 277/82, 3 NE Mankins, TX. The storm was quite pretty, with the sun backlighting the updraft tower. It made several attempts at sustaining a wall cloud, but simply struggled to maintain good low-level organization. Additionally, the storm and its inflow was becoming seeded by another strengthening storm just to its south. As the sun dropped below the storms base, the photogenic nature was lost and I contemplated blasting south to the new storm west of Archer City, TX.

I decided to reposition and stop at Mankins just in case I wanted a fast south road option for the southern storm. While repositioning, I noticed a thin rope funnel extending from the base of a left-split updraft from the southern storm. The funnel grew in length, more horizontally versus vertically, and persisted for nearly five minutes. This was only the second time I've observed well-formed funnels on a left split (the first being north of Jayton, TX on 6/12/05). It was tough to leave the second supercell due to proximity and existing daylight, but I took the plunge and dropped south on Hwy 25 towards Archer City, TX.

Existing light was slowly fading, but enough twilight existed to clearly observe storm features. It was fortunate this storm was the southern-most convection across the region. As we moved eastward out of Archer City, the first hints of impressive structure were noted. Figuring the tornado threat was relatively low probability, we continued east to acquire an improved view of the storm. I stopped intermently east of Windthorst, TX to shoot numerous stills and exposures. Incredible supercell structure existed with the third supercell and the existing light made for quite a range of colors. This was another great high point in the day.

I wanted to shoot more of the storm in the frame and utilize its lightning activity, so I dropped south on a horrible dirt road from Hwy 174 to Hwy 175 near Shannon, TX. The road is named 'Old Joy Shannon Road' for those that want a terrifying night drive. I was able to put another 5 miles south of the updraft and found a dark turnoff to take a few more stills. The updraft was slowly shrinking, similar in an LP-fashion. The striations were just beautiful and the fading twilight sky and town lights added to the color mix. As lightning activity slowed, I rejoined friends in Bowie, TX for a final discussion. I had only slept 1 of the last 24 hours, but an experience such as described here seems to transcend the body into where it belongs.

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