God bless jetlag!
Waking up (very) early in Dallas on the first day of the tour, I figured I’d kill some time before breakfast opened and wander around outside to see if there’s a decent sunrise to timelapse rather than waste time trying to get back to sleep. I exit the lobby entrance and instead find myself gazing beyond a criss-cross of tension wires and asphalt at a cluster of dark bases a few miles off to the west, looming into view over the 7Eleven. A further couple of skinny, lone shower clouds lie off to the north where rainfall can be seen slanting at an angle, catching the rays of the early morning sun and turning them crimson.
Thinking of them in my jet-lagged state as nothing more than the leftovers of a line of night time showers, a flash of light to the north suddenly catches my eye. Again, the shower looks too stunted and anaemic to be considered as anything more than that and I dismiss the flash as something that just caught the light of a passing car or the opening of a window in the distance. This time though, a brighter flash off to the west is unmistakeable, scratching a pulsed, glowing line through the sky. The adrenaline kicks in, dispelling the jetlag and allowing me to realise these showers for what they are – a cluster of high-based multicells. Wasting no further time, I head back to my room, grab my gear and set up on one of the hotel balconies and watch the cells pass over.
Serenely they glide towards the hotel, turning the sky a wash of golden yellow and azure blue, lazily throwing out bolts as if they themselves are grouchy and slow to waken. Inflow undulates in raked and furrowed lines, rising into their respective updrafts and falling in brushed strokes with the rain. A cluster of storms pass to the north, another to the south west, seemingly diverting around us, though the bolts that are grazed out are close with the soothing sound of thunder delicately interrupting the early morning birdsong and the growing rush of urban traffic.
Our group departs the hotel at 9am, heading for Amarillo where we hope some high based multicells will fire via the upslope flow. Being a Sunday morning the roads are clear and we make good time, emerging from under the scattered clag and decaying Castellanus of this morning’s storms into clear blue skies. We stop for gas at Wichita Falls where I learn that Mountain Dew is, quite literally, made from crayons here in the US. The approach to Amarillo is met with an increasing cumulus field covering our target area as dust devils litter the fields either side of us in 80 degree heat. I love this aspect of chasing; the long drives through open foreign country, watching the terrain pass by, catching glimpses and snapshots of life as alien to you as you are to them. Banter and idle chit-chat fills the cars as the group slowly bonds, punctuated by the occasional stops for food and gas, backed all the while by the ever increasing thrill of the chase and the promise of storms.
It is noticeably warmer and more humid as we stop for lunch at Braums where news quickly filters through that a slow moving storm is currently sat upon the OK/CO border. As is usual in these parts when a strange group of people is stood loitering around, the locals ask us what such a large group of Brits is doing casually loitering around a Braums on the outskirts of Amarillo. We tell them we’re chasers probably heading to Dumas. They tell us Dumas is the armpit of Texas. We head for Dumas.
60 miles from our storm we glimpse the anvil edge through the increasing cu field. Radar shows it has a 45,000ft top, is a prolific lightning producer, is stationary and back-building. We eventually cross into the Oklahoma panhandle where the surrounding cu field now exhibits increased vertical growth and agitation and as we venture further, lightning begins to pop in front of us against a backdrop of deep watercolour blue. The long straight roads that disappear endlessly into the horizon are deserted and allow us to stop by an abandoned shack that’s as dead as the trees that stand guard before it. The field of dry beige stubble in which they sit provides the perfect compliment to the grey-blue base of the storm overhead.
We sit for ages, untroubled, watching the storm cycle and build, its shelf cloud displaying teeth and claw that seem to pull the storm across the landscape in a laboured crawl, each fresh new burst urging it onwards. For hours we keep darting south to keep ahead of it on empty roads as strange areas of virga and downburst appear in the deck above but eventually the storm can only back build so much and begins to die a drawn out and protracted death. Its lightning rate increases as the cloud top collapses and its fun to observe the storm morphology over time in this way.
We head back to Dumas for dinner where we enjoy the “best Thai restaurant in Texas” as Paul our tour guide referred to it. Thai Siam is a quaint little place, with bold green walls and what appears to be a cupboard that passes for a toilet if you head down a strange forbidding passageway behind a curtain to the side of the far wall. It appears to be family run and we’re both amazed and grateful that they’re able to cater for 15 people who just landed on their doorstep like this. To my surprise at least was the quality of the food which was actually deserving of Paul’s monicker of the best Thai restaurant in Texas; the food really was delicious. Between eating here and the journey to our hotel, we expect the storms we’ve left behind to congeal into a linear system and give us a night time lightning show. We leave the restaurant however and there’s nothing to be seen but a dark expanse of decayed cloud. All in all then, a fun chase day and a gentle intro for the newbies amongst us.
Here are a couple of videos I shot of the morning clusters: