Day 3 - Southern Oklahoma Chase - 20 May 2013

We awoke in another trusty Walmart car park in Bartelsville and after the usual daily shop, we set off south. It was the third moderate risk day in a row, and although the visible satellite imagery showed an atmosphere that looked like it was worn out (yes, to our eyes atmosphere’s can look tired!) there were still more than enough ingredients to trigger a very significant outbreak. It’s days like this where we are especially grateful for the forecasts from the Storm Prediction Centre as some of the nuances of the weather scenario are relatively complex.

We decided to chase the southern end of today’s setup, which looked to stretch from Northern Texas right through Oklahoma and into Southern Kansas, before progressing eastward into Iowa. We set sites for Ardmore in southern Oklahoma.

As we neared our target area two towering cumulus erupted and although they were a way off they were a good indication that storms were firing where we expected. As those storms started moving north another new storm was developing to our west, though we didn’t think its structure looked too good, and we elected to make a break for the storms to our north. After about 2 minutes along that road, we completely changed our minds, and decided to head back on the new storm. Sometimes when decisions are close, and you’re relying on data rather than visual signs, a single radar update (around every 5 minutes) can totally change your plans.

We drove west and into the storm and as we got underneath it we were rewarded with some nice structure as its shelf cloud came towards us.

Storm in southern Oklahoma

We headed back along the road we’d come in on and after a couple of stops to take a look and let it catch up, the storm became Tornado warned,  so it was time to make a play to get below it to get the best view of any mesocyclones that might have developed. With a touch of trepidation with memories of yesterday’s drive, we dived down a road south as the precipitation core came at us from our west, fortunately making it with relative ease to the quaintly named town of Petrolia. A little beyond there we stopped to take in the storm for a while, taking a few pictures and meeting a local passerby who was out taking a look at the storms before his disapproving wife got back from work. It was a very tranquil setting - chatting with a local, taking a few pictures, as the storms built and passed by to our north.

As the rain started to fall on us we headed on further south to the town of Henrietta and worked out our next play. As with the day before, the chasing had started early, so although we felt we’d seen a lot, it was still early. We had the feeling the chasing must nearly be over, mostly because after 4 hours of chasing it normally is (or at least there’s only some lightning displays left), but the storms had different ideas and we could see more good firing to our south, now well into Texas. After a few more bouts of indecision resulting in a few u-turns, taking us over the Texas / Oklahoma state border a couple of times, we found ourselves on a fairly well structured storm that, although now very precipitation heavy, was providing some great views. 

Storm near Henrietta, TX

When it started to show signs of rotation and gained a tornado warning we felt justified continuing tracking it. Then we saw one of our chase heroes, Tim Samaras, tracking it with us, which is probably better on balance than a tornado warning.

Storm near Henrietta, TX
As the light started to fade and after a long chase day, we decided to find rest for the night - which turned out to be one of the grottiest motels in existence (Crossroads Inn, Sherman: hovel, treat with extreme caution).

Although at this stage we knew that a tornado had happened in Oklahoma City, it was only when we got online and started taking in the reactions of our friends who’d been chasing it, and saw the coverage, that we realised the nature of events that unfolded that day. This was another horrific demonstration of how powerless we are in the face of the worst storms, and our thoughts are with those people affected.

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

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

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Mon May 2013

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