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Main | May 30 - Chase Day 15 - The Hook & Driving Nightmare »

May 31 - Chase Day 16 - Dangerous Storm & Dangerous Driving

Wow ... Our worst fears unfolded today and it was what we were worrying about all day: dangerous storms and a lot of people out looking at the storms.

We started the day off in Norman, Oklahoma then headed west to El Reno. We stayed in El Reno for a while waiting for initiation and more and more chasers started pouring into the town. This is when we started getting nervous. Storms initiated just west of El Reno and we eventually positioned ourselves south of El Reno south of the I-40 on the 81. We had a great view of the storm and on its current track would take it just north of us but unfortunately through El Reno.

This is when things started to unfold ...

Brad and Greg were observing the storm but my attention was elsewhere. I was watching the hordes of chasers AND locals (this was NOT all chasers, there were more locals out than chasers, I was there, I saw it) and what I was seeing was brake lights ... Brake lights lit up on our escape route south.

We positioned ourselves where we were because we were out of the path of the tornado and had a great route south to avoid it if it turned right. Well, I was seeing our escape route disappear before my eyes and more and more people started clogging the road. The issue wasn't just the amount of people but people weren't pulled all the way off the road, merging in and out, locals panicking and driving really slow or very erratically. 

We then hear from Cloud 9 Tours that there is a tornado on the ground and sure enough we can see it in the rain ... and it's BIG. But it kept disappearing in the rain but based on the HAM radio we knew it was still on the ground. The storm then seemed to be advancing toward us ... It was turning right. That's when Brad, Greg and I decided it was time to leave. Our escape was disappearing and the storm was advancing so we left. We started south as fast as traffic would let us all the while looking back and seeing a mass of dark headed our way. This storm was turning right, it was barrelling toward us, a very hard right. People were panicking (not chasers, this was locals) clogging up roads and slowing down, speeding up, driving on the shoulder, etc. I can't blame people for panicking, and I'm not placing blame, I'm just stating what happened.

We managed to circumnavigate slow moving vehicles and we never did more than 50 mph because the traffic didn't allow for it. We made it south and out of the way of danger. Our friends were behind us and I was sick to my stomach worried. They made it south just in time and to safety.

We can't say the same for locals and chasers who got caught up in the tornado. We also found out that the "mass of darkness" moving toward us was indeed a very large, wedge tornado. I will review pictures and videos to see if I got it but honestly, my goal was getting us to safety, not taking video.

We have heard of many chasers caught up in the tornado. The issue with playing it too close is that storms are unpredictable. There was no way to know the storm was going to turn right that hard so if you leave no room for error, you're going to get hit. But, people are free to do what they wish. If getting as close to a tornado as possible if your goal, I cannot tell you otherwise. That is your choice. You are free to chase storms however you see fit. The only thing that REALLY bothers me is when people block roads and that happened yesterday (May 30) and it happened again today when a tour group (who I won't name) decides to flip a VERY slow U-turn on the highway to head back north to the storm while everyone is trying to flee south. This caused a chain reaction slow down which most likely trapped people back close to the tornado. 

Our group played it safe and we always do. The only thing we could have done differently was head south a little earlier because of the traffic. We didn't anticipate it being THAT bad. Other than that we played it well.

I'm sad to hear the death toll has risen. We also know of several friends injured or in vehicle accidents yesterday. I am glad to hear they're all ok though but I don't think our group will ever be chasing anywhere near Oklahoma City ever again. There are too many chasers (I'm not being a hypocrite, I know I am one of them), and there are too many locals, media chasers, etc out to take a look and with that big a population in a metro, you're going to get traffic jams. It's just too dangerous to chase in that area. I would also like to make it clear again that I saw more local vehicles then I did storm chasers so we cannot place all the blame for the traffic jam on chasers. It was panicked locals that caused the jam. I'm not blaming the locals for panicking, I'm just stating the fact.

Anyway ... Our last chase day was a big one, a scary one, and one I would NEVER like to experience ever again. The trip overall was eventful (to put it in polite terms) and I'll do a summary over the next day or so.

Tomorrow we leave for home. Hoping to make it to eastern Indiana or western Ohio. On Sunday we will continue home to the Toronto area. Goodnight everyone!

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