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Incredible Recovery from a Near Bust

Posted on Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 5:00 PM MST

RINGWOOD, OK -- A day that seemed destined for an epic bust in Western Oklahoma left me about 20 miles short of hitting the jackpot as the sun set on a line of tornadic supercells near the Kansas border.

The day started like any other typical chase day...pouring over SPC outlooks, observations, and weather models in the morning. Everything was in place to get some big time storms across Western Oklahoma and the Eastern Texas Panhandle. The tornado potential was pretty slim, but was slowly starting to increase, especially south of Interstate 40.

I set off around 1:00 for my jumping off point at the Oklahoma-Texas border and I-40. As I got further west, there were plenty of cumulus clouds, but none really seemed like they were anywhere close to growing into storms. After a quick gas stop in Elk City around 3:30 PM, models still showed everything in place for good storms in the Eastern Texas Panhandle and far Western Oklahoma, so I continued west on I-40.

I pulled off in Sayre, OK to wait for storms to go up. As I waited, 10 minutes quickly turned into 20 minutes which quickly turned into 45 minutes. I was still looking out at blue skies. I looked at the latest observations only to find that the outflow boundary across southern and western Oklahoma had completely fallen apart and the dryline had slowed down in the Western Texas Panhandle, meaning that my chances of busting had just skyrocketed. One lone severe thunderstorm had fired up west of Amarillo, but nothing else was on the radar across the southern plains.

I waited some more. And some more. And some more. By now it was shortly after 5:00, with nothing but blue skies around. A couple storms were going west of Amarillo, and another isolated severe storm had formed south of Lubbock, TX, both of which were over 100 miles away. Another isolated storm had formed south of Dodge City, KS just north of the Oklahoma-Kansas border, which was also close to 100 miles away. It was like Mother Nature playing a cruel joke on me, and I was very close to throwing in the towel and heading home to Norman.

One last check of the models did finally show storms backbuilding into northwestern and west-central Oklahoma from near Dodge City between 6 and 7 PM, so I turned back east on I-40 praying for a miracle. Less than 20 minutes later, the SPC put out a mesoscale discussion for increasing supercell coverage and tornado potential across northwestern Oklahoma and southwestern Kansas. I immediately got off I-40 in Elk City and blasted north on Highway 34 towards Woodward.

After another half hour or so (it was now just before 6:30 PM), two Tornado-Warned supercells had exploded in southwest Kansas and storms had finally begun to backbuild into northwestern Oklahoma, well to the east of Woodward. Now it was time to figure out the quickest way to get to north-central Oklahoma, which was still well over an hour away.

When I got to the town of Vici, I turned east on US-60. The line of storms that had formed just south of the Kansas border had gotten Severe Thunderstorm Warnings. They were moving northeast (away from me) at a pretty good clip, so by now my only hope was to try to get the storms forming at the south end of the line.

Shortly after 7:15 PM, I was closing in on the town of Fairview, OK. By then a very potent cell had formed just south of Cherokee, OK and was rapidly intensifying. I turned north, still in hot pursuit of the storm. Shortly after 7:30 PM, that cell went Tornado-Warned near Jet, OK and was still moving to the northeast towards Wakita and Medford.

By 7:50 PM, I had closed to within 20 miles of what was now a confirmed tornado on the ground, but with close to 20 minutes before sunset and the storm moving away from me, the reality finally set in that there was no way I was going to catch it before sunset, much less get in front of it to try to get a visual on the tornado. I pulled off the side of the road to snap a few pictures of the back of the supercell as it headed towards Kansas before turning south onto Highway 58 in Ringwood, OK to head home. I was treated to a spectacular sunset as I headed south, but there was nowhere to pull over to snap some pictures of it.

So I guess the lesson here is to be persistent. Don't give up until the sun sets. After being so close to throwing in the towel at 5:15 PM, I came very close to getting a tornado in north-central Oklahoma. While the pictures were not jaw-dropping, I'd consider it a great success given what things looked at sitting in Sayre shortly after 5:00 looking at blue skies.

Posted In: Chase Recaps

Tagged: Tornado, Hail, Bust