May 7, 2015


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Wichita Falls, TX
Guthrie, OK 8:17 AM 5/7/2015
Wichita Falls, TX 9:53 PM 5/7/2015
Seymour, TX; Jacksboro, TX; Krum, TX
0 mph
Tornado, Wall Cloud


Warm front/dry line play in north central Texas. Targeted storms coming off thermal axis southwest of Wichita Falls, TX initially, dropping south to Tail End Charlie as large cold pool developed. TIV/Doghouse caravan split in Graham. Intercepted tornado warned HP near Jacksboro, but had no visual. Retargeted to tornado warned supercell between Decatur and Denton noting large tornado exhibiting multi-vortex, wedge, and stovepipe characteristics. Ended chase as tornado roped out with last remaining light.

Photography courtesy Jennifer Brindley Ubl

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley Ubl, Phil Bates, Sean Casey, Justin Walker, Herb Stein, Paul Borrud. Equipment: Canon 60D, Canon t2i, Canon EFS 10-22, Canon EF 50mm, Sony HDR-xr500v..




May 7 was our second day on our first trip out as crew of the Doghouse. Brindley, Phil Bates, and I found ourselves in Guthrie, OK with the TIV crew after a brutal bust the day before in Kansas. There were tornadoes seemingly everywhere, and we had driven in circles, perpetually just behind catching them. Worst of all there had been a tornado mere miles from the hotel we had spent the previous night at, only to leave it for a several hundred mile wild goose chase. We were itching for redemption. The day’s setup was modest, with a warm front draped along the Red River, modest forcing and flow aloft and a strongly destabilized warm sector in central Texas. Storms looked to initiate along a thermal axis southwest of Wichita Falls by mid to later afternoon. Directional shear was lacking so they wouldn’t have much of a tornado play until they approached the front near the Red and we feared the storms would congeal or it would be after dark by then. One spot stood out in particular, however. Just after 7pm, the significant tornado parameter was spiking along the I-35 corridor in north central Texas. The spot was getting a favorable mix of instability and shear as the low level jet ramped up. Our mission with the TIV crew was to get dramatic shots of tornadoes in good light, so we had to make a play on the earlier activity and hope for the best. We set our initial target as Wichita Falls, TX.
Brindley loading up "Doghouse" for our early depature from Guthrie.

Damage Path
3 miles W of Newcastle, OK
9:04 AM
Adding insult to injury, we had to drive through the damage path of the tornado that had passed by our hotel on May 6. The damage went on for miles as the tornado seemed to parallel the interstate.
Three pairs of legs sticking out from under TIV is a common sight. Life in the TIV crew involves a lot of down time for maintenance. Justin Walker and Herb Stein have gotten quite handy at working on Sean Casey’s custom intercept vehicle. We stopped in Cyril, OK to do some work on the TIV.
Packing some food into Doghouse's cooler.
TIV rolled over to a maintenance shop and we had a few hours to kill before we had to cross down into Texas, so several of us walked over to the Walmart to stock up on stuff for the trip. The superstores are great for chase trips, having everything we could need from fresh produce to wiper blades and polarized sunglasses.
The TIV attracts attention everywhere we go, but Sean loves to chat with the locals.
Once TIV was fully operational we continued down I-44, crossed the Red, and headed into the Lone Star State. We stopped at our target town of Wichita Falls to grab some grub at a little Mexican restaurant and a Chinese buffet. Little did we know that the spot would become our home for the next couple days.

Paul Borrud, the crew’s designated drone pilot, launched his quad copter with camera mounts while we waited for storms after lunch.
The beefy drone can get a steady 4K shot from hundreds of feet in the air, perfect for capturing dramatic action shots of TIV on the move.
Storms fired even further southwest than we had anticipated and we had to scramble southwest out of town for the intercept. A barely broken line of storms was maturing as we approached, a couple cells already sporting hook echoes and severe warnings.

