Two Tremendous Supercells Blast Past

May 10, 2010 by · 1 Comment
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Red Rock and Warner OK, 10 May 10

SHORT: Two quick-shot intercepts of very fast-moving supercells with intense inflow and severe RFD surges, but not obviously tornadic at those times.


This was my first storm chase of the year, where with Ryan Jewell and Corey Mead, we executed a nearly flawless intercept strategy of what essentially was one of the very few nontornadic supercells of this day, near Red Rock, OK. On this highly dynamic, high-risk afternoon for a tornado outbreak, it was obvious that storm motions would be very fast — 50 mph or so — leaving no margin for error and rendering the storm intercept strategy to a form resembling the matador waving a red flag as the bull charges past.

Of course, had we been perfect seers of the future, we could have sat around the Lake Thunderbird dam on the E side of Norman eating potato chips and bon-bons, leisurely relaxing to some Engelbert Humperdinck music all afternoon, ignoring violent-looking storms elsewhere while waiting for the supercell that would produce the east Norman tornado several hours later. Being meteorologists and not fortune tellers, however, we still had a good chase forecast and intercept strategy for two extremely severe supercells that didn’t happen to be producing noticeable tornadoes at the times they roared past us, about 3 hours and 125 straight-line miles apart. Believe me, the path we had to take between them was no straight line.

We left Norman shortly before 1400 CDT (19Z), targeting the area between GOK-PNC for storms that would develop from the agitated convective area already evident along the dryline over NW and W-central OK. The tornadic Wakita storm was too far away, so we targeted the area N of SWO for extrapolated motion of a struggling, strongly sheared echo WNW of OKC. We met the warm front along I-35 W of SWO, waited a bit for the nascent storm (still well to our WSW) to organize, then headed NNE to Ceres. As we did so, and as the storm moved into the warm-frontal zone, it quickly organized into a very robust supercell, exactly as expected.

Parked along US-77 at Ceres, we began to see the distant supercell tower emerge from the murk and head right at us. It took mere minutes for the base to appear over the horizon, wide and thick, with a small wall cloud and absolutely howling inflow winds. As the inflow backed out of the E, the storm was doing the “big suck” at multiple levels. A cloud deck from the SW and S raced toward the N and NNW at frightening speed into the forward-flank/vault region, causing the sky to “move” faster than anything I’ve seen overhead sicne Hurricane Andrew.

This was an amazingly dynamic situation on the storm scale, and we were confident we soon would witness a tornado. Somehow, despite occasionally very fast vertical and horizontal motions, it couldn’t tighten up a succinct and persistent cloud-base circulation for the longest time. We had to drop S to OK-15 and E past Red Rock to keep up with this warp-speed hyperstorm, knowing we would lose it soon in the roadless void near the Arkansas River. While bottoming through a creek valley (of course) a well-defined funnel cloud appeared to our WNW, which Corey and I saw (Ryan was driving). [This probably was the same one Steve Bluford saw also, as his chase account through this part of the storm’s lifespan strongly resembles ours.] Sorry, no photos — we were trying to get back up to higher ground.

The funnel dissipated fast, and in its place, an extremely intense RFD blasted through that area and around a new occlusion cycle, very rapidly lofting a dust plume (looking NW at 1653 CDT — exactly the same time that this “debris” was reported as a tornado by some spotters). A new occlusion set in to our N, and the storm raced off into the Osage Indian Reservation into colder air, with no way to continue visual engagement.

We decided swiftly to attempt to engage storms that were well S of us, moving through the I-35 corridor near OKC, since we had a few hours of daylight left and (given friendly roads) time to get ahead of them — even at the crazy speeds they would be moving. Unfortunately the roads weren’t very friendly. The traffic lights of Stoolwater slowed us down, and a bigger obstacle slowed us down more. Our initial thoughts of getting ahead of this now-tornadic activity W of Lake Eufaula came to a screeching halt S of Bristow, where an illuminated sign warned of a bridge out on the road ahead (S) of us, and recommended a detour westward along a road we already had passed! Wrong, wrong and hell no! Our dogged determination sent us along some winding roads in SE Creek and NW Okmulgee Counties that, at best, can be called wretched, including one marked as paved on our DeLormes that was a very rough gravel road. Meanwhile the storm to our S and SSW was producing a massive tornado near Tecumseh, and more eastward toward Henryetta.

Thanks to Ryan’s fantastic driving, we survived another horrible, unmarked east road that was supposed to be paved, but instead, was a narrow gravel lane in a canyon of trees. It was like driving through a rain forest in the rain, except for the hail that began falling on us from the northern reaches of the Tecumseh/Henryetta storm’s forward-flank core. Now realizing we couldn’t even get ahead of the storm at Checotah, we zoomed E and SE through a small part of the far-forward flank core and popped out along US-64, a couple miles N of Warner. The meso was 7-8 miles to our W, but took less than 10 minutes to reach the road just to our N, roaring past with damaging RFD winds that caused power flashes along the road. Before it did, I was able to snap a few photos in very low light, one of which revealed a very short-lived funnel (looking W, severe enhancement-crop) that I don’t think any of us noticed at the time. It was in the right area, with rain curtains wrapping furiously around the rapidly occluding mesocyclone region.

In the next shot (looking NW), that area was occluding deeply at left rear, as the new mesocyclone organized at near right, just a couple miles away. As with the Red Rock supercell, the inflow winds were very intense — probably damaging by themselves, and the RFD blast was stronger still, producing power flashes along US-64 to our N. We watched this storm race past us at incredible speed, toward the Snake Creek Wilderness area and into Arkansas.

Headed W on I-40 near Checotah, the sky treated us to a brief but splendid display of sunset pastels and cloud textures (horizontal wide-angle, then a vertical shot a couple minutes later), as if offering up a colorful measure of minor consolation for missing the tornadoes of the day.


[EDIT] A helicopter video link on the KWTV website shows that the funnel that we saw while driving through some bottomlands near Red Rock was a brief “cheezenado” (faint swirls underneath); and another chaser also saw that. [Click on Video Gallery link number 9 at upper right…don’t know how to direct-link to it.]

This still was not the same feature that was reported as a tornado, however (based on matching times). The time of the funnel was a couple minutes earlier — about 1650-1651 CDT.


[EDIT 2] Ryan Jewell was shooting video for us and posted three snippets from those portions of this intercept near Ceres and Red Rock. These are NOT time lapses! They’re real-time cloud motions.

Looking W from near Ceres. Ryan is clearing dead weeds out of the way!

Looking overhead from near Ceres as the storm approached.

Looking NW from near Red Rock at tremendous RFD surge and occlusion process