Thursday, February 2, 2012 (Northwest TX, 550 mi.)


A classic cold-season tease setup draws us deep into the heart of Texas for an embarrassing start to 2012.

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The lack of strong cold frontal intrusions this winter allowed for unseasonably rich and deep Gulf moisture to surge inland during several lee cyclogenesis events, one of which began occurring the morning of this sham of a chase. The longwave trough responsible for this setup was diving into the Rockies, with strong, difluent mid-level flow at the nose of the H5 jet overspreading the TX Panhandle and W TX by afternoon. A weak surface trough developed E of the mountains of NM and CO, inducing strong return flow. Unfortunately, this process did not begin in earnest until late morning, so the >65 F dew points that had been sitting along the TX Gulf Coast for days would not be making an appearance on the Caprock.

Despite this, Dan Betten and I could not resist this day's high-risk/arguably-high-reward prospects. The morning models differed wildly on the potential for destabilization across W TX. The NAM was most aggressive in clearing low clouds associated with WAA, painting 1000-1500 J/kg SBCAPE reaching an LBB-SPS line by sunset; meanwhile, the RUC and HRRR were pitiful, with noteworthy CAPE never clearing I-10. Forecast hodographs were quite imposing, as is so common with off-season teases. By mid-morning, we wagered the NAM would be the victor in the instability battle, based on visible satellite. We departed Norman around 10:30am with an initial target of Snyder to Aspermont.

A few hours later, we'd made it as far as Seymour, and the latest rapid-refresh models confirmed our suspicions: afternoon temperatures would be 8-12 F warmer than they'd suggested earlier in the morning, lending to modest but manageable instability. The big question now was initiation. We tried to remain optimistic as we stared head-on at an ominous, advancing cirrus deck during our journey SW, but its consequences finally became too clear to ignore. We hung around Aspermont until about 5pm before declaring defeat, at least with regard to daytime chasing.

Since even a nighttime encounter with elevated hailers might redeem a chase so early in the year, we took our time heading home, stopping for a leisurely dinner in CDS (can't recommend the brisket at Jackson's BBQ highly enough... if gas prices were under $3, I might be willing to declare the trip worth it just for that). By 7:30pm, it appeared our luck was getting no better, as the nose of the LLJ and associated explosion of elevated convection was well to our N and out of reach (mainly N of I-40). We finished the haul back to OUN around 11pm, having watched several intense supercells train over areas between AMA and WWR on radar during the drive. Just to sweeten the deal even more, intense nocturnal moisture return eventually allowed one supercell in the Panhandle to become surface-based and produced a relatively long-track tornado around 2am. At least our forecast for a legitimate tornado threat with this system panned out...