Approaching Storms
16 miles SW of Holliday, TX
2:36 PM
I drove Doghouse, a support vehicle that follows TIV, as we approached the line of storms. Our equipment visible in this shot includes a windshield suction mounted video camera, 22 inch touch screen with radar and mapping software, and not to be overlooked or underestimated: my new yellow tinted, polarized aviators. The glasses give me nearly robotic supervision under storms, dramatically increasing the contrast.
We punched the forward flank of a cell in the line getting some heavy rain and a smattering of small hail. A pointy gust front emerged once we broke through the back end.
TIV looked poised and ready for action under the dark, menacing clouds. The structure wasn’t particularly promising for our purposes though. The ragged gust front and whale’s mouth stretching overhead suggested the storms might be outflow dominant and dumping a ton of rain cooled air. We needed storms sucking in warm moist inflow to get our tornado.
Several embedded supercells are apparent within an interacting complex, but the storm structure suggested they might be putting down a large cold pool which could cut off surface based updrafts.
Outflow dominant storm structure:
To the northeast, there was a nice rain free base and scud being drawn in, so the storm was still inflow based, or at least a portion of it was. We pulled off and got out to watch northeast of Seymour, noting some broad rotation under the base as well.
A wall cloud started to beef up while an RFD clear slot bowed the updraft base into a horseshoe. Things were really looking up now and we started to get excited for the possibility of a tornado.
The cold pool caught up with the complex and quickly killed our promising updraft base. A huge whale’s mouth surged south from the line leaving a wake of cold, stable air behind it. The line was toast for our purposes. We blasted south to get out of the giant mouth that was swallowing us, heading for new storms firing off the dryline.
We passed a couple cells but structure was lackluster and ragged, as cells continued to interfere with each other get undercut by outflow.
Whale's teeth on the edge of the gust front:
A huge gust front extending all the way to the horizon:
We pushed further and further south finally getting down to Tail End Charlie between Newcastle and Graham, TX. The cap was stronger to the south, however, and the updraft base was choking on it. The cap made for some gorgeous structure, however, as the withering updraft base took on a smooth, laminar bell shape. Brindley and I thought it was photogenic enough to shoot, but pretty structure wasn’t our objective for this chase and the storm had almost no chance of producing a tornado so we left it.

Doghouse and TIV wound up in Graham, TX. A carnival was in town and Sean wanted to get shots of the TIV in front of the lights as the storm complex and gust front rolled in. It was early evening and there wouldn’t be much light left for a tornado incept anyway. Doghouse crew wanted to keep chasing, however, so we were allowed to break from the caravan and head out on our own.

I had forgotten my camcorder at a conference in Minneapolis. It was shipped down to me, but arrived after I had to leave to get Doghouse in Oklahoma. Fortunately, chase buddy Nick Nolte was driving right past Springfield on his way down to the Plains from Michigan and was able to swing by and pick it up. Our paths finally crossed in Graham. We spotted the orange Subaru in town and were able to meet up once we were cut loose from TIV. Nolte handed over my backpack containing my camcorder, for which I’m eternally grateful as I would wind up needing it a couple hours later. It was just one of those things in life that worked out perfectly.
We raced northeast toward a group of cells that were taking on nice supercellular characteristics as the shear picked up in the early evening hours.
We came on the back side of a supercell just as it picked up a tornado warning. Nolte split off from Doghouse as we maneuvered around the supercell.
We waited until the circulation crossed our highway and then punched the south end of the hook. Unfortunately we were heading into the hill and tree country of central Texas and our storm was massively high precipitation. We had almost no view of where the tornado would be.
The strong velocity couplet was buried in the core of the supercell. We'd have no view of the tornado and no good roads to safely get close.
Light was starting to wane and the entire warm sector was starting to light up with new updrafts, most of them uninteresting showers. It had been a long day, and as our tornado warned supercell fell apart and drifted away to the north we stopped to reassess and reconsider continuing the chase. A new supercell was taking shape to the southeast. It would be a run to catch it and we’d have little light left, but I remembered that spike in the significant tornado parameter from this morning’s forecast plots. The storm was at the right place and at the right time. There was enough motivation left in Doghouse that we decided to go for it. It’s incredibly fortunate that we did.
Soon a well defined hook and tight couplet developed before we could on the storm and before it wasn't even tornado warned. It produced a tornado north of New Fairview, but coming in behind the hook we no view of it.
It was a risky maneuver, but we advanced with incredible caution to make sure we wouldn’t drive into the back of a tornado or wind in the path of one.

