There were a couple of areas where severe thunderstorms looked possible this afternoon. One area was near Hollis which seemed a bit too far given the conditions – the other near Okarche. The Okarche play seemed a bit of a stretch, but if nothing happened, at least a drive wouldn’t be involved. As it turned out, storms started forming just southwest of Okarche shortly after 5 pm. These became severe and one storm developed supercell characteristics near Concho. There was a large amount of hail generated by the storm, and a brief period near Concho where it looked like a tornado would be possible. When the storm started producing hail larger than tennis balls, I decided to stay out of the core and watched it weaken over eastern parts of Canadian County. It was a short chase which was eventful at times and allowed me to clear the cobwebs out of the chase gear.
Yet another day where the main reason to chase came from how close the activity was. With moderate instability and decent shear, the decision was made to drive to the northern part of the county as towering cumulus formed west of Hennessey. After several attempts, one storm did become established as it moved into Logan County. The storm was small and high-based, but managed to produce some small hail and gusty winds as we encountered it in Mulhall. A fun little backyard chase that gave us another chance at equipment/gear sorting before the meat of the season gets here.
A somewhat typical early season chase day where thunderstorms were driven by strong forcing. The moisture/instability that was in place across the state was unseasonably high. We left Okarche early in the afternoon. The surface front was southeast of town and when we left it was cold and foggy. We broke through the front south of Hinton and found much warmer air, stiff south winds and muggy/hazy conditions. Our first target storm came out of Northern Tillman County and tracked toward Lawton. As far as cloud base rotation was concerned, this was some of the most impressive of the day. For a time, it looked pretty good for tornado production. Southwest of Lawton, the storm transitioned to high-precipitation (HP). Given that fact, the high number of chasers, and the storm moving into a large city, we let it go and targeted another storm coming up through Tillman County. This one looked good on radar, but visually was lacking. We followed it east through Lawton, not seeing the tornado that it produced on the southwest side of the city. Again, things were quite messy with a HP storm, large numbers of chasers/gawkers, and some encounters with very large hail and high winds. Yet another storm west of Lawton started to take on a supercell look on radar and we moved west again. It was another unimpressive storm visually and we let the hook region of the storm pass us as we sat at the far west side of Lawton. Our final storm of the day was approaching the Red River and we made a sunset run toward Grandfield. It was unfortunate that we didn’t reach this storm until after dark as visually it was easily the most impressive of the day. The structure and lightning in the updraft/anvil region was awesome. Radar indicated that this storm was likely producing a tornado just northwest of Grandfield. This would have placed it wrapped in heavy rain and we were not able to see anything visually. We experienced a data loss at this time and limped back toward I-44 making sure we didn’t run into anything nasty. It was a wet and cold ride back to Okarche where we ended the day just before Midnight.
There were strong model signals that isolated or scattered thunderstorms would form across Northwest Oklahoma this afternoon. Meager moisture was resulting in only moderate, but sufficient instability, to support severe storms, and shear profiles favored rotating storms (supercells). I drove northwest and fueled in Seiling as storms formed near Woodward and along the Kansas border northwest of Alva. As I was leaving Seiling, the Woodward storms started weakening, both visually and on radar. The storms near the Kansas border were looking more impressive and they became my targets. A lead storm that moved just east of Cherokee was rather high-based, and had a lot of cold outflow undercutting it. A trailing storm was going to be passing close to Alva. This storm looked better on radar, and I figured that it might be able to perform a little better if it could play on a boundary put down by the Cherokee storm. While it is doubtful that the Alva storm produced a tornado, it did produce just about everything else. There were plenty of nice supercell features to observe with this storm as it rolled southeast through Woods and Alfalfa Counties. I even managed to get a few lightning images in Southern Alfalfa County before returning home.
This was a pretty straight forward chase day with a tight target, high confidence in supercell storms, and an outside chance at a tornado. We didn’t come away with the tornado, but everything else went to plan. Doug and I headed west on I-40 as storms were getting organized along a front in Northwest Oklahoma and near a triple point along the Texas/Oklahoma border near I-40. We got off at the Burns Flat exit and worked our way back to a nice viewing area just a couple miles south of I-40. We sat at that spot for a good 45 minutes watching a couple of supercell storms to our west and northwest. This allowed for some decent time lapse video. There was one area of interest in the updraft region of one of the storms which had us seriously wondering if a tornado was occurring. We were just too far away to tell for sure, and have written this off because it was in an area where there were likely a large number of spotters, and no reports of a tornado came in. We jogged east southeastward ahead of the storms as they tracked through Washita County. At times, there was some nice structure to be seen and we got some very nice sunset colors just north of Gotebo. On our way back, we found hail that still measured 1.94 inches in Caddo County, after about 30 minutes of melt time. There was also a large amount of hail north of Calumet which was still on the ground a couple of hours after falling from storms which moved through Canadian County.
