Waited for struggling storms to get going before bailing on initial target for supercell heading for Norman. Got stuck in traffic during core punch during attempt to get ahead of storm while it was producing a torando in Norman. Got hung up in damage, and more traffic after deciding to blast west for new development. Arrived on beastly HP supercell after it had produced good tornadoes, noting dramatic inflow structure. Rode out storm as tornado rain wrapped night tornado passed to our south with large hail and tree debris falling around.
Hail: Golfball (1.75′)
Wind: est 60-65mph.
This was the first day of chasing in a multi day plains chase trip. I left Chicago with Lorrain Mahoney, Alec Scholten and Mike Mullenhoff around midnight and drove straight through to northern Oklahoma. The setup was somewhat on the marginal side but with Saturday being a big day we wanted to get down there early for some action and not having to be rushed Saturday. On the way down a Hostess truck driver gave us a bunch of free snacks because we were chasers. Whoever said being a storm chaser doesn’t have its perks?
We arrived in a general target area north of Oklahoma City. Storms were firing along the Red River near but we were hoping to not go that far south. We were parked near Enid along a visible boundary on radar/satellite hoping a storm could initiate there and use this boundary to its advantage. Meanwhile storms began to fire west of Oklahoma City and we were getting close to that critical point of no return moment I hate in chasing. The moment where if you don’t leave NOW you won’t be able to catch the storms to your south but if you stay where you are you will bust. A worse scenario is the one where you leave your target, drive to a bait storm that falls apart, only to have a storm form where you were that ends up producing. That is never an easy decision.
However, beefy cumulus towers along this boundary caused me to hold my ground.
Eventually though, I bailed and decided it was time to head south. One particular storm heading right into the OKC metro caught my attention, and that was the target. We made good time catching up to the storm and suddenly it went tornado warned. Unfortunately the storm was heading right into the OKC metro, and now the issue became traffic. There is no easy way around a large metro area so we had no choice but to core punch from the west and drop south into the hook. This would have been easily accomplished but as feared, traffic was a nightmare thanks to metro construction traffic on I-40. To make matter worse, confirmed tornado reports were popping up from Norman. We were so close, and could have easily gotten out of the core to drop south if it weren’t for traffic. It was very frustrating but alas, what can you do? The tornado ended passing very close to where my good friend Ben Holcomb lives, but luckily was weak and only caused minor tree and roof damage.
Radar showing us in the core, desperately trying to catch up.
We eventually gave up the pursuit once the tornado warning was dropped and the storm lost visual appearance on radar. We were now in Norman and I called Ben to try and meet up, but he had left after some new development in southwest Oklahoma. I debated for a time if we should do the same and eventually decided since we were out there we might as well. However with Norman just being hit by a tornado and power out we got stuck in the damage path by road closures and gridlocked traffic on I-35. We did catch a shelf cloud from another storm on the heels of the first.
Once we were able to break free from that we hopped on I-44 and got caught in another large gridlock at the tollbooth. Things were just not working out in our favor it seemed, but we made it through and I punched it to get down to the storms. The storm was moving towards us at quick speed so luckily it was not long before we were able to catch up although now we were in Wichita Mountain area of southwest Oklahoma. Very unfavorable chasing terrain, though I have fond memories here from November 7th 2011. What greeted us was a massive, but very HP supercell. An impressive inflow band was butting up right against the RFD precip wrapping around. I knew if we had a chance of seeing anything, we were going to have to get right up in there.
I have always wanted to be right next to or under an inflow band like that, and felt this was my chance. I drove us literally right up to it. The clouds were so low and so close it literally began to pull water from my hood. The air was completely still and silent with no wind, yet right infront of me was the living breathing monster supercell sucking in the air around. I could look out my window and see the rapid rising motion where the inflow tail meets the wall cloud. It was a very intimidating and unique experience, and one I botched the video filming of. I had set my camera in my lap prior to our arrival and forgot to stop filming, so when I picked it up again and hit record, I actually STOPPED recording. Ugh, talk about a noob mistake. Looks like I will have to attempt this maneuver again at some point.
Radar Image around this time, showing my position right in the hook.
I didn’t hold us there long though, for where we were is the spot where tornadoes love to touch down, and the precip in the field next to us was so thick we couldn’t see a thing inside and I didn’t know if there was a tornado wrapped in there or not. Large hail began to fall and inflow winds dramatically picked up into the precip and I decided it was time to bail for safety reason. We safely made it out and pursued the storm a little while. Alec and I noticed a suspicious cone shaped object in the rain that was reported as a tornado by another chaser. I moved us to get ahead of this feature, again not recording. By the time we pulled next to it, there was half a funnel cloud left and I was pretty convinced there was a tornado, but there was always that shadow of a doubt. I finally started to record at this moment so I was able to get a still.
I kept this maybe tornado in my vault of uncertainty until the storm surveys came out. It turns out a tornado did indeed travel alongside the road we were at. Other chasers captured it on video, and the end time from the NWS matches the time stamp from when I started filming the video the above still was taken from. Turns out we were in fact watching a tornado, and I failed to catch it on film. A bittersweet feeling always. I got us to the tornado, but failed to accurately document it. This map is of the NWS surveyed tornadoes, the one here would be the Saddle Mountain Tornado. When compared to the GPS map below it lines up perfect. After a short stop we continued north in the storms hook/core. In hindsight, going east probably would have been a better idea to stay out ahead of it though.
We were now in Carnegie and darkness had fallen, the storm was still tornado warned with tornado reports coming in. Sirens were wailing, and blinding rain and hail was falling. On radar was a pretty intense couplet so we decided to nervously ride the storm out in Carnegie, paying very close attention to what way the winds were blowing. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous when winds began to shift and the power went out. Tree debris was falling around us, and winds shifted to the north/northwest. Thinking a tornado was approaching I moved us back west to get out of the path and rode out the storm in a gas station with a couple other chasers and some scared locals.
The dangerous part of the storm passed, and I saw Ben Holcomb blast through town so we moved on. He said on his way through the south end of town he saw some damage, so it is very possible a tornado was there, but the damage was pretty light. We re-positioned and watched some interesting lowerings in the lightning illuminated darkness before calling the chase and heading back to Norman where we got some dinner at Applebees.
Missing the tornadoes due to traffic and being a few minutes too late is always the most frustrating feeling in the world. The way we played the supercell once we were on it though was fun and intense, making it an overall worthwhile chase. Getting right up next to the inflow band like that was truly amazing, and something I hope to get a second chance to film, as there really isn’t any good chaser video I am aware of like that. The day had low expectations to begin with, and none of the tornadoes were truly spectacular. It was a case of being in the right spot at the wrong time due to circumstances beyond your control, and sometimes thats just the way it happens.
Map. Arrow shows where we got up to the inflow, circle is where we rode out the storm.
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