Erich secured a rental car for so we could save a little cash since gas prices were still up around four dollars a gallon. We figured we knew we were going to put drive some miles so why not do it in a rental. Earlier that afternoon, I was in contact with a couple of WGA (Weather Geeks Anonymous) members and they were talking about going as well. We could team up.
I met Erich at work Tuesday morning and we planned our day. We had some business to attend to so we could not leave until lunch time. Based on the model data that would give us plenty of time to get to our target area of North-Central Oklahoma or South-Central Kansas.
We picked up the car (don't ever try to rent a car after a few flights have come in...long line) and got on the road around 1 and headed west. As we approached Ft. Smith, storms were beginning to fire across Western Oklahoma and that made us want to get there quicker. We had a decision to make. Would we go northwest towards Tulsa and then Wichita or towards Oklahoma City? After looking at radar data and getting a report from Paul Wilkerson and Chad Gardner who were an hour or so ahead of us we decided to head west with a possible turn NW towards Chandler Oklahoma.
Storms continued to fire and intensify and quickly became tornadic across W and Central Oklahoma. As we got closer to our turn towards Chandler we decided to continue west then south towards Norman and try to intercept storms coming up from the SW. Paul and Chad were on the El Reno EF5 storm and we were watching their stream. It was tempting to head up that way but there was no way we could catch up.
As we approached the eastern suburbs of OKC I was in contact with Todd Yakoubian at KATV in Little Rock to get some additional data on the storms to our SW. Todd suggested we take Sooner Road and head south. I remembered that road as we took it when we attended the National Weather Festival back in November.
With Erich driving I was watching not one but two tornadic storms to the SW of Moore and Norman and we were right in between. It was hard to choose but we stayed with the Moore storm. Both storms were rain wrapped (you could not see the funnel). We encountered some large hail and some strong inflow but did not get the tornado. We did discover though if we would have continued on south a few more miles we would have been on a strong tornado that hit just south of Norman. In fact the Storm Prediction Center had to take cover from that storm.
At this point all eyes were on the El Reno storm as it was moving across the Northern OKC metro. Chad and Paul were trying to get video of it but once again it was rain wrapped and I think they encountered a bit of traffic as then attempted an intercept.
We decided to head back north and then east and attempt an intercept near Shawnee OK.
As we got back to I-240 we stopped as a strong storm was approaching and was tornado warned. We saw some rotation but no tornado so we quickly headed east. As we traveled eastward I found a location that I though would be good for an intercept and Erich quickly got us there. Erich located a nice field with a view to the SW and we waited on the storm.
As the storm approached from the SW (not the best position for a chaser as any tornado would be moving directly at you based on the movement of today's storms) we saw the wall cloud and then a funnel. The funnel dropped to the ground and quickly picked up debris. It traveled to the east/northeast across Interstate 40 and then weakened and dissipated. Chad and Paul stopped on the interstate to check on a tractor trailer driver who had his rig blown over by the tornado as it crossed I-40.
|Funnel dropping from the wall cloud|
|Tornado on the ground!|
|Tornado beginning to weaken a bit|
|Tornado starting to "rope" out|
|As it roped out and took on an "elephant trunk" appearance..it was still doing damage on the ground.|
We left that storm and headed towards Shawnee where we attempted another intercept of a storm coming up from the SW. I called Paul and let him know where we were and he and Chad arrived shortly after.
It was at this point we saw Reed Timmer and Dominator 2 & Dominator 1 along with a host of other chasers. The storm didn't produce at our location so we tracked it eastward and at one time were in between D1 & D2 (we felt special). As the storm moved into a location where we could not track it, we stopped at a gas station to get something to drink. Little did we know there were many chasers that had the same idea including renouned storm researcher Josh Wurman, also known from the Discovery Channel's StormChasers. I got a picture of Joah and Paul and one of Josh and the WeatherNinja.
|Passing the Dominator 2 on the side of I-40|
|D1 passing us as we chase down a storm.|
|Me and Josh Wurman (from Stormchasers)|
|Paul (Wx Guru) and Josh Wurman|
We got a chance to talk to Reed Timmer and crew and got an upclose look at the new Dominator (D2). It was at that stop that they told me they were coming into NE Arkansas or SE Missouri the next day.