Plenty of severe weather was expected this day as the atmosphere across the state was quite unstable and lifting associated with a mid-level jet segment was expected to arrive during the afternoon. Storms were starting to form at departure and I headed straight for E Dewey County. I took a position near Putnam and watched a storm to the west southwest organize/approach. I spent a considerable amount of time near Putnam watching this storm and several others that were nearby. I decided to change my target to a storm near Thomas in Custer County and started driving southeast. The small storm produced hail larger than golf balls near Thomas. I followed this north through Eagle City before changing my target once again to a storm near Seiling. This storm was fairly well organized as it tracked east across Major County. It started weakening near Ames and I began dropping southeast toward home. Near Kingfisher, I came across the final storm of the chase. This storm was a well organized supercell that tracked across Kingfisher.
Our target area was somewhere in Kansas between Dodge City and the Oklahoma border. This ended up working out quite well for us and we landed on a tornado producing supercell which formed just southeast of Dodge City.
We took a trip northwest through Woodward where we stopped to eat and look at data. Not long after leaving Woodward, storms started to form from W Kansas to the Texas Panhandle. The storms that formed in Oklahoma/Texas were doing so in a region of very hot surface air with large temperature/dew point spreads. We continued to head north where the low level atmosphere seemed more suitable. A storm started forming near Bucklin, Kansas and we had a good visual on this from a point just southwest of Greensburg, Kansas. The storm seemed a little high-based early, but quickly became more respectable as it moved to the north. The northward movement seemed a little strange, but visually the storm improved steadily not long after it became established.
Just west of Kinsley, Kansas, the storm began to slow down and turn to the northeast. There were a couple of storm mergers that took place, but these never seemed to be detrimental to our target storm. The storm decided to start producing tornadoes a few miles southwest of Rozel, Kansas. The largest tornado of the day was the first which occurred southwest of Rozel. Another tornado formed just to the northwest of Rozel, and the final tornado of the day occurred just a little east near Sanford, Kansas. This final tornado was the most photogenic and had an amazing rope out stage where a weak tornado moved westward for several miles.
The target area was close – almost too close. Feeling that we didn’t want storms to go up overhead and then scramble to get on one, we shifted over into Logan County and sat near the Highway 33/74 junction. From there, we monitored the sky and radar as storms formed to the southwest in Canadian County. It became clear fairly quick that a storm forming near Piedmont would be a major player in the days events. Not wanting to attack the storm in a congested area, we moved southeast to I-35 and Highway 66 and drove to near Arcadia. The storm steadily organized and produced its first tornado a few miles to our west. We had a good view of this as it approached and were able to watch the entire life cycle of this tornado. After it weakened, a new meso-cyclone organized just to our northwest. This led to rapid tornado production very close to Arcadia. This new tornado would become violent looking as it tracked toward Carney. Viewing the tornado was difficult thanks to the speed of the storm and hills and trees. We eventually decided that it would be best to make a strong move east and put some distance between us and the tornado – with the hope of finding a good viewing area to watch it approach from the west. Between Stroud and Drumright we found such an area, the only thing was the storm was through producing tornadoes. We observed it approach and weaken and shifted our attention to another storm just south which was moving through Lincoln County. This storm was LP and had beautiful structure. While tornado warned, it never seemed to have strong rotation at cloud base and seemed a bit too small to have a serious threat. After playing with it for awhile, we ended up trying to shift south for the next storms which were producing known tornadoes. These tornadoes ended up being deeply embedded in rain when we got to the storms and decided to let them go near Okemah. Our drive home was made complicated by a tornado track that shut down part of I-40. Overall, an entertaining day and we were happy to pull off a successful chase for the second day in a row.
An unbelievable experience. We anticipated the day to have large tornadoes and the threat basically extended from the Oklahoma City area southward to the Red River. I told people in Oklahoma City to pay attention, but that in general, the biggest threat would be just south of the city.
