Monday, July 6, 2015

Chase Log: Central Oklahoma Outbreak May 6, 2015

SPC Outlook: Enhanced
Target Area: Central Oklahoma
Chase Partners: Jon Stone
Chasers Encountered: Bart Comstock, Ben Holcomb, Stephen Jones, Alec Scholten
Distance Traveled: Approximately 220 miles
Travel Time: 7 and a half hours
Result: multiple tornadoes, supercell structure, hail, hurricane force winds

This was a day mother nature welcomed me to Oklahoma with one of my best chases since I started in 2011. May 6 was on my radar for several days and it was one I really wanted to go chase, but there was one hurdle I had to clear before heading out and that was to find a chase partner. My original chase partner Christian Johnson was unable to go out that day and I didn't want to chase solo because I was unfamiliar with the road network in Oklahoma and Sprint doesn't have the best data coverage in the state (not to mention I suck at multitasking and I did not want to go through the pain of videoing and looking at my phone for radar updates and GPS while driving).

Christian was able to hook me up with a few of his chaser friends in the Norman area the night before and it seemed as though everything was all set for me. However on the morning of the chase I received a message from one of the chasers telling me that one of his chase partners who originally was going to sit out had a change of heart and decided to chase after all which consequently meant no room for me in their vehicle. Close to zero hour and I didn't think I would have been able to find another chase partner, which left me with three options....make a last ditch effort to find a chase partner by means of social media, go at it alone, or sit out completely with the hope something comes close to Norman for me to go after. I went with the first choice and posted up a message on Facebook and Stormtrack with the hope that someone would reply back. Within 20 minutes of posting my status I got a reply from Jon Stone who was planning to chase once he got off of work. We were in close agreement with our target areas (I targeted Woodward while Jon targeted Seling), but Jon was unable to get out of work until 4:00 which for all intents and purposes put us out of range of both of our target areas due to time constraints. It didn't matter though because I found a chase partner, and it was just a matter of waiting for him to get out of work so that we can hit the road.

While I was waiting on Jon I went to go grab lunch at Dickey's Barbecue Pit on 12th Ave SE in Norman. During that time frame I noticed a cell had popped up in SW Oklahoma north of Lawton. It was the only storm around the area but I didn't think anything significant would come out of it. Once I got home I checked the radar again to find that storm had been tornado warned and there were numerous reports of tornado sightings with it. It was heading northeast into a more favorable environment, I told Jon about it and he was able to get out of work an hour earlier than originally planned. I met up with him shortly after 3:00 and we immediately headed south dodging Norman traffic along the way. 

We headed south on I-35 for about a mile before getting off on highway 9 at the Riverwind Casino exit. After going several miles on highway 9 we headed southwest on US highway 62 through Blanchard before that turned into US highway 277/highway 9 (we wanted to avoid taking I-44 because Jon did not have his Pikepass with him and we didn't want to waste time paying the toll on the turnpike). While all of this was going on the supercell that had a history of producing several tornadoes was entering Chickasha. By the time we got on the storm it was cycling. I did manage to get a shot of this wall cloud outside of town.

We observed broad areas of rotation in Chickasha with at least two areas of vertical motion. We stayed in Chickasha for about 15-20 minutes before we followed the storm as it was heading towards Amber.

We observed our first tornado of the day near the intersection of CS 2900 and CR 1290 ESE of Amber. As much as I hate to use the word "insane" to describe a rotating meso I can't think of another word to describe the intense rotation taking place before and after the tornado touched down. Jon told me he hasn't seen rotation like the one we saw since the El Reno tornado. It stayed on the ground for a minute or two before dissipating.

After trying to figure out how to stay with this storm we decided to continue on north on CS 2900 before turning east on CR 1280. We pulled off the road in an attempt to upload our videos to our broker Kendra Reed of KDR Media, while doing so we noticed another intense area of rotation almost on top of Jon's jeep. I spotted a funnel to the left of the rotation.

I saw another funnel down the road just as Jon was about to continue on eastward, this one did touch down briefly (tornado #2) as noted by the power flash and the brief spin up.