We hung around for a while and chatted and looked at a couple of DOWs (Doppler on Wheels) then left for Arkansas. It was a good day.
|Joel looks at some radar data inside D2|
|D2 at the gas station. Notice it isn't complete yet!|
|Chaser Erich (Erich Hopkins), Paul and Chad taking a break after checking out D2|
As we approached Ft. Smith, tornado warnings started flying for storms in NE OK and E OK. Tornado warnings were issued for the Fayetteville area and areas to the north and also for the Ft. Smith area. We talked about chasing but in that terrain at night is very dangerous. We continued on and stopped briefly at a rest stop near Ozark. Paul and Chad had been monitoring radar and alerted us to a tornado warned storm to our south. We watched radar and noticed we were very (I mean very) close to the expected track. We looked at radar and it looked like the tornado passed to our east and northeast so we took off to attempt to track it down from the backside. At this point it was 1:30 AM. We headed north of Ozark but could not catch the system as it was moving at more than 40 mph and since we were low on gas, decided to head back. We got some gas and learned that the small town of Denning had been hit so we headed that way to see if we could see damage and or help them if needed. We got to the town and you could tell a tornado had just gone through. The smell of natural gas and fire/police personnel gave it away. It was pitch black as all power had been lost. We stopped and talked to a couple of residents who said they were shaken but ok. They told us of the loss of life in the tornado. We headed east and could see much damage but because the road was blocked had to turn back and head towards Clarksville. As we worked our way through Coal Hill and Clarksville it was evident that a pretty strong storm had moved through. I called Ned Perme at Channel 7 to relay our report. As we hit I-40 west of Clarksville there was no power at all anywhere. We headed east and stopped at a rest stop west of Russellville where we got a few hours of sleep.
The next day (Wed) started with some breakfast and a plan for the day in Russellville. Conditions were favorable for tornadoes over a large part of Central and Eastern AR (another high risk day). Paul and Chad stopped off in Sherwood and Austin and Erich and I headed up towards Searcy.
Models indicated that storms would fire around 2pm in Central Ar and quickly become severe as they headed east and northeast. My choice was Newport but after talking to Todd and hearing his concern for Central Ar we decided to hang near Searcy/Bald Knob. Paul and Chad joined us just as storms began to develop in Central AR. We could see the storm near Maumelle starting to rotate and plotted it to and intercept point near Beebe. So off we went. As we got to Beebe the rotation weakened but we stayed with the storm to see if it would cycle. We saw the wall cloud but no funnel/tornado. We did get hit with some 1" hail...
Next stop was an intercept near Bald Knob but apparantly we were going just a tad too fast on 67/167 and had to stop and have a chat with an Arkansas State Trooper who was very kind and even gave us a tip on a tornado on the ground (guess where? Near Newport). I determined we could intercept the storm we would have been on near Augusta by going north and then east towards Harrisburg. That is what we did and we got on a beautiful wall cloud that looked like it was going to drop a large tornado at any moment. We tracked the storm towards Trumann as we streamed live on KATV but it never produced which is a good thing.
|Wall Cloud near Trumann Arkansas|
We had to leave the storm south of Trumann as we ran into a flood situation and our road network ran out. So we headed to Trumann and got some dinner, then worked our way back to LR.
I decided that I am going to start a collection of town/city signs that I pass through and Weiner gets to be the first one.
|Weiner Arkansas part of our tornado chase 2011|
1200 miles in two days, it was sucessful as we intercepted two tornadoes and saw a couple of wall clouds all while being able to report what we saw to the National Weather Service and KATV so that we could keep the public informed.
I think Paul, Chad and Erich were a little tired, but I could have gone another day if I had the chance. It's what I do...
Watch for my announcement of my new website weatherninja.net coming this week.