The Core
8 miles ENE of Decatur, TX
6:56 PM
Visibility in the core of the supercell went down to almost nothing. It was just dark green everywhere you looked. I had hoped that the southern flank of the storm would present itself backlit, but it was completely buried. The hook had apparently been pulled into the forward flank core. The circulation approached the east west highway we were on without giving us a shred of storm structure from which to get our bearings. We stopped and waited for the circulation indicated on the road to cross in front of us. It was just too dangerous to advance any further. Traffic continued in both directions, so apparently nothing significant crossed ahead of us though.

Developing Tornado
10 miles ENE of Decatur, TX
7:02 PM
Once we were sure the circulation had crossed the road, we cautiously moved forward in the heavy rain. Finally, midway between Decatur and Denton we had a visual on structure to our north. A huge lowering hung from the storm. Visibility started to improve but we still couldn’t see quite what was going on underneath. The storm was wrapping up. A dark form with rapid left to right motion moved under the huge mesocyclone. We had developing tornado cloaked in rain.

Funnel Spotted
6 miles WNW of Ponder, TX
7:09 PM
We continued east another mile to try get further ahead of the precipitation in the hook. Visibility continued to improve and despite there still being a large amount of rain we could now make out a condensation funnel in contact with the ground: confirmation of a tornado.

Multi Vortex
6 miles WNW of Ponder, TX
7:11 PM
Several quick spin-ups developed and dissipated under the huge mesocyclone. We had a multiple vortex tornado, often a precursor to the formation of a wedge. We setup for shots in the median of the highway figuring this might be our one chance.
Moments later the area under the base filled in completely with condensation and we had our wedge. The motion picked up dramatically as scud moved violently around the tornado and rim of the tornado cyclone above it. The tornado was receding away from us, heading north northeast, however. As it expanded in size, we jumped back into Doghouse to find a north road option on which to pursue the tornado.

Tornado Cyclone
5 miles W of Sanger, TX
7:38 PM
Our north road option twisted and turned through some residential areas. Trees blocked our view except for the top of the tornado cyclone. Something was churning underneath, but we couldn’t see the base of the tornado anymore. West of Sanger on a north south stretch of two lane road we got our view back. The road was now thick with chasers and spotters and a large group had clustered around one of the few open areas among the trees. We drove Doghouse off the left side of the road, the only area left to park and jumped out. A line of trees along the road blocked our view, but beyond extended a wide open field. A deep ditch filled with water blocked us from getting to the tree line, however. Phil moved down the road carrying his tripod and Red to get to a gated drive that crossed the moat. Brindley and I grabbed our cameras and decided to jump the moat instead. We couldn’t clear the several feet of swampy water and both went in up to our ankles in water as we landed just shy of the far side of the ditch. We ran up the far side of the embankment to the fenced tree line, not caring at all that our shoes were completely water logged.

The view was menacing. A massive cylindrical lowering spun, dominating the western sky and posing an immediate threat. Our safety was our first priority so we focused on watching the cyclone’s motion for a few moments to make sure we weren’t in its path. The feature spanned at least a mile in diameter and there was a large amount of traffic at our location. If the feature was heading toward us, we would have to leave immediately to ensure that we could escape. After a couple tense moments, I could see the left edge of the cylinder moving to the right relative to the background trees. We were clear of the path and the cyclone would pass to our north on its current course. We relaxed a little and shot the structure. Small funnels were orbiting the tornado cyclone with a large bowl funnel in the center. It looked like it was gearing up to produce a large tornado.

