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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