I picked up Thom at his house near 19th and Eastern in Moore and we started driving south on I-35. The plan was to get well ahead of the Highway 81 corridor where storms would first form – let them evolve a little – and jump on the one that looked to have the best long-term potential. We stopped at the Wayne/Payne exit and observed several storms to our NW, W, and SW both visually and on radar. When I saw the storm forming southwest of Moore, I mentioned to the others that it was forming in a dangerous spot. Northeast would cut through Oklahoma City – east northeast would go through Moore – a hard right and it would hit Norman. I also didn’t think established tornado producing storms would wait until they got by the population center. Still, we really didn’t have a plan of targeting this storm because it can be extremely difficult to chase through a metro area. We had just made the decision to go south toward the Duncan storm when I saw radar data that told me a tornado was imminent. A tornado warning was issued and without much thought we were all of a sudden north bound on I-35 trying to figure out an easy intercept. The first plan was to take Highway 9 and move around the east side of Norman/Moore and wait for it to come out, but the farther up I-35 we went there were little signs that the road was congested or blocked / either by State Troopers or people parking under overpasses. With a good fix on the location of the tornado by radar and spotter reports, we drove to 19th street in Moore and took up a viewing position just east of the interstate. The expectation was that the tornado would cross I-35 between 19th and 4th (or very close to our north) and if we needed to, we could flee east on 19th.
The tornado became visible to our west in a mass of debris that extended out north and south about the width of the tornado itself. The entire “blob” was about two miles wide. As the tornado approached, we watched for signs of a northward component to the movement. There wasn’t much and I became concerned that we would not be a safe distance from the tornado when it passed. When the tornado got to within two miles, the roar started and we began to have light debris falling on us. Larger pieces of debris were not that far off and it became time to move. The first thought was about Thom’s wife who was at his house about 1/2 mile from us. I made contact with her and had her meet us out front for pick-up. This worked well and after the two minute pick-up process we started heading south to a comfortable position. Before we found that, we stared the tornado in the face about 24th and Eastern. Motion was incredible, the sound was incredible and the amount of debris that was moving around the tornado was incredible. I had a brief sick feeling for a bit that we may have waited too long to make a move to safety. We did get south without incident and found a viewing area just east of Bryant on 34th where we watched the tornado until it dissipated just west of Draper Lake.
We made a quick stop to pick up Thom’s son at one of the local non-affected schools and dropped he and his wife off back at their house. There was no damage to their house, but the neighborhood was littered with all kinds of small debris. The damage survey shows that the tornado passed between 1/2 and one mile to their north northwest. We made a somewhat half hearted attempt at playing storms farther south near Pauls Valley, but after the adrenaline had drained from us, we were pretty much done for the day. Getting Thom back home and finding a way around the damage path was a bit of an adventure. We left Thom about 1/4 mile short of his house and he had to walk back in.
Numerous things flash through your mind after an event like this. Within a few hours we were hearing about the loss of life among children and it just made us sick. I find myself asking the question, why? How in the world does a city get hit by four violent (2 EF4′s, 2 EF5′s) tornadoes in 14 years? My scientific thinking mind tells me that the odds of that happening are astronomical. I have also had to remind myself that this event would have happened whether we were there or not. And, we had nothing to do with it happening. From a storm chaser/weather enthusiast point of view, the chance of seeing the dynamics of a storm like that up close was important. I’m not sure how, but it just causes the chase, the forecast, everything involved to be viewed a little differently.
And finally, if you are caught in the path of a storm like this, don’t let the TV weather folks issue you a death sentence! These storms ARE survivable! Thousands of people lived by taking typical, suggested advice. We saw an incredible amount of traffic that may have been enhanced by people on TV yelling that you either have to be underground or out of the way to survive. I wonder if anyone was killed that left a house they could have survived in and were caught in their car? Yes, underground is best – but if that is not available – go to the center part of the house / lowest level / smallest room. Cover up with blankets and pillows / stay down and hang on! It works most of the time!
Severe thunderstorms developed early in the afternoon over the SE Texas Panhandle and were moving toward my “no-chase-zone”. We were playing an area around Amarillo where there were model signals of late afternoon storm development, and a moist easterly flow was in place. Storms did end up forming just northwest of the city when we arrived. A lot of dust was being blown around thanks to strong surface winds, and when combined with haze, storms were hard to see. We did stop to look toward a storm that was severe warned just north of Amarillo, and became a bit surprised how fast the storm fell apart. With little to keep our attention, we followed a left split for awhile that moved north northeast, but it was evident that sinking air under ridging aloft and behind the initial storms was not going to be overcome. We settled in Dalhart and took the time to photograph some nighttime lightning as it approached from the southwest.