May 30, 2001

Monster Supercell and 3 Inch Hail

Chase Account by: Scott Blair

Chase Team: Scott Blair, Jason Politte, Chris Kridler, Dave Lewison.
The early morning hours of May 30th were spent driving to our hotel room in Elk City, OK. Jason Politte and I arrived in Elk City an hour after midnight as a lightning show greeted us and the night sky. We had forecasted a few hours before at the Loves Truck Stop in Shamrock, TX. It appeared the upslope flow would once again become pronounced with good shear for rotating storms. A vort max in the northwest flow aloft was forecasted to be near the Raton, NM area by 18z as decent surface moisture was expected to overspread the region early in the period. Another area of interest was along an outflow boundary that was expected to take shape near the Red River. While this area looked to have good convergence, the shear was much less. Also, high UVV's and convergence was centered over our target area in New Mexico.

We received the hotel wake up call just before 7am. During the next two hours, we poured over new model runs and surface data. We decided we would target a Tucumcari to Raton, NM area along and just east of the front range. After another horrible breakfast at Denny's, we departed Elk City, OK around 10:30am. The drive westbound on I-40 was rather uneventful all the way up to Amarillo, TX. I received a phone call from Chris Kridler just before taking the loop around AMA. Chris and Dave Lewison were also interested in the same target area and we decided we would attempt to meet up in the field. After a gas and data stop, Jason and I decided to get a quick lunch at the Taco Bell. Shortly after we arrived, Chris and Dave entered Taco Bell. We exchanged greetings and discussed the chase day over lunch.

Around 1pm, we departed Amarillo. After about twenty miles west on I-40, we encountered two nice dust devils. The first one was multiple vortex while the second was a single vortex. While this was interesting, our attention was rapidly changing to a weak, fuzzy anvil in the NW distance. As we approached the border, the anvil continued to spread out and slowly harden. A quick call to nowcaster Phillip Flory confirmed our visual view as a rapidly developing storm was north of Springer, NM. We finally pushed into New Mexico on I-40 around 2:20pm (1:20MDT). (*Note- MDT will be used for rest of our stay in NM)

At exit 356 in San Jon, NM, we pulled off I-40 around 1:40pm. We quickly made final preparations at a gas station and decided without a doubt to target the supercell to our northwest. The storm continued to look better as we moved north on Hwy469. By 2pm, we arrived in Logan, NM and took a bumpy Hwy39 northwest toward the storm. At 2:20pm, the cell was rapidly strengthening in between Abbot and Mills, NM. The dbz base reflectivity jumped from 64 to 72 in just a few scans. Shortly after, a tornado warning was issued for Harding County. The storm was well on its way to becoming a long lived, raging supercell.

We made excellent time on the storm as traffic was sparse. Our only slow down was the steep climb in elevation east of Mosquero, NM. Around 2:45pm, we were finally in good position and pulled off about four miles west of Mosquero. For a good amount of time, the storm was slowly but surely organizing. Rotation was present, but appeared to have a quite elongated appearance. Slowly, the leading edge of the updraft tightened and several long inflow bands developed. The bands were sustained and stretched out towards the southeast. The storm was on a strong southeast movement. At times it appeared to wobble south-southeast. The rotation increased as the broad scale motion was cyclonic with the lowest level appearing anti-cyclonic. This was due to the overall shape of the storm. Eventually as the storm wrapped tighter, the lower levels rotated cyclonic.

By 3:20pm, radar indicated a very strong rotation couplet just south of Albert, NM. This was about four to five miles to our north. We continued to stay ahead of the storm as we backtracked down Hwy39, stopping every few miles to observe any changes. Around 4pm, we stopped about fifteen miles southeast of Mosquero. The storm was clearly visible. A very large rain/hail shaft was obvious just behind the updraft. As the storm pushed SE, several notches near the precip/updraft area appeared along the updraft. This was likely the result of some kind of RFD influence. At one point, four different notches were visible. Two were cyclonic and the others anti-cyclonic. One pronounced cyclonic swirl with a small lowering took shape as the others appeared gusted out. Having a difficult time visually with the overall structure and rotating area, we continued southeast on Hwy39.

