It’s been almost a year since the May 23, 2022, chase in Texas that was both awesome and maddening. Alethea Kontis and I were on the storm of the day from the moment it was a piddly shower. But the wrong move put us on the wrong side of a wall of dust that obscured a massive, violent tornado.
This is the one storm from 2022 that I didn’t post last year as I worked through all of my photos … maybe because it was so epic. Or maybe because we didn’t see exactly what we wanted to see.
We hung out in Muleshoe, first, and learned a bit about mules (see the video). Then we saw a sun halo, one of many we saw in 2022. We weren’t sure if we should take it as a good sign, however, given how weak our chase trip had been thus far. But we targeted Morton – later the site of the wedge tornado – and not far from there, eyed a growing but unimpressive supercell. When it appeared a dusty outflow boundary would overtake the storm, it seemed like it might be in trouble. Even though in the back of my mind, I thought of Florida’s outflow boundaries and how they can make a storm spin up a tornado, I couldn’t imagine what followed. Jason Persoff (with whom we’d met up) and Alethea and I began a repositioning maneuver in the wrong direction, and then the storm went nuts.
This time we moved with the dust back toward the storm. And I confess, I wasn’t ready to dive-bomb into the core to see what was on the other side. What was clear is that there was a big tornado in there, but we didn’t have the fantastic view the chasers who hung out among the falling giant hailstones had. Yet we did have a view of the monster. As the power lines sang an eerie tune in the inflow winds, we watched it get closer and decided to see if we could get into a position where we had a view of the supercell’s base. And maybe a tornado.We approached the dramatic stacked layers of the dusty beast, got almost under it and saw – more dust. And a dark shape in the dust. Given how the dust swept around the notch and chased us down the road – not to mention the radar signature – I feel certain we saw a tornado in there. Barely.
We bailed on the conga line of storm chasers – so many chasers – and dropped south to get a tremendous view of the stacked supercell. My favorite image of this I call “Texas Skyscraper,” and it’s available at Stolen Butter Gallery.
After Alethea had to get medieval on the sovereign of a local gas station to let us fill up – they were trying to close because of the storm, even though they were safely out of the path and we were running on fumes – we pursued the cell into its lightning phase. It was very difficult to keep up, and eventually we let it slip off into the darkness, a wild runaway in the night.
Some chasers had close calls that went along with their fantastic view of this storm. Check out Pecos Hank Schyma’s harrowing video. I’ve done a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking in the wake of this chase, but it’s hard to come up with a perfect scenario even if I could relive the day.
This storm pretty much wrapped up our 2022 chase season. At least it was a real storm – a powerful and visually stunning supercell. And if I look hard enough into my photos, I see the big tornado.
Now we’re about to head out to the Plains again, much later than usual given the quiet pattern in Tornado Alley. I’m not expecting much, but it will be great to be on the road again.
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