Mini Tornado Outbreak in Southwest Oklahoma
Posted on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 5:00 PM MST
FREDERICK, OK -- The April 17th severe weather event was easily the highlight of April. I got to chase as part of one of my classes, which was a lot of fun. A warm front had stalled over the Interstate 44 corridor, with extremely unstable air on the warm side of it, providing a prime environment for both supercells and tornadoes.
After a quick stop in Chattanooga, which sits just southwest of Lawton, to have one last look at things, we decided to continue south and west and look for somewhere to deploy off of US-70 to the west of Grandfield. We quickly found a paved road off of US-70 to deploy the radar truck.
As we headed north on that paved road, the gorgeous base of the supercell appeared out of the haze, and already had a nice looking wall cloud. We pulled off onto a small gravel road, got out, and enjoyed the show. The storm had a nice hook on radar, and everything was in place for it to start producing tornadoes.
The wall cloud got very low and even had a few ground scrapers, but it couldn't quite get its act together to produce any tornadoes while we were watching it. Blowing dust off a nearby field was being sucked into the storm's inflow and made for some really spectacular lighting and really nice photo opps. In a rather cruel turn of events, it started producing tornadoes as soon as it moved away from us.
We then raced back to the east to try to get in front of the storm (and to get into better cell coverage). The now tornadic storm ended up beating us to Interstate 44, cutting off our best option for getting in front of it, forcing us further east to US-81.
We raced up US-81 trying to get another opportunity for a safe pass at the storm, but the timing and the road networks just didn't cooperate. The supercell was trucking right up Interstate 44, and eventually cut off our path up US-81, forcing us east again. It was to the point where we were now in a foot race with these storms to get back to Norman before the storms did. And we still had to get out in front of one more storm, and had to cover two sides of the triangle, where the storm only had to cover one.
After what seemed like an eternity on State Highway 29, we finally got to Interstate 35 in Wynnewood, which sits about 40 miles south of Norman. The storm was now past Chickasha and was starting to close in on Norman fast.I turned north on I-35 and put the hammer down. The sun was now well on its way down, too.
A little ways up I-35, we turned on some of the local news feeds on my phone. The storm we were trying to beat had a Tornado Warning on it and was well into McClain County before by the time we got to McClain County from the south. As we passed the Purcell exit, both news feeds we were watching reported a debris ball on radar near Blanchard, which sits just west/southwest of Norman.
It was a very eerie sight crossing the Canadian River into Cleveland County and South Norman. It was pretty much dark, and the skies to the west were absolutely black. Blowing dust had given the base of the storm and orange glow, and the storm turned that dreadful green color (the green color that often precedes tornadoes) during the lightning flashes. Right before our exit, I glanced to the west, and in one of the lightning flashes saw something that looked just like a tornado, but I couldn't be 100% sure. It ended up being scud, but at the time, we had to assume it was a tornado, especially with a debris ball being reported on the radar.
We made it home just as the storms were arriving. We got into shelter just as it was starting to rain. The storm ended up only bringing some strong winds, lots of rain, and some small hail, which was a relief. Later in the evening, the storm that we were on down near Frederick and Lawton came rumbling through Norman. It caused the tornado sirens to sound briefly, but that thankfully ended up being a false alarm as well. There ended up being several confirmed tornadoes in southwest Oklahoma and lots of localized flooding (the Medicine Park mesonet site near Lawton got almost 7 inches of rain with these storms). There were no tornadoes in Central Oklahoma. At the end of the day, it was an incredibly successful chase, and the highlight of April.
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