Oklahoma City HP Ice Machine

May 16, 2010 by
Filed under: Summary 

Oklahoma City to Ada, OK (16 May 10)

SHORT: Observed fast-moving HP supercell from eastern Oklahoma City to between Seminole and Ada, then let storm pass by into southeastern OK.


In the couple of prior days, I had considered some potential for severe storms across the region — mainly between I-40 and I-20 where it appeared the strongest midlevel winds would occur in a belt south of a mid-upper level trough over the central plains. The problems seemed to be lack of coherent initiative foci, rather weak moisture (resulting from the air mass to our S over TX being scoured by huge convective complexes), and weak near-surface winds that would keep hodographs small.

With far more negatives than positives apparent, I (along with many other storm observers) didn’t pay a great deal of attention on the day of the event. In fact, I was eating late lunch in Moore with Elke, Rich Thompson, Jack Beven and Jim Leonard — all experienced chasers of many decades in aggregate — when a supercell materialized out of a clump of convection NW of us near Okarche. The hook echo on the TV display and on our phones definitely got our attention.

Yes, a quick look at the surface map showed weak, mainly SW winds at the surface, though there was a sharply defined, E-W boundary extending N-NW of OKC. Turn the entire setup (including NW-SE storm motion) leftward 30-45 degrees, and you’ve got an east-moving storm with light SE winds. That’s not bad. Surface dew points in the inflow region were on the low side at about 62 degrees F, but the presence of the storm told us that was more than sufficient! Bellies full, we all scattered to our respective domiciles to get camera gear, and ended up separately observing the supercell.

Elke and I headed N from eastern Norman intending to photograph the storm coming over downtown, but its gradually accelerating motion precluded that. Instead, we first got a good look at it to our NW near the junction of I-240 and Sunnylane, with lots of buildings, wires and such contaminating the foreground. It was moving SE at 35 mph and accelerating further, and we had to head E on I-240/40 to stay ahead, if we wanted any hope at a good view without getting demolished by the baseball to softball size hail that was pounding northern and eastern Oklahoma City. We also drove right past the intersection of Choctaw Road and I-40, where a violent tornado had destroyed a truck stop and caused casualties the previous Monday. No time to look…we had to keep going!

Along the way there, we were listening to the radio simulcast of KFOR-TV, where Mike Morgan was saying, “We’re under attack at the KFOR studios! Skylights are breaking, baseball hail falling right here! We are under attack! This storm is taking no prisoners.” Now, Mike is not exactly the dignified, stoic gentleman of 1960s/70s television, seriously delivering the dire news of impending meteorological doom. He is no Harold Taft by any measure, and never could be. That said, while his penchant for over-exuberance and occasional exaggeration is well-known, he wasn’t too far from the truth this time.

Meanwhile, eastward we forged in search of a vantage. In this part of central Oklahoma, the Eastern Crosstimbers arboreal province, it’s very difficult to get a good view of a storm, with the trees, hills, and buildings rampant. We pulled off I-40 several times in futility, but finally and briefly found a very nice look about 2 SSW of Dale, on OK-102. To our NW, the north part of the storm (where the mesocyclone was) sported a beautiful tail (stinger) cloud, with a cream/reddish wall cloud rotating weakly. It was obviously being undercut by outflow and in no danger of a tornado. Given all the tornadic destruction of six days before, this was a good thing; because folks in these parts are hypersensitive to big, mean-looking storms.

I managed to photograph the south part of the supercell (looking W) before the storm closed in. We zigzagged S and E to Seminole, edging the hail core (nothing damaging), and driving past more of the previous week’s tornado destruction along Highway 9. Not wanting to get munched by a hail core in Seminole, we charged S to 12 N of Ada, and let the outflow-dominant storm race across the road right behind us.

All in all, this was an unexpectedly rewarding afternoon for a couple of storm observers who hadn’t counted on seeing much. Unfortunately, Oklahoma City took an epic beating from the hailstorm, the costs of which will run into the tens (maybe hundreds) of millions, not counting the insurance premiums that are sure to skyrocket even more. Since we stayed (mostly) ahead of the storm, I don’t have any hail photos, but the brief episode of photogenic structure near Dale was well worth the effort.


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