Sunday, April 13th saw a sharp cold front move through the state and crash its way south, and out in front of it the ingredients for severe weather took shape and brought rain, hail, heavy winds, and even three small tornadoes. Oklahoma hadn't had a tornado warning in over 300 days, the last being the El Reno tornado day on May 31st. This time though it was much less of a risk, if storms fired at all. To the north in Oklahoma City a linear squall line broke out bringing pea sized hail and heavy rains, but to the south storms were expected to be more discrete as the dry line moved east ahead of the cold front. It pushed the triple point down to the Ardmore area and developed some impressive super cells that soon went linear.
As for my chase, I went south to Pauls Valley and hung around there for quite a while and then moved south and west to Ratliff City, then ended up east of Duncan somewhat. As the day wore on and storms were developing to the north I got impatient, concerned I wouldn't see any storms at all. I drove north and captured some pretty good photos at the south end of the line, but just as I caught tail end charlie, storms kept developing to the south and I quickly found myself along the front line of thunderstorms. Finally I dropped to the south and got on a tornado warned storm, but I was directly to the east and I couldn't get around to the south side before the storms filled in. Here are a few photos from Sunday's chase.
Officially it was the second chase of the season, but to me it was the first real chase of the 2014 Spring season. A warm front was advancing its way northward while a dryline was pushing its way eastward, creating conditions for a stormy day. A tornado watch had been issued for the area around 3pm and it would last until 10pm for a sliver of territory ranging from Western Oklahoma all the way up to Eastern Missouri, but there was no guarantee that there would be any storms at all. I drove north through Kingfisher, up to Hennessey where I made my first stop of the day. After looking at the forecast models again, I figured the storms would fire a little farther north so I drove up to Helena and ultimately ended up along the Oklahoma/Kansas border when the first storm developed. I raced north only to see it give way to a second storm that had developed to the southwest. I then drove west of Anthony, KS and waited for it to come to me. It was a fairly quick moving storm but was heading more n/ne so I was able to intercept it fairly easily. I ended up getting a lot of good photos and although I didn't see any tornadic activity the chase was far from a bust. I also ended up getting some video of a wall of dust coming at me from the downburst of winds underneath the storm.
This wasn't much of a chase, mainly just a lot of driving around in gray skies and eventually ending up in three hours of driving rain. But, this chase made me remember a few things that it seems I had forgotten, and taught me a couple of other things that will shape the way I chase in the future.
The night before I had hardly looked at the forecast models. I did a quick overview of the main parameters and moved on to something else, thinking I would get up the next morning and take a look and make my decision then. So, I get up the next morning and check the SPC outlook to see what they had to say about it. Then I looked at the models again and I think I was trying mash what the models were saying with what SPC was saying, again not looking very deeply and not paying attention to what the forecast models were saying anyways. I was wishy-washy about going in the first place because I believed it would be a day full of gray skies and rain, and I've seen that movie before. But, after thinking about it a bit I decided to go because it had been about five months since I've chased anything and the number of opportunities per season is very limited. So, I got my equipment ready which didn't take long, but again I didn't have in place to go in the first place. This was very telling when I look back at why things ended up the way they did.
I left OKC heading south on I-35 with a target of Greenville, Tx. Greenville? Because it took me south about as far as I really wanted to go, and I believed it would be a place where the storms would end up after developing just a bit further west. Also, because I wasn't paying attention to the forecast models as I drove down, and common sense as a chaser. There was no cap, no lift, and ultimately no storms there. I stopped there to eat for about 20 minutes, then decided to head west so I could at least get some storm time. I drove west to Denton, thinking if I got west of Denton I would be in a non-populated area and could get some good photos of the heavier storms. Well, I ran into the heavier storms. Gray, non-structured, heavy rain storms. And they moved slowly, so basically I sat in rain for most of the rest of the afternoon with nothing to really photograph. Meanwhile, two hours to the south, structured supercells were taking shape and blue skies provided the heating needed to punch through a sufficient cap.
Ultimately, I half-assed the chase, and I got the results I put into it. This is the first time I've really had a chase that I walked away empty handed and was disappointed in how I played it, and more mad at myself because I really didn't play it at all. I don't have any photos to post and the video was just rain falling, and some thunder and lightning here and there. I was chasing very lazy, not wanting to drive too far south because of the long drive back, and not expecting much so I got what I expected. It was a very bland day from the results, but a very eye opening day as I look within myself and what I need to do going forward to be really ready for this season.
