May 26, 2021 Texas Panhandle Chase
Two Tornadoes and Some Impressive RFD Wind

by John Farley

This seemed like a day with considerable promise, but also with high bust potential. Things were amping up again in assoociation with a western troughing and eastern ridging pattern that had been in place for the last couple weeks or so. Surface low pressure near the CO/WY state line had a warm front extending east across southwest NE and northern KS, with a dryline southeastward from the low across far northeastern CO then southward across west-central and southwest KS and the Panhandles. East of the dryline and along and south of the warm front, some of the best instability of the season would be in place, with CAPE of 2000-4000 j/kg expected in those areas. Upper southwesterly winds were pretty strong, and southerly to southeasterly winds at the surface would provide good directional and speed shear. So far so good. But there were a couple flies in the ointment - weak mid-level winds and considerable model disagreement on where storms would initiate. Many, but not all, models had a gap somewhere in the north-south band from Nebraska southward through much of west TX, i.e. an area where no storms were predicted. Others broke storms out all up and down the line. Taking the models together, the surest bet for storms to occur looked to be along and north of I-70, in Kansas and Nebraska, and south of I-40 in the southern TX Panhandle. In between seemed a little more uncertain. SPC issued a moderate risk for parts of southern NE and northern KS, with an enhanced risk down almost to the OK state line, somewhere near Greensburg, KS. From there, a slight risk, but with a 5% tornado chance, extended south through the Panhandles. I had planned to chase the TX Panhandle as of the night before and had pre-positioned in Tucumcari, NM. However, despite the certainty of storms somewhere in the Panhandle, I revised my target to southern KS the next morning. This was because storms looked too numerous south of I-40 in TX, so that no storm would become dominant enough for good tornado potential. And in the northern Panhandle, several models broke out no storms at all. I knew I could not get to the Nebraska target from where I was, and in northern KS, storms fired very early, produced some tornadoes, then turned in to a big messy complex of storms like what was predicted in the southern TX Panhndle. So I decided to head up U.S. 54 into KS, thinking that in southern KS storms would be more discrete than farther north, but still in an area with very good severe weather parameters. And if good storms did break out in the OK or northern TX Panhandles, I might be able to double back down to them.

As it works out, I got into KS as far as Meade. While there, some time around 4:00 p.m. (?) I saw on radar that a pretty good looking storm had gone up in the far northern TX Panhandle, south of Guymon, OK. This told me that I was too far east of the dryline, which no doubt reflects one of my chasing biases - I would rather be a little too far east and go back to storms moving toward me than be too far west and end up trying to play catch-up with storms to my east. But in this case, I was nearly and hour and a half too far east, so in hindsight it would have been better if I had stopped somewhere closer to Liberal, KS. Also in hindsight perhaps I was too swayed by the SPC outlook that had the enhanced risk farther east in far southern KS and/or by several models that showed fairly late storm initiation at a time, when presumably, the dryline would ahve shifted farther east. Anyway, I doubled back to the southwest on Route 54 to Liberal, from where I figured I could either move to intercept this storm or go for others that might develop up the dryline from it in the OK Panhandle or western KS. As I went back to Liberal, the storm south of Guymon became SVR-warned then, a little later, TOR warned. And it did not move much over the course of the two-plus hours it ended up taking me to get to it. By the time I got to Guymon, there were only a few weak attempts at convection in the OK Panhandle or western KS, as the storm south of Guymon remained by far the dominant storm. So I dropped south on U.S. 83 from Liberal, KS to Perryton, TX. At the OK-TX state line, I stopped to take a few pictures of the storm. Heavy precipitation blocked my view of the updraft area of the main storm, but to its northeast across the OK Panhandle a band of inflow had developed that was somewhat electrified and dropping some light precipitation. As I crossed under that band, I encountered some very strong inflow wind from the east, blowing toward the main storm. I took a few pictures of the inflow band and the main storm, at the edge of a wind farm. In this panorama pic, the core of the main storm can be seen in the distance to the left of the road (which is on the state line), and the inflow band on the right above the wind turbines:

This picture was taken around 6:15 or 6:20, around or just after the time of the second tornado the storm produced. But from that location, I could see nothing of the updraft area, so did not see either of the first two tornadoes the storm produced. Then I pushed on to Perryton, and went southwest from there on route 15 toward Spearman. The storm was north of Spearman and seemed like it had been there the whole time I had been driving back from Meade, although it now seemed to be drifting a little to the east. A couple other small storms had gone up southeast of the main storm, south and SSW of Perryton. But the location of the highway was such that I could drive right down between these new storms and the main one and be ale to watch both. Here is a picture of one of the storms that went up to the southeast of the dominant storm:

I was concerned that the new storms might weaken the main one and become the new dominant storms, but that did not happen. It was like the storm north of Spearman said I AM THE DOMINANT STORM TODAY and no other storm is going to mess with me. I did not know it, but the storm had alrady porduced two brief tornadoes before I got to it. But I could see that it was producing, intermittently, some great storm structure and some pretty impressive lowerings under its updraft area, and it was very electrified with lots of CG lightning.

I watched the storm for about an hour, making a couple stops on side roads along Route 15 between Perryton and Spearman. My longest stop was at Route 1267, just off 15 on the north side. A sheriff's deputy, a TV chaser from Channel 10 in Amarillo, and several other chasers were also stopped there. Eventually, after watching rotating wall clouds and occasional possible attempts at funnels, I saw a narrow funnel form a little after 7:30 on the north side of the wall cloud. It gradually extended itself as a narrow, ropy condensation funnel almost all the way to the ground - tornado! But almost as soon as it was evident that it was a tornado, the funnel became detached from the cloud base and the ropeout process began. I thought this tornado only lasted about a minute, but the AMA NWS listed it as lasting two minutes, receiving numerous reports from spotters, chasers, and law enforcement, likely including some who were at the same location I was. I thought the tornado was probably at least 5 miles away, and that meshes well with the PNS from the Amarillo NWS which placed it 7 miles north of Gruver.

In this final capture, you can see that as the bottom of the condensation funnel drilled down to or very close to the ground, the top was already becoming detached from the parent cloud, signaling the beginning of the ropeout process:

Hee is the video of this tornado:

As the video above shows, a minute or two after the tornado, a new lowered area was evident closer to my northwest - presumably the storm was cycling and a new meso was forming. Alomst immediately, dust began to be lofted well into the air. Briefly, I thought this could have been a new tornado, but it was quickly evident that the dust being lofted was moving differently from the lowered area, most likely across from left to right in front of it. And I could not confirm any rotation in the dust, though I would not say for sure that there could not have been a gustnado in there somewhere. But the main cause of the dust was a sudden burst of straight line wind, most likely RFD from the newly forming meso.

By now the storm was moving toward my location, so it was time to start working my way back toward Perryton. As I did, more of these intense bursts of blowing dust associated with RFD continued to occur, like the one in this picture:

Eventually these caught up with me as I worked my way back toward Perryton making occasional stops. Stopped on a side road with a number of other chasers and spotters, I got pictures and video of several of these, including a very strong one (I would estimate briefly 60+ mph) that went right over my location.


But I managed to stay far enough to the southwest to avoid the hail in the core, which in some places was 2 to 3 inches in diameter. After the burst of RFD passed, I worked my way farther back toward Perryton, staying just SW of where any heavy precipitation would wrap around. As the meso moved right toward Perryton, a rainbow formed underneath it:


Soon after that, from a few miles SW of Perryton, I saw the fourth tornado of the day, although I did not realize it was a tornado at the time. I saw a rotating wall cloud, fairly low to the ground and frontlit by the sunlight behind the storm, and did notice what appeared to be a funnel inside the wall cloud and surrounding scud. But most of the time it was obscured for the most part by the wall cloud and the nearby scud, and it never protruded much below the wall cloud. However, it did produce a tornado on the south side of Perryton that produced minor damage (tree branches down, garage doors blown in, and minor roof damage) along a narrow track for several blocks. This tornado was well warned for based on radar, which did indicate rotation right over Perryton. Although I did not realize it was a tornado, I was getting video and taking pictures as the tornado developed, and looking at these there are a couple times when I think the tornado is pretty visible through the wall cloud and scud, though not for too long. It also appears possible from the video that there might have been multiple funnels/vortices in the wall cloud, but I cannot say for sure about that. In this video capture, you can see what I am pretty sure is the condensation funnel associated with the tornado emerging from the main cloud base at the top of the wall cloud just left of center. It makes sort of an S-shaped curve toward the ground, partially hidden by clouds in the foreground, but emerging sunlit just below the lowest point of the wall cloud:

Here is another video capture from slightly later. In this one, what appears to be the funnel is pretty visible at the base of the parent cloud/top of the wall cloud, but it then disappears back into the wall cloud:

Here is my video as the tornado developed over Perryton:

Here is a map from the Amarillo National Weather Service showing the path of this tornado in Perryton:

Around or just after the time of the Perryton tornado, another narow funnel cloud formed just to the south or southwest of Perryton, nicely frontlit but never extending as much as halfway to the ground. To my knowledge, this one never touched down but I did get a picture:

After that, I continued cautiously into Perryton, getting into some wind and rain and perhaps a little hail. But in spots, there was quite a bit of hail on the ground, including a few stones larger than a quarter, around 1.25" in diameter.

A much larger hail swath passed just north of Perryton with, as I noted, several reports of 2 to 3 inch hail along that swath. So in that regard, Perryton got lucky. As I continued into Perryton, there was a LOT of street flooding, though, with water 6 inches to possibly a foot deep in places. With the storm moved off to the east, I found a motel room for the night. It was not until after the next day's chase that I found out the tornado touched down in the block just north of the motel where I stayed, and tracked just south of due east from there. I did not see any damage, but was not really looking for any, as I had not heard about the tornado and did not realize at the time that it had touched down, due to the lack of any visible condensation near the ground or any debris from where I had been watching.

In summary this was a very successful chase, with two tornadoes - even if I did miss the other two and even if I did not realize the second one was a tornado at the time. And there was some excellent storm structure, and the RFD-lofted blowing dust was quite a thing to see. Very glad I saw this storm on radar in time to double back to it. This is a great example of how having radar in your car (in this case, RadarScope on my phone) does help - back before the days of in-car radar I probably would have missed this storm by not knowing about it in time.

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