April 10, 2005

My first Plains chase of the year was among my most ironic to date, in which I drove in a big 300+ mile circle to see a storm that ended up passing within 5 miles of my apartment.

The initial plan today was to travel up towards southwestern and south central Kansas in hopes of getting some tornadoes in association with the cold core low. Playing the dryline further south into Oklahoma at first wasn't of much interest today as extensive low cloud cover had developed east of the dryline due to the deep moisture that had been drawn northward. But by late morning, the dryline appeared to be bulging into north central Oklahoma, with some clearing occurring just ahead of the dryline. After seeing this, I decided to head up towards Enid and wait for things to fire.

I arrived in Enid just before 4pm. Temperatures were in the low 70s, dewpoints in the low 60s, and surface winds were out of the east-southeast. Rows of scattered stratocumulus were streaming up from the southeast, which concerned me that low level directional shear might not be favorable for tornadoes. Anyway I sat there in Enid for 30 minutes, listening to NOAA Weather Radio and waiting for signs of storms to fire. By about 4:30, I could see the outline of developing cumulus off to my west and southwest. I drove west down US 412 and went south down Hwy 58, stopping near the intersection of Hwy 8 and Hwy 58 north of Isabella to watch cumulus towers to my southeast, to my northwest, and almost directly overhead.

I sat at the intersection for nearly an hour, watching the cumulus towers build and fizzle. The cumulus towers were leaning over at a 45 degree angle due to the very strong southwesterly winds aloft. These cumulus towers actually rotated due to the differing directions and speeds of the winds aloft compared to the winds near the surface. At 5:25pm, I looked southwest and was amazed to see a silvery gray funnel extending from one of the dissipating cumulus towers! I quickly grabbed my camera and fired off a couple shots before it dissipated. After a few minutes I noticed the cumulus clouds were clearly showing no signs of getting bigger, and with the stratocumulus field off to my east diminishing, I feared something had fired further south that was tapping the moisture supply. So I took off south in search for another storm.

Before long I began hearing reports that storms had developed in central Oklahoma, and soon the anvil from this storm came into view to my distant southeast. As I got closer to the Oklahoma City area, it became clear to me this storm was isolated - it didn't appear there was anything to its southwest or south to compete for moisture. The storm itself looked quite low topped, but its anvil was being shorn well downstream due to the very strong south-southwest winds aloft. What really concerned me however were the warnings I was hearing over the NOAA Weather Radio. Initial severe thunderstorm warnings had this storm moving north through Blanchard and Newcastle, but as time went on they began announcing the storm motion as northeast, and eventually east-northeast. Realizing that storms that turn right of the mean upper air flow often produce tornadoes, I began to get concerned that a tornado would go right through Norman - and I wouldn't be there to see it!

I ended up arriving back in Norman at about 7:45pm, just as the precip core was exiting Norman. As I approached the Robinson exit, I looked east and saw a large wall cloud. Seeing the NSSL radars in the foreground, I immediately saw the photo opportunity of a lifetime. So I got off on the Robinson exit and drove around Westheimer Field looking for an opportunity to get a picture of the wall cloud with the NSSL radars in the foreground. However, the wall cloud was dissipating and the storm was continuing to move off to the northeast, so I decided to continue northeast after the storm.

As I continued after the storm down Robinson, 12th, Franklin, and 120th - I noticed how circular the updraft base was, and saw the rear flank downdraft clear slot wrapping around the meso. Darkness was rapidly setting in though, and there wasn't a whole lot of lightning to help me out. The limited sight lines due to the trees and rolling terrain weren't helping much either. As I continued north up 120th past Stella Rd towards 119th, I began to see curtains of atomized rain sweep from west to east across the road just ahead of me - so I dropped back south to Stella Rd to give myself a bit of breathing room. Around this time the tornado warning came over the radio, and KATT 100.5 FM began simulcasting coverage from KWTV Ch. 9. With their spotters all over the storm broadcasting the exact location of the circulation, I felt a bit safter about continuing the chase.

I went east on Stella Rd then north on Harrah Rd. The trees and rolling terrain prevented me from seeing the tornado that KWTV's spotters were reporting the few times lightning illuminated that part of the storm. By the time I had a good view of that part of the storm in the south part of Harrah, KWTV's spotters had reported the funnel had dissipated....and all I could really see was a low hanging wall cloud occasionally backlit by lightning. All of the power was out in the south part of Harrah, with the only lights being from the headlights of the numerous chasers who were following the storm. I continued after the storm down US 62 and up Hwy 102, but by the time I got about 7 miles south of Wellston I was having so many problems with the trees and the lack of lightning I decided to turn around and call it a chase.

As of this writing, it appears the tornado southwest of Harrah was the only one produced by the storm. Damage was mostly limited to power lines. Here in Norman, dime to quarter sized hail was reported in western and central parts of the city, with one report of dime sized hail near the OU dorms at the corner of Lindsey and Asp. Most of the precipitation appeared to have missed my apartment near the corner of 12th and Hwy 9 in the southeast part of the city, as we only had .03 inch of rain the entire day. Lots of street flooding occurred on I-35 and around Westheimer Field......with rainfall measurements there ranging between .70 inch and .80 inch. Chasers who played the cold core low in north central Kansas scored big time, capturing several photogenic tornadoes. The Norman/OKC area storm was well covered by chasers and locals however, even after dark. Even during the May 29, 2004 storm, I didn't see nearly as many people out chasing after dark.

Following are some digital images of the developing cumulus clouds near Isabella OK......

Total Mileage: 364 miles
Total Driving Time: 8 hours, 39 minutes

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