OKC Tornado in November

November 10, 2004 by · Comments Off on OKC Tornado in November
Filed under: Summary 

SHORT VERSION:  Woke up after day-sleep.  Quick data examination.  Left house.  Blew off towers SW of Norman.  Fought through eastern OKC buildings/stoplights/jungles for glimpses of Jones tornado. 


Before going to bed for the day (at 8 a.m. after a night shift), I thought of the “ifs”…
* If convective mode was discrete and not forced/linear
* If the air mass can heat into the 60s with 58-60 F sfc dews
* If we can get something to form really closeby instead of
just a little too far to intercept, as is the usual problem when I’m coming off night shifts.

If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, it would be Christmas every day.  So being as pessimistic as Squidward about this situation, I shuffled off to dreamland, admittedly, dismisssing the interceptable supercell probabilities as too low to get excited about.  Besides, if everything miraculously did come together, Elke would be paying attention and would wake me up when she got home from work at 3.  So…

Elke came home from work and woke me up with word of big towers to the W.  Say what!?!  Discrete convection…could it be?  That got my attention and I woke up far more excited than when I crashed 7 hours before.  5-minute diagnostic data perusal showed that the air mass thermodynamically was verifying the most optimistic of prior model guidance, which did resemble so-called “cold core” supercell situations.  Quick inspection of TLX VWP and Purcell profiler winds showed low level shear was excellent.  Towers could be seen visually. 

Still negatively coloring the perspective were:
1. Prior forecasts as far out as day-3, suggesting that the boundary layer theta-e would be the main concern (but that sfc dew points in the upper 50s/low 60s — if they could materialize — would make things much more interesting). 
2. The razor-thin area of insolation-heated air between the billow clouds and the line of Tcu.  Temps in the low 60s…yuck!  But I told myself that yes, it was cold enough aloft to offset the sfc coolness and give us a sfc-based lifted parcel.

So…what the heck…it was close and we had a couple hours before having to pick up the kids.  Out we went.  From Sooner Rd and Indian Hills, on the N side of Norman, we observed some towers over and S of town that were being sheared strongly over, with tiny bases…


…and proceeded N to the projected position of what was now a mature thunderstorm over downtown OKC, producing audible thunder.  The base came into view S of I-40 and had intermittent ragged lowerings, but had a rather cold/fuzzy look at times too.  I got the distinct impression from inspecting this nascent OKC-Jones-Chandler supercell in person, as well as the other towers to the S, that the convection was “running on fumes.”  But it was discrete convection, so as Rich alluded earlier in the day, there was hope for a cheezenado — much preferably after the storm left the city.

Hills, buildings, the gnarly crosstimbers forest, continual stopping at red lights — as expected in eastern OKC…this all made viewing very brief and intermittent — and photography almost impossible — when trying to keep moving with the storm.  We noted a classic looking RFD occlusion to our N from I-40 and Sooner Rd, so the E-N-E-N-E-N zigzagging began.  Onward, chainsaw brigade!

By the time we got SW of Choctaw along S 15 St, we intermittently observed (but couldn’t photograph) a strengthening wall cloud under its base with scud rising fast.  The warning went out.  Spotters were all over this thing.

Bobby Prentice relayed:

 0436 PM    TORNADO    3 E SPENCER    35.52N    97.32W

I probably saw this for a fraction of a second, to our N, while blasting E through the jungle on 15th.  I told Elke that I thought there might be a tornado in there.  I wasn’t confident enough yet to call it in.  Then, after turning N on Henney Rd..

 0443 PM   TORNADO   JONES    35.57N   97.29W


We saw this one form and die, and were able to witness glimpses in between.  Rick — not that you need it, but I will confirm this report for you, already made by what seemed like bazillions of spotters and 2 TV chopper crews.  🙂

Bobby also wrote:

“The helicopter views were quite good and probably much better than could have been obtained by chasing from the ground in the cross-timbers of eastern Oklahoma and Lincoln counties.”

