Saturday, May 15, 2010

High Risk Nascar!

May 10, 2010

Today was looking like a busy day. A high risk was issued from south central Kansas to central Oklahoma, and towards the east. The setup was shaping up for strong tornadoes! One downside to this setup? Speedy storms! I never did like high risks because of how fast the storm motion is. They can be very difficult to chase after, especially if you are not ahead of it. The target? Wakita to Enid, OK for 7:00 pm. The Weather Channel had Greg Forbes on the night before, mentioning there was a risk of EF3 to EF5 strength tornadoes. What is this? Twister? We left Childress, TX in the late morning and headed northeast.

By 1:00 pm, a boundary started to build to our west and the first tornado watch went up for western Kansas. We were going to be aiming for the dryline bulge along the warm front. By now, we were about 80 miles ahead of the warm front and the triple point low was situated near the OK/TX state line. We headed north on I83.

At 1:40 pm, we stopped in Taloga for a quick pit stop. A new tornado watch went up for this area. The boundary that I was watching go up was building rather rapidly. Oh man, things are going to get insane quickly! The cap was already eroding. The boundary now developed into new storm, anviling out at the top. It was quite warm outside, 91F according to Scott's thermometer. We turned onto hwy 281 northeast as I kept watching the new storm develop. New inflow bands were starting to feed into the storm and a precip core started to form. A tornado warning was issued but the storm appeared to be elevated. It will have to move further east to become more surface based. Also there was weak mid level rotation. Storms were also going up in Kansas, which should hopefully produce outflow boundaries that move south into Oklahoma.

There was not a lot of lightning with this new storm, but at 2:30 I saw a CG strike in the distance. The anvil was also backshearing a bit, which was a good sign. We turned on hwy 412 and turned on the AM radio to listen for lightning in the static but there was none.

Figuring we had some time yet and that our storm was not doing too much, we pulled into IHOP in Enid for our only big meal of the day. Well, we ordered our food and waited while Ron checked the models. And waited. Oh sure, we just had to pick a very slow IHOP! We finally got our food and had to inhale it literally because it was now time to leave for the chase. "Eat now, talk later!" Ron mentions. We paid our tickets and took off after the storm which was now gaining strength. By now there was a hook echo near Wakita (dang it!) and a tornado was confirmed (dang it some more!).

At 4 pm, the supercell now had striations in the meso as we were trying to catch up to the storm. Geez I hate high risks! These storms were hauling east fast! About15 minutes later, We saw a back road and decided to take it. Big mistake. It was red clay... with a wet surface. Not good. We watched in horror as Ron's car slid sideways. Then Scott's van started sliding. Crap crap crap! Scott tried to steer the van but it was useless. This was worse than ice! The rear end of the van almost made it into the ditch. The rest of us unloaded the van, figuring that more weight would make things worse. We went behind the van and pushed it. Scott was now free, but it was still very slippery. My shoes were now caked with wet clay and I must have been two inches taller with all the crap under my shoes. Ssshhhlllooop! Ssqqquuuiisssh! I tried walking back up to the main road. I looked up at the supercell, with its beautiful meso striations and I cussed and cussed. I thought I would never make it! Scott finally got the van up to the main road. Then I finally made it. Wheeeeeewww!!!! I can't believe we almost got stuck! One lesson learned... never ever take the red clay roads even if they appear dry.

Now our supercell was getting away. We had to cut through town to try to catch up to it. We noticed there was golfball sized hail in the grass on the sides of the highway. And that was already melted, with temps about 90F and the storm already out of the area, so that meant the hail would have been much bigger. I am glad we avoided the hail anyways, because a cracked windshield meant it was the end of the chase.

We headed to billings on hwy 15 north and cut east to Ponca City. We reached the town of Billings at 4:51. Our supercell was the strongest storm in the alley at the time and we were finally catching up to it. The base of the storm didn't look like much, but we saw a wall cloud on our left which did not amount to much. More large hail could be seen on the sides of the highway in the grass. By 5:20 we reached the town of Osage and our storm was now about 50,000 feet tall with stage 4 windshear according to the Baron. A tornado warning was now issued for the Oklahoma City area.

When we were on US 60, the rear flank was starting to open much at about 5:30. There were a lot of chasers on this storm, on the sides of the highway, behind us and ahead of us. Another wall cloud formed and a brief funnel cloud appeared. A few minutes later, Ron pointed out a possible tornado. It was very hard to tell due to the rolling hills. I zoomed in with my camera and at a quick glance it looked like a multi vortex, but I could not see any rotation with it at all. It fell apart and nothing more came of it. We pulled into a gas station for a quick bathroom break. Unfortunately there was a lineup and only one bathroom. I started coughing really bad due to my cold. Great! I coughed and gagged. I had some crap in my chest that I needed to get rid of. I went to the bathroom quick and went back out to the parking lot. Other storm chasers pulled into the gas station. I was now hacking up a lung! I thought I was gonna get sick. Other chasers and spotters watched me. Gosh how embarrassing! I tried to hide behind Scott's van and hack some more. This was not fun!!! After everyone was done, we left again.

There was another storm to the south of this one now. Our first storm was not doing anything anymore by this point and slowly dying. The storm motions were just way to fast! We took a gravel road south and encountered a shelf cloud produced by the second supercell. A rear flank was opening up and the storm was starting to take a hook echo shape. The meso was not fully organized yet, so we stopped on the side of the road to watch it and take pictures. The low level winds were screaming into the meso which had slight rotation and I could hear the rear flank winds howling above. Then all of a sudden, a white funnel cloud formed. "Yes yes! Drop! Come on you can do it" I exclaimed at the storm. Yep I am weird, I tell storms what to do! LOL! I was getting excited, since this reminded me a bit of the tornadic supercell I saw in 2006, with a nice green lush field before it. The funnel cloud was beautiful actually, changing shape and twisting about. Then it fizzled. Noooooo! The surface winds tore it apart!!! Talk about luck or what, sheesh!

A police deputy for the Osage Indian Reserve drove up and asked if everything was okay. I reported the funnel cloud to him and he said the storm had dropped a couple tornadoes before and was keeping an eye on things. We chatted for a bit. He was a very cool guy! He had his dog in the back and she poked her head out and sniffed my hand. One of the reasons why I love the alley... the people are very kind! Then he was off on his way again. The supercell was not doing much anymore at this point, so it was time to call off the chase. It was kind of disappointing today because if these supercells had been moving much slower and storm motions not so insanely fast, there would have been much better photogenic storms and tornadoes. Also the fact that our series of unfortunate events did not help us and the storms fired much earlier than expected. At least we managed to get something out of it.

We headed north to Blackwell, OK at a Super 8 for the night. It was a very crazy day.

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