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May 27, 2002 Storm Event Log : May 27, 2002

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Memorial Day - Monday, May 27
We woke up to good news from the SPC - a Moderate Risk area had been issued, with the best chances for tornadoes right where we were! Since we were already in the target area, we could relax until the afternoon when the storms would begin to fire. And fire they did - late afternoon, mesocyclones were everywhere around Lubbock. We headed north towards a tornado warning near Plainview, but after travelling some distance, we decided to latch on to a complex of nice rotating storms to our east that looked very promising. During the pursuit, two of our chase vehicles, including mine, discovered what driving on a Texas dirt road after rain is like: pure ice. We fishtailed and nearly 180'd after starting onto the dirt road, and had a time getting back to the highway, tires spinning. I never saw mud so slick before.

Soon after the 'ice mud', we pulled over to film the rotating base of one of our mesocyclonic storms (below left) that had earlier dropped copious amounts of nickel to golf-ball sized hail on the ground. Like a bunch of kids at an easter egg hunt, we walked around picking up and observing hailstones (below center), some of which had some very strange shapes (below right).

Soon afterwards, our cells began to explode skyward. We stopped northeast of Ralls, TX to film the rapidly growing cell and its flanking line (below left and right). Video of the growing cumulonimbus shows the astounding rate of vertical development, clearly visible even in a normal-speed playback! (RealVideo clip, 1.2MB). One of our storm observers described the sight as a 'time-lapse without the time-lapse'.

This cell was getting huge, becoming more monstrous by the minute. We headed southeast to keep up with it, as the sun, still high in the sky, interacted with the rain and hail shaft to produce a rainbow along the ground (right).

Not long after turning east onto highway 82, we encountered heavy rain near the town of Ralls, TX. Near the center of town, the tornado sirens began to go off, indicating a tornado warning for our location! We continued east, carefully watching the skies for signs of rotation and above the ground for debris. We broke free of the rain east of town, but not before encountering hail. It began slowly, with nickel-sized stones relentlessly pelting us. But it wasn't long before the baseballs began to appear out of the sky, some bouncing in the grass while others shattered as they slammed into the pavement. I rolled down my window and took a few seconds of video - along with the eerie sound of large hail hitting objects around us (houses, cars, trees, the roadway) with clangs, cracks, pings and snaps. I took several hits from golfballs and baseballs, one denting my hood (below left) and another chipping my windshield (below right) before we decided that we needed to turn around and get out of there fast (RealVideo clip, 1.6MB). We later saw a car that lost a windshield from this hail core that we barely escaped from. Our vehicles sustained several chips and dents, but thankfully not much else.

We blazed south to get around the hail, then headed on east to get to the center of the storm's circulation. But as we looked back, our jaws dropped in amazement at a large wall cloud looming behind us. Apparently, a new cell had rapidly formed beside the first one and developed strong rotation. We turned back east and stopped a couple of miles from the ominous wall cloud, among groups of storm observers from around the country and world.

The wall cloud grew and changed shape constantly (RealVideo clip, 355KB), while inflow spiraled around at all levels as it raced toward the center of circulation (first five photos below). The storm had all the makings to produce a large tornado, but it began to collapse as hail and rain punched down through the storm (second row below; center), cutting off further intensification (RealVideo clip, 308KB). We lined up with our cameras to watch and record the show (right). We moved our vantage point east several times to stay ahead of the hail, as the 'observer convergence' zone moved with the storm (second row below; right).

As we moved east to stay ahead of the storm, the cell rapidly collapsed - but not before we got an awesome view of the entire storm from a distance (below right). Before leaving our first location, I grabbed a shot of the West Virginian expedition vehicle (my truck) with the spinning wall cloud looming overhead (below left).

This big storm would turn out to be the last of my vacation, and the long drive to West Virginia from Lubbock would begin the next morning.

NEXT: An Eventful Drive Home >

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