Absolutely!  If you view(ed) the chopper footage you had a far better view than was possible at ground level.  But as the numerous obstructions permitted, we could see rotating plugs and coils of condensation forming near ground level and rising, spiralling, dancing, sometimes hovering detached from both ground and cloud base, and sometimes attached to both ground and cloud for just a second or two.  In desperate search of a safe vantage, we settled for a school parking lot on the N side of N 10th St between Henney Rd and Choctaw Rd. 

With no lightning around, near the rear flank gust front,  I grabbed the camera and leaped atop the car like to see above the trees a little better.  Of course, the condensation vanished right as I began snapping slides.  I don’t know if I caught any of it on film.  [Video was not even attempted…no time!]  Elke, thankfully,  barely managed to get a shot of the tornado with her digital camera from a vantage about 4-5 feet lower than mine — and just a few seconds before it dissipated.


Contrast enhanced:

Zoomed and contrast enhanced:

We went back into jungle zigzag mode and the rest of our story
essentially duplicated that of Bob Conzemius:

Back Home Again

June 15, 2004 by · Comments Off on Back Home Again
Filed under: Journal Entry 

Elke and I are back from our chase vacation and feeling refreshed again, just to have been “out there” on the Great Plains — this time ranging from Stephenville TX to Minot ND (first time in ND!) and from Farina IL to Pine Bluffs WY.  Several tornadic storms gusted out upon our arrival, but fortunately the Big Springs one didn’t.  [We did, however, abandon it after the long-lived hose because it was headed into utterly horrific road gaps andterrain-obstructed visibility of the Sand Hills.]  We saw a handful of other tornadoes this year — mostly distant, brief, and/or poor contrast.  We got to the Minot ND, Patoka IL and NW IA supercells immediately after they quit producing hoses, with a different strategic or atmospheric factor to blame for our tardiness each time.  On other days, such as 12 June, we were on one or more nontornadic supercells (i.e., Fairbury NE then Manhattan KS) while another far away (Mulvane) did its tornadic dances.  We saw a handful of tornadoes but missed lots, lots more.  These things happen at times, seemingly in streaks, when one spends enough years doing this, so no use being too upset for too long.  On one day
Rich and I did something uncharacteristically aggressive and insane, and are grateful to be in a position to tell of it so that others may avoid the same mistake.

So it was, to say the least, a bittersweet season.

However, an abiding moment, always etched in time, revealed itself one afternoon over the east arm of Lake Sakakawea S of MOT.  We landed in the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge at a dead-end dirt road, thwarted from closer intercept of a spinning disc of straited cloud plates to our N, and its resilient, long-lived wall cloud.  Spent of its tornadic glory, the free convection above the plates tilted itself at angles approaching 60 degrees from vertical, sunlit and aglow in the warm and waning rays.  Somehow the whole storm assembly — wall cloud, plate stack and leaning plume of towers — survived through sunset, spinning its way across the northern skies beyond shimmering waters that reflected the wave-cut hues of a stormy sky, waters also teeming with both diving birds and jumping fish.  Far removed from the highway, the noises consisted only of splashes on the big lake’s surface, and the calls of the hundreds of aquatic birds.  It’s a scene unlikely to occur more than once in a lifetime.

Fascinating also was the process of discretely propagating tornadic storms — a process welldiscussed in the CFDG annals and in literature (Jarrell, Lake Whitney, Collinsville and such).  I had never witnessed this phenomenon produce tornadoes first hand, however, until 11 June.  We saw one bonafide tornado in the distance near Otho IA (S of Ft. Dodge) from this process, and several other cyclonic cloud base circulations as the convective system zippered southward toward Boone IA.  [One of those circulations produced a shallow but well defined cone funnel, lit pink in the setting sun, N of Boone, that someone else reported as a tornado.]  As each circulation tightened, it either would produce a funnel/tornado or (more often) would be smothered by the next core developing immediately adjacent to its S.  The arcus on a grand scale was scalloped, arching inward toward each circulation then outward again around each core, conjuring immediate thoughts of the conceptual LEWP model from radar meteoroology, coming to life vividly and from horizon to horizon across the sky.

