Monthly Archives: January 2014

Tri-State Tornado Day – June 29, 1999

Odd day.  I started in Dodge City and worked my way southwestward as convection started to bubble across far Southeast Colorado.  I was near Rolla, Kansas when a tornado became visible to the distant west.  My first guess was about 15 miles away.  I called the National Weather Service in Dodge City and was surprised to hear that the tornado was actually in Colorado over 30 miles away from me!  They had been receiving calls from all over far Southwest Kansas.

The storm that produced the tornado near Walsh, Colorado moved southeast and produced another weak tornado near Eva, Oklahoma.

The next stop was the Texas Panhandle where the storm produced numerous brief and weak tornadoes.  These were almost too numerous to count near the towns of Gruver and Morse, Texas.  In general, the tornadoes were not impressive, but the longevity of the storm was.

In addition to the fun of chasing a storm and seeing a lot of small tornadoes, this day was the closest I’ve come to being struck by lightning.  I was standing near the open door of my truck when lightning struck somewhere close behind me.  My lunge into the truck was probably more of a reaction than a physical force of the lightning, but it was close enough to make the video camera unusable after that point.  The scary thing was I had no signs that it was coming.  I didn’t get the hair standing, skin tingling experience that I’ve always heard about.  That lets me know that you might not get even the smallest of warning time with an oncoming strike.

May 3, 1999

VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnNoYgeV3B4

We have finally had enough big events across Central Oklahoma that I don’t get asked much about May 3, 1999.  For years, that was usually the first question that came from someone that found out I chased storms.  “Did you see the tornado that went through Moore in 1999?”  And I always had to lower my head a bit and stretch out a long, “Nooooo.”  As it was, this record breaking day allowed us to screw up in a number of ways and still see tornadoes.

We had little doubt that it would be a tornado day.  At its basic level, sufficient moisture, lift, instability and shear were all in place.

We started northbound out of Okarche with the idea of staying closer to the Kansas border, or a little closer to the surface low.  Storms started forming around us when we were in Enid and it looked like the chase was on.  A flat tire sidelined us, and a non-working jack extended our period out of service.  While we watched storms race away from us that went on to produce tornadoes, we listened as storms were producing tornadoes near Chickasha.  Then the big dagger, TORNADO AT OKARCHE!  That came across the radio just as we were starting back south, but we were still 45 miles from Okarche.  Yes, a strong looking tornado passed a little more than a mile from the house.  If we hadn’t done anything more than sit in the driveway, we would have been ahead of where we were at this point.  This storm was completely dead when we caught up with it near Kingfisher.

We popped back in the house to look at data and while we had blown everything up until then, there was hope with another storm tracking toward Union City.  This was a short drive down Highway 81 and by 8 pm we were finally on a storm chase.

The storm produced three weak tornadoes between Union City and El Reno before putting down a more significant tornado near Richland.  An even stronger tornado was then produced which tracked across the northwest side of Piedmont.  Being about 15 miles from home, and wanting to get there to start finding out information on friends and relatives, we went ahead and returned to Okarche.  We just barely made it through the door when another tornado producing supercell started passing across the west side of El Reno.  This would be an easy intercept by just driving a few miles east of town.  We sat eight miles east of Okarche and watched a violent looking tornado pass to our east and northeast.

Now the day was complete.  Six tornadoes from two different storms and never more than 45 miles from the house.  It’s not exactly how I envisioned it unfolding, but it seldom is.

Anthony, Kansas Tornadoes – May 25, 1997

This was a classic late May setup for severe weather over the Central and Southern Plains.  An upper low was located over the Rockies with strong mid-level flow extending from Arizona/New Mexico east northeastward.  There was a sub-1000mb surface low near the Oklahoma Panhandle and very moist air was in place across Kansas and Oklahoma.  This was about the time I started introducing the phrase, “It’s not a matter of if, just how many?”

We crossed into Kansas near Kiowa and had two storms within reach just to our north and northeast.  The first storm to produce a small tornado was several miles to our north.  It was hard to stay put with the closer storm west of Anthony while the Attica storm had started producing tornadoes, but the closer storm was getting its act together quickly.

At first, it looked like Anthony was in trouble.  The wall cloud was really starting to spin just west of the city.  Luckily, it waited until it was about 3 to 5 miles east of Anthony before it produced its first tornado.  This tornado picked up a lot of red dirt and had some light shining on it, making it one of the prettier tornadoes I have seen.  From there, the storm produced a series of small tornadoes as it worked its way eastward along and just north of Highway 44.

Unfortunately for us as chasers, the most impressive tornado waited until we had ran out of east road options.  We sat just west of Perth and watched the large tornado disappear to our northeast.

My first birthday tornado – Rolla, Kansas – May 31, 1996

This turned out to be a heck of a day.  We played around near the far southwest corner of Kansas, and jumped a little way into Colorado.  My 15th year of storm chasing and this was the first time I had left the states of Oklahoma, Kansas or Texas.  A slow moving and slowly organizing supercell was tracking across Morton County, Kansas.  We observed this from a variety of angles and were sitting about 5 miles east of Richfield, Kansas when the storm started producing a tornado to our south.  Unfortunately, we were quite some distance away, but it was still clear that what we viewed was a tornado, and it lasted for over 20 minutes.

With the storm now digging southward, we also moved south and ended up in Rolla where we started encountering large hail.  1.5 inch hail started falling which grew to baseball size over the next ten minutes.  We found what seemed to be one of the only trees in town to seek shelter, but it didn’t do much good once the leaves and branches had been beaten off of it.

Texas Panhandle Tornadoes – June 8, 1995

I started this chase day in Mangum, which is important and will be discussed later.  It was clear that this was going to be a day with significant severe weather events over the Panhandle.  Not long after leaving Mangum northbound, I could see evidence of anvil to my distant northwest.  A tornado warned storm had already formed over Beaver County in the Oklahoma Panhandle, but this was out of reach.

I became excited upon finding out that Childress had a 75 dewpoint and winds were gusting out of the southeast at 40 knots.  There was a considerable amount of blowing dust streaming northwestward.

I went north out of Shamrock and west out of Wheeler as convection around me bubbled and the strong south winds and blowing dust continued.  I was just west of Wheeler when I heard that a severe thunderstorm was located 10 miles south of Pampa.  I rolled west on Highway 152 which took me along the south edge of the storm’s anvil.  I was about 13 miles east of Pampa when I heard they were sounding the sirens in the city.

I stopped at the intersection of Highway 152 and Highway 60 which is about seven miles east of Pampa and watched a strong looking tornado move through the city.  This tornado was on the ground for about 15 minutes and ended up receiving a rating of F4.  Seven people were injured, but luckily, nobody was killed.

Before the Pampa tornado dissipated, another tornado formed to its north.  They were both on the ground for six minutes.  The second tornado would go on to become even stronger looking than the first.  This tornado passed close to Hoover, Texas and took 35 minutes to travel eight miles.  I drove around Hoover and checked out places where pavement had been removed.  Debris filtered down out of the sky and the tornado went through a nice looking rope out northeast of the town.

I drove northeast on Highway 60 to Miami, Texas.  The storm remained fairly impressive, but was getting cluttered up with numerous other storms trying to form in the same general area.  I had not observed any other tornadoes by the time I got to Highway 83.  I was also hearing many reports of tornadoes with the next storm to the south that was passing McLean.  It seemed reasonable to leave the storm I was on and head south for an intercept near Wheeler.

I arrived in Wheeler while still hearing reports of a very large tornado to the southwest.  I stopped just north of the river valley about six miles west southwest of Wheeler when a very large tornado came into view to the southwest.  As this tornado, which was between 1/2 and 3/4 of a mile wide approached, two other satellite tornadoes were observed.  These both occurred north of the main tornado and moved back south.  The large tornado ended up passing about a mile to my northwest.  RFD winds at my location were between 80 and 100 mph and downed several power poles to my north and south.  The tornado exhibited motion that was nothing short of incredible.  To this day, I believe it to be the most violent tornado I have ever witnessed.

I got caught between the obscured, weakening tornado west of Briscoe and a new large tornado that formed near Allison to my east.  Heavy rain obscured this tornado from me and I only saw damage that it produced as I drove through Allison.  There were some interesting looking areas of the storm that I observed as I made my way back into Oklahoma, but never saw any other tornadoes.