Continuing with the importing of my historic chase logs.
This was a confusing day because SPC had been showing an area in NW Oklahoma to be a 10% risk of tornadoes, but the forecast models were showing something completely different. I was seeing storms initiating in the eastern Texas panhandle and nothing was happening up north, at least at the time I got out and was able to chase. So, I headed west to Shamrock, Tx and sure enough storms initiated just to the west and to the south. Since this was my third straight day of chasing I was a little worn out, so I stuck with a cell that was just southwest of Shamrock hoping it would take off. But unlike the storms in Oklahoma the day before, on this one I chose poorly. It slowly evaporated, leaving nothing but a small shaft of rain. Meanwhile to the south near Childress, around 40 miles away there was a beast of a cell moving southeastward at about 30 mph and had a well defined hook echo, prompting it to go tornado warned. The problem I had with it wasn't that I couldn't catch it, it was it that it was such a beast and it basically covered the only road to the south, so it would take a massive core punch and some luck to get through it safely because you didn't know what you might come out and run into on the other side. But, I made my way down and it kept moving southeast and was just behind it when I reached Paducah, Tx. As I was passing through, lightning had set of a huge brush fire to the west clouding up the sky and adding to the area's woes. I went to the east and noticed debris on the road and just on the left side of the road was a barn that housed some classic cars...only the barn wasn't there anymore. Luckily for the owner the cars were still there. I'm pretty sure a small tornado had to have obliterated the barn...sheet metal was wrapped around a sign near the road. Not long after that another cell had developed behind me, and it quickly went tornado warned. The inflow winds were sucking up smoke and dirt from the fields into the storm creating quite a sight to see, but as for a tornado, I couldn't see so I didn't push my luck. I didn't get many pictures that day because I was playing catch up for most of it, and the HP nature of the cells made it that much tougher. Still a memorable chase, but not fruitful from a tornado standpoint. Here's a couple of photos from this uneventful chase.
I'm in the process of moving over my chase logs from the last few years, so this is the first entry of many documented chases over the years.
The first big storm chasing event took place over the last few days, with storms from Colorado to Oklahoma and everywhere in between. Although expectations were much higher for severe weather, there were a couple of good storms and the storm that was near Burlington, CO was a beauty. I didn't see any tornadoes, but there were reports of small tornadoes and land spouts in the area. What I did see was amazing structure and one of the most photogenic storms in recent memory. I started out from Oklahoma and made my way north through Garden City, KS and up through the eastern border of Colorado in flat arid country. I eventually watched this storm from initiation although I let it go because I thought there might be something better behind it. After realizing that would be the storm of the day I quickly went back after it and caught it as it matured. The rotation of the updraft was amazing and I also went through some good size hail, and called it a chase near dark. Here are some photos from that day.
Looking back at this day there are several memories that I have that will always stay with me. Probably one of the most frightening I've experienced as a storm chaser, and one of the tougher days in seeing the damage it caused. It started out pretty frantically. Early in the afternoon storms started to develop and it wasn't long before the tornado touched down southeast of Hinton and made its way northeast. I had positioned myself to the west of El Reno, at Exit 115 to be exact knowing it was heading in my general direction. As it moved closer you could hear the rushing sound as if a giant waterfall were miles away. It was tough to make out the tornado itself, by this time it had morphed into a gigantic wedge and wrapped in rain. These are the most dangerous of tornadoes because you don't know it's there until it's already on top of you. Watching to the southwest, I was able to capture a few shots although I was without a tripod, and there was very little light to work with (causing blurriness of the photos). Hearing the roar get closer and not fully trusting it would stay on path, I decided to drop back from Exit 115 and move back three miles to the first business loop exit west of El Reno. I was pretty confident that even though I fell back I would still have plenty of visual, whatever was available anyways.
I watched the storm move to the northeast as I fell back into El Reno and eventually worked my way up Highway 81. Just north of town the tornado had already moved through, stripping bark off trees and knocking down power lines. By this time I had also lost my data connection, so I had really no way of knowing exactly where it was other than watching the rainy mess and hoping that nothing was inside the rain curtain I was about to enter.
I drove under a leaning power line and headed north on 81 trying to stay up with it. As I worked my way north I was enveloped in rain and strong inflow winds, literally pulling me sideways. This was one of my scariest moments, mostly for not having my bearings and not knowing where I was in relation to the mile wide beast that had just gone through. I did a full stop on the highway and thought about turning around and heading back south, but wasn't sure what was coming up so I decided to keep heading north. I eventually found an underpass and stopped for a few moments to decompress and gather myself.
