May 31, 1999 Chase

 I'd placed an online ad looking for chase partners at the beginning of the year, and a couple of guys answered. The first was Eric Collins, who was from Ohio, and the other was Mark McGowan, from Houston. They both arrived within a day of one another, and our very first chase was May 16, the day Eric got to town. We chased fairly often the next week or so, and saw some severe storms, but no tornadoes. After the first week Eric had to go back home, but Mark stayed. On this particular day, we were convoying with Dwain and Matt, who were in Matt's car. Mark and I were in his silver 1983 Toyota. Our target was northwest Oklahoma, and that's exactly where we went.

We found a roadside rest area along a stretch of US283, between US270 and Shattuck. We sat there for over an hour, as thick cumulus boiled in the afternoon sky. Passing the time by taking pictures and making small talk, we sat and baked under the hot sun while agitated cu continued to bubble. Eventually, one tower broke through to the north, and seemed on its way to becoming a storm. Because it was in our target area, we didn't even bother waiting to see what it would do. We hit US283 northbound, headed for Laverne, with Matt and Dwain leading while we followed. We'd gone maybe five or ten miles when I just happened to look back over my left shoulder to the southwest and saw a mature supercell, probably eighty miles away, all by itself. Without hesitating, I pointed to the storm and said to Mark "Turn around, that's our storm down there." I didn't know it at the time, but I'd just guaranteed we would never become a part of the infamous Sitka Bust Club, an unsavory distinction named for the small southwest Kansas town near which a very photogenic tornado occurred, yet evaded several dozen chasers who were on the storm.

We busted down US283 through Shattuck, Arnett, Roll, Cheyenne, and Sayre, as the storm's base slowly began to come into view. By the time we'd reached I-40 and turned west, we had a clear view of the base. It was obvious the interstate was too far north, so about halfway between Sayre and Erick we exited, and took a series of paved back roads to position ourselves a bit more into the clear air, and out of the heavier rain. We found a spot with decent viewing, then turned the car around to face north (why I have no idea). I shot video of the lowering as it continued to develop, and rain continued to fall despite our efforts to elude it. The base kept churning, and scud tags began to form right of it, floating left from the core. Gradually the scud filled in to create a very well-defined and classic wall cloud. After several minutes, the wall cloud seemed to go all the way to the ground, and during this time a brief tornado occurred, although not nearly as menacing as it appeared. After a while it was becoming obvious the storm had a slight southward component to its track, so we turned around and headed further south.

As we went, we finally began to clear the rain and got a good view of the overall storm structure, which featured some amazing striations. When we finally came to our next east/west road, we turned west to try and get closer. We went a few miles, but the major lowering/wall cloud/tornado thing we'd been watching had dissipated. However, the storm was continuing to cycle, which put the next area of interest much closer to us. After a few more minutes, a brief tornado, our second of the day, quickly developed with full condensation, but vanished within twenty seconds of appearing. Afterwards, we decided it was time to start making our way back east to find paved roads again. The dirt road we were on, because of the rain that simply would not go away, had turned into mud. As we were doing a six-point turn to head back east, we became stuck. I told Mark to stay in the car while I jumped out to survey the situation. Fortunately, we were simply sliding on very slick (but more or less flat) clay type mud, without having sunk in. I utilized the ditch, the depth of which surprised me as I plummeted in with the ground level at my chest, and began to push the car while Mark gunned it. The natural outcome of this action was me getting sprayed in the chest and face with mud, but the car was freed. I jumped back in, wiped my face off, and the chase resumed as we barreled east looking for pavement....although technically at the time the storm was chasing us.

We continued along, as I shot video out the passenger's side window of a developing lowering. Eventually we came back to US283 near the town of Willow, and turned south. The lowered area I'd been shooting out the window was really starting to get its act together, and loomed just south of due west. I told Mark to keep going, wanting to get just south of due east relative to the churning wall cloud. After another mile or so, I told Mark to pull over. The wall cloud was rotating rapidly, and a funnel began to descend quickly, becoming our third tornado of the day. It quickly became a classic cone, then started to widen. As it did, the tip of condensation in contact with the ground began to lift, as the tornado became a wide bowl. As this happened, a tremendous rearflank downdraft notch became visible. Eventually, the tornado morphed into a tear drop shape, before gradually eroding away. As it dissipated, Mark said "Man, I'm gonna remember this Memorial Day."

We continued south and east through Mangum and Blair, apparently missing a few more brief tornadoes that Matt and Dwain did observe. We stopped just north of Altus, with tornado warnings blaring over the scanner, tornado sirens blaring from town, and a news helicopter hovering overhead. There was a lot of turbulent motion, but we never saw anymore tornadoes. Once this bit of excitement was over, we decided the storm was no longer a tornadic threat, and, not wanting to be stuck in the middle of it, started for home to keep ahead of it. Matt and Dwain chose to stay behind, and experienced extreme straight line winds near Lawton, that Matt estimated were close to 100mph. A great day for all of us.