I knew going into this week that later Thursday (which ended up busting) and Saturday (historical high risk super outbreak) were going to be chases I was not going to be a part of due to work commitments. So I decided I had better make the best of the days that I could chase. This Monday was the first of those where it looked like some good storms would fire down in northwest Oklahoma. I decided Sunday morning that I was going to head out to my folks house and enjoy Easter dinner which was also a birthday dinner for my Dad before heading out that night to somewhere in Kansas to get in position for Monday. So after dinner, I took off and arrived Sunday night late in Garden City, KS where I bunked up at the Holiday Inn Express for the night.
Man, that was smart! It sure beat getting up at 3am to depart from Denver. I awoke in Garden City and looked over the models and didn’t sway from my northwest Oklahoma target. I figured Buffalo, OK would be an ideal spot as it had good road options any way I needed to go. At about 9:30, I departed Garden City and made my way through Dodge City, dropped south through Minneola, and stopped for a few minutes in Ashland. On a side note here not really relating to the chase, I thought Ashland was a wonderful little town. It wasn’t like a lot of the other towns I pass through that are dated and dying. Ashland had nice houses and a wonderful little main street. If I ever did buy a chase house somewhere, Ashland has my name written all over it. I absolutely loved it for some reason! Just wanted to point that out.
Anyway, I arrived in Buffalo (which is NOT a nice modern little town) and grabbed some Subway for lunch. Magically, as I crossed the OK state line, my data connection on my MiFi was long gone even though my phone was still getting a weak signal. Not sure if the MiFi needs to be updated for new towers or what? Anyway, it made keeping up with model runs and radar very difficult. It was about this time that I decided to phone Tony Laubach to see where he was targeting. Sure enough, he was about 30 miles down south from me in Woodward trying to find some WiFi to mooch off of as his data was completely gone as well. He promised he’d text me updates since I was pretty much in the dark. I dropped south of town and found a nice hill to sit on and watched a decent cumulus field form pretty much right over head.
Sure enough, within a few minutes Tony texted me that the SPC had issued a mesoscale discussion for our area and that he was northbound to meet me. By the time he tracked me down, the cu field above had started getting a little more stout and we knew storms were just about to go.
We watched as the small blips on radar (I was getting sporadic PYKL3 updates on my Nexus and Tony had satellite with the Baron) grew into storms which eventually got some hail markers on them. Time to go! We went back through Buffalo and went east on Highway 64 to stay out ahead of the first slow moving storm. I jumped out quick enough to grab one good shot.
At the pull off where we sat, the core finally came over us and was dropping some pea sized hail. Radar showed the storm strengthening as it moved due east. Tony went back west convinced he had seen a big hail stone on the side of the road (ironically it was an actual golfball!) and I blasted east staying out in front of the storm. I pulled over at the intersection of 64 and 34 where Tony caught me up again. The cell we were watching was starting to split and the southern part of the split was looking best and it was starting to move south. We both went south on 34 trying to see the base of the new split. It didn’t look impressive but the VIL core on it was purple on radar which meant it had some serious hail in it. This is again where Tony and I split up. He wanted to experience the hail and I absolutely did not! As I drove away, I pondered the metaphor of Tony liking hail and me liking structure to how some guys are ass men, and some are tits men. Yep, I guess I’m an ass man.
I got far enough south that I was finally able to jump out and grab a few more stills of the southern split.
And the obligatory “car hero” shot…
I only had about 5 minutes to enjoy this view before golf balls started getting flung at me. Figuring it would be a pretty cold and loud drive home that night with a broken sunroof, I bailed south again. As I drove south I got a scan on my phone radar that showed a new cell down to my south by Woodward had really started looking good. It was my new target so I abandoned the southern split and went for it taking more golf balls most of the way.
Just on the outskirts of downtown Woodward, I noticed the storm which was almost directly over the city at this point had some really scuddy looking hangy downy’s and at one point had a really narrow needle like funnel. Nothing really ever tightened up with it but I knew I had to get through town to find a spot to set up. As I finally got in to town I pulled up to a red light that quickly turned green but nobody was moving. An oversized load was coming through and the pilot car had blocked off the entire intersection until it could pass. It was torture knowing what was forming to my west but I was unable to move! Finally the semi hauling a large wind turbine made it through the intersection and I was able to find a decent spot to view what ended up being a quick tornado just outside of town. I had tree’s blocking my view and when I initially saw it, I thought it was a funnel. Video from other chasers, including Tony confirmed it’s quick touchdown. I got back on the road and continued south out of Woodward where I found another spot to get some great structure shots.
As this neared me, I took on large hail again and continued to stay south of it to avoid losing any glass. I pulled over again where it had really taken on one of the best ‘stacked plates’ appearances I’ve ever seen. Absolutely gorgeous!
This whole thing was spinning like a top too! I knew some more tornado potential existed and that I’d better find a way to get closer to the base. I finally found a county road that could take me closer but as I pulled off, I noticed another wall cloud had formed and was looking like it was producing. I pulled over and ran through some bushes to the top of a hill and captured the tail end of a second tornado. I was bummed that I wasn’t closer but at least I captured it.
This second tornado was another quick touch and go and didn’t last longer than 30 seconds. I jumped back in the car and took the west road toward the base of the storm which was near the town of Sharon. This is when things got chaotic! As I approached from the east, a ground scraping mesocyclone was coming at me. I looked up at one point to see a very well defined cone on the ground! I jumped out and snapped what I could.
At this point, I didn’t want to get run over by it, so I continued west where I quickly came to an intersection where I jumped out and shot more footage. The meso had now taken on a large bowl shape and was rotating like nothing I’ve seen from that close. I filmed an instance of dancing vortices which stayed on the ground for a few seconds. As I filmed the big circulation, I looked around and saw that another funnel was starting to drop right behind me! It was absolutely nuts. As the rain started coming down, I knew it was time to get outta Dodge. For some reason, I yelled “I wouldn’t go that way!” to the dude standing next to me and I got the hell out of there. Here’s a shot of the big bowl meso right before I fled!
I got south along with a ton of other cars that were in fleeing mode as well. I stayed south out ahead of it to see if it were ever going to produce again. It didn’t and after watching a funnel north of Vici, I decided that it was time to call off the chase.
Where was Tony through all of this? I called him up and he was already back in Woodward uploading footage for the news. I made the 20 minute drive back north and met him at a motel where he was jacking WiFi. Shortly after I arrived, his video had finished uploading and we went to Dan’s Steakhouse for the celebration. Well deserved on all accounts.
After dinner, the sad reality hit me that I now had to drive all the way back to Denver to make work the next day! I took the exact same route I had taken down there and finally pulled in to my garage at about 4am. The drive home was definitely made easier by the adrenaline rush from the afternoon’s chase! An awesome chase, and great adventure as always. I will definitely look back on this day with fondness.
2012 Chase Statistics:
Total Miles This Chase: 1,125
Total 2012 Mileage: 2,752
Total Tornadoes This Chase: 3
Total 2012 Tornadoes: 6
Milestones This Chase: 4 new Oklahoma counties chased
Album of the Chase: Bear In Heaven – ‘I Love You, It’s Cool’