Elke and I will post more detailed and photographically illustrated daily SUMMs on the web over the summer as we get the opportunity, address(es) TBA.  ITMT it was good chatting with several CFDG folks out there (i.e., Paul Sirvatka, OF Leonard, Dave Gold, The Chaser Formerly and Once Again Now Known as Matt (Biddle), Tim Samaras, Steve “Rich and Roger Damn Near Killed Me” Hodanish, Har_ld Richter, Ryan Jewell, BC, Ed C, and surely a few others I am not recalling at this moment.
Back to the Okie summer and a lawn badly needing mowing after 5.21″ of rain in our absence.

29 May 04 Jamestown-Narka KS tornadic HP

May 31, 2004 by · Comments Off on 29 May 04 Jamestown-Narka KS tornadic HP
Filed under: Summary 

SHORT:  Intercepted CNK area supercell after BC’s initial tornadoes and before Jamestown.  Saw 3 tornadoes in lousy contrast.  Experienced fourth tornado from within.  No good photos, little video, and little opportunity for good documentation.

LONG:  The day was characterized by poor contrast, low light, tornadoes/funnels that were so brief as to go away before we could take good pictures/video, and (as Rich mentioned) being munched by a tornado strength circulation.

We stopped in the Newton library to look at data and saw the storm initiation W of CNK and in western OK.  The future Argonia storm hadn’t formed yet (though if we had stayed in that library ’til the next satellite pic, we would have seen it).  Bobby had called us to inform us they were blasting S and had measured 61 F sfc dew points; but by then we were at SLN, closer to the existing supercell.  Still, we were waffling (better environment farther S), ready to turn around and go to ICT…when we called BC and heard of his early funnel/tornado reports.  That clinched it.  The storm near Beloit was tornadic, so we went there.

This was our early view from near Asherville, looking NW. This was an older, dying wall cloud observed. As you can see contrast was horrible (artifically enhanced images have an “!” symbol in the file name).

Meanwhile a new, high based cell formed S of the big supercell, then merged with it to our N.  This new area began rotating and lowering its base.  We encountered the Hodo/Richter team and Chuck and Vickie briefly, but had no room to park without blocking someone else’s access and/or Chuck’s video camera.  So we turned around and headed E for another vantage.  As we were headed E, the anticyclonic funnel formed and became sharply defined and at least 2/3-3/4 of the way to the ground…but we were too far way to see the ground circulation that others reported.  BY the time we found a place to safely pull off the road, it withered away.  No photos…no video.  An ominous (but once again, horrible contrast)wall cloud and circulation was apparent to its NNE,however.

Contrast was horrible from the S and SSE where we were; so we moved east then N fairly quickly to attempt backlit viewing.  We were on the ESE edge of the bear’s cage, trying to see something within.  A violently moving, vertical cloud edge was intermittently visible to our WNW and fairly close.

We were looking at *only* a small part of the tornado.  It had very intense, helical, upward motion on that edge.  We *knew* it was a tornadic circulation.  But we were too close (less than 1 mile ESE) to see the rest of what in fact was a very large tornado, which from our perspective was obscured by thick precip.  So yes, we saw the tornado, but again, have no documentation (horrible contrast and low light so near to it). 

Moving E for better lighting, Elke noticed a low hanging funnel (possibly an anticyclonic satellite?) well removed to the SE of the tornadic Jamesville circulation.  By the time we pulled over it wasn’t as well developed or as far down, but we did manage to get a picture of it.  Its little debris cloud is behind the second electric pole from the left.  We didn’t notice the debris cloud at the time because of the trashy contrast (again).  Even from this satellite tornado’s E, contrast wasn’t great:

After a gas/restroom stop in CNK, we intercepted the storm
again between Belleville and Cuba, by now alongside BC and
Ed.  It was reorganizing again with a new meso developing on
its front flank and orbiting the main storm in cyclonic
fashion.  The rotating wall cloud and collar crossed the road
to our W and moved NNE:

