Northeastern New Mexico Supercells

June 4, 2003

This day began in Tucumcari, NM.  After reviewing data via the internet, Clayton, New Mexico was identified as the initial target.  Rain had already developed in southeastern Colorado and had cooled surface temperatures, creating a cold pool of air at the surface.  Concern was mounting that the cold air would surge southward into New Mexico and create an organized line of gusty storms, ruining the chance for isolated supercells and tornadoes.  After a great breakfast at the Del's Restaurant in Tucumcari, Al Moller, several other chasers and I headed north for the Clayton area.  

As we approached Clayton, severe thunderstorm warnings were issued, including one for a storm just east of Clayton.  As we drove into town, what appeared to be an organized gust front could be seen just north of town.  The relatively cold air that had been produced by the storms was being temporarily blocked by the ridge of land extending roughly from Raton eastward to just north of Clayton.  A tornado warning was issued for a storm along the Texas / New Mexico border near Texline.  Within a few minutes, a report was broadcast over the local Clayton radio station that a tornado had been reported about 15 miles south southeast of Capulin Mountain.  Apparently this report never made it to the NWS, because no warning was heard.

The gust front moved into Clayton with a drop in air temperature from near 70 degrees to the upper 50s.  A decision had to be made quickly on which way to go.  Adequate moisture for supercells extended westward to the Rocky Mountains, but higher dew point air was also present in the Texas Panhandle.  Whether I went southeast into Texas or southwest toward the Roy, New Mexico area, I had to move south and stay ahead of the developing cold front.

Al Moller immediately left Clayton and drove back south.  He said that he planned to drive toward the Roy area.  Roger and Elke Edwards were also in Clayton,  and they also decided to stay in New Mexico.  The College of DuPage chase team decided to drive south down highway 402.  I could just detect weak signals from Martin Lisius and the Tempest Tours teams on the 2 meter radio.  They were on the Texline storm and were moving south just over the border in the Texas Panhandle.  I drove south down highway 402, knowing that road options were present where I could decide whether to turn east or west.

The storm at Clayton was moving slowly, much more slowly than I had anticipated.  About 30 miles south of Clayton, I could barely detect the storms to the north because towering cumulus was developing overhead and to the north.  I again stopped briefly to consider all of the available information.  Occasionally, I got a glimpse of the storm across the border in Texas through the towering cumulus.  The NOAA Weather Radio reported a severe storm to my west in the Springer area and there was the storm to my northwest that reportedly produced a brief tornado southwest of Capulin Mountain.   After a few more minutes, I decided to continue south on highway 402, then west of highway 102 through Bueyeros to Mosquero, then northwest to Roy.

After turning west on highway 102, the Capulin storm's gust front could be seen to the north.  The rain core was fairly thin, but it appeared to be steadily moving southward.  It didn't appear to be strong, and definitely did not appear capable of producing another tornado.

As I drove into the small town of Bueyeros, I could see a small Catholic Church just south of the highway.  A local resident, an elderly Hispanic gentleman, was driving around the building on his way to the cemetery, where he planned to decorate the graves of relatives.  I stopped briefly and talked to him.  Despite what a sign said at the front of the church, he said the church was built in 1888.  He said he knew for sure, because his grandfather had paid most of the construction cost.  He said that the church was designed by a French immigrant and was based on a church in the man's home town in France.  The Frenchman helped build the church along with the German, Dutch and Hispanic residents of the town.  The homes of the original residents of the town were mostly in ruin, with most of their descendants having either relocated to distant cities or onto one of the widely scattered ranches in the area.  

Little rain had fallen in the area over the last several years.  Rain tends to fall near Clayton and west near Springer to Roy and down to Logan, but not at Bueyeros.  Cattle ranching is the core of the economy along with CO2 production.  Most of the ranchers have had to sell their cattle over the last year due to the extended drought.

Meanwhile, the Capulin storm was moving toward me from the north AND intensifying!  I could see the Springer storm to the west near Roy.  Large rain drops began to fall.  I departed Bueyeros without taking any photos of the church.  (Here is a link to a photo of the church shot by John Moore.)

After driving south from Bueyeros, then west and up the escarpment toward Mosquero, the western storm had moved southwest of Roy, and west of Mosquero.  Another storm was developing near Mosquero, throwing out cloud to ground bolts of lightning.  It had a rotating lowering on the north flank of the large updraft base.  Back to the northeast, the Capulin storm continued to intensify.  Instead of having a thin linear rain curtain, it had developed a large dark core.  And, more updraft bases were now developing to the south, resulting in too much convection! (Chasers want isolated supercells, which don't have to share the inflow with other storms, allowing them to reach maximum intensity!)

