October 9, 2001 Chase

This was an event that could be seen coming days in advance. A classic Fall type setup. My target was western Oklahoma, along I-40. I called Matt that morning, but because we couldn't agree on what time to leave, each of us decided we'd chase solo. I was antsy to leave at around noon, but I decided to wait one more hour for the latest data, since my target was relatively close to home. This decision would cost me at least two early tornadoes.

Finally getting on the road just after 1pm, I was being rained upon by early day convection, which had been in my target area a few hours before. There were some who worried this early activity would ruin the day's severe potential, but in my mind, I felt it would only enhance things. I blasted west on 40 headed towards my target area of Sayre. However the action had started early this day, as I was already hearing tornado reports from my target area while still an hour away. I didn't let that discourage me as I continued west. Making good time, I arrived in Elk City as a tornadic storm loomed just west of town. I went through the heart of town, ending up on backroads just north of there. I found a place to stop and watch the storm, which was near the town of Berlin, northwest of Elk City.

Just moments after I'd stopped, a tornado gradually came into view through the hazy air. It was a good distance from me, which further hindered the contrast. I stood and watched this classic-shaped tornado for a few minutes, while the contrast slowly improved. A young girl drove up in a Camero, asking me what I was doing. When I told her I was chasing storms, she got very excited and said she'd always wanted to see a tornado. I pointed the tornado out to her, which thrilled her: "Oooohhhh, I wanna be a storm chaser!!!!" She stayed for maybe a minute, then left even as the tornado was still ongoing. Eventually it began to narrow, and within a few more minutes, roped out and was gone. I decided to move north, as the storm was still well to my west.

I worked my way north and east on increasingly-slick backroads, mindful of getting stuck and putting a premature end to what was becoming a great day. I was able to stay with the storm fairly easily, using a network of north and east roads, eventually working myself to OK34. I followed that north until OK73, where I turned east. The storm had been tornado warned constantly since I first intercepted it, and had been producing rotating wall clouds continuously. As I drifted east along OK73, one of them looked as if it would finally produce a tornado. I found a high spot for viewing, pulled over, and shot video. The wall cloud was cranking, and it almost produced as a very brief funnel tried to snake down. After a few more minutes, the wall cloud became disorganized and the storm began to cycle again. I continued east.

I followed OK73 east, around the south side of the Foss Lake dam, until it turned into OK44 southbound. Just afterwards, I passed Chad Lawson, who was chasing with James Brinkley. I had only known Chad about a year, and had only chased with him a few times in a convoy. Little did either of us know, another chaser named Mickey Ptak was in the same spot, just down the road a few hundred yards from us. Little did any of us know, we'd all meet in 2004 and become nearly-inseparable chase partners for years to come. As the future "Three Amigos" meandered around the storm unaware of one another, Chad and I ended up in a convoy headed back west on OK73, in an attempt to intercept the next storm developing to the southwest.

We got back to OK34, where we turned north. We took that to Hammon, where we turned west again onto OK33. Chad was leading, but I was getting the feeling as we left the west side of Hammon that it was the wrong move. My gut said to go back to 33 and regroup. After a few miles, I radioed to Chad (we both had CBs) and told him I thought we should turn back. We did, went back to Hammon, turned south onto 33, and drove a few miles before pulling over. We sat and tried to analyze the situation as best we could, deciding the storm we'd just left wasn't worth going after. There was another storm to our south, so we decided to make a go of that one. Getting back onto OK33, we headed south until we once again came to OK73. We turned east as we began to get blinding rain.

After a mile or two, it started to clearly slightly to the south. Chad and James were about a quarter mile ahead of me, and as I was beginning to see what looked like a large wall cloud to the south, James came over the radio saying a huge tornado was there. Just after his transmission it came into view for me as well. We immediately pulled over and shot video. The tornado was a huge stovepipe/barrel, one of the largest I'd ever seen at the time. After much over-excitement and semi-panicking, I was able to calm down enough to get a few decent shots. The tornado was majestic, moving over the open prairie...a spectacle unmatched at the time by anything I'd seen prior. It became a beautiful blue color, as it continued to move along behind the brilliant Autumn colors in the foreground. After a few minutes, we moved further east and paced the tornado as it began to weaken. Eventually, it roped out just to my south, one of the most incredible rope outs I've ever had the privilege of witnessing.

We followed the storm east on OK73 as far as Clinton, where we jumped onto I-40 eastbound. Not long after we hit the interstate, Chad radioed to tell me their chase was over because he was running out of gas. I came back over the radio: "Fuck that, pull over and get in with me."  So Chad and James jumped in with me, and we left the Weather Wagon on the side of the road (as we would do so very often in future years). We blasted east to US281, where we turned south. We were stuck in the storm's core through Hinton, Lookeba, Binger, and Cogar while missing multiple tornadoes being produced by the storm south of us on the clear side. Just at dusk, we began to get intense hail from the storm between Cogar and Minco, up to tennis ball size. We played in that for a good while, ending up in Minco watching a decent lightning display.

Chad and I dropped James off with a friend we'd run into, then we drove back west to locate his Blazer and get some gas. We picked up a gas can and a few gallons at a Love's, then drove back to the station to fill his tank. We each bought a sixer of Budweiser tallboys, and kept each other company on the drive home by yapping back and forth on the CB about the day we'd had. This was one of my favorite drives home after a successful chase of all-time, on the heels of one of my all-time favorite chases. A fantastic ending to a great year.