This is the pixelated video from my live stream that day that recorded my scariest moment in chasing.
Afterwards, I made my way east, well behind the EF5 tornado that was still marching to the northeast towards Guthrie. I saw houses torn apart, the smell of propane filled the air and debris littered the yards and had collected along the fences. Everyone in this area had survived, but further to the east the storm had claimed lives.
The road east had already been closed off by emergency personnel, so I worked my way back to the south hoping to catch the storms moving though Norman and eastward near Shawnee. I was a few minutes late though, and narrowly missing catching a strong rope tornado that obliterated a semi truck as it sat on the side of the interstate. I managed to catch a cool few photos before calling it a day. A day I will never forget.
It's been five months now since an EF-5 tornado ripped through Moore, OK killing 24 and devastating the community for the second time in 14 years. I was on the scene as the tornado touched down, and this is the first time I've sat down to write about what I saw that day.
I had set out west of OKC on Sara Rd. expecting something to happen somewhere between Yukon and Duncan, a fairly wide corridor but felt I could maneuver to where ever I needed to be. At 12:30 pm I was staked out watching the skies on a warm and humid day that had the feel of severe weather and the expectation of tornadoes. As the afternoon progressed a severe storm had popped up to the south near Duncan, and my first reaction thinking I was too far north to get to it, and I would end up too far away to be on the storm. There was not a good route directly to the south, only high traffic routes that zig-zagged down full of stop lights and left turns. The storm was moving to the northeast though, and if there was a shot to catch it, it would be to the south near Norman. I decided to move south, and that took me east on I-40 and south on I-35. About the time I got to Norman, another cell had developed to the west, a rather large cell that was growing in intensity. I decided at this time I'd head west and try to stay on this cell while it was still west of hill and tree country. This took me west on Highway 9, and north of Newcastle. As I made my way into my position on Highway 37, the cell had started developing a hook on radar and visually a wall cloud had appeared just to my south.
The storm was moving to the northeast with the wall cloud rapidly rotating, and I felt it was just a matter of time before something produced. I headed back east on Highway 37 watching the wall cloud, but hanging back just a bit so I wasn't underneath it if and when something came down. I followed it for a short time when all of a sudden a small funnel appeared out of the base.
The tornado touched down 45 seconds after the photo above was taken. I was streaming video at the time and was shouting for anyone watching to notify anyone in the area at tornado was on the ground.
I kept rushing to the east and I came upon a group of highway patrol and other response vehicles. Unsure if they would let me pass or not, I pulled over. The tornado was growing very quickly, and had gone from a small rope to a stove pipe in less than a minute. It was 1 minute and two seconds between the time the photo above was taken to the time I took the photo below.
I told the patrolman next to me that I was a storm chaser and asked if he was okay with me moving past this point and following the storm. He said he was good with it and asked that I make sure to stay out of the way of the responders, which I had no problem with. It wasn't long after that though the tornado passed I-44 and moved into Moore. I followed as far as I could, but the traffic had built up on I-44 and was also backing up on Highway 37. Unable to follow any further, I tried to make my way back east, but the traffic had come to a halt and moving a mile took at least 10 minutes. Finally, I was able to make my way back to where the damage had taken place in Newcastle, pulled over and offered to help with anything that was needed. After another hour I decided to try to make it back home, taking an alternative route back towards Mustang, but ended up helping a group of people push a lady's car off the road and into a parking lot because it had overheated from sitting so long. Eventually I made it home, but I couldn't stop thinking about those who were in its path and the lives that had been lost.
Monday brought about a good opportunity for some fall chasing and one of the last chances for storm photography of the year. I had originally planned to head to southern Colorado for a day to get some fall shots in the mountains, but when I had the choice to go after storms or landscapes, I chose storms.
I headed out at 7:30am with my plan to head up through Woodward, OK and up through Dodge City. There I would evaluate how the day was going to play out and make my next move from there. Along the way, I stopped by Big Basin, a prairie preserve between Englewood and Minneola, KS to get some wide open landscape shots sprinkled with colors.
Afterwards, I headed north on Highway 183 all the way up to Wakeeney, KS and headed west to Collyer where I met the storm.
The storms were linear and didn't pose much of a tornado threat. The line extended from northeast to southwest, and this allowed me to drop straight south and pretty much play the entire length of the storm. I ended the chase just north of Jetmore, KS by just sitting and listening to the thunder. Very relaxing!
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