After a good fifteen miles back southeast, we were shocked to see how well the structure had matured. An absolutely beautiful barber pole, striated updraft was visible about four miles to our north. Rotation was very obvious as a warning remained in effect. We pulled off the road and took some video and stills. We continued to get into position as we made short jogs down the highway. The supercell was a fantastic sight. The mesocyclone was nicely wrapped up in numerous bands. A few small inflow tails developed off the base. Above all was a dramatic, intense precipitation core standing behind the meso.

Around 4:30pm, we hit the Hwy39/54 intersection near Logan, NM. We decided to get a closer look at the area of rotation, so we pushed northeast on Hwy54. After a few miles, we stopped within two miles of the rotation. While no immediate threat for tornadic activity existed, rapid vertical motion was present under the updraft. It appeared the storm attempted to form a wall cloud, but the RFD rapidly began to occlude the area. The dangerous looking core was now about a mile to the north, sliding safely away to the southeast. Before long, the core wrapped around the old meso as a new meso rapidly formed. We needed to get back into position.

We quickly stopped for gas in Logan, NM. After filling up, we noticed our road network would be difficult. The only decent option was to hit I-40 into Texas and then head south at Adrian, TX. This would place us in perfect position. We departed Logan around 4:45pm, taking Hwy469 south and then Hwy392 east towards I-40. The supercell was beginning its most mature stage. The Cannon Air Force Base radar showed a sustained base reflectivity during the next hour from 73 to 78 dbz. Visually, it was a well balanced storm with a huge core abruptly phasing into a massive updraft region. The storm began to shed and develop mesocyclones at a rapid fashion. The RFD would quickly wrap and occlude each meso, sending the core around to engulf the dying mesos. At the same time, a new meso would form. Each new meso quickly developed bands. This process continued for quite some time.

Finally, we arrived back onto I-40 and reached the Texas border. (*Note- CDT will be used for rest of the account) We crossed into Texas around 6:25pm. The storm was close, but still it appeared we had plenty of room to clear any significant precipitation. Unfortunately, the rapidly wrapping mesocyclone process mentioned earlier began to occur. As the storm began to wrap up, the area just behind us towards the west filled up with precip. At the same time, the area of rotation increased but was still a far cry from anything significant. At 6:30pm, we were faced with a major dilemma. We knew there would be large hail back towards the west, so our only option was to blast east, skirting the area of rotation. As we punched it, the east horizon still contained a yellow glow which meant we were close to clearing the storm. However, it became quickly noticeable that the RFD and associated precip was wrapping at too quick of a pace. I was leading, followed by Chris's vehicle and then Jason's car. It appeared now that we would have to go through at least some precip. As the first hail stone hit, I promptly alerted everyone over the radio. "Ok, we have dime size hail." A brief pause went by before I spotted a few golf ball sized hail pieces. With a little more urgency in my voice, "OK, we've got larger than dime size... close to golf ball size hail." There was a few seconds pause before my heart began to race as the ever dreaded baseball size hail was spotted. Calmly and nervously I called over the radio, "Oh God... close to baseball pieces hitting the ground." A few seconds after, I hit the brakes as 2-3 inch diameter hail began slamming into the chase car. Visibility rapidly dropped as the hail frequency increased. To reduce any extra velocity, there was no other choice but to pull off the road. Large hail stones continued to pound my left side of the vehicle and other parts of the car's body. The window wipers began to bounce up and down as hail stones rattled the blades. My side window was bouncing back in and out and I knew at any time it could break. I quickly adjusted my car to avoid any direct contact with any window. Through the deafening sound, I managed to operate two video cameras. Within five minutes, the largest hail had passed. Only dime size hail mixed with moderate rain lingered. Then, hail fog covered the area, making for an eerie sight.

When the sound let up, we informed each other over the radio what damage had been caused. Finally, the hail and rain ended and the nervous task of surveying the damage began. I lost three of my four taillights, one severely damaged. The trunk's trim was badly damaged with a few holes. The right side mirror was shattered. My weather and communication equipment on the roof was significantly damaged as almost all had been blown/knocked off or shattered. Jason's equipment rack had been blown off and slammed onto his back glass. The front side lights had been broken out. Of more concern was his car would not start. We finally discovered that hail hit his car so hard, the fuel pump switch turned off. This usually takes place when cars are involved in accidents. Chris's car was also badly damaged as hail shattered a large circular pattern in her front windshield. The left taillight was broken severely. While all of us sustained major vehicle body damage, Chris's was the worst. Huge craters close to 4 inches in diameter were crushed into the body. Several areas of chipped paint accompanied all our dents.

