May 24, 2008 Chase

As luck would have it, we were forced to go back to Norman the night of the 23rd, because Chad had a prior commitment. This eliminated the possibility of us choosing the northern target of KS/NE like many other chasers had to decide on. Waking up in Oklahoma meant we were chasing Oklahoma, which I had conceded on the drive home the night of the 23rd. I wasn't real thrilled with the prospect of having to 'settle' on a target for the 24th as opposed to being in a position to actually choose, and in my mind that night, I was favoring the KS/NE region over Oklahoma. I didn't account for the possibility of the 23rd leftovers surviving the night, pushing through northern Oklahoma, and laying out a boundary for the next day. But when I awoke the next morning, and saw an MCS racing southeast from southern Kansas through northeast Oklahoma, I suddenly became interested in OK as a target.

My mistake was not acting on my instinct immediately; I assumed because it was a boundary type situation it would go early, but I didn't expect it to go as early as it did. It was mere luck that I just happened to click on the car radio as the words "Tornado Watch" blared over the station, and it was just now 1pm. Instantly I realized "I blew it, this is happening now."  After much swearing in the car, we made our way home from the store, grabbed our gear, took one last look at radar, and hit the road.

By the time we'd rounded the western edge of OKC, the tower was becoming visible through breaks in the lower level cu field. I was 10-n-2 on the wheel, white-knuckled and focused with equal parts anticipation, excitement, and rage. I knew we had a great shot at getting to the storm before the show ended, but I knew we'd left too late to catch the beginning, and maybe even the middle. I hoped against hope as we roared up US81 through El Reno, Okarche, Kingfisher, and Dover that we'd make it in time, all the while cursing myself for getting caught napping on an amazing event in my own backyard. Hearing live reports of tornadoes we were missing on the radio only served to enhance my anger. But today Fate rode with us.

As we neared Hennessey, we could start to make out the base of the storm. I could tell we were south-southwest of the area of interest, so I just kept driving until we hit OK51 in downtown. I hooked it right and we were eastbound out of town, racing to get into position to finally view the storm's updraft base. Just a few miles outside of town, the base came into view, and along with it, barely visible, our first tornado of the day. It was a large cone that was extremely difficult to see, in the middle of my viewfinder. In fact Bridget saw it before I did and had to point it out to me. After finally getting a visual on it, it dissipated less than a minute later, as I continued to cuss and scream at slow onlookers who were blocking our progress, local yokels who were out to "see the tornadee".

We continued east after the tornado ended, and then stopped once we had a good view of the base. The contrast continued to be horrid, but we held our position and watched as tornado number two formed, a small cone funnel with intermittent dust whirls on the ground below it, confirmed by a television chopper covering the storm. After this brief tornado, we jumped back on the road and continued east, trying to get ahead of the circulation.

As we continued east, tornado number three formed west of Marshall, and we were able to view it for about a minute, although yet again it was very difficult to see. After we lost sight of this large tornado, we came upon the intersection of OK51/74. Having had terrible contrast from south of the storm, we decided to race north on OK74, to close the distance between the storm and ourselves, for better contrast.

After a few miles, a large lowering came into view, obviously obscured at the base by a ton of rain. The local NBC affiliate station was going bonkers over it, calling it a "gigantic wedge tornado", although a few minutes later this shot would prove otherwise, as our fourth tornado was merely a single vortex funnel. We held this position over the next few minutes, as multiple lightning strikes were giving us brief glances into the mouth of the beast. Eventually, this tornado tandem was revealed, as tornado number four began to dissipate on the left while tornado number five churned to the right as a large barrel. With the lightning seeming to cycle down, the storm moving slowly away, and the rain ever increasing around the updraft area, we jumped back in the car and continued north on OK74.

After a few more miles, we were able to see the lowering once again. We pulled over, jumped out, and rolled video. Soon after, we saw tornado number six, churning to the west as a multi-vortex on the southern end of the parent rotation. After a minute or so, this tornado dissipated and was quickly replaced by the next one, tornado number seven. This tornado became a large wedge, and eventually disappeared in rain curtains from our viewpoint. After this, it was time to commit either north and east, or back south and east. With no immediate east option and the storm ever-approaching from the west, we opted for back south to OK51 and then east.

We burned south back to OK51, then roared east to US77. There, we turned north in an attempt to get a closer position on the storm from the east, for a shot at better contrast. We made it as far as Orlando, where citizens were outside milling around, seemingly oblivious to the impending danger. I slowed down through town, with my windows down, shouting to people to take cover. I don't know how much affect this had if any, but we continued north through town. We found a gravel road west off the highway, a few miles north of town, that ran up a small hill and afforded a great view to the west. We took this road about a quarter mile west, and stopped, along with friend and fellow chaser Rocky Rascovich, who we'd run into a few minutes earlier. Together, we all watched as tornado number eight formed, as a slender white funnel just left of the road. Again, this tornado was very hard to see, which was the theme for us most of the day. It was so tough to view I wasn't even sure if it was a tornado or a rogue hail shaft, but eventually I realized it was the former. Again, after a minute or less we lost sight of it, and it was time to run again. We blasted back south through Orlando, where I once again shouted warnings to citizens who were outside. Once we returned to OK51, we turned east and drove about a mile east of I-35, where we stopped at a crossover and looked back to the west.

The storm's main circulation center had moved on to the north and east, north of Orlando. Meanwhile, a second area of rotation had developed further south and west, along the portion of the storm that had begun back-building along the boundary, a phenomenon known as "distinct propagation". This area began to go crazy, and produced tornado number nine, a large multiple vortex tornado, nearly three-quarters of a mile wide. This tornado churned to the west-northwest for a few minutes, until the wrap-around precipitation began to block our view. We were able to get a single glance at the tornado through the rain a few minutes later, and then we lost it for good. Feeling we had plenty of room to move closer to the circulation, we back tracked and went west to I-35, then jumped on the interstate and rolled north.

After a mile or two we pulled over and shot video. A new tornado had developed west of us, our tenth of the day. This one was a large stovepipe, that gradually and slightly narrowed into a fat rope. As we were observing this one, another tornado, our eleventh and final of the day, formed a few miles to the north, northwest of us. For the next few minutes, we smiled ear-to-ear and our heads swiveled as we looked back and forth from one tornado to the other. The larger of the two, number ten, began to dissipate first, becoming a segmented fat rope until eventually vanishing, while tornado number eleven continued to hold its own. A few minutes later it began to be influenced by the storm's outflow, as the overall punch of this crazy supercell began to be lost. It roped out in classic fashion, thinning to nothing as it was pushed out by the RFD. After this amazing display, we headed north, greedily hoping we could catch the original circulation to the northeast and see even more.

After only ten minutes or so, we realized the storm was pretty much done, and we threw in the towel. New storms were popping up to the west, and forecasters felt another round of tornadoes was possible from these. We drove back west and met one of the new storms west of Hennessey, but nothing ever came of it. We called it a day for good at twilight, on the south side of town, and began the fun journey home. This was my first career Hat Trick, and the feeling was awesome.