HIGH COUNTRY STORM CHASE

A thunderstorm anvil streams out from a developing supercell thunderstorm over the Sierra Diablo Mountains of far west Texas. This series of photographs was taken from the highest point I have ever witnessed a tornado; the scenic overlook just south of Gaudalupe Peak. At 8749 feet this peak is the highest point in the state of Texas. I'll bet this is the highest tornado to occur in the state of Texas.

All images and text © copyright Gene Moore
unless otherwise indicated
.

Anvil overhead -  storm southwest Gaudalupe peak - Looking north

During this series of pictures sustained winds of 40 to 50 m.p.h. fed into the storm from the east. The wind speed increases as the flow channels around the tops of the Gaudlaupe and Sacramento Mountains to the north in New Mexico. A wind measurement device at the GDP recording station near here often records the highest wind speed in Texas on storm days. Looking north at the peak clouds begin to gather as the storm moves in from the west.

 

Under the base of the thunderstorm two areas of interest are developing. The one to the south is a wall cloud or mesocyclone. It can be seen as the lowering on the far left. The second area is where the strong winds from the rain core are streaming south then lifting and cooling under a strong updraft. Using binoculars the far south area is closely watched as rotation develops. An inflow band may be seen on the left, feeding moisture into the southern flank of the storm.

 


weak tornado left - developing tornado right wide shot of storm - inflow band

In this set a tornado develops from the right circulation. Then the tornado grows larger with a well established debris cloud.

 

High speed film was used due to the strong winds feeding into the storm from the east. Standing outside without shelter of the vehicle was difficult and photography was very hard. Shooting inside the vehicle was not much better due to the rocking.


contorted funnel west

The tornado becomes contorted in this image, but remains on the ground. It appeared this tornado originated from a circulation on the back side of the storm and not directly underneath it. The view from the west side would have been dramatic.


Cloud tags under the storm were moving rapidly from right to left indicating winds blowing south and probably responsible for sweeping the lower portion of the funnel to the south. It's interesting how the debris cloud remains relatively in the same spot despite this strong wind shifting the funnel further to the south.



wall cloud and inflow off ground wall cloud and funnel

Meanwhile another meso was cranking up in the favored area near the rain core. This region is to the north, or right of the tornado in progress. It lowered considerably and rotated to a smooth outer glaze.

One funnel, small in the image is visible, but never made it to ground. Cloud material is developing on the side of the ridge line and lifting into the mesocyclone


  south tornado dissipating - north continues  
 

The center circulation and tornado remain the best. Dust is still visible under the left circulation where a small funnel remains. The circulation on the left would have been much more dramatic had I not been about 15 miles away. That's a long distance to observe a funnel that is no more than a hundred yards wide. Binoculars aid in these situations to determine if the circulations are real.

 

Chuck and Al at their best
  As the storm moved in on my position at the scenic overlook, I dropped south into the valley. The storm is now covering my initial photography position. Depicted here is the storm moving over my previous position, while chasers Chuck Doswell and Al Moller enjoy the show. A report on this storm may be found on his homepage along with photos. They were the only other people on this desolate stretch of road. The tornadic potential of the storm was gone at this time. The severe thunderstorm continued to move northeast into New Mexico.


 

intensifying storms southeast

 
  It was now time to take off into New Mexico after the original tornadic storm, or travel west for the new activity developing near I-10. additionally, new thunderstorms were now firing to the southeast. The jet stream winds were shearing off the tops of the storms and anvils were beginning to form. The storms on the south end of this broken line were beginning to look good, but were headed for an area of Texas with few roads. The best choice was to travel south then west on I-10. As this new storm came into view it was obvious from the structure it was rotating and probably tornadic. It appeared to be tornadic with rotating bands extending far up the south side of the storm.
 


After turning west on I-10 an watching the new supercell came into view a road would be required to go north for an intercept. Only one road was on the map and finding it was difficult. Near Sierra Blanca I made a attempt to go north for the cell, but I was too late.

After taking a couple of back roads I did get a (grab) shot of the distant tornado situated against the rainwall on the back side of the storm. This was a large tornado and is depicted as the dark vertical wall in the middle of the shot, tilting at about 30 degrees at the bottom. I was able to see violent motion from this feature, allowing me to identify it as the tornado that had been in progress since it crossed I-10 earlier in the evening. Later I interviewed people in the area that watched it pass by. It stayed in open country.

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