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Day 13: Tornadoes, Lightning and Close-Calls

Currently I'm in Shawnee, Oklahoma just south-east of Oklahoma City.  It was a roller coaster of a day.  Started off hot and sunny and we went and got some lunch in Weatherford, Oklahoma and waited for the storms to begin.  Sure enough, in the mid-afternoon, the first "blip" showed up on radar.  We were worried that this one was showing up a little too early for we waited to see how it developed.  Sure enough it developed into a storm so we were a little late getting on it.

We took off for the storm but the road networks were terrible so more than once we had to double-back, turn around, etc.  The storm had turned into a monster storm but again, we just could not get to it.  Eventually we found away around it but it involved us racing this storm south.  When I say racing, I mean racing ahead of the large hail.  Well, we got stuck behind an 18-wheeler going 20 below the speed limit and the hail was catching up and getting bigger so we had to bail on the storm and get out of it.

We took off for another storm to our east.  All our spirits had dropped and it was looking like the day would be a bust.  Sure enough as we approached this second storm, it drops a tornado.  It was a ways off and it was very low contrast (the tornado was almost the same colour as the clouds behind it so it was hard to see).  We did film it and watch it for a bit then tried to get into better position on this storm.  We did and got really close to the meso and were able to see it produce another brief tornado.  That brings our day's count up to 2.  We got ahead of this storm in really nice position and took some great photographs and video of the structure.

So, remember the first storm we were on?  Well, it sped up and gobbled up the storm we were on.  Now we had to scramble to get back into better position.  Unfortunately, the road networks were still awful.  We turned down a road and it ended up being a dirt road.  Dirt road plus heavy rain equals really difficult mud driving.  We had to bail on that road and by this time the storm was starting to overtake us.  We could see the hail core and it was a green I'd never seen before.  We kept racing and then realized there was no outrunning it.  We needed an east road option and there were none.  Scott found what we thought was an east road and we turned down it but again, it turned to dirt.  At this point, we had to make the decision: risk getting stuck in the mud and get run over by the storm or try to race the hook of the storm (hooks on a storm is indicative of a tornado).

We raced south just to the side of the hook.  Then on the latest radar scan, it showed us directly under the hook.  The rain was torrential and Scott said over the radio: "This is precipitation wrapping around the hook."  This is dangerous because large hail can potentially wrap around the hook.  Just as he says this, George Kourounis (driving for Cloud 9 tours who were in the same area as us) comes on the radio and they are in the hook with us.  He says, "We've got to go, funnel on the ground."  Another man from Cloud 9 says, "There's a tornado wrapping around the southern edge of this hook."

Where were we?  Southern edge of the hook....  Just as this happens, we're coming up on a house to our right and it starts to come apart.  Shingles and wood start to rip off the house and Scott, ahead of us, slams on the breaks.  We can see the winds are incredibly strong in bursts and we slam on the breaks as well.  At this point, there's nothing to do but wait this out.  Right after the winds slam by, we take off again and find Cloud 9.

To sum up: We were in the hook of the storm, there was a tornado in it with us.  Cloud 9 saw the tornado pass in front of them.  Were we hit by the tornado?  It's hard to say.  Brad and I both saw circulating rain bands above us.  We could have been hit by the outer winds of the tornado or the RFD (rear flank downdraft) wrapping around it.  Either way, the winds were incredible enough to tear parts of a house off.  After that, we all decided that was it for the day.  All of our nerves were shot.  That makes 2 tornadoes, and possibly running into a third.

We ended off the night with a beautiful lightning show from the storm, had dinner, then we all crashed.  Sorry family, but look, I'm alive!  The great thing is, we got the whole encounter on video.  Tomorrow is up in the air whether it's a chase day or not.  It's not looking that promising.  Then again, last time we said this, we had an amazing hail storm.  I haven't had a chance to update my photo album, I'll try to do it tomorrow.

Reader Comments (1)

That is actually the most awesome thing I've heard all week. Congratulations!

May 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack
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