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After the complete bust of a day we had chasing April 12, we were itching to get into some storm action. Fortunately we had some better luck on April 13th in what one may argue as the the very heart of tornado alley, the Oklahoma City/Norman metro area.

GPS Track of the April 13 storm chase. 479 miles traveled in 12 hours 34 minutes.

We stayed overnight at a friend’s house in Oklahoma City, which gave us a prime starting position to target the day’s storms around the region. The Storm Prediction Center had issued a ‘Slight’ risk of severe weather across the southern and central plains, centered on Oklahoma City. The tornado risk was 10% with a 10% probability of a significant tornado.

The convective mode looked a bit messy, storm initiation was expected in numerous areas across Oklahoma. My initial target city for the day however was Chickasha OK, which afforded us good road options in all directions and was close to a good storm initiation area.

Tornado Probabilities Svr Hail Probabilities Svr Wind Probabilities

I had my chase partner Cody Lee Clements with me for this chase as well and after a brief detour to Davis OK to help a friend, we were on our way to chase storms! By 12:47pm storms had begun to initiate near Lawton OK and were moving northeast along I-44.

Tornado Watch #160 issued at 1:30pm CDT.

By 2:50pm these storms merged and began to exhibit supercellular characteristics with rotation noted on the radar. After encountering numerous road construction detours in very key and unfortunate positions, we finally got to a position ahead of the storm near Blanchard at 2:55pm CDT.

Radar at 2:55pm CDT. Our position indicated by small red square.

We saw the storm hadn’t turned to the right yet, meaning the storm likely wasn’t tornadic and we were likely too far south of it. We moved 5 miles north of Blanchard OK and sat for about 20 minutes, watching and waiting for the storm to approach us.

Radar at 3:27pm CDT. Supercell looks mature now. Our position indicated by small red square. Picture captured at same exact time. This is looking WSW toward the hook echo.

My chase partner Cody also captured a good picture of me here funny enough…

Me watching and waiting for the storm to approach.

This position may have been about a mile too far north for me to be comfortable, but we had a decent view and great escape routes in case anything unexpected happened. Around 3:37pm we started taking a healthy beating of quarter size hail suddenly and abruptly. Apparently a new storm cell developed right inside the clear slot of the hook echo. Since I have been using a rental car to do these adventures, I really cannot afford to take hail damage or lose a windshield. We jumped on the turnpike spur and headed east out of the hail core as fast as we could (the escape route came in handy this time). Unfortunately I did end up taking two hail dents to the back of the car but they were minor. Fortunately we didn’t lose any glass.

Radar at 3:37pm CDT, our position marked by red square. The view as we run away from the hail core.

This unfortunately now puts me out of position… I am directly in front of a high precipitation hail beast headed eastbound without a good southward option. We had no choice but to continue east until we reached I-35 in Norman. Given the options to either play it safe or play it aggressive, I decided to go aggressive by staying on SR-9 and go east through Norman. If I went south on I-35 I would be out of position and miss any chance to catch back up with the storm, but would avoid more hail.

The storm went tornado warned while we were in Norman on SR-9 stuck in traffic, incidentally while sitting directly next to the National Weather Center where the SPC, NWS Norman, and many other wonderful weather organizations are located. I saw high wind velocities on radar but no clear cut rotation, the storm also lost it’s classic supercell shape. In this situation, it was extremely difficult to determine if any tornado existed in this storm with any certainty. While at the overpass of SR9 and US77, I decided to take the safe route and head south on US77 out of Norman and out of the storm’s path. While making the turn to the offramp I caught a very brief glimpse of a rain wrapped cone funnel perhaps 4 miles to our WNW. I turned my video camera in it’s direction but somehow it was too late, and I couldn’t see it anymore. My in car cameras didn’t capture it either. I decided in that instant to play it aggressive again and go to the north side of the overpass and see if we can catch a quick view of the tornado. Not a good idea in retrospect, and I will use this situation to learn from and know when to back down in the future.

Radar at 4:04pm, our location indicated by red square. Tornado is on the ground 1 mile west of downtown Norman, but rain-wrapped.

Looking at the radar image pictured above and where the tornado’s location is, we were located only 2 miles ESE of the tornado which is on the ground at this time. The tornado is rain wrapped and we are now stuck in an urban nightmare with very heavy traffic not moving anywhere. Amazing to realize now after the fact that we were only 2 miles away from this tornado and had no visual on it. I didn’t even know for sure if there was a tornado on the ground with the radar info I had at the time.

Finally traffic began to move and we were able to get on an eastbound road again, thankfully this was the right decision for me to make.

Radar at 4:09pm CDT, our location indicated by red square. Strong rotation directly over downtown Norman, rain wrapped tornado was occurring here. We are located 2 miles ESE of the tornado, but still cannot see it.

We got back on SR-9 and headed eastbound some more trying to stay ahead of the massive gust front this storm had developed on it’s southern flank.

4:20pm CDT looking west along SR-9.

