Stillwater OK Supercell and Buffalo KS Tornado

March 31, 2006 by
Filed under: Summary 

Once again, this day featured fast moving storms, a lot of hard driving accompanied by good navigation, and zig-zagging the backroads of NE OK and SE KS to stay with the activity. Unlike March 12, the storms were (just barely) moving at hypotenuse speeds for which we could legally pace the other two sides of the triangles, represented by the roads.

Having made our forecast, Rich T and I left Norman targeting relatively discrete development over west-central and NW OK that would move toward the N-central OK area around I-35. The plan was to intercept storms as they became mature and keep up with them for as long as reasonably feasible, before dropping S to the next one(s) in the line.

Ryan was not far behind and met us at the I-35/OK-51 intersection, 3 SE Orlando OK. There we all watched what apparently had been a decent supercell near Kingfisher, which was getting sheared intensely and weaker by the minute as it passed us by to the W and N around 2 p.m. CST..

Soon another cell that had formed to the S of the original — somewhere W of OKC near I-40 — raced NE at 40-45 kt directly toward our location. A rain free base became evident as we experienced liquid precip from the forward-flank core. We moved two miles E to get out of the rain, shot time lapse video and watched as it developed a well defined and photogenic wall cloud with low level rotation to our WSW. Rich was convinced this would soon produce a tornado (super wide angle)…

…but alas, it got shoved E by outflow and choked to death. Here’s a shot as the wall cloud was becoming enfeebled…

A new mesocyclone formed to our right (N) and the race was on. Not only were we dealing with speedy ambient storm motions, but the propagational jumps of a rapidly cycling series of occlusions as well! In the attempt to stay with the storm, we spent the next couple hours zigzagging E then N through places like Pawnee, Ralston and Pawhuska, with several wall clouds in pretty good view the entire time, but nothing tornadic. The storm was cycling rapidly and often, and seemed to be in an environment where the CAPE was a little too weak for the shear. [No photos…too much driving!] At times it looked like crap, and we considered breaking off…but for what? The nearest storms to our S were way down in southern OK, activity that was 2-3 hours away with no guarantee of survival.

The storm got away from us in the road voids of northern Osage County, and as we tangled with Bartlesville and Dewey. We headed N on US-75 to intercept it again between Independence and Elk City KS, but it was just too distant (with contrast too poor) to see what was happening beneath. We finally got a good view of the now weakening storm’s distant base NE of Elk City Lake as it moved away, unaware that we missed an apparent small/weak tornadi by only about 10-15 minutes.

We headed toward Elk City KS to intercept a new storm moving NE from the Arkansas City area. We crossed a narrow path of freshly busted tree branches, split trees and sheet metal in fences (F0) 7 W Independence but didn’t stop to shoot since we were in intercept mode for the new cell. This turns out to be the result of the tornado reported at Elke City Lake — the tornado that the storm waited to produce until it finally was out of our view — over two hours and about 100 miles into its lifespan. As it turns out, this wouldn’t be the only storm to spawn a small tornado as it was about to croak.

The new storm’s peripherals finally came into good view from 7 W Benedict (looking WSW):

We parked 3 SE Coyville to watch it approach, shooting more time lapse video of intermittent wall cloud development and cloud-base cyclonic shear beyond the low ridge to our SW. It never could tighten up a good circulation during this stage, though. Then the main core of the storm shot out a huge, cold pool of outflow that appeared to destroy the low level meso and undercut everything by 5:30 pm:

Doesn’t that storm look like it’s done for? It did to us. Nevertheless, we kept up with it while also heading back toward US-75 for an easy route home. Temperatures in the outflow were in the mid 50s, and had been only about 64-65 F in the inflow thanks to rain-cooled air from earler storms. As we got to US 75, 1 S Buffalo, we looked up the flank of the storm to the NE at a surprisingly well defined (albeit rainy) base…

Note the rainy area beyond the clear slot. Given the cold air in both inflow and outflow, and the pile of outflow the storm vomited merely half an hour earlier, we were somewhat surprised these structures had reappeared. Look in the precip halfway between the tall tree and the road sign in the last shot. This appeared there and was even more surprising…

…a low-contrast, distant, “Hershey’s kiss” shaped funnel that soon narrowed, lowered and tapered to manifest itself as a tornado about 5 ENE Buffalo KS.

Here are a few regular and strongly enhanced/cropped shots sampling the tornado’s evolution as it moved away from us.!.jpg!.jpg!.jpg

Being somewhat rain-wrapped and far away, the tornado was low contrast; but considering how hard we worked to even get there, and how horrid this storm looked only moments before, I cannot complain!

This was Rich’s first March tornado, which came the day before he got the Isaac Cline award news. [I’ll say he’s had a good 2-day stretch!] Huge thanks also goes to Elke for picking up one of Rich’s kids from school while Daphne was still at work, in order that he could chase at all. Unfortunately Ryan’s “dash-cam” missed the event because his windshield fogged over while we were all outside shooting stills! [We shot only stills, no video…too distant to catch good motion anyway.] Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my phone (it had fallen to the floor behind the front seat!) to call in the report in real time. I did locate it a few moments after dissipation to place a belated call to WFO ICT. Tornado time was from 5:57 p.m. CDT to at least 6:03 p.m. CDT, when we lost view of it as it was roping.

Darkness drew nigh, so we broke off the intercept, serendipitously driving through some small hail in a line segment near Caney KS. We consumed a celebratory dinner in BVO before heading home.


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