May 18, 2017 Chase

This day had great potential to be an outbreak type of event, except for one major fly in the ointment: a weak cap. This meant storms would fire early, often, and all over the place. The challenge this type of setup presents is twofold; it's hard to find an area of focus with storms expected to blow up everywhere, and once you do find a target/storm, it has a very good chance of being ruined by other storms in the vicinity competing for space. After much unenjoyable analysis and scrutiny, I decided that northwest Oklahoma looked like the best chance for isolated tornadic storms. I settled on Seiling as my target.

We headed northwest on US287 to Vernon, where we jumped onto US183 northbound. We passed through Fredrick, Snyder, Hobart, Cordell and eventually stopped at I-40 in Clinton. While we had been making our journey north through southwest Oklahoma early storms had erupted to our west in extreme southwestern Oklahoma. We decided to have lunch in Clinton before continuing north to Snyder, and as we ate, a storm that had become dominate in the initial cluster became tornado-warned. We finished our lunch while monitoring this storm, and after we were done, decided to drift south of town on US183, find a spot with a view to the southwest, and watch. After all, it was only about 40 miles to Seiling, and we could get there from Clinton in a half hour.

We sat south of Clinton for quite a while, watching the evolution of the now tornado-producing storm as it continued its march northeast. The storm looked to track very near Cordell, which was about 15 miles south of us. With nothing of interest happening anywhere else, and continuing reports of tornadoes associated with the storm, we decided to make a run for it. We drove south down US183 to Cordell, but as we reached town, I couldn't shake the feeling we were making a mistake. I couldn't stop thinking about my target area of Seiling. So we turned around and went right back to the same spot we'd been sitting at.

What we should've done at that point was just pull stake and head up to Seiling. What we ended up doing was continuing to sit in Clinton. Another half hour passed, during which time other storms that had started forming in northwest Oklahoma began to get organized and intensify. It was still a messy situation, with the main southern storm a big HP bomb, and multiple storms fighting for space in the northern area. There was so much cloud/precip debris from several anvil spreads overlapping, it was near impossible to discern anything visually from where we were. Finally, an isolated storm north of us near Taloga went tornado-warned. "Great" I thought, "here we are 40 miles away from my target and now it lights up." Even though we really couldn't even see the storm, we took off north on US183 headed to Taloga.

North of Taloga the base finally started to appear through the haze. We turned east onto OK51 headed to Seiling. As we did, the base became clearer, and what looked like a large tornado loomed underneath. We quickly negotiated the middle of town while accessing our north option of US281, and as we cleared the outskirts of town and broke out into open country, a large tornado was clearly in progress to the north-northwest. We flew north as fast as possible, shooting video and pictures as we went. The tornado had a good jump on us, mostly because of my indecisiveness earlier, so we were in total catch-up mode. We continued north through Chester as the tornado continued. A few miles north of Chester, the tornado rapidly roped out and was done. However the rapid rotation continued, so we kept driving north in an attempt to close some distance.

We rolled north as the rotation continued, and a second tornado rapidly developed ahead of us, over the road. It lasted less than a minute and was gone. We were gaining on the storm, and it was moving almost due north, which was working perfectly with our road. I wanted to find a place to stop and get outside tripoded video, so we continued on until we found a brilliant spot with a fantastic view. We pulled over, jumped out and got set up.

A few moments after I had gotten setup, a man walked up to me and asked if it was safe. I pointed towards the ominous lowering and said that he needed to avoid that. Long-time chaser friend Chris Hayes had pulled up also, and surprised me with a "hey Shane!" greeting before I even realized he was there. I hadn't seen Chris in years, so it was cool to be able to share this awesome experience with an old friend. The lowering began to rotate faster, and reached closer to the ground. Then a vortex formed to the left of the main rotation, reaching the ground. Tornado number three was now underway, beginning as a multiple vortex under a wide V base. Over the next few minutes the condensation would occasionally reach the ground for brief moments and then recede once again. During this time, a car pulled over in front of us and four guys got out, all wearing coats. It was about 85/72 at the time, so that was a real head scratcher. Finally, the RFD really cranked up and the tornado became fully-condensed as a large stovepipe. It began to widen as I called the report in to the NWS. After a few more minutes, our view was becoming too hazy, as moisture and distance were beginning to kill our contrast. We jumped in the car and raced north.

We drove north until we came to the US281/US412 junction. We became caught in a traffic jam at the stop sign, during which the tornado continued to churn, becoming a large fully-condensed cone for a brief time. Finally, I drove around it to the right of the line of stopped vehicles and turned right onto US412. I drove the quarter mile until the first crossover, did a quick u-turn, and raced back west to the intersection, turning north onto US281 to continue the pursuit. We continued north as a member of a huge chaser conga line, catching glimpses of the tornado between rising hills and buttes that were starting to ruin the view. The storm seemed to be leaving the tornado and associated updraft behind, and after a few more minutes the tornado gradually dissolved into nothingness. Not wanting to keep chasing this storm that was racing north into Kansas, we decided to backtrack and try to intercept a new storm near Leedey that was working its way east.

We took US281 south back through Seiling, Taloga and Putnam, turning west onto OK47 on a direct route to intercept. The storm was severe but not tornadic, and as we finally got close enough to see the base, we could tell this storm would not be a tornado producer. Satisfied with the day's bounty, we decided to call off the chase and start home, with our best day in four years under our belts.