After a week of active weather, Sunday, April 26th turned out to be a fairly major event for north central Texas with 11 confirmed tornados stretched across Hill, Johnson and Ellis counties. The stage was set for all modes of atmospheric shenanigans with a strong upper level low approaching from the west, a warm front draped across north Texas and a very moist and unstable warm sector south of the front and east of a surface low out in west Texas.
Once again, Jenny and professional Dallas photographer, Justin Terveen, ventured forth on what turned out to be quite a challenging chase across the beautiful and hilly region between Stephenville, Glen Rose and Hico. Both had photo shoots early in the day, so they got a bit of a late start Sunday afternoon. Sometimes this is advantageous because it allows the atmosphere to show its hand, and all you have to do is point the hood of your car at an anvil and go for it. That’s pretty much what they did and found their first target, a beautiful tornado-warned supercell thunderstorm that had developed earlier that afternoon near Dublin. As they arrived in Glen Rose, they noticed it had some of the most beautiful structure they’d ever seen with the updraft base resembling a 3-tiered wedding cake. It was also a very nasty storm with other chasers in the area reporting baseball to softball size hail falling from its core. Not wanting to mess with that, they decided not to continue west on Hwy 67 straight to it. They repositioned south and drove through Meridian and Hico then turned north to approach the storm from the south, stopping a few times along the way to take some pictures from a distance. Unfortunately by the time they got close, it had weakened and was falling apart as it traveled east towards Glen Rose.
A quick check of radar revealed that another strong supercell thunderstorm had developed to the west of Stephenville. They quickly re-routed north on Hwy 281 and got into town just as the storm went tornado-warned. It was also a beautiful storm with a striated updraft base. They observed it for a bit from the parking lot of the Allsups at the intersection of Hwys281 and 377. As the storm was moving directly towards them, they drove back southeast on 67 feeling like that would give them the best advantage point staying south of the eastward cruising storm. They were able to stop at multiple scenic locations along the way to observe and photograph this beautiful storm. However, once it approached Glen Rose, it did the same as the first cell and began to weaken and become disorganized.
Another quick check of radar revealed yet another storm on its heels to the west, with all the radar indications that it could go tornado warned at any time. They backtracked once again and intercepted the storm when it was just north of Hico. The sun was setting and the low level jet winds (about 5,000 ft. above ground) were increasing as they typically do right after sunset, and this gave the storm the extra push it needed to really start spinning and eventually develop multiple weak tornados during its remaining lifecycle that night. Seeing the initial funnel forming, and knowing they were in the hook…which is not a good place to be in the dark and in a place with curvy and unfamiliar roads…the two decided to bail east to stay away from what appeared at the time to be a rapidly developing tornado.
As they headed east on 67, it quickly became apparent that not only was the storm rapidly increasing in intensity, it was also growing larger and spreading out in all directions. The hook was also playing games and trying to catch up to them. It was then that the storm chasers became the Noobs being chased by the storm. The right flank of the hail core was dropping 1 to possibly 2 inch hail on them as they got into Glen Rose, and it was raining harder than a cow pissing on a flat rock making visibility next to zero and ponding the roadway. This meant the team had to slow their forward progress, which also meant the storm once again had the advantage of catching up to them. They couldn’t go north into potentially larger hail, they couldn’t go forward with rapidly flooding roadways…they certainly couldn’t go back west…their only option was to dive south and east as quickly as possible. Thinking that heading south on Hwy 144 would put them in the direct path of the approaching hook…and possible tornado…in the dark…Justin found another southbound route, FM199 just east of Glen Rose. They worked their way south on FM199, then jogged east onto FM200 hoping to get far enough east to drop south again further down the road and out of the path of the hook and potential tornado. The storm was not about to let them get away quite that easy.
The very strong inflow winds were making forward speeds above 50mph difficult, if not downright dangerous, as they headed east on FM200. Realizing that FM200 eventually curved back to the northeast, placing them right back in front of what they were trying to avoid all along, they took a hard right onto FM1434 which looped around onto CR 1108 which then took them onto FM916 and into Rio Vista. They then took Hwy 174 south for a bit, then onto FM933 which took them straight south through Blum, Whitney and then over towards Hillsboro…well away from the now extremely cranky storm which was closing in on Rio Vista and the I-35W corridor. At this point, Jenny and Justin had to make a snap decision to either stay put, letting the storm pass to their north, or blast north on I-35E in hopes they’d get north before the storm got that far east. It turned out to be a good decision to just blast north as the storm slowed its eastward progress once it got over Rio Vista becoming nearly stationary over the little town. Lucky for Jenny and Justin, but not so much for the residents of Rio Vista who had to deal with 5 confirmed tornados…even if they were rated as producing EF-0 damage.
Be sure to check out a collection of Jenny’s photos from the chase, plus a short video from Stephenville when their second storm of the day went tornado warned!
Short video clip taken as the Stephenville storm became tornado warned. Click the “gear” and adjust the settings to 1080p for best quality.
David Reimer’s video of the chase from his perspective
The video begins with a brief tornado east of Rising Star, Texas. Video begins after the already weak tornadic circulation is dissipating. You’ll note the strong motion in the cloud base above the dust cloud. The second and third section in the clip contain footage of the same supercell as it crosses Highway 36 northwest Comanche. The fourth section is of the storm as it approaches Highway 377 near Proctor. At the time of this writing I’m unable to confirm that was actually a tornado back in the rain. Sections five through seven contain hail footage and the resulting aftermath in Dublin. The final clip containing a timelapse is as the storm approaches Glen Rose in a weakened state. I continued the chase into Johnson County later that evening as a separate supercell produced multiple tornadoes.