High risk. Two words that can invoke a variety of emotions depending on how you feel about storms. For a storm chaser, there is some excitement involved, but also a realization that a high risk day means a difficult chase. The SPC categorical risks are not purely based on storm strength. Storm coverage is a big factor as well, and in order for a storm system to warrant a high risk, there is typically a large area of storm coverage expected.
From a chasing perspective, this can mean difficulty in picking a target area, and then even more difficulty in picking a storm when 100 of them fire up at once!
After much debate between three potential targets, I settled on Woodward, OK. Further north along the warm front I figured would be too messy. Further south on the dryline I was unsure if the tornadic potential was as high (this was also outside of the high risk area).
As I sat in Woodward, storms had initiated in SW Oklahoma, and began producing tornadoes. Dang. Maybe I should have gone down there! It’s closer to home! It wouldn’t be long before initiation happened in my target area, however.
The problem was, as storms initiated, they were a mess. I had met up with my buddy Spencer, who I had met on that glorious Dodge City chase last year, prior to initiation, so we formed a 2-vehicle convoy, if you will. We went southwest out of Woodward to get on one of the first storms, but when we got to it, it was less than impressive. We followed it back up to Woodward where Spencer needed to fill up (Dude! Fill up BEFORE storms fire!). Looking at that storm, it was getting interference from additional rain to the south, and at that time I was thinking we should let it go, and in hindsight, that’s what we should have done. Instead we followed it a little ways north of Woodward before deciding it was junk, and we should bail to the tornado-warned storm to the south that was actually isolated.
In order to get in this storm’s path, we had to head straight east on 412. It seemed to take forever to get there, as it always does when you wish you were on a storm 10 minutes ago! It’s frustrating to watch tornado reports come in when you’re still 30 miles out!
Nonetheless, we caught up to it at Hwy 281. I was losing faith in it at this time, however, as it was becoming weaker with each radar scan. I thought we’d be too late. It would require a core punch to take a look at the meso, but with that weak reflectivity, I didn’t even hesitate.
Funny thing happened as I turned south on 281, as a Lexus driving north flashed their headlights at me. I’m thinking, “Yeah, I know there’s a tornado, that’s why I’m going this way!”
I came through the core and saw a rotating wall cloud to my southwest. Still looked promising! It developed a few funnels, then actually became a bit ragged. I thought it would cross the road, but it began taking on more of a northerly direction. I followed it back north, watching more funnels form, and then dissipate. This thing still had something left!
At one point I thought I might be getting into a developing circulation, as wind really picked up out of the south. I believe it was actually just RFD that was intensifying… a good sign.
As I got back to 412, an inflow tail had formed, and a more solid and tight rotating wall cloud was on the western end of it. It was clear at that point that a tornado was imminent! Only one problem from my position… a huge canyon! And lots of traffic! I got slowed down right as the tornado formed, and actually could not see it when it was at its most photogenic point.
Anyway, once I made it to the clearing, it was quite a sight to see! It was no more than 2 miles off the road, just paralleling it to the north! The condensation funnel lifted, but the tornado was still down, ripping trees out of the ground and tossing them like twigs. It was the perfect tornado, as no structures that I know of were affected. It was in the middle of nowhere, or actually in an oil field, I believe. Not a populated area, anyway.
Here’s a video still and a couple photos:
A funnel cloud persisted after this, but I believe there was no ground contact. A new area of rotation began forming to the east, but it did not produce another tornado that I know of. I lost contact with the storm for a while due to the road network, and by the time I caught back up it was evident that outflow had taken over, and it was done.
At that point I figured the environment had been wiped out, so even though more storms had popped to the west, I decided to call it a chase and head for OKC to get a steak! There was another storm that went through the same spot where I had stopped that was tornado-warned, but it did not produce.
On the way to OKC I witnessed a spectacular sunset!
As I approached OKC I got another treat with incredible lightning contacting radio towers in Edmond! Since I was driving, and wanted to get to Outback before they closed, I did not get any pictures of this.
All in all, I was satisfied that I had gotten a tornado out of that mess of a day, and ended the chase with some great skies. At the same time, I was disappointed that I hadn’t bailed on the Woodward junk earlier, and seen the other two incredible tornadoes that storm had produced in Seiling and Chester. Lessons for next time, I suppose.
Here’s my video: