May 25, 1997 Chase

After almost a year since our first tornado, Greg and I had experienced a rookie season that was, to this point, filled almost entirely with failure. We had struggled through March, April, and most of May with only a handful of decent hail experiences on our resume. Our experience was sorely lacking, but despite our lack of success, our enthusiasm never waned. Today was the first major potential tornado day of our careers, and things were going to change. But the day didn't start off well.

After an excited morning spent monitoring TWC and local news stations, it became apparent even to me that today held great potential. Though I still had virtually zero experience with tornadic storms, I was very confident that today we could finally break our tornado drought and get over the "one hit wonder" hurdle. But when I tried to call Greg to make sure he was ready, there was no answer. I kept watching weather updates and calling, but to no avail. As I watched the local radar for my area on TWC, a small green blip appeared west of Norman. Furious that he was not taking our chase career as serious as I was (and he needed to be), I decided to leave without him.

I noticed the radar blip was on the eastern edge of the tornado watch box that had been issued a short while before, and, with my limited knowledge, incorrectly assumed this meant it was not expected to be a severe storm. So I ignored the developing storm to my west and headed north on I-35. I had just turned west onto I-40 when I looked back south. The little green blip had blossomed into a large white mountain of a storm. But still, in my mind, it was nothing to worry about because it was barely inside the watch area. Not a minute after this, my bag phone rang. It was friend and occasional chase partner David Brown, who alerted me the storm to my south was looking great and was the only thing out there. Realizing my mistake, I thanked him for the information, exited, and began to work my way back south.

I ended up coming south on US62 into Newcastle, as a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for the storm. I continued through town, and not ten minutes later, a tornado warning was issued for the storm. My excitement level skyrocketed: my palms started sweating, my pulse was racing. Then the report came over the scanner of a confirmed tornado southwest of Blanchard. I had to physically, verbally calm myself as I continued south on 62 through Newcastle, as I was borderline hyper-ventilating. Here I was, riding solo, with a chance to see another tornado right in front of me. It was almost more than I could handle. But, I was able to somewhat settle myself down and continue on. I turned southwest onto OK9 headed to Blanchard, but stopped shortly afterwards when I started to receive hail. It was getting larger, to about quarter-size, and I had zero visibility to my southwest (the direction the tornado was). I waited a few minutes but could still see nothing, so I decided to head back east on OK9 to try and get a better view.

I made my way back to I-35, then dropped south to OK24, hearing reports of a new, much larger tornado near Criner. I crept slowly southward along Ok24 towards Washington, with my skies darkening and my visibility decreasing once again. I made it through Washington and down to the intersection of OK24/39. Criner was just four miles to my west, and I knew there had been a confirmed large tornado just southwest of there. I decided to keep going south, thinking that perhaps I could beat the tornado, get around the rain, and be able to see it to my immediate west. After about a mile, the rain increased, the wind increased, and my uneasiness increased. Trees were blowing around in the wind, and the sky grew dark. Something didn't feel right, so I turned around, headed back north to OK39, then turned back east towards Purcell.

I made my way back to Purcell, then on the south side of town, had a decision to make: go south on I-35, or try and take the shorter, more direct route to the tornado down OK74. I stood a better chance of seeing the tornado earlier along 74, but it was also the more dangerous option. I decided to play it safe, and raced south on I-35. A few miles south of Purcell, I pulled over. Chunks of scud were racing from the west, along with torrents of rain. I still didn't have a very clear view, but I continued south to OK59, where I turned east towards Wayne. Ironically, I found myself in almost the exact same spot as we observed our first tornado from, possibly about to see my second. Sideways rain flew by, but I could never get a clear view, so after a few minutes, I continued east with the storm.

I continued on OK59 east, through Rosedale, then turned south onto OK133. The entire time I really never had much of a view because of torrential rain, but I kept pushing forward. As I drove south on 133, my bag phone rang again. This time it was Greg, who was riding with our friend Amy Wilson. We met up in Pauls Valley, where he jumped out of her van and into my truck. With Amy in tow, we continued south down I-35, after a new storm.

We exited OK29 west of Wynnewood, and headed east into town. We jumped south on US77, and about three miles south of town, Greg said "we got a tornado!!" I immediately pulled over, and looked to the east. A small, brown rope tornado loomed a few miles to our east, but didn't last long. Greg had jumped up on top of my truck with the video camera to get a view of it. It wasn't until later in the day he realized he had been on "pause" the entire time.

We continued south on 77 to Davis, where we turned east onto OK7. From there we went through Sulphur to OK1, where we stopped and faced north. We watched a developing lowering to our north, though neither of us had any idea what it really was in relation to the overall storm. After being hit by wind and rain, we bailed south towards Mill Creek. Once clear, we stopped, turned around, and headed back north on OK1. As we drove, we spotted a new lowering to our northeast. As we continued north, the lowering continued to look very suspicious. Finally Greg told me to stop, and as we did, a cone tornado developed from the wall cloud. We stopped and watched it for a few minutes, as it continued to our east. After a few minutes, it was gone. We headed south on OK1 towards Mill Creek.

After going through Troy, Ravia, and Russett on OK1, we came to OK199, where we turned towards Madill, eventually ending up in Oakland as darkness fell. We decided we'd had enough, and headed west to I-35, then northbound towards home. When we arrived back in Norman, we went to Mr. Bill's to celebrate our second and third career tornadoes, but more importantly, getting the one-hit-wonder monkey off our backs