Finally I managed to take pictures, and even shoot tripodded video for the first and only time all day!  We couldn’t confirm a tornado from this feature, ominous as it looked and fast as it was whirling.  We went E and N again, attempting to stay ahead.  Our intent was to stay ENE-NE of the storm as a whole, taking the paved road that zigzags N then E from Narka to Mahaska, then drop S toward Hallam if we needed to escape.  In Narka we encountered large tree branches down from the roaring inflow winds, and had to slow down to drive around a few.  Then…dirt road!  The KS Atlas and Gazeteer was wrong.  Now we were faced with 3 choices, none of them good:
1. Take a dirt/mud road NE, ahead of an onrushing HP vortex…forget that!

2. Stay in Narka…and risk being hit by the vortex in town and/or have trees land on us.  No way.

3. Blast S and hope we can beat the curving wall of wrapping precip across the road from where we had come.  We tried.

We failed. 

Winds rapidly picked up to hurricane force from the ENE…veering quickly to E, then SE, rocking the car.  Meanwhile we became enveloped in rain, spray, occasional hail and (yes) fog — curiously distinct from the horizontal rain and spray streams.  At the time I was thinking, “LCL=zero meters.  Probably a significant pressure deficit.”  In retrospect it is obvious that the vortex was condensing at ground level as we were inside.  I was assessing and reciting the wind direction as it veered around, and told Rich in a calm and matter of fact tone that I thought the winds were probably severe.  [What a ridiculous understatement.  Rich (who normally is about as conservative with such things) estimated them to approach 100 mph.] 

I tried to drive on but I had to stop because the visibility was zero, and because the car needed to be turned windward as much as possible to lower the probability that we might airfoil.  The winds emphatically veered to S, then SW, W, and NW, still at least marginal hurricane force with more intense gusts, horizontal spray and condensing/advecting fog.  The car continued to shake quite a bit.  All the while I took note of Hodo’s SUV behind us, and another pair of headlights belonging to an SUV about 100 feet SSE of us, hoping they wouldn’t flip over (being similar weight but higher profile compared to my sedan).  We got more hail as the RFD hit, but there were at least a few hailstones in the vortex (I now have new hail pings on all sides of the vehicle).   As this was happening I told Rich that I hoped the window on his side didn’t shatter.  [He later thanked me quite sarcastically for that comment.]  Elke was quiet, because she was praying.

After a few moments the vortex passed and we proceeded S, though I had to get out in the departing “bears cage” rain to remove a tree branch from the road.  We later communicated via radio with BC and Ed, unable to help them beyond making some phone calls, then went on to Kansas City for the night, encountering Hodo, Har*ld and crew at the same motel.

Though in the heat of the moment my thinking remained analytical and understated, in hindsight the experience near Narka was a justifiably frightening ordeal that I don’t want to repeat.  We were fortunate, especially given these NIDS images Rich just grabbed.  Our location is marked by the arrow tip.

Our error was in failing to give the storm enough room. We ran out of time – the needed to retreat the way from which we came, in case our escape route was impassable (i.e., mud instead of concrete).

I have spoken with WFO TOP, who did damage surveys…several paths rated F0 between Norway and Mahaska, including 1 mile S of Narka (our location during that ordeal, and also where the county EM reported a tornado).  Our conservatively estimated
winds reached well into Fujita’s F1 criteria; but there was little around us to damage but (pretty tough) trees. 

Hodo and Har_ld:  I now believe that we were all inside a Nashville-like tornado (albeit with even thicker precip).  And even though you *chose* to follow us, Rich and I apologize for betraying your trust of our atrocious judgment because we all were at grave risk.  That error will not be repeated.

I wonder if anyone could see the vortex from without…afterall, *something* compelled that EM to report it as a tornado.  Ironically, because it was so deeply buried in precip, it might be that the only way to know this was a tornado (besides damage surveys, which have been done) was to sample it as we inadvertantly did.




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