Day 13 - Back and Forth with Storms around Tulsa - 30 May 2013

We’re now 13 days into our chasing and we’ve now had so many moderate risk days they are starting to become par for the course. That’s not to sound ungrateful, the number of storms have been all we could ask for, it’s merely that it’s no longer much of a surprise when the risk is issued. Today’s was covering a significant portion of north-east Oklahoma. The ongoing effects of the low pressure now slowly moving its way northeast and the huge amount of moisture being dragged up from the Gulf of Mexico in its wake, was providing all the energy needed for another potent severe weather outbreak.

As ever, simply having the ingredients isn’t enough, you need something to create some lift and today there were two key things. The outflow from existing storms from the day before, as is often the way in these periods of multiple days of bad weather, would provide a wedge of cooler air to generate some lift. Additionally the dry line would be a key feature today. That’s where the cooler dryer air that descends from the rocky mountains to the west and undercuts the warmer, moister air from the plains to force the air upwards. These two lifting mechanisms wouldn’t necessarily work together (though they might), but they would both create ample lift to get things moving.

We were quite a long way away after indulging in some beer and hot food in Garden City the night before and we had to head off towards Tulsa in Northern Oklahoma. It was a 5 hour drive and it looked like storms may be firing quite early, so we just needed to try our luck.

As we approached the region the visibility was superb and we could see storms over a broad stretch of the horizon. A number of them were still back building from the same storms persisting from yesterday evening, while other, more discrete, storms were firing a little further south and west from the larger line. We could do very little but drive on, watching them grow, and hoping that some might be able to remain discrete until we could get there.

On arriving in the area there were a number of severe thunderstorm warnings, as well as some tornado warnings, in effect, but the radio coverage we were listening to was indicating that, fortunately (particularly as they were passing over populated areas), the storms didn’t seem to have it in them to create tornadoes. We managed to get on the right side of the latest developing cells and while they seemed to be losing strength, we we’d just driven 300 miles and we weren’t going to let them go easily. We made chase for the last of the significant storms that had gone through the area, but after about 30 miles we realised this was a race they looked likely to win, and the storms were moving over Tulsa and, as we’ve said before, we don’t want to follow storms into metropolitan areas. There was, however, a new cell back where we’d come from, that was starting to look quite promising. After returning most of the 30 miles we’d just come we found ourselves in front of a truly amazing supercell, whose structure was up there with the best we’d ever seen. A distinctive shelf cloud and potent updraft framed that haunting green hue that we’ve come to know, love and be made to feel a little weird by.


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We played a little cat and mouse up the road with this one and caught some great views of its structure as it began to weaken.

With no more storms appearing to start, we decided that we should stick with these weakened cells as they were taken in to the larger storm to their north east, and moved on eastwards, to an area where more tornadoes had been reported earlier in the day. We targeted an intercept the other side of Tulsa in the last of the light. After navigating the nightmarish roads to get around the city (a series of exact-change-required toll booths all asking for random small amounts of money, which eventually resulted in having to scavenge the ground around one gate for change other’s had missed the bucket with!) we ended up on a bridge about 4 miles south east of Broken Arrow. We watched as the storm came our way and were pretty stunned to see a tornado forming in the distance over Broken Arrow. Our fears were confirmed by seeing the power flashes associated with tornadoes hitting power lines. Fortunately it was relatively short lived, and news reports indicated no-one had been hurt.

As the storm became less violent it remained a fairly prolific lightning producer, and we took it in for a while, while fireflies danced around in the grass, juxtaposed with the sirens of emergency services heading into Broken Arrow to provide assistance to anyone affected by the tornado.

Lightning over Broken Arrow

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Initially we tried, foolishly, to head into Tulsa to find somewhere to stay, but traffic was at a gridlock as we got closer, so we turned and headed back to Muskogee, where we found a fantastic motel called the Knight’s Inn, where I was treated to a birthday dinner of hot beans on bread and a big beer, you may think that sounds simple, but I wouldn’t have wanted for anything else!

SPC Day 1 Weather Outlook as at 06:00UTC (01:00 Central Time the night before)

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Thu May 2013

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Thu May 2013

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