After a chase in southern Kansas Sunday that included being on the storm that produced the Wichita tornado (we had pulled off that very cell prior to that because it was getting too close to the congested metropolitan area) the Hokie Stormchasers targeted southern Oklahoma today. We pushed to the Paul’s Valley area south of Oklahoma City (OKC) where conditions looked ripe for strong and severe storms and were rewarded when convection began early. We were on our first storm of the day by 2 p.m. (CDT) southwest of the OKC metroplex and noted that a cell north of “our” storm that didn’t look too promising.
That particular cell rapidly intensified and produced the tornado that created the frightening devastation and tragic deaths in the OKC area. The eerie part about that tornado was that we had traversed the I-35 corridor thru OKC that morning and were talking about the May 3 1999 event over our radios when a local resident of Moore chimed in. He told of us his experiences with that and the 2003 tornadoes and gave us a feeling for what it was like for the residents of that area. Literally a few hours later the next in the continuing cycle of huge tornadoes hit Moore. The news about Monday’s events struck us particularly hard after that conversation.
We didn’t pay much attention to the news as it was happening since we were busily engaged in maneuvering into position on our second storm of the day further south (our initial cell had fizzled). We caught a great looking wall cloud just outside Purcell OK that was misidentified by a spotter as a tornado. The sheriff who had pulled up behind us on the road to watch the storm was unimpressed by this report and – I believe – called in a correction on his radio.
After we ran out of decent roads that would allow us to keep up with this cell we abandoned it and motored south to meet the next storm south along the line while the students caught up with the news on the OKC metroplex tornado and the damage it had caused.
In the small crossroads town of Dickson, Okla., we had to turn east and run for it when a large hail core with indicated stones over 2 inches in diameter bore down on us. As we pushed east through the town of Kingston we suddenly spotted through a break in the treeline a full-fledged funnel under a section of the storm several miles north of us. Quickly pulling off the road we attempted to get a better look but failed so we rolled farther eastward past Madill, OK. As we rolled down the road a circulation developed literally almost overhead and dropped a funnel about 200 yards to our left. As far as we know it never touched down to officially form a tornado but it was a bit nerve-wracking to have it be that close, especially as our three vehicle caravan was fighting the rear flank downdraft crosswinds that were rocking our minivans. Another funnel spun down a couple of minutes later but that was a bit farther from the road…perhaps a quarter mile or so.
We finally pulled over in Boswell to duck under a gas station overhang as the hail core gained on us. Along with several other vehicles including law enforcement cruisers we sat and waited for the wildness to pass. With the worst of the storm now east of us we continued east and then south into Texas to wind up in Paris.