April 20, 2004

This week we would finally see a return to a severe weather pattern for the southern Plains. Today a deep surface low moved northeast from the central Plains into the Midwest. A smaller secondary low developed over northern Oklahoma, with a hint of an outflow boundary trailing east near the Kansas/Oklahoma border and a dryline rapidly punching eastward towards I-35 by mid-afternoon. Surface winds east of the dryline were mostly southerly to southwesterly, although there were hopes winds would back in response to the surface low as it moved into northeastern Oklahoma. The only potential problem today would be lack of moisture, as the Gulf was still slow to recover after the powerhouse Arctic blast on the 12th that brought measurable snow as far south as Clinton and Elk City! But as mentioned before, the atmosphere has cranked out tornadoes this year with dewpoints lower than the low 60s we were seeing today.

With all that in mind, I left Norman at 3pm and headed up the Turner Turnpike towards northeastern Oklahoma. I got to Tulsa just before 5pm, and was delayed by a multi vehicle accident on US 169. After clearing that, I cut over to US 75 and headed north towards Bartlesville. I began making out two Cb's developing off to my west, looking a bit mushy and not overly impressive. Seeing how the storms seemed to be developing in a line made me briefly think about how much further north I should keep heading, but in wanting to avoid the turnpike and the Tulsa metro area while in active chase mode I didn't want to be any further south and west than I already was. So I continued on to Bartlesville. Shortly before arriving in Bartlesville, a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for Osage County. I didn't want to chase the storm here, as the road network there is very limited. Instead I would let the storm come towards me then stay ahead of it as I stayed to its east. NOAA Wx Radio was giving conflicting reports in direction of movement, alternating between east and northeast. Just to be safe, I cut east on US 60 all the way to near Vinita where I would have a better road network. Then I went south on US 69. By now I realized storms were moving more northeast than east as they had not made a whole lot of progress eastward. But I also realized that numerous storms had developed, as there were severe thunderstorm warnings out for at least 4 or 5 different cells. These storms were continuing to build further and further southwest, and before long a tornado warning and emergency was issued for Tulsa. Not a problem - I did not want to chase the storm in the city and would still be in good position to intercept the storm east of the city. But warnings were repeatedly being further and further southwest as cells kept firing further and further to the southwest. I made it to Wagoner just after sunset to get gas, when a new tornado warning was issued for northern Wagoner County. I went west on Hwy 51 for a few miles, but turned around and went back when met by a surge of outflow and heard about yet another warning further south in Okmulgee County. With darkness firmly entrenched and the realization that cells were seemingly endlessly firing further and further southwest I decided to give up and head back. I continued south on US 69 to I-40, enjoying a rather intense lightning display from the storms to my west and northwest, then went west on I-40. One storm went up almost right on top of me west of Henryetta, dropping heavy rain and even a few dime sized hailstones, and cells continued trying to go up over me almost all the way the back to Oklahoma City. I got back to Norman just before midnight.

Although many hail producing storms developed over northeastern Oklahoma today, there were few if any tornadic storms. There were several spotter reports of tornadoes in and near Tulsa, although there has been debate whether or not these reports were legitimate. Regardless of the validity of the reports, any tornadic storms were brief, as the multitude of storms made conditions difficult for long lived rotating storms to develop. This was because of the new storms downstream dropping cool precipitation on to storms upstream, as well as too many storms competing for an airmass that was limited in instability. Still these storms made for quite a lightning display, which made the trip worthwhile.

Total Mileage: 487 miles
Total Driving Time: 8 hours, 48 minutes

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