Moore, Oklahoma EF-5 Tornado

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Storm Chase Details

Chase Date: May 20, 2013
Chase Partners:
Bill Oosterbaan, Tom Oosterbaan, Jari Ylioja

Chasers Encountered:
James Menzies

Miles Logged: 148
States Chased: OK
Tornadoes Witnessed: 1
Largest Hail Encountered: 1"
First EF-5

Severe Risks: SPC Outlooks

Chase Recap:

After a horrible bust the day before and tensions running high in the car, I took control on the 20th and picked the target. The target was quite simple – a boundary was showing up in the OKC Metro over Norman, and moisture was pooling right over OKC. The plan/target was to stay at my apartment in Norman and chase somewhere nearby the metro in the early afternoon.

The 17Z OUN sounding came in and it looked bad for OKC Metro – strongly curved hodograph, nearing 5000 CAPE and one other thing I noticed – a SARS analog to 1957-05-20 at 21Z Topeka sounding as a Significant match. A quick google search revealed that this sounding was for the Kansas City F5 tornado day. While I did not expect to catch an EF-5 tornado on this day, I did expect we’d see at least one tornado.

Eventually we decided to head out when storms were going up. I just wanted to sit at Riverwind at State Highway 9 and I-35, but Bill wanted to head further south to Purcell. I was worried about river crossings and just leaving Oklahoma City Metro in general. I had a gut feeling something huge would happen.

I never kept my eye off the north storm, but Bill wanted to be in position to get the center or south storm if need be. We made it to Purcell and I begged and pleaded with him to turn around and go back to Norman. The storm that would ultimately produce the Moore, OK tornado was looking very good and healthy with a nice flanking line.

We made our way through Purcell and got back on I-35 north to head back to Norman. We first stopped off at the Tecumseh Road exit. I had bill make a left off it and another left to get right back on the on ramp. The TOKC TDWR site was showing significant rotation and it was about this time we got a tornado warning issued on the storm. I was quite confident at this time we were about to witness a monster.

We positioned further north, going to the 19th Street exit then sitting in front of the AT&T store on the east side of I-35. It was here where we witnessed the funnel coming down and growing into a large and violent tornado.

We headed west on 19th street towards Western where we headed north. The tornado had grown into a huge wedge and we got a few shots before heading up to 4th street and back east. We thought we’d be southeast of the tornado at this point, but the tornado turned right and we were north of the path or right in the path.

The violent motion I saw as we headed down 4th street was pretty incredible. The debris in the air was insane. We passed by telephone road and the 7-11 and hospital before crossing I-35.

We had to blow a few stoplights on our journey east to stay ahead of the tornado and out of the path. There was many people stopped at stop lights like nothing was going on. It was surreal.

We stopped in a parking lot at Eastern and 4th before continuing on to the east all the way to Sooner Road where we stopped just south of SE 134th (4th street). The debris was covering our car when we were watching the tornado, capturing some of the best footage of my life.

After the tornado crossed Sooner Road, we went south to 149th and east a couple of miles and watched it dissipate.

We followed the storm out east on I-240 to I-40 before giving up at Choctaw Road. My friend Steve’s wife had been in the tornado at the hospital and had no way to get home, so we tried to get into the city of Moore to get her. We were unable to get into the damaged area and had to give up and walk from a parking lot at I-35 and Main Street.

In the parking lot, a lady named Carmen pulled in and said she wasn’t sure if her husband was alive or dead and had quite a walk to her house. I agreed to walk with her and we set off down the I-35 service road and then across I-35 on 4th street and west. Her house was at 4th and Dallas. Luckily her house and husband were alright.

Jari and I continued to take video and still photos of the damage as we walked through the damage path.

My phone and email started erupting and wouldn’t subside for almost a full week.

Timeline of Events:
2:00 PM – Depart Ben’s apartment in Norman, OK southbound on I-35. Initially heading for Purcell, OK
2:20 PM – Arrive in Purcell and make immediate decision to head back north on I-35 towards Norman.
2:26 PM – Back on I-35 Northbound
2:40 PM – Cross the Canadian River back into Norman City Limits
2:44 PM – Stopped at Tecumseh Rd. exit to look at the storm visually. Wall cloud developing
2:52 PM – Pull into parking lot at AT&T store along I-35 service road south of 19th Street
2:56 PM – Moore tornado develops near Newcastle, OK
3:00 PM – Tornado is already a wedge shape
3:03 PM – Turn onto 19th Street heading west
3:06 PM – Turn north on Western Ave.
3:09 PM – Turn into McDonalds parking lot at Western and 134th
3:10 PM – Pull into Eastlake Cumberland Presbyterian church parking lot
3:13 PM – Move east to Capitol Hill Baptist Church parking lot
3:14 PM – 4th street and Santa Fe
3:16 PM – Crossed I-35 on 4th Street near the Moore Medical Center
3:20 PM – Filmed tornado from shopping center at Eastern and 4th
3:25 PM – Filmed tornado from Sooner Rd just south of 4th Street
3:31 PM – Tornado crosses Sooner Rd
3:32 PM – Continued east down 149th St
3:35 PM – Tornado ropes out and dissipates near 134th and Air Depot. Observed from 149th and Midwest Blvd.