Epic Spring Grand Finale
Posted on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 5:00 PM MST
AMBER, OK -- Another round of severe weather brought quite the grand finale to May here in Central Oklahoma. With a Moderate Risk up, all of Oklahoma west of Interstate 35 was fair game for a target area.
Just after 3 PM, storms began to explode on the dryline in the far eastern Texas Panhandle. I set off from Norman headed west on Highway 9 to see what I could see. An area of interest quickly became apparent, as a supercell near Childress, Texas went Tornado Warned. Numerous storms were headed into southwestern Oklahoma so I dropped south on Highway 58 out of Carnegie, OK. Unfortunately these storms did not offer much in the way of good photo opps. The cluster of storms looked just like a cloudy day from where I was.
I needed a more isolated cell to get the type of shots I was looking for. Luckily, there was an isolated storm between Elk City and Clinton moving slowly east across Interstate 40. I headed north out of Apache, OK and through Anadarko on US-281. Once I got north of Anadarko, it became clear that this would likely be the storm that would give me the best photo opps.
One problem in that part of the state can be the terrain. There are lots of hills, trees, and small canyons. If there was somewhere to pull over that had a clear view, I had to take advantage of it. There was one decent spot on US-281, but not much as I headed east on Highway 152 to stay ahead of the storm. A Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued for the storm so now I really wanted to find a place to stop to take pictures of it.
I headed south on US-81 with very few opportunities to pull over. I found the next eastbound paved road to get over to Highway 92, which brought me to the town of Amber. I dropped south out of Amber, looking for a spot to pull over. There were none, so I turned around and headed back north and into the storm's path. I drove back and forth a bunch of times before I finally found a spot to pull over in the entrance to a grain mill. The storm was just beautiful, and I'll be the first to admit I got a little mesmerized by it. I got out the camera and started shooting.
It turns out that I had been so focused on trying to find a place to stop I hadn't been paying attention to what was going on around me and my escape route was unknowingly closing. After sitting and watching this storm for the better part of 10 minutes, I had another look at the radar. My escape route to get home was to take 92 back down to Highway 9 just east of Chickasha. The new radar showed a new storm had formed and was basically on top of Chickasha at that moment. I had to make a run at getting back to Highway 9 before the storm got there. On these types of days, you have to assume that any storm that develops will grow and become severe.
This storm was not severe and was not producing tornadoes or large hail, but it was a big time lightning maker. There is no more unnerving feeling than driving across the open Oklahoma prairie with no trees around and lightning strikes coming down all around you. I made it down to Highway 9 amidst some spitting rain, turned east, and put the hammer down. I quickly punched out from under the storm and avoided any lightning strikes. The severe storm I was just on had taken a right hand turn and was headed straight for Norman, but it fell apart well before it got there.
Later that night, a Mesoscale Convective System (or MCS) had developed in southern Kansas and was racing south into Oklahoma. MCS's often produce widespread damaging wind. This MCS was likely the reason the SPC had put out a moderate risk for much of Oklahoma. The gust front of this MCS was about 10 miles out in front of the thunderstorms, and rolled into the Oklahoma City metro just before midnight. There were 70-plus mph winds reported just west of Norman with the gust front, but it was pretty anticlimactic coming through Norman, with wind gusts not even getting to 40 mph. Regardless, though, these four straight days of chasing were one heck of a finale to the month of May.
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