Bittersweet First Chase of 2013

April 29, 2013 by
Filed under: Summary 

Tecumseh, OK
30 Mar 13

SHORT: After waking up, jaunted a short distance E to watch storms take on beautiful and photogenic sunset textures. Got an unwanted reminder about humanity.

LONG: I had been on an overnight shift that morning, knowing of marginal daytime supercell potential somewhere over the central or eastern parts of the state. The threat depended on the alignment and character of boundaries–some yet to be made.

After awakening rather late in the afternoon and gathering my senses, Elke and I noticed towers erupting along one of those features–an outflow boundary a short distance to our east and south. The eastern towers were in a more favorable moisture and lift environment, and showed decent mass continuity visually; so we proceeded on a mini-chase E along Highway 9 toward Tecumseh.

This all was shortly before sunset, so we stopped at a really good overlook 4 W Tecumseh for the preferred western view. Towers rose deeply and broadly into a downshear anvil while crisply alight in the late-day sunshine.

As we watched this newest, somewhat high-based storm build into the back of its loosely organized convective cluster, a very friendly, middle-aged farmer living in the nearest house came out for a chat with us, then went back to his chicken coop and brought us two fresh, warm eggs from his hens. He told us how happy he was to get a new start in life with his wife, reminisced on his days as an Air Force pilot flying around storms, then headed back to his house.

Meanwhile the sun sank low in the west, and the big dome of convection assumed a gorgeous golden hue in the opposite part of the sky. Over the next 20-25 minutes, an assortment of intervening scud and multicell asymmetries developed, contributing colorful texturing and some oddly beautiful patterns of light and shadow to the storm scene. Meanwhile, we could see the ultimately tornadic Muskogee-area convection in the hazy, distant NE, its tops reddened by the last sun rays of the day.

Visible filaments of lightning were sparse, though the storm flickered rather frequently with deeply internal discharges. Hungry for dinner, we headed back home, and the convection took off southeastward into the hills and trees. The resulting supercellular-multicellular conglomeration traveled deep into the night, over and beyond the Ouachitas, producing hail estimated up to 2.5 inch diameter in Atoka County. From the remote perspective of my operational severe-storms forecasting shift, I saw the same convective cluster travel the breadth of southern Arkansas, finally dissipating near dawn as it massed over the Mississippi River near the Louisiana-Mississippi line.

In one of those moments that just makes one both angry and sad for the state of humanity, I very recently looked up the farmer’s name to make sure I remembered it correctly. Unfortunately, I did. He was listed and pictured in the official database as a registered sex offender, convicted in OKC in 2008 of dealing in illicit images of children, and turned loose on probation after serving three years behind bars. I guess that explains the “fresh start” out in the country.

Being a father, this sort of thing just makes me furious. It is also a shame to have the memory of a fine storm-observing jaunt soiled in that way. Sometimes what should be a good story just doesn’t have the happy ending we like.

It will be hard to look at those shots, or think of this trip, without being reminded of its dark side discovered later; but if we don’t still appreciate the good and beautiful that we saw…then evil wins. That must not be allowed to happen. So I tell this story in hope that you, too, can absorb unfortunate news and overcome its impact with the overarching grace of the perfect Artist who produced that sky.

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