Cone Tornado
5 miles W of Sanger, TX
7:40 PM
A minute later, the bowl in the center of the cyclone descended as a large cone shaped tornado, as if the cyclone had finally aggregated enough vorticity by consuming the funnels and smaller circulations falling into the center. The rear flank gust front was just now moving overhead and we got a little breath of outflow as it did.
A debris cloud kicked up under the cone, framed by stunning green, cyclindrical storm structure. Ropey satellites appeared to careen around the top of the tornado’s funnel as it was still pulling in circulations from the parent tornado cyclone. The winds went slack at our location for a moment, and over the calm silence we could hear the faint roar of the tornado as it spun up a couple miles to our west.
The cone retreated as it moved off to the north, violent rotation still evident in the feature, however.
The feature reorganized into a huge bowl shaped mass just as it moved between us and a relatively clear portion of the inflow notch making for perfect back lighting. Dusk light filtered blue green through the RFD clear slot wrapping all the way around the tornado, casting the bowl funnel in an eerie glow.

Backlit Tornado
5 miles W of Sanger, TX
7:43 PM
The back lighting and blue green glow were perfectly timed and placed for us as the bowl descended once more with several sub-vortices kicking up underneath.
The multiple vortex tornado continued off to the north and our view was blocked by trees. We called over to Phil and scrambled to get back to Doghouse. Brindley and I again jumped as far as we could across the moat and landed in ankle deep water. We slogged up the ditch, shoes squishing and squeaking and rolled Doghouse back onto the road heading north after the tornado, which now looked like a rather scuddy funnel.

Stovepipe Ropeout
6 miles WNW of Sanger, TX
7:48 PM
To our wonder, the funnel descended again, this time as a tall stovepipe shrouded in rain. We stopped to watch, unable to advance any further anyway due to chaser traffic. Unfortunately my camcorder got switched off in the busyness of our repositioning, but Brindley was able to get great stills and Phil got a handheld video shot with his Red. We watched the stovepipe rope out and become progressively more rain wrapped until we completely lost sight of it. We immediately called the chase at that point as it was almost completely dark under the storm, the roads were lined with chaser traffic, and the structure had become a rain wrapped mess. We pulled a 180 and head south away from the storm as even more chasers were still just arriving.
It was a long, grueling slog through the dark, heavy rain, and flooded roads to get back to our hotel room in Wichita Falls where the TIV crew was staying. We broke out of the flash flood warnings and training cells just east of town, catching the last shreds of twilight on the clear western horizon. Shoes sopping wet, we stumbled into the hotel lobby in celebration giving each other big hugs in front of a bemused front desk clerk. There was no welcome party by the TIV crew, but Nick Nolte wound up at our hotel. We all piled into a room, peeled our wet footwear and socks off and watched our tornado video on the laptop while eating pizza and drinking beer.

Brindley constructed a map based off the preliminary damage survey showing the tracks of two tornadoes and our position when we stopped inside the core with no visibility to let the circulation cross in front of us. Although the funnel was intermittent and condensed several times, the damage path was determined to be continuous so we counted just one large, multi-faceted tornado from the event. We had no view of the first tornado the storm produced to our south. The tornado we documented was rated a high end EF-1, having mostly over open terrain and impacting few structures. The path width reached a maximum of a quarter mile while it appeared as a short wedge beneath the low storm base.


We were searching for redemption and we found it big time. Unfortunately TIV wasn’t there for the tornado, but the low light intercept would not have been valuable for the mission of getting usable footage for Sean’s next film. Paul Borrud’s drone did get some incredible aerial shots of the TIV driving in gorgeous sunset light, however, so the day wasn’t a bust for the TIV crew. For the Doghouse crew, the multi-faceted tornado was one of the more noteworthy tornadoes I’ve documented as it exhibited a wide range of structure from multiple vortices, to wedge, to stovepipe beneath an awesome tornado cyclone. Luckily it stayed over open terrain as the damage rating could have been a lot higher than EF1 had it impacted a more heavily populated area.

Lessons Learned

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