Back in Oklahoma, I refueled and returned to Okarche.  I didn’t find out until quite some time later that one of the tornadoes had cut power to a large part of the area.  Some chasers that topped off tanks in Oklahoma City/Norman were running out of gas during the chase because pumps at service stations wouldn’t work without power.  My starting the day in Mangum gave me enough fuel for the entire chase.  It’s nice having those days where everything works out well.

Southwest Kansas Tornadoes – May 16, 1995

It’s funny to look back and remember some of the things you did to get data on the road “back in the day”.  With a target area of Southwest Kansas, we left a little later than we wanted and got into Medicine Lodge just after 5 pm.  Without much to go on and not a lot of help visually, we stopped at a motel where I ran into the office and asked to watch The Weather Channel.  The timing couldn’t have been better.  Within seconds of changing the channel for me, they were showing radar from Kansas and discussing a tornado warned supercell located near Garden City.  I was out the door and we started toward a planned intercept north of Dodge City.

By 7:45 pm, we were sitting about 10 miles west of Jetmore watching a rotating storm to our west.  The storm produced a couple of brief tornadoes west and north of Jetmore.

We repositioned near Hanston and observed the third tornado of the day pass to the southeast of the town.  This tornado was a little stronger and exhibited multiple vortices during its five minute life.  Shortly after this tornado weakened, the final tornado of the day formed to our east.  This tornado quickly became very large and was surveyed at nearly 1000 yards wide, while receiving a rating of F3.

Tribune, KS Supercell – June 6, 1994

What was supposed to be a travel day ended up landing me on an amazing isolated supercell storm during the late evening hours.  Ironically, the following day – which was supposed to be the main chase day – ended up busting.

The high based, LP supercell was easy to see as I drove westbound out of Garden City.  When I did the math later, this storm slowly moved east at about 8 mph over the next two hours.  My chase logs show my position didn’t change for 55 minutes at one point.

After the sun had set, I decided to start searching for the largest hail I could find.  While on the west side of the updraft, I could hear large hail stones whistling as they fell, then either thudding in the mud or smashing on the highway.  I was amazed at the amount of hail which I measured between 4 and 5 inches in diameter.  The only person I saw over a two hour period was a law enforcement officer that drove through the area of large hail.  His car was destroyed, and his only words of advice, “Don’t go up there!”

After measuring my hail bounty, I watched the storm slowly move east with moonlight shining on the back side.  This day remains high on my list of days I would like to do over with my current camera gear.

Tornado at Kaw Lake, Oklahoma – May 6, 1994

This day presented a fairly easy target area over North Central Oklahoma.  An isolated supercell storm formed over Kay County and started tracking east southeastward.  While on the west side of Kaw Lake, we observed 2.25 inch hail and a slowly rotating wall cloud to the west.  The storm started to rotate stronger, but also started wrapping heavy rain around the meso-cyclone.

We found ourselves buried in rain over the east side of the lake when a tornado formed nearby just to our north.  Our close scrape with the tornado rated F1 was brief.  The tornado had a track length of about 2 1/2 miles and destroyed a few mobile homes – causing one injury – just east of the Kaw Lake Dam.

LP Supercell over Northwest Oklahoma – April 9, 1994

LP supercell north of Ringwood, Oklahoma.

LP supercell north of Ringwood, Oklahoma.

We started the day near Weatherford, OK and followed building cumulus north and northeastward before getting a severe storm which moved from Major County to Grant County.  While the storm didn’t produce any significant severe events, it was a dramatic example of a low-precipitation supercell.  It looked best here north of Ringwood.

Stamford, TX Supercell – May 1, 1993

Supercell at Stamford, TX.

Supercell at Stamford, TX.

Over the past 10 years, I have developed quite an aversion to chasing in Northern Texas.  While it is possible that I could have better luck there chasing now (with all the improved technology), I don’t think I will ever get past how many disappointing chases I had during the 80′s and 90′s.

One of the better North Texas storms I have seen was this strongly rotating supercell near Stamford.  We never observed a tornado with it, but it apparently produced a large amount of softball size hail.  It certainly was mean looking enough.