Large hail is a serious threat with High Plains storms.  With storms moving toward me from the north and new storms forming to the south, I was becoming concerned that I was about to be trapped, with no hail free escape route.  I prepared to make a quick U-turn on the east side of Mosquero and then planned to drive rapidly southward down highway 39 toward Logan.  

Al Moller, who had made the decision to go south from Clayton before I did, had been near the Roy storm.  He also observed the rapid spread of convection and had also made the decision to leave the area and drive toward Logan and Tucumcari.  He passed me just as I was about to make my U-turn.

After descending down the escarpment, a large updraft base to the southeast began to produce rain.  The rain core intensified and expanded rapidly.  It quickly transformed from a thin line of translucent rain curtains to a large, dark, heavy rain core accompanied by frequent and intense CGs.  As we drove into the rain core, we experienced occasional small hail, perhaps 1/8 to 1/4 inch in diameter, with occasional 1/2 inch stones. 

As we exited the rain core, a low ragged wall cloud came into view to the east of the highway.  The precipitation core to its east had a definite blue-green tint to it.  We speculated that large hail was present.

Carson Eads called on the cell phone to report that a supercell had formed just south of Tucumcari.  Now, a tactical decision had to be made whether to flank this new storm to the east or the west.  The traditional method is to flank a storm to the east, to end up ahead of the updraft area.  However, occasionally it is better to flank a storm on the west and then drive east.  Much depends on the road network and the movement of the storm.  We decided to try the western approach.

Instead of moving due south or to the southeast, which would have been better, the storm built westward along the flanking line, blocking our intended route.  We were never able to flank the storm.  However, the Roy storm was approaching from the northwest.  We ended up between the storms and witnessed some incredible views at sunset.

Click on any image below for a larger version.  (Images from video unless otherwise labeled.)

2003060401.jpeg (85463 bytes) Looking west at the storm near Roy, New Mexico
2003060402.jpeg (88442 bytes) Looking west-southwest at a new storm which was developing near Mosquero
2003060403.jpeg (88699 bytes) The Mosquero storm with a CG and lowering on the north end of the updraft base (on the right)
2003060404.jpeg (82626 bytes) Looking south at the "Tucumcari" supercell
2003060405.jpeg (54175 bytes)
2003060406.jpeg (52373 bytes)
2003060407.jpeg (84972 bytes) Looking northwest from near McAlister, New Mexico at the "Roy" storm which actually developed near Springer.  
2003060408.jpeg (50364 bytes)
2003060409.jpeg (50765 bytes) Looking north at the "Roy" storm's mesocyclone.  The mesocyclone was producing a strong gust front on the left (western) side with 60+ mph straight line winds.  The storm also produced golf ball size hail just east of McAlister.  When it was near Roy, hail to 2 3/4 inches in diameter was reported.
2003060410.jpeg (76149 bytes) Looking west as I drove to escaped the high straight line winds and approaching hail core.  Barely visible to the left of the road were three prong horns, about to cross the road at a full run.
2003060411.jpeg (82365 bytes) After crossing the road, the Prong Horn ran parallel with the road for a few hundred yards.
2003060412.jpeg (89374 bytes) Looking east at a dim rainbow and blowing dust.
2003060428.jpg (54382 bytes) Looking east at the "Tucumcari" storm, which was now south of Clovis.  (Location about near House, NM.
2003060429.jpg (65391 bytes) Looking north at the mesocyclone of the "Roy" storm, which actually formed near Springer, NM.
2003060430.jpg (49475 bytes) Looking northwest at the Roy storm.
2003060431.jpg (67492 bytes) Looking east again at the storm near Clovis.
2003060425.jpg (60646 bytes) Looking east-southeast at sunset colors near McAlister, New Mexico as the "Roy" storm moves into the distance.
2003060424.jpg (46316 bytes) Looking east as the sun begins to set.  The storm had kicked up a tremendous amount of red dirt, coloring the sunset.
2003060423.jpg (41293 bytes) As the sun sent below the horizon, the clouds turned a deep red.
2003060426.jpg (59796 bytes)
2003060427.jpg (55357 bytes)

Copyright 2002 - Samuel D. Barricklow - All rights reserved.

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Last revised: Novmeber 28, 2008