5/22/16 Spearman, TX Tornadoes

This day was rather unconventional in may ways. The Valparaiso University Storm Intercept Team left Liberal, KS for Amarillo, TX as the dryline began obtaining slightly better shear for organized severe storms. Very high instability allowed storms to fire east of the dryline near OK very early in the afternoon, but there were worries that these would eventually take over and rob the dryline of its power later on. It turns out this forecast was correct, with the dryline failing to produce the storms we were after. We were then faced with the decision to just start heading back to our hotel in Shamrock, TX while playing with any storms that we could along the way. One massive blob over Spearman, TX looked particularly interesting. It had no organization, but was constantly ingesting other storm mergers that looked to work in its favor, so we took a look.

Immediately we were faced with a murky lowering that needed some imagination to spot cloud features and areas of rotation. The decision was about made to leave.

This lowering quickly became overtaken by a strong rear-flank downdraft, however, and it was clear that this was not what we should be looking at. Situational awareness was spun around to a lowering further down the road that quickly produced a brief rope tornado, very low contrast and wrapped in rain but confirmed by other spotters:


The rope-out into a scorpion-tail-like wisp was amazing to watch, even when it wasn’t entirely clear it was a tornado at the time.


Realizing the rotating base we were after had indeed gotten ahead of us, and that this storm was indeed capable of doing something, we blasted east. To our surprise, as we neared the base, a large cone tornado stood before us only a mile and a half away, rain whipping around it at almost 80 miles per hour.


Within seconds the monster disappeared.


We couldn’t make it through the strong RFD winds and were forced to retreat back west and watch the storm from behind. It was very turbulent, with dust kicking up everywhere, lit by the sun.


The hail core was quite defined.


Despite being such an odd storm, we were definitely able to make the most of spotting and reporting the tornado it produced to the National Weather Service, as it was one very few were able to see coming.