May 12, 2004: Harper, KS – Tornadic Supercell

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May 12th was an interesting day that brought a series of tornado producing supercells across parts of southern Kansas.  Strong low-level convergence was taking place along an intersection of a surface low, dryline and quasi-stationary boundary in southern Kansas to northeastward along a surface front that extended into central Kansas with deep layer shear of 35-55 knots and a very unstable air mass with CAPE values of 3000 j/kg in the warm sector extending across the southern half of the state.

I chose to play the triple point that was occurring in Harper County.  Which produced a couple of tornadoes for us.  Unfortunately, my camera’s battery was near dead and I was only able to capture a few structure images and the first brief funnel (which later confirmed to be a touchdown/tornado) before losing my battery.

 

 

 

April 23, 2003: Clarendon, Texas – Tornadic Supercell

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Not the most productive storm chasing day of 2003, but we ended up with a brief tornado near Clarendon, Texas.

The Storm Prediction Center issued a Moderate Risk for the area in and around Wichita Falls. A much larger Slight Risk area extended from the Gulf of Mexico to the Colorado/Nebraska Panhandle.

We started our day from Liberal, KS. The initial target area was near Wichita Falls. However, as we were driving south through the Texas Panhandle we crossed the Dryline and made the decision not to proceed to our initial target near Wichita Falls.

Most of the day was spent monitoring conditions via satellite. We parked at a truck stop along Interstate-40 at the State Highway 70 Intersection.

This is about 25 miles north of Clarendon. By mid-afternoon, we visually noticed towering cumulus to our southwest and opted to begin our day’s chase operations.

Storm development began in dry air. As the developing storm crossed the Dryline boundary, the skies grew dark very quickly. At times we encountered some large hail, about golf ball size. The windshield on the storm chasing tour van ended up getting a large crack in it.

Chasing in this part of Texas is always a wonderful experience. The paved rural roads greatly help in intercepting storms without risk of getting stuck. We got on the storm and stayed with the updraft base, which at times became wrapped in rain with a strong rear-flank downdraft present.

Staying southeast of the east traveling storm, there was a quick break in the occluding rain curtain that gave us a quick peek at a tornado as it was weakening.

All in all, as stated it wasn’t the most productive day in terms of tornadoes, but any day with a tornado is worthy of a celebratory dinner. We traveled to Amarillo and had dinner at The Big Texan, a landmark of the Texas Panhandle.

April 19, 2000: Cherryvale Kansas Tornado

day1_1630Severe thunderstorms developed ahead of a pre-frontal dryline just after 7 pm CDT.

The first supercell developed across Montgomery county, with the first brief tornado touchdown (F0) near Havana just before 8 pm.

The same supercell produced another brief tornado (F0) as it passed just south of Cherryvale. This storm intensified as it moved across northern Labette county and produced a longer track tornado (12 mile path) with F3 damage occurring in the city of Parsons around 8:50 pm.

The second supercell storm moved across Neosho county, producing a tornado southwest of Erie around 8:25 pm. This tornado produced F2 damage along its entire track across Neosho county.

I started the day at my home in Bartlesville, OK and closely monitored visible satellite imagery.

Cloud cover looked to be a problem early on and was keeping surface temperatures low. By mid-afternoon, the clouds began to erode away and with 3500+ j/kg of CAPE in-place. It was a matter of time before the heating was to break the cap.

A surface low was in-place in northern Kansas which pushed a cold front into SE Kansas and NE Oklahoma. The cold front was the focal point for late afternoon development.

I drove to Independence on Highway 75 and then turned left on 160 to 7-Mile Corner. Sitting near Cherryvale for about an hour, I began watching the cumulus beginning to tower.

Without anything more than a cell phone to use to retrieve any information, I hit the jackpot and was quickly on a forming supercell that produced a large tornado. The tornado damaged several structures but thankfully didn’t produce any serious injuries.

The terrain was, of course, the biggest failure as the tornado formed in an area of thick trees and hills near the Cherryvale lake. As a result, there were limited road options coupled with a fast-moving storm that moved quickly to the northeast.

May 03, 1999: Oklahoma Tornado Outbreak

If you live anywhere in the world outside of Oklahoma, May 3rd, 1999 is of no significance.  However, if you do live in Oklahoma, it is one of those dates that you’ll always remember where you were and what you were doing.  The May 3rd Tornado Outbreak is often the baseline when comparing other tornado outbreak events.

This event technically pre-dates our tours But, it was the event that ultimately led to the creation of this company. It was the first time that I took non-chasers along with me on a chase. They helped cover the cost of fuel and I realized that day that there are people who want to chase storms, but lack the experience and want a safe guided service.

As part of my daily routine, I would make a quick check of NWS information. The first thing I noticed this morning was a high-risk area covering central and western Oklahoma. Realizing the significance of the wording in the Convective Outlook, I then spent the morning going over tons of data. I saw a storm chasing trip in my near future.

Storms in Oklahoma generally start in the western part of the state. Or, they begin in the Texas Panhandle and work their way into Oklahoma. Either way, it’s common for western and central portions of Oklahoma to experience isolated supercells. As the evening wears on, these storms lose their energy and a squall line forms. As a result, the squall line then pushes through eastern Oklahoma and on into Missouri and Arkansas.