We continued east for a few miles before pulling over outside of the Lumen Energy Plant east of Amber to make another attempt at uploading our video to Kendra. Just as Jon was stopping his jeep tornado #3 touched down in a field about a mile or two away. This would be the most intense tornado we would see on this day. It was eventually given an EF3 rating on the Enhanced Fujita Scale after causing significant damage in Bridge Creek. It started out as a multi-vortex tornado with a broad circulation up to a half mile wide before growing to a mile wide wedge. It also spun up a short lived satellite rope tornado.

We observed the tornado wedging out on North 2920 Road when things got a little intense for us. We were getting blasted by inflow winds of at least 70 mph when we saw a roof from a house getting ripped apart by the inflow winds. We retreated back south and west through the heavy rain and high winds when we made an attempt to turn back around to catch up to this large tornado only to be greeted by a fallen tree on the road which prevented us from going any further. We had no choice but to back track which in turn cost us an opportunity to see the tornado go through Bridge Creek as well as missing out on the next tornado that touched down near Newcastle. This storm made a right turn which put Norman under the gun for what we thought at the time may have been a long track damaging tornado. OUN already had a tornado emergency out for Bridge Creek and Newcastle while we were desperately trying to catch back up with it (not going to lie, the thought of will I have an apartment to go home to after our chase did cross my mind).

We finally caught back up with the supercell outside of Norman. We kept hearing reports on the radio of a large tornado exiting Newcastle and entering the western sections of Norman. After negotiating through the traffic we jumped on Robinson Street to watch the storm move in. At this point the storm was HP and was cycling again when it entered the west side of Norman. From our location we saw the rotation getting more intense and brief tornado touched down to our south (check out my video Brief Tornado West of Norman on the YouTube videos I provided). After the tornado dissipated we headed east for a few miles when we saw a funnel cloud to our west near I-35. We then started seeing multiple power flashes around and underneath the funnel. Our 6th tornado of the day had touched down in the northern sections of Norman, we were about a mile away from it on 24th Ave NW watching transformers explode near the interstate and causing damage to the Norman Hotel and Norman Regional Medical Center.

We followed the storm into Moore where it eventually weakened, but our day wasn't over yet. Another supercell had fired up to southwest in an almost identical track as the first one. We proceeded southwest towards the new supercell. I captured this shot of the supercell somewhere between Newcastle and Blanchard. 

We ended up going too far south and was too far east of it, so we jumped on the H.E. Bailey Norman Spur and headed northwest towards Bridge Creek. As we were heading northwest we encountered some of the damage that occurred from the earlier tornado we had to bail from. We stopped outside of Bridge Creek where we met up with Ben Holcomb. We chatted for a few minutes when suddenly a tornado touched down to our west southwest in the distance. In the suddenness of the touch down I forgot to hit record on my camcorder and missed getting video of it. Ben did capture the tornado on video, you can find his video of the tornado on his YouTube channel ( Shortly after the tornado lifted Stephen Jones and Alec Scholten pulled up completing the chaser convergence that was going on at the time (I saw Hank Schyma pulled over next to us but he stayed in his car).

The storm continued northeast and wasn't showing signs of weakening, so we jumped back in Jon's jeep and headed north. While we were heading north I noticed what possibly might have been a tornado east of Tuttle.

The funnel looked like it was down to the ground, I think I saw power flashes underneath the funnel (could have been lightning as well), and OUN has a tornado on the LSR 4 miles ENE of Tuttle to 2 miles NE of Bridge Creek from 8:11 PM to 8:21 (close to our location and I believe the time on my video is a match).

After observing that maybenado the storm had closed in on us and we turned around to stay out of its path. But by that point it had made a right turn and the storm hit us head on. We were getting slammed with high winds (possibly RFD) and blinding rain as we headed back east on the turnpike towards Norman. Once we got back to Norman we called the chase, stopped at Jon's apartment to upload more video to Kendra, and to have a celebratory dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings.

I counted 7 possibly 8 tornadoes on this day which broke my record of most tornadoes seen in one day (previous record was 5 on April 14, 2012) and I even got a taste of national exposure when my Norman video of the power lines exploding was shown on Good Morning America. Needless to say after having to go through a tornado drought that lasted approximately 710 days I had made a triumphant return.