Storm Chase Details

Chase Date: April 30, 2012
Miles Logged: 337
States Chased: OK
Tornadoes Witnessed: 2
Largest Hail Encountered: 1.25"
Severe Risks: SPC Outlooks

Chase Recap:

Short on sleep

I arrived home around 3am after the long drive from Lubbock the previous night. The last thing on my mind was chasing another marginal day after 3 days of chasing in a row. The SPC put a 5% back in the Texas panhandle, which I had just left. Unfortunately, I had to be at work by 9.

As I was working that morning, my attention was brought to the weather outside my window. From the office in Norman, we could see a little thunderstorm going up. It was a loud guy, putting out quite the electrical display. This made me start to look at observations, radar and visible satellite.

Outflow Boundary/Warm Front

It was clear the nocturnal storms had pushed a boundary just to our south. The boundary was lifting north throughout the day and brought some deep moisture north with it. Dewpoints rose to the lower 70’s after passage. Lunchtime air felt very juicy.

With the atmosphere heating up, most of the clouds had burned off. The boundary was still visible on radar around lunch time, but disappeared from radar and satellite as the afternoon went on. I shot Cory a message around 4pm to see if he wanted to go after it. He was game, so he met me at my apartment after work.

Heading north

Cory and I got the truck together and Rain-X’ed the windshield. We took another look at visible satellite. There were storms in southwest Kansas that had begun to explode. I knew we’d never get to them in time. The boundary was still in Northern Oklahoma and I decided we should gamble and head north.

The gas tank in my truck still needed to be filled up, so we had to stop and get some fuel. $85 later we were on I-35 northbound with an initial starting point of Watonga, Oklahoma. Cory was trying to help me with technology, which was melting down. Cory took over driving for awhile as we continued north through Watonga and Okeene.

Tornado Warning

Norman NWS issued a tornado warning for Alfalfa County as we were crossing US412 near Ringwood. A couple of quick reports of a tornado poured in. My heart sank, I thought we had missed the show by indecisiveness.

Fortunately for us, things were just ramping up. Unfortunately for us, almost 8 inches of rain fell the previous night over this area. This kept us on paved roads only, which limited our options. We had to go up to OK-11 and then do a hook slice at night. After reviewing velocity data later, it appears a tornado occluded many miles to the northwest, crossing the path we drove. Luckily, we were not there at the time it crossed.

Medford, Oklahoma Tornado

Eventually we made our way out of the rain and east to Medford. I broke my pavement rule and pulled onto a dirt road just south of the refinery located to the south of Medford. The RFD was warm and blew dirt into our faces.

A tornado near Medford, Oklahoma touching down illuminated by the glow of a refinery.
A tornado near Medford, Oklahoma touching down illuminated by the glow of a refinery.

Through the lightning flashes, we could see a very photogenic stovepipe tornado. The Medford, Oklahoma Tornado was on the ground for almost 20 minutes. I stayed in contact to the National Weather Service to keep them updated. The tornado barely moved, so we were able to just hang out on the side road.

Occlusion

Visually it appeared we had an occlusion with the first mesocyclone. Shortly after, we had a lowering closer to us, as well as power flashes underneath. We lost sight of the tornado, so I tried to head east on the dirt road we were on. Bad decision. We came upon a very flooded out section of road, and were unable to stop due to not seeing it in the darkness. The truck floated, but forward momentum brought us quickly to the other side of the dip in the road. This is quite possibly one of the most dangerous situations I was in during a chase.

Checking on damage from the Medford Tornado

After turning my trusty vehicle into a not-very-seaworthy boat, I headed back north towards OK-11 at the next road. We headed west back to Medford to check for damage. We found a farmstead with some damage on the northwest side of town, but the damage was limited.

Heavy winds and heading home

Heading south on US-81, we found some downed power lines near the gas plant. As we continued south, we found more damage near Pond Creek. The decision was made to call it and head back towards I-35. Water was running over the road in multiple places, and the high winds had knocked down tree branches.

Once we finally got back to I-35 we switched drivers again, and Cory got us back to Norman safely.

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