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July 2, 2004 – Chase to Central Oklahoma

A rare three day weekend presented itself to me and I wasn’t about to pass it up. There was a slight risk for southeast Oklahoma on the SPC Day 2, and the models were indicating some wind shear. (decent enough for July anyway!) Normally I’d never drive all the way out to Oklahoma for a slight risk, but I wanted a road trip and the storm possibilities were just a bonus. I made my way through work on Thursday just waiting for the day to be over with so I could begin my journey. I went home at 4:30pm and packed up the gear along with a few odds and ends to get me through the extended weekend. I loaded up the car and headed out of Champaign around 5:30pm on Thursday afternoon (7/1). I took I-72 west to I-55 south to St. Louis, then I hopped on I-44 west. I made a stop in Rolla, MO around 10:30pm to get a much needed food and gas pit stop.

I continued my journey west on I-44 in search of a hotel, but each one I passed looked pretty packed to me. I pressed on westward and before I knew it I was in Oklahoma. (sweet home ala..err..Oklahoma!) The state greeted me the way I left it back in June 2001. As soon as I got on the Will Rogers Turnpike around 3:30am, all hell broke loose. The sky lit up with lots of lightning and the wind was driving the rain so bad that I had to pull off for a few minutes. (SE of Quapaw, OK) As far as I know, there wasn’t any severe warnings out but it was pretty impressive. It let up and I continued my way southwest on I-44 towards Tulsa. I was starting to get a little low on gas, so I got off I-44 near Big Cabin in search of a gas station. The one I saw seemed to be diesel only, so I continued south on US 69 in search of some petrol. 🙂 As I was driving along, my low fuel light came on letting me know I’d better hurry up with the pit stop. Up ahead I spotted a small gas station with my kind of gas, but at 4:30am it was closed! I continued south and ended up in Pryor, OK where there was a nice 24 hour Phillips 66 to greet me. (whew!)

I proceeded south to Chouteau and then headed west on US 412 towards Tulsa. I got to Tulsa around 5:30am and it was pretty neat to be able to drive downtown without any traffic around. I kinda just drove all around Tulsa just killing some time before deciding where to go from there. I got on I-244 and then just got onto US 64 when I started getting small hail! Just as I got off the highway, the power in the area went out. (oh boy, here we go!) Actually it was probably just the light from the lightning tricking the sensors in the street lights, but it provided some early morning excitement. I drove around Tulsa a little longer and finally decided to head south towards the target area of Ada. I took US 75 south from Tulsa and then headed southwest on SR 1 towards Ada. I arrived in Ada around 9:30am and was ready for a driving break, as well as gas/food. There wasn’t much open food wise at that time, so I drove around town for awhile.

I found an old empty parking lot next to the road and decided to pull off and check some weather data. The slight risk on the Day 1 had expanded to include almost the entire state of Oklahoma, with a 5% tornado threat in the southeast part of the state. Satellite imagery showed the skies west of me starting to clear out so that was somewhat reassuring. I was getting low on gas again, so I stopped at a Shell gas station to fuel up. I paid at the pump, but the darn receipt machine was broken so I had to go inside to get one. The first thing the two ladies at the counter ask me was what I had all the antennas on my car for. I told her I was a storm chaser and then they asked me if any bad weather was coming their way. Now since I didn’t stay at a Holiday Express last night, I told them there probably wouldn’t be anything severe in the area. After making a bathroom stop, I was on my way again looking for food.

I spent most of the morning and early afternoon in Ada just waiting for something to happen. I finally got tired of sitting there and departed around 3:00pm. I headed south on 377 and then headed west on 177 which turned into 199. I stopped in Ardmore to fill up on gas and take a bathroom break. When I came out of the gas station, my weather radio was going off signaling a severe thunderstorm watch for SW Oklahoma and NW Texas. (about time!) This was a bit away from my target area, but since there was still numerous hours of daylight I decided to go for it. After dealing with the insane amount of stoplights, I continued west on US 70. I wanted to drive into Texas just to say I’d been there, but I came up about 1/2 mile short of that goal. Anywho, I was getting rather water logged, but there was no gas stations/rest stops on this road. I turned off on a country road and found a rather large tree to shade (pun intended) me from any traffic. (or so I thought!)

I look around and upon seeing no one, I do my business. Of course, out of nowhere comes a guy in a pickup from the south who honks while he drives by my location. (at least it wasn’t a cop!) Embarrassed, I get back in my car and proceed back to the highway. I continued west on US 70 and stopped just west of Grandfield, OK to survey the sky. There wasn’t much out there and I was painfully considering calling it a bust. I decided to head back east of US 70 and then north on US 277/281. Around 6:35pm I saw what appeared to be a developing tower to the northeast, so I decided to continue in that direction to check it out. Data coverage was very spotty here, but I did notice something just south of Purcell, OK. I called my buddy Mike Cox to have him check it out, but at the time I spoke to him it didn’t look very impressive on radar. (this would soon change!)

I continued heading east and then north trying to get closer to it. Around 7:00pm I noticed what appeared to be an overshooting top on this cell, a very promising indication that this thing was gathering strength. As I passed through Duncan, OK, the cell was really taking shape now and looked spectacular. (I wanted to pull over and take some stills, but I had to get closer before it got dark.) Around 8:20pm just east of Joy, OK I noticed a base, but nothing dangling below it. At 8:41pm, I pulled off next to a cemetary just south of Statford, OK to take some pictures. The storm was now due southeast of my location and appeared to be dying out. I was treated to a nifty array of colors as the sun set on the storm.

After watching the storm die, I proceeded north on US 177. I called some chaser friends of mine in Stillwater and suprised them by telling them I was just south of town. I made it to their house around 11:30pm and we watched some chase video for awhile. I had not had any sleep since I left Illinois, so I was really in need of rest. I left their house around 1:00am to search for a hotel. I drove around for quite awhile looking for one of the cheaper places, but could not find one. I finally settled for the Best Western in Stillwater for a whopping $75.00 for the cheapest room they had. (at least it had air conditioning) Being 2:00am, I wasn’t in the mood to argue or go searching another town for a cheaper place. I brought the gear in, took a shower, and took a much needed nap.

After a nice long rest, I got up and checked the latest Day 1 outlook. Ironically southern Illinois was in a slight risk of severe weather, but I was kind of looking forward to just going home. (I was already looking at a long freaking drive back) I left the hotel around 11:30am and headed north on US 177 to the Cimarron Turnpike. Then I took I-44 all the way to St. Louis, then I-70 east to I-57 north to Champaign. I think I finally rolled in around 10:30pm on Saturday evening. *yawn!*

Final thoughts:
What a nice way to spend the holiday weekend! Nothing like an almost 2000 mile drive to get away from everything. 🙂 I don’t think it was too shabby given the lack of data I had out there. It was nice to be able to chase visually which is normally impossible here in IL with all the haze. Post-chase analysis showed that my cell actually split into 2 cells and the right split was the one I was on. Overall it was a fun chase and at least I didn’t get stuck in a ditch this time. 😉 I can’t wait to visit Oklahoma again, always seem to have good luck there.

Total Chase Miles: 1,950 miles

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