May is usually the peak month for tornadoes in America and they mostly occur in an area referred to as Tornado “Alley”. It stretches through the plain states from Texas in the South to North Dakota in the north.
We are stormchasers, a silly breed of individuals who seek violent weather, supercell thunderstorms and tornadoes. It’s a very addictive pastime. Our children believe we have never grown up (and we hope not too!).
We arrived in Dallas, Texas equipped with our weather radar unit, aerials and laptop. The first week was a real bust because it was so unusually cold in the whole country. The second week the atmosphere started to stir.
On the 9th of May, we were chasing a storm system just west of San Antonio, Texas. The system had eight thunderstorm cells with central hail cores showing up in a mauve colour on the radar.
With GPS, we were able to head for the storm and position ourselves on its southern side, to see if it would develop wind shear rotation and ultimately a tornado.
We headed along highway 90 west and turned north onto another road when suddenly, we got stopped in our tracks. Traffic was backed up because a vehicle had overturned and was on its roof. Police were on the scene attempting to clear the accident. While stopped, we kept on watching the radar and visually we could see the hail in the distance which appears as a greenish hue. The delay in traffic was about 20 minutes, but we were watching the radar and could see that the storm was approaching but was still a safe distance away.
Finally, we got through the congestion, came to a traffic light and waited to make a left hand turn. But suddenly, we began to get pelted by hail. Adele was driving and we both were wondering what was going on. Within seconds the radar image jumped and showed that we were right in the middle of the hail core! The radar refreshes the image every five minutes, so that delay was just enough for us to get caught in the middle of the storm.
Waiting for the traffic light to turn green was agonisingly slow. As we finally got onto a side road, the storm became vicious with tennis ball sized hail and two rotations showing up on the radar. One of these was right above us with a rotational speed of 102 mph (163 kph).
Adele was driving, holding her hand against the windscreen with one hand, I was doing the same while holding the laptop. In the meantime, a voice came over the radar, “Caution you are approaching a twisting storm”. He didn’t have to tell us that! The car was being buffeted and the wind was swirling violently. The noise of the hail was deafening and the warning voice just added to the sense of danger. Our adrenaline was really pumping.
After 10 minutes, we came through the hail. When we got out of the car, we were confronted with a vehicle full of dents. Thankfully, the windscreen did not crack. Even more importantly, the rotation did not descend on top of us in the form of a tornado. Nevertheless, it was still a harrowing few minutes.
Will we do it again? Of course! It is a passion that gripped us some years ago. We have seen a number of tornadoes over time, though on this trip we came up empty. We were in the U.K. when we heard about the tragic destruction by a tornado in Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb. Exactly, a week earlier we had lunch there, so we did indeed dodge a bullet!