Today was supposed to be a day spent at home anticipating the arrival of my chase partners Shawn Keizer, Ed Henry, and Mike Deason, who had been chasing in Nebraska and Colorado the previous two days. I had not been very optimistic about chase prospects for today, with a cold front surging south through the Plains. This is usually a situation where storms develop along the front, then get undercut as the front surges south and southeast. However, by afternoon, the front had taken on a U-shaped configuration as it nosed south through the Texas panhandle, and was oriented along more of a north-south axis across Oklahoma and western north Texas. The front did not seem to be surging eastward in Oklahoma or western north Texas either, which raised my hopes that storms that formed in this area would not be undercut. A weak prefrontal trough was causing winds to back across southern Oklahoma and western north Texas. These factors convinced me to go out today.
I left Norman shortly after 4pm. Temperatures were in the upper 80s, dewpoints were near 70, and winds were out of the southeast. Shortly after turning on to the Bailey Extension southwest of town, I began encountering some very light elevated shower activity, and noticed my winds had shifted to the north. By the time I got to Chickasha, winds were out of the north at about 25 mph and I was in a solid stratus overcast. I was fearful the front was now beginning to surge eastward. From Chickasha, I blasted south on US 81, hoping to get back into the warm sector. Just south of town, I began picking up the Lawton station on my NOAA Wx Radio, and heard that Comanche and Stephens Counties were under a severe thunderstorm warning. I had no idea whether or not these storms were ahead of or behind the front, but I decided to take a gamble anyway and continued to head south. When I got to Rush Springs, a storm had begun to form on top of me. A severe thunderstorm warning was issued for this storm just as I left town, but this storm was behind the front so I decided to blow it off and look for something further south. Just as this happened, I got a call from Jay Barnes, who had been watching these storms on radar. He told me that radar was indicating a meso on a cell near Lawton, which looked like the best cell which had formed thus far in Oklahoma or Texas. So I continued on my way south, when another warning was issued for Stephens County, and included the towns of Duncan, Marlow, and Bray. At this time, I was in the town of Marlow and the time was about 5:45pm. I pulled over into an empty parking lot just north of the intersection of US 81 and Hwy 29, where I noticed a nearby bank thermometer was reading 86F. I looked to my north, where I saw an RFD punching down from an updraft base. A blocky, square shaped wall cloud briefly spun up beneath the base. After seeing this, I took Hwy 29 east to keep up with this storm. But as I continued east, I noticed my winds were still out of the north. Sure enough, the updraft base began to get stretched out and linear looking, and the cell met a quick demise. Figuring this was going to be the rule of the day, I just decided to call it a day and headed home.....trying to ignore the 237 chase vehicles heading the opposite direction east of Bray.
When I got home around 7:30pm, I checked the radar and saw a big flying eagle between Duncan and Ardmore. It turned out the cell just south of the Marlow cell was the "daddy" storm, and was actually able to stay in front of the front for a while. But it too got undercut after a couple of hours, and to my knowledge never tornadoed. Shawn, Ed, and Mike ended up on some outflow dominant cells east of Oklahoma City, and saw a photogenic shelf cloud near Shawnee around sunset. Ed got some amazing lightning video from this cell, which we watched after they all arrived at my apartment later that evening. We were also treated to a nice lightning display here in Norman from elevated cells which fired well behind the front.
Today's chase gets a 10 out of 19. One would think getting supercells 6 out of 7 chases would constitute a good season, but being 0 for 7 in the tornado department and 2 for 7 in the photogenic storms department continues to make 2003 an especially frustrating season.
Total Mileage: 159 miles
Total Driving Time: 3 hours, 4 minutes
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