GAINESVILLE, Tex. — If you’re a meteorologist and it’s May, you know the atmosphere always has a few tricks up its sleeve. Storms over Kansas produced incredible displays on Thursday, but Friday was shaping up to be more iffy. Nonetheless, I drove the 460 miles to my chase target in Wichita Falls, Tex., bought myself an ice cream and waited beneath blue skies.
Before long, a towering cumulus cloud bloomed into a massive rotating supercell, a telltale hook appearing on radar where it began to rotate. Air spiraled into its corkscrews updraft as rain and hail fell to the north. Even on the edge of the storm, I was getting big hail. I knew this would be a nasty storm.
As I blasted south, the storm morphed into something otherworldly. A mother ship loomed over the Red River as hail the size of CDs pelted Burkburnett, Tex. A few weak tornadoes danced beneath the ominous behemoth.
I raced east but then decided to target a new storm to the south that had already produced at least one tornado near Bellevue. That’s when the hail started. The biggest hail is usually found north of the mesocyclone, or rotating part of a thunderstorm.
After that, the storm weakened so I traveled farther north to Bowie. But then, two tornado-warned rotations made a beeline for town, leaving me stuck between the two. Sirens blared as lightning flashed like a strobe light.
I headed farther north to try to beat one circulation, but visibility dropped to zero. I pulled over to ride it out. Then I heard a roaring hiss and saw power flashes. That’s when winds gusted 80 to 100 mph, shaking my truck back and forth. It was the strongest wind I have ever experienced.
It lasted only about 90 seconds, but the damage was intense. Across the area, numerous trees and power lines were downed by the vicious winds, likely from straight-line gusts on the south side of the northern area of rotation. It was unclear initially whether a tornado touched down.
Sometimes when it comes to storm chasing, the chaser can become the chased.