Sunday 19 May 2013

2013 Chase Day 12 - Edmond (OK) and Shawnee (OK) to Tulsa (OK)

Woke up early after very little sleep following the late arrival at the hotel the previous night. A quick look at the charts and we knew we had a long drive on our hands, to get us south to DFW airport to drop Matt off and get back up near Oklahoma City - promised to be a 6 hour drive or so. I chose to do the first leg to Dallas, but struggled and had to swap after crossing the border into Texas due to tiredness.

We quickly dropped Matt off at DFW, then spent what felt like an age trying to get out of the airport and through the metroplex. The SatNav was struggling to understand where we were due to the vast quantities of new elevated road being built, above existing roads. Lesson: Dallas is a nightmare to navigate unless you plan to stay on the same road through the metroplex!

Anyhow, we drove quickly north on I-35, across the border back into Oklahoma. By now it was after 1pm and the models were suggesting a reasonably early kick-off. We grabbed a bite to eat at Marietta (OK) and continued heading north. By 2pm we could already see some anvils in the very far distance, and on radar some echoes were beginning to show in a NE-SW line to the west of Oklahoma City. Not long after, the northern cell near Edmond started to look very promising on radar, and was eventually tornado-warned. Listening to the commentary with Gary England from News9 on the local in-car radio revealed that this cell had already dropped a tornado and caused some damage on 2nd St in Edmond (OK) - the very road we had spent the previous night in a hotel at!

We tried as quickly as we could to head north and get near this cell, but my main worry at the time was that the cell looked like it was heading straight east, and would cross the I-35/I-44 Turner Turnpike before we could get onto I-44. The dilemma was also whether it would be worth heading north after this supercell, or hang around Norman where cumulus towers/anvils were still going up to the west in the hope that a southern cell would be the dominant one later in the afternoon.
We hedged our bets on the Edmond cell, and chose to take the I-240 to the SE of OKC, then some various small roads north towards Choctaw (OK) and Jones (OK). By this stage the tornado was already across to Luther (OK) (just north of I-44) and continued to head in an ENE direction. There was no visible confirmation from our location about 10-15miles away due to the vast quantities of trees and hills in this part of Oklahoma! Persevering, we continued to head north to Luther (OK) (the tornado was by this stage heading towards Wellston (OK)).

It became clear, being consistently behind this storm, that it wasn't going to be possible to outrun it, and we were beginning to run out of fuel, so we made the decision to find a gas station, fill up and then head south after a new supercell near Norman (OK) which had developed. Finding an open gas station was proving harder than we first imagined, as it appeared a lot of them had temporarily closed to shelter from the storm. Thankfully we found an open one in Chandler (OK), then headed south towards Meeker (OK) and Shawnee (OK).

On our route south we could hear on the radio that a tornado had touched down over Lake Thunderbird, and although was moving slowly ENE, was heading directly for Shawnee (OK). I began to get nervous about how quickly we could get to Shawnee vs how quickly the tornado would get there, but thankfully we arrived about 15 mins before the tornado did, enabling us to get to the south of it and park up. It was rather eerie being able to see powerflashes, instantaneously being described on the radio too, but without being able to see the actual tornado due to the expanse of trees! There was significant 'chaser convergence' on the south side of the storm along Highway 9 and 177, and we parked in a parking lot somewhere in southern Shawnee to let the storm pass eastwards to our north.

On the radio we could hear that the tornado had cross the intersection between the I-40 and 177, with numerous lorries turned over but we still couldn't visible see it. Shawnee (OK) is quite an elongated N-S town, and the tornado grazed the northern section of the town, while we sat in the southern portion. A new meso began to form on the southwestern side of the supercell, and we could visibly see this as it was much closer so we waited to see what it could produce. It began to form a ragged but clearly rotating wall cloud, but that was as far as it went in terms of tornadic potential. The original tornado began to be rain-wrapped as it moved northeast of I-40 since this new mesocyclone to the southwest was taking over as the new storm.
A combination of chaser convergence, evacuating locals and emergency responders meant for very busy roads in south Shawnee (OK), with new wall cloud forming in the background
New rotating mesocyclone attempted to organise, but failed to produce a funnel over Shawnee (OK)
We decided to follow this portion of the storm, keeping it to our north, as we took a succession of east and north roads, eventually getting on the I-40 and heading east to Henryetta (OK), where we exited onto Highway 75 northwards. We stopped a couple of times on the side of Highway 75 between Henryetta (OK) and Okmulgee (OK) to observe the wall cloud attempting to form and then weaken, and eventually had to let the meso pass over the road to our north. It was now getting close to 8pm or so and darkness was approaching, while the storm was weakening on radar, and visually, producing a lot of lightning and rain, but the hail risk seemed to be diminishing. Feeling tired following our short sleep the previous night, we chose to leave the storm and drive north to Tulsa (OK) and check-in to a hotel relatively early (turned out to be about 10pm by the time we arrived).

NB: In hindsight we should've waited in Norman (OK), refuelled and remained with the southern cell from it's conception which would've significantly improved our chances of seeing a tornado today as it crossed Lake Thunderbird. Out of the whole trip, this day remains as the most disappointing in the sense that it was the only real day where we were close to a tornado but couldn't see it visibly...

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