We drove up to Lake Thunderbird and watched the storm roll in, also gave a warning to a boater who was attempting to load his boat on a trailer as the storm approached.

Radar at 4:28pm CDT, our indication marked by red square. Storm has gusted out now, no rotation observed. Boater loads his fishing boat onto a trailer as tornado warned storm approaches, 4:28pm.

I knew storm mode on this day would be messy, but didn’t realize that they would end up looking quite this messy on radar. Any tornado that did develop in this storm from this point forward would be rain-wrapped. This was a good time to stop chasing and pick up a 3rd member to our chase team. Matthew Todd drove all the way to Oklahoma City from Lubbock to join us on today’s and tomorrow’s chase! We drove back to Oklahoma City, picked him up and checked radar and computer models for the next storm to target.

On our way to pick up Matthew however, we did observe some storm damage along I-35 and SR-9… this was the first indications we had of any tornado in that storm. Up to now, we hadn’t heard any official confirmations of a tornado on the ground. Fortunately the damage observed did appear to be relatively minor. This tornado was rated as an eF-1 by the National Weather Service. As it turns out this damage we observed was from straight line winds along the rear flank of the storm. Everything pictured here is blown in a easterly direction, indicating straight line winds. The actual tornado track was just a half mile north of here.

Storm Damage, SR-9 and 24th Ave SW, Norman, OK Storm Damage, I-35 and SR-9 in Norman, OK

Once the three of us were ready to leave Oklahoma City again, we began our 2nd round of storm chasing for the day at 5:50pm. We were headed southwest down I-44 toward Lawton OK, attempting an intercept on developing storms which were approaching the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton.

After a few brief scenic stops in the wildlife refuge as we allowed the storm to mature, we arrived near Meers OK at 7:35pm, just as the storm developed a rather nice looking hook echo on radar.

Radar at 7:35pm CDT, our position marked with red square. Some amazing cloud-to-cloud lightning in this storm.

Unfortunately I didn’t play this storm as aggressively as I should have, because I found we were now out of position when this storm started producing tornadoes to our north. I thought we may have had a shot at seeing it from our location, but I was wrong. We had only 1 road option available to us, and it wasn’t very good either. I was rather reluctant to take the road into the storm as it left us a very poor escape route back out of the storm if anything unexpected happened. As a result we missed this tornado. But aside from a lightning hazard, we were completely safe where we were.

Radar 7:58pm, our position marked by red square. Tornado on the ground 8 miles NNW of us. A tornado is on the ground right now directly where I am looking with this picture, but we can’t see it from 8 miles away.

We did capture a few other pictures that I liked however. May not have seen a tornado, but got some ominous storm pictures regardless.

This wind farm was hit by a tornado only 5 months ago, now provides a wonderful foreground to the lightning illuminated storm. A developing wall cloud. A new storm cell and mesocyclone is developing behind the first.

By the time we finally did get in position ahead of a mesocyclone, the rotation occluded, storm gusted out, and it was pitch black outside. We did capture a few wonderful lightning illuminated storm pictures however, including one of my favorites from the day.

Radar at 9:05pm, red square marks our position. Chase partner Cody Lee Clements with lightning illuminated background.
Shelf cloud developing, made apparent by lightning flashes. Amazing cloud to cloud lightning in this storm, one of the most electric storms I’ve seen.

We called it a night here since the storms became an outflow dominated line rather than a rotating supercell. The next day was expected to be big and we needed to rest up! We returned back to our friend’s house in Oklahoma City for one more night, which would put us in a good place to target the next day’s storms.

Thirteen tornado reports came in on this day, most of them from the 2nd storm we targeted in southwest Oklahoma. But somehow we still managed to miss capturing on video a rain-wrapped tornado going through a big city while only 2 miles away, and my rental car took hail dents. Not the most successful day by my standards.

But wait, the day wasn’t over with us just yet! What felt like only 30 minutes after we had finally fallen asleep at our friend’s house in northwest Oklahoma City, a tornado warning is issued for where we are! I wake up, power up the laptop and load the radar only to find this storm sitting right ontop of us! Talk about advanced notice, sheesh!

1:27am CDT 04/14/12, our position marked by the red square, inside the rotation of the storm.

Some pea size hail and a torrential downpour accompanied this storm, but fortunately for us and our friend no tornado occurred. It is a completely different set of events when you are storm chasing, fully mobile and fully aware of where you are and a tornado is, when compared to being asleep and getting woken up by a tornado warning where you are. Chasing storms isn’t scary at all, but having to remain fixed in one position like a house and watching a storm like this approach while half asleep most certainly is.

Click here to view the complete still photo gallery.

Chase Summary:
Tornadoes Observed: 0 Distance Traveled: 479 Mi
Funnel Clouds: 0 Time Duration: 12:34
Hail Observed: 1.00 Inch Fuel Costs: $62.29
Wind Observed: 35mph gusts Starting City: Oklahoma City, OK
Pictures taken: 256 Ending City: Oklahoma City, OK
Video taken: 02:09:38 Chase Partners: Cody Lee Clements
Matthew Todd

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