Today was the day that everyone had been talking about for awhile. The SPC had a high risk of severe weather out for parts of Oklahoma and Kansas. Luckily this was the week I chose awhile ago to take off work. (sweet!) In an attempt to conserve money, I decided not to leave until early Monday morning. It was a gamble to wait that long, but I figured if I left early enough I could still make it out there in time for the storms. Originally I was targeting the Wichita, KS area but the models on Sunday evening were indicating more of a southerly/easterly threat. I chose to go for Tulsa, OK and then adjust my target from there.
I departed Champaign at 5:30am (CDT) on Monday morning and headed south on I-57. I was treated to a really nice sunrise which eventually was filled in by thick cloud cover. I went west on I-70 towards St. Louis and then southwest on I-44 across Missouri. It seemed like forever to drive across Missouri, but I eventually entered into Oklahoma. At 1:25pm (CDT), a PDS tornado watch was issued for southern Kansas and western/central Oklahoma. I was already getting alerts on my phone of tornado warnings in western Kansas, so I knew this system was about to go crazy.
I made it to Tulsa around 2:30pm (CDT) and decided to keep going west on US 412. At 3:15pm (CDT) I stopped at the Lone Chimney, OK gas station to fill up and check data. There was already a tornadic cell in NW Oklahoma, but that was moving too fast and away from me to intercept. I figured more storms would fire up further south along the dryline. I decided to continue west on US 412 and exit north of Perry, OK. There was a severe cell heading towards me, so I found a spot out in the country to watch it for a bit. As I was sitting there waiting for it, the storm was upgraded to a tornado warning. It was definitely looking better on radar taking the classic V shape. I still couldn’t see too much from my vantage point, so I attempted to move closer to it. This was proving to be more difficult as the roads were alternating from gravel to mud without warning.
I went north on 25th St. and was seeing a possible wall cloud to my west. Unfortunately this area was pretty hilly and the road turned to mud very quickly, so I was forced to turn around and find another road. I went west on E0420 Rd. and once I cleared some trees I saw a lowering. (4:38pm) I quickly pulled over and watched the lowering disappear. The winds flowing into the storm were pretty strong at this location. I continued west on this road and then turned north on N3180 Rd. I pulled over to watch the storm but I wasn’t seeing much at this point. I did see several chasers in the area, so at least I wasn’t completely off my game. 🙂
My Verizon data was gone at this point as there just isn’t any coverage in this area. All I had was the radar on my iPhone which was showing the storm off to my north. My only remaining play on this storm was to head back east and then north on a nice paved road. (US-77) I went east on Highway 156 towards Maryland, OK and noticed a lot of hail in the grass that I heard someone reporting earlier. I kept going north and then east trying to keep up with it, but the storm was simply moving too fast.
I was hearing reports of major damage in the OKC area and noticed storms were all around me. While my initial plan was to spend the night in Oklahoma and chase for a few more days, I quickly changed my mind. It was starting to get dark so I just decided to bail east and find the interstate. While my mind wanted to drive all the way back home to Illinois, my body was pretty exhausted. I finally gave up the battle and found a hotel in Strafford, MO. I made the rest of the journey home on Tuesday afternoon.
While I missed all the tornadoes and hail that about every other chaser saw, it still wasn’t too shabby. For leaving Illinois at 5:30 in the morning, the ability just to be chasing a tornado-warned storm in Oklahoma was pretty sweet. However, it seems like everywhere I chase this year has poor data coverage and today was no exception. The roads out there were pretty bad too and I wasn’t going to chance getting stuck again. It was frustrating but all you can do is keeping pushing forward. Eventually I have to catch a break right? 🙂
Total Mileage 1300 miles.