Hail still covered large areas on the ground. Unfortunately, a good 20-30 minutes passed before we were able to clearly witness hail on the ground. Most of the pieces had already melted, but we still found 1.5 to 2 inch diameter hail. All the hail was very "hard" and clear. We located some interesting pieces, one in the shape of a elongated tear drop. This stone was actually clear on one end and foggy on the other end. Hail drifts still remained on the left side of the vehicles, where hail piled high after striking the cars.

We finally limped back into Amarillo around sunset and crashed at the Motel 6. We all watched our video, discussed the events of the day and previous chases.

Obviously, going through very large hail is not an enjoyable experience. However, chasing presents situations where hail becomes unavoidable, like this day. We almost escaped the hail, probably within a half mile of being clear. But the storm wrapped up way to fast and you already know the rest of the story. Honestly, this day was an excellent chase day. We were able to view a beautiful supercell as it evolved into fantastic sculptures. There was great photo and video opportunities throughout the day. Dramatic sights and good rotation was the story line for most of the period. The hail damage is unfortunate, but doesn't make me lose sight of a classic chase day. This will be a day I will never forget. -Scott Blair



NCDC STORM REPORTS - May 30, 2001
Description: Thunderstorms formed along the east slope of the Sangre de Cristo in western Colfax and Mora Counties and then intensified into low precipitating supercells that yielded copious amounts of small hail across Harding and Union Counties, and finally golfball to baseball hail, plus funnel clouds and at least one brief gustnado or ground based spin-up over Quay County. Snow plows were called out near Grenville in Union County to remove dime size hail which clogged Highway 64/87 with 5-8 inches of ice. The heavier hail stayed mainly over open rangeland of Quay County, but later pounded storm chase vehicles along I-40 near the border with Texas. Storms began to bow as the passed into Curry County. Gusts of 60 to 80 mph just missed the main sections of Clovis, but scattered reports of downed trees and power lines were received from the city.

SPC MESOSCALE DISCUSSION 0952 FOR NERN NM/SERN CO/NWRN TX PANHANDLE AND WRN OK PANHANDLE. CONCERNING...SEVERE THUNDERSTORM POTENTIAL... VALID 301907Z - 302100Z
WE ARE MONITORING ARE FOR A POSSIBLE WW IN THE NEXT FEW HOURS. CONVECTION IS BEGINNING TO DEVELOP/ORGANIZE...AND WILL LIKELY INTENSIFY AS IT ENCOUNTERS INCREASING INSTABILITY/UPSLOPE FLOW WHILE MOVING SEWD.
LATEST RADAR DATA OUT OF PUEBLO INDICATES THAT CONVECTION THAT HAD DEVELOPED IN THE ELEVATED TERRAIN TO THE WEST OF RATON NM WAS BEGINNING TO MOVE SEWD THROUGH ERN COLFAX COUNTY WHILE STRENGTHENING. ADDITIONAL CONVECTION WAS DEVELOPING ALONG THE FRONT RANGE OF SERN CO TO THE SOUTH OF COS. LATEST VISIBLE SAT/SURFACE DATA INDICATES WELL DEFINED SURFACE BOUNDARY LIES FROM ALONG THE ERN SLOPES OF THE ROCKIES NEAR COS SEWD INTO FAR ERN NM NEAR CLAYTON. LOW LEVEL MOISTURE WAS INCREASING BEHIND THE FRONT...WITH LOW TO MID 50S DEWPOINTS AS FAR WEST AS THE FRONT RANGE ALONG WITH ELY UPSLOPE FLOW. GIVEN MODERATE AMOUNTS OF DEEP LAYER SHEAR ON THE ORDER OF 40 KTS PER LATEST VWP OUT OF PUEBLO AND INCREASING LOW LEVEL MOISTURE/INSTABILITY...CONVECTION WILL LIKELY CONTINUE TO INTENSIFY AS IT MOVES OUT OVER THE PLAINS OF NERN NM AND SERN CO...EVENTUALLY MOVING INTO THE NWRN TX PANHANDLE/WRN OK PANHANDLE. LARGE HAIL AND ISOLATED DAMAGING WIND GUSTS SHOULD BE THE PRIMARY THREAT. ..CROSBIE.. 05/30/01
*Return to Main Page