Chase Date: May 20, 2013
Bill Oosterbaan, Tom Oosterbaan, Jari Ylioja
Miles Logged: 148
States Chased: OK
Tornadoes Witnessed: 1
Largest Hail Encountered: 1"
Severe Risks: SPC Outlooks
After a horrible bust the day before, tensions were running high in the car. Bill picked our chase target on the 19th, so I took control on the 20th. The target was quite simple – a boundary was showing up in the OKC Metro over Norman. Moisture was pooling right over the Oklahoma City and Moore area. 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 (12 noon central) came in during the early afternoon hours. The raob showed a classic “loaded gun” sounding – strongly curved hodograph with over 3000 MLCAPE. That sounding also featured a SARS analog to 1957-05-20 21Z Topeka as a Significant match. A quick google search revealed that this sounding was for the Kansas City F5 tornado day in 1957. While I did not expect that we’d see an EF-5, I thought observing a tornado today would be probable.
Heading out to chase
We decided to hit the road when storms started exploding. My plan was to just sit at Riverwind right at State Highway 9 and I-35. Bill had different plans and wanted to head further south to Purcell. I was worried about river crossings and leaving Oklahoma City Metro in general. My instincts told me that we’d see something big in the metro and to stick around.
As we headed down I-35 towards Purcell, I refused to take my eye off the north storm to our west-northwest. Bill wanted to be in position to get the center or south storm if need be, which made sense. To me, the storm we needed to target at this point was obvious. 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 tornado had a great radar presentation and visually looked great with a healthy 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. The TOKC TDWR site was showing significant rotation and it was about this time the tornado warning was issued on the storm. I was quite confident at this time we were about to witness a monster.
Moore, Oklahoma EF-5 Tornado
I decided we needed to get north. We headed up I-35 to the 19th street exit. We pulled in front of the AT&T store on the east side of I-35 and watched the funnel form into a monster tornado.
After formation, we headed west on 19th street towards Western. At Western Ave. we headed north to 4th street. In the meantime, the tornado had grown into a huge wedge. We were able to capture a few glimpses on Western before having to continue up to 4th. The tornado had taken a hard right and was coming at us instead of to our north.
The violent motion I saw as we headed down 4th street was indescribable. We had a moment to stop in the Capital Hill Baptist Church parking lot before heading east again. The amount of debris in the air was something I hadn’t seen before. The tornado was about a mile behind us as we headed down 4th towards I-35. We passed by telephone road where the 7-11 and hospital were located before crossing I-35.
We had to cautiously go through 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. People playing on their phones at a red light with a gigantic tornado behind them.
We stopped in a parking lot at Eastern and 4th before continuing on to the east all the way to Sooner Road. It was at Sooner Road where we stopped just south of SE 134th (4th street). The debris was raining down and 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 the Moore tornado dissipate.
Moore is Destroyed
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 pick her up and drive her home. 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. The destruction and sadness was horrible. The sound of sirens and the sound of the fire alarm going off at the hospital will stick with me for quite some time.
Timeline of Events:
2:00 PM – Depart 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 in Moore
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.
Photo and Video Gallery
- National Weather Service write-up on the Moore, Oklahoma Tornado of May 20, 2013
- My video from May 20, 2013
- My CNN interview from Moore
- Aerial footage of the Moore, OK tornado
- Damage footage from Moore
- Moore Tornado crosses Sooner Road
- Visualizing the May 2013 Moore, Oklahoma, Tornado
- NIST report on the 2013 Moore, Oklahoma Tornado