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  • Andrew Pritchard

May 17th, 2021 | Sterling City, Texas Tornado

We woke up in Lubbock on the 17th. I had a bit of work to do for my job, mostly weather forecast updates for our folks in the Canadian Prairie. I woke up early, around 4:45 AM. That netted me about 5 hours of sleep. After our overnight drive from Illinois and the chase the evening before, that didn't feel like enough. I made my way down to the lobby and got to work. I peeked at a couple pieces of early morning data and was really excited by what I saw. We definitely had a chase day ahead of us, and we likely wouldn't have to go far.

I finished working around 9 AM and made my way back up to the room to hang with Colin and Alex. We grabbed lunch with Texas storm chasing legend Bruce Haynie and then were on our way. Stopped in Andrews, Texas at the Loves Travel Plaza and mingled with some of our storm chasing buddies. Andrew, TX had a great name, but it also had wonderful road options with a number of different highways leading in different directions. It would be easy to get just about anywhere that started to erupt.

That somewhere ended up being in the Midland-Odessa vicinity as an area began to become agitated on visible satellite right on the dryline bulge and outflow boundary intersection. You could actually see the "swirl" in the flow watching the cumulus field. This area would be loaded with ambient vorticity and any sustained updraft would want to rotate.

Storms actually took a bit longer to get their act together than I expected. We stuck with the initial target area that was now drifting east-southeast of the Midland-Odessa area toward Forsan, TX. Around 6:30 PM the switch flipped. Inflow began screaming into the updraft and the base began to consolidate. The storm made a right turn sending it's hail core over our highway, in turn sending us fleeing east and then south. As we dove south on Highway 163 north of Sterling City, TX the storm took on a much more tornadic look than it'd had all day, and not long after we had a classic cone tornado between Forsan and Sterling City.

The storm continued to be tornadic as it approached Hwy 163. Nearing a gas plant I spotted a ghostly, large tornadic circulation wrapped in the rain and hail core to our immediate west-northwest. We stopped and watched the rotating mass, clearly a large tornado cloaked in precipitation, for a minute or two before bailing south. We were in the path of the tornado, which was reportedly "slinging baseball sized hail around it" per a chaser report near the tornado. No thanks.

We made our way to Sterling City for gas and the sunset structure show.

Eventually, we made our way north toward Wichita Falls, TX where we found a Buffalo Wild Wings across the street from our hotel, seemingly the only place in town open at 11 PM. Hot wings and a margarita never tasted so good.


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SKYDRAMA | Meteorologist & Atmospheric Photographer Andrew Pritchard

I'm a meteorologist born and raised in the American Midwest passionate about forecasting and observing severe storms.

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