May 10 2010 Oklahoma Tornado Outbreak

Feb 27, 2012

Crazy…

Summary:
High risk setup verified with many long track and significant tornadoes. Targeted Medford, OK but got under supercell too early and fell behind it which cost us the main tornado show but provided some golf ball hail core action. Able to redeem ourselves by getting under new circulation which put down a tornado about 100 yards away, watched roof get torn off barn and power poles come down. Blasted east out of Medford noting huge area of rotating dust behind us, turns out this may have been another tornado but failed to document it for confirmation. Intercepted again near Pawhuska by avoiding massive hail cores observing brief skinny, rain wrapped tornado before all storms moved away and chase was over.
Stats:
Tornadoes: 2*
Hail: 1.75″ [golf ball]
Wind: est 85-95mph RFD [strong enough to tear roof off building.]
Miles: 470
Lessons Learned: Document EVERYTHING that could be a tornado. Don’t spend too much time under developing wall clouds when storms are moving 60+ mph.
* Count could change if confirmation on possible tornado can be made.
Detailed Account:
Monday was supposed to be a big day. It first showed up on the forecast models a good 8 days out. It remained consistent. SPC and chasers alike hyped it up big time. As usual though, the night before people began expressing concerns about a cap and narrow instability.I never saw it, and SPC went with a high risk. I targeted Medford, OK as I thought this would be a sweet spot to sit. We awoke at Mikes house and set off.
Arriving in Medford it did not seem like a chase day. It was cloudy and damp but the visible satellite along with surface obs showed that things were being primed out west for a major day. There was ample clearing and significant moisture advection taking place. Things rapidly destabilized by 2pm and storms quickly blew up and went severe and even tornado warned. Danny, Mike and I had teamed up with Scott Bennett and off we went.
We are actually in a severe warning at this point, yet the storm is this far in the distance. Storm speeds were going to make today a tricky one.
Then it goes tornado warned, look how far we still are and then look at the photo above.
Our position is the tan circle/dot. I actually thought we were going to miss the show and couldn’t believe they were warned so soon. Forecast discussions mentioned storms would only have a narrow chance to produce tornadoes before congealing and that initiation might not occur further south. I floored it.
We got into view of the storm which was looking unimpressive at the time. It began to split with the left split racing off north and the right split tracking nearly overhead but seemingly struggling to get going. We actually thought the storm was done and began to head back east when I looked across the road and noticed large hail falling.
I drove north to get into the hail which turned out to be golf ball size.

Once the hail passed we continued after the storm which then began to organize. We looked out our window and saw an area of rotation starting to develop. We stopped to film the area of rotation which ended up being a bad call given the fast storm speeds. We would watch the wall cloud develop overhead that wound up producing an awesome pair of tornadoes, tornadoes which most chasers who were still racing west to catch our storm wound up bagging as we fell behind it due to insane storm speeds.
Video of hail and wall cloud developing:

The storm exploded after this and began producing. We were now on SR11 behind the hook of the massive supercell trying to get a view of the massive tornado we thought for sure was on the ground. Behind the hook there were incredible motions in the sky. I have never seen such rapid motions in the scud, it was nothing less than intimidating.
We wound up in the damage path of the tornado, dodging trees and debris. The area directly ahead and above us began rotating rapidly. A new area of circulation was developing. Suddenly a roof gets lifted off a barn just ahead of us, I quickly turn on my camera to catch what I can on film and press forward. Not long after that we find ourselves in a brutal chaser mess. As I was looking out the window I noticed just off to the field an intense white vorticy had spun up. I watched in awe as the small but intense area of debris swirled up no more than 100 yards away from us. There were funnels descending from an area of massive circulation overhead. The motions were incredible. It was a multi vortex style tornado and we were pretty much right under it. Mikes ears began popping which is something that often occurs near tornadoes as the pressure drops, but I never experienced that for myself.
There was quite a nasty chaser traffic jam ahead of us. I was getting quite frustrated trying to navigate through chasers that were afraid and unsure of what to do. If you can’t handle yourself in that situation and are unable to make decisions PLEASE DO NOT GET YOURSELF THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE. It not only hinders my efforts but puts me and others in danger.
The appearance of this supercell was nothing short of incredible. I had never been on a storm like it.
The next scan revealed something incredible. A BWER [bounded weak echo region.] The BWER has only been noted with some of the most intense tornadoes documented.
Continuing east out of Medford I noted a huge area of rotating dust behind us. I called out to Mike and Danny that this could be the reported wedge tornado but we were now racing towards the next cells in line. I failed to get any pictures or video of what I saw but other chasers in the area managed to get this: http://sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash1/hs542.ash1/31734_386137634997_520264997_3985689_5711342_n.jpg
That photo was taken by Allan Detrich around the same time and location. I hate counting tornadoes that leave a doubt in my mind…so until I can confirm it I will leave this off the official tally.
The storm was out of range now and we made a mad dash for the next storm which was heading for Ponca City. It was going to be a close call though. We made it to Ponca City and thought we had plenty of time to get ahead of the storm until we got stuck by 6 or 7 red lights in a row. We tried to move south through the core but I was worried about softball hail [being reported] taking out my windows so we turned around and went east. We spent quite a bit of time in the core but thankfully the hail never got larger than quarters.
We emerged into safety to see glimpses of the amazing structure. A huge multi-tiered meso/updraft.
Unfortunately we were now in an area of terrible terrain and road network just west of Pawhuska, OK. We stopped and had a chat with the local police chief who was unsure if he should give the order to blast the sirens. We showed him our position and where the rotation was heading and explained it would probably skirt the north side of town, he then radioed in to have the sirens sound. Shortly after they sounded and sure enough a needle funnel touched down just north of us embedded in the rain. It was hard to confirm the touch down at the time due to all the rain, but after reviewing video and seeing other chaser accounts we were able to confirm it did reach the ground.
It felt good knowing we helped a local person of authority make the right call for his town. Thats what chasers should be out there doing.
Video of all the madness I have described above!
Once the Pawhuska storm was away from us we called the chase. Storms were well to our east blasting away from us and there was no hope for catching them. We began to learn that the entire dryline lit up and storms formed all the way down to the red river and produced tornadoes, striking the OKC metro area. Fatalities and injury reports were coming in along with interstate closures. The hype of the day was warrented.
We headed back towards Wichita, now in a stormless sky and a calm looking sunset ahead of us, you would never know looking at this sky that the area was just raked by a series of devastating storms.
Conclusion:
Today was a wild day. We are able to snag a pair [maybe even trio] of tornadoes along with some big hail and intense wind. I am a bit disappointed in letting the storm get away from us initially costing us the main tornado prizes of the day, but aggressive plans of action meant we were able to redeem ourselves. Its all a learning process though, and the next time I will not make that same mistake again. I was also reminded why I loathe peak season chasing with the number of indecisive chasers out there, but there is nothing I can do about that. It was a great chase and my thoughts go out to the victims. My friend Steves house was hit near OKC which strikes as a reminder that the storms sometimes do strike too close for comfort. Its important people know what to do!
Map, green arrow shows location of golf ball hail. Red arrow shows locations of confirmed tornado intercepts:
SPC storm reports for the day.

Leave a Comment:

Old Content