Being a Tulsa based chaser has its perks. Sure, we have to drive further to get to the dryline where storms initiate. But, once the exciting part of the chase is over, we also get to follow the resulting squall line to Tulsa. Today looked like a good candidate for such a chase. I called two friends who had earlier expressed a desire to go storm chasing and they were in my driveway within 20-minutes. We packed some food, drinks and hit the road towards Oklahoma City.

I left the house at about 11 am, making the two and half hour drive to Oklahoma City.  Once there, I found a public library where I could use their computers to get an update on the weather.  At the time, I didn’t have wireless data options to get any kind of weather info while in a vehicle.  All I had with me was a cellular phone, a radio scanner, and a camcorder. That was the extent of my “set up” in those days.  I decided to drive to Chickasha to wait for further development.

Cutting to the chase, after sitting in Chickasha for an hour, a lot of radio chatter began happening. Severe weather spotters were talking to the Skywarn net controller at the Norman NWS office.  A tornado was in-progress. From the best that I could tell, it was on a heading that would take it just to my north. Within about 5 miles of the Bridge Creek interchange on Interstate-44, I received my first view of the tornado.

The US Interstate system and I have a love-hate relationship. They’re great highways when you need to get somewhere quickly. But, they can quickly turn into a nightmare during tornadic thunderstorms. With exits several miles apart, if traffic stalls then it becomes easy to get stuck. However, Interstate 44 this day would give me the best views of the tornado that I would get all day.  

I pulled completely off the interstate to start recording video. It would be the only video that I was able to document this entire event. The rest of the day I was driving and staying focused on safety issues and less worried about my camera.

I watched the tornado as it ripped through Bridge Creek. It ripped through power lines with a large blue arc each time.  My location was about six miles from the tornado and I remember housing insulation falling out of the sky. I had never witnessed an F5 tornado before, but I was sure on this day that I was. The lives of many people would never be the same. Many others would perish into the storm. This was a bad event and it was only going to get worse before this tornado would dissipate. As it moved through Bridge Creek it was going strong with no signs of weakening.

I was listening to KWTV over FM radio by the time I made it to Newcastle, just behind this monster. I remember meteorologist Gary England doing everything he could to enforce the seriousness of this event to his audience. “Get underground now, it’s the only way to survive this deadly storm,” he was practically screaming.

From my viewpoint, Newcastle also took a direct hit. There were more power flashes and every now and then one would illuminate the rain core. When it did, it would give me a glimpse of the tornado it was hiding.

In Newcastle, Interstate 44 turns from a northeast/southwest road into a north/south road. Oklahoma City was in panic mode! The tornado was on a heading that would take it directly into the southern suburbs, including Moore. I weighed my options as I didn’t want to chase this beast through a metro area due to safety concerns.

I drove to Highway 9 and then east over to Highway 177 where I went north in Tecumseh. The tornado made a direct hit on Moore. The south side of the OKC metro looked like a war zone. It was the middle of the afternoon and it pitch black outside due to the 60,000+ feet of clouds overhead.

I caught back up with the storm by the time I made it back to I-44. It was still traveling northeast, paralleling the Interstate. Another supercell had formed near El Reno to the west of OKC and quickly produced another tornado. Another tornado was near Geary traveling northeast towards Enid. The alert tones on my radio sounded the alarm more times than I could keep count.

For a brief moment, I considered turning around and targeting the storm moving towards the Enid area. It would have been possible to get on the southeast flank of that storm by taking Interstate-35 to Highway 60. The problem was, there was another tornado producing storm to its south-southwest (El Reno storm). I didn’t have a good location or heading for that storm. I decided to play it safe and not pursue either storm. It was pitch black outside, getting late and I didn’t have radar in the vehicle. My concern was putting myself in the path of the more southern supercell while trying to view the northern storm.

I rejoined Interstate-44 and drove towards Chandler to get ahead of the Moore storm once again. Having planned on staying ahead of it for the rest of the day as this was my road home. Somewhere in the vicinity of Chandler, I realized that the storm was once again producing a tornado. While safely pulled over and observing the rain hidden updraft, I could barely make out a solid line of contrast. I could see the tornado, but just barely and it wasn’t photogenic at all.

It was getting late and dark and I didn’t want to take any chances with this tornado overtaking me. I shot back to the northeast, driving past the outlet shopping center near Stroud. It would be the last time that I saw this shopping center. The tornado leveled it down to its foundation within 5-minutes of when I drove past it. All that remains is a concrete slab.

As I made my way back into Tulsa I transitioned from storm chaser mode to storm spotter mode. I found a good spot just south of Sand Springs to monitor the situation. During storm events, local ham radio operators work with the National Weather Service. I made a call to the net control station over the radio and let them know my location. Over the next few hours, I witnessed more flashes, but never got a clear glimpse of a tornado. I notified net control of each power flash as it was indicative of a tornado going through power lines.

By midnight things had cooled down quite a bit and I drove home. The tornado caused some structural damage on the west side of the Tulsa metro. But, Tulsa had luck in her favor this day. The tornado roped out in the vicinity of Sand Springs before the supercell rolled across northeast Oklahoma

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