After an interminably long winter, finally spring!
I had about seven days’ warning that this was coming, and in fact the target that I had picked three days before (I-35 at the KS/OK border) wound up verifying!
Left OMA Sunday evening, got to the Marriott Fairfield MCI, Steak ‘n Shake for dinner. Had plenty of time on Monday morning to hit the models, noticed that SPC was expanding the high-risk area further south, to OKC. Not everyone was buying it, I certainly wasn’t and that was that.
I’ve been doing this long enough–playing the warm front/dryline/surface low triple point–to not be worried about 54F and rain in KC. Not even 57F and cloudy in ICT. Because when I got to South Haven it was 65F and when I pulled off the interstate at Blackwell, OK it was 71F, gloriously humid, 40 MPH SE wind and a PDS Red Box! Mickey D’s for free internet.
About forty miles away, the first TOR of the day was popping around Enid and Wakita…tracking east at Ludicrous Speed™ progged to cross the interstate about fifteen miles back from where I came. However, with storm speeds at fifty or above, all of us understood that backtracking would put you so far out of position for the next storm to the south that you’d never catch up for the rest of the day. To reinforce this, about ten chasers were going about their business at McD, not bothering to chase the confirmed wedge to the northwest, waiting for the next one directly west.
I drove into Blackwell to find a Wally World for souvenir shirts for the kiddies. Blackwell had suffered a F5 tornado in 1955, so I felt like I was on hallowed ground. Upon leaving Walmart, radio (fantastic coverage, but what do you expect in The Alley?) told me that the tornado I mentioned was still extant, straddling the border fifteen miles north. I had a good US highway heading north, and at the second nothing was popping west or southwest, so I gave it a try.
Except ten miles up the road, a bridge was washed out and with no posted detour! Braman, Okahoma, I could see I-35 a mile to my west but no way to gain it, and at this time radio reported cars being blown off I-35 ten miles north. I couldn’t go north and that pist me off, but I couldn’t see any structure, either…
However, lightning was beginning to hit within a mile of my location, and I had to assume another storm was cranking up and staying put wasn’t making me feel confident. I had plenty of gravel roads for east options, and I guessed if I had to do gravel I might as well get it over with before it rained and turned to mud. So, off we go…
Pulled off for a minute at an oil well battery. This road is the state line, in this area the 1955 Blackwell F-5 was roping out, while the Udall F-5 was forming. One thing you can’t see is any kind of structure, too humid, LCLs almost scraping the ground, and I had no reason to believe the storms weren’t racing along at 50MPH. No lightning, nothing to let me know what might be two hills away. I had to trust the radio.
So, fifteen miles east on State Line Road, for the most part dry gravel except for creek bottoms where bridges were partially washed out or in two cases there never was a bridge in the first place! I don’t know if you can technically call bowling-ball sized rock gravel, but that’s what the creek bottoms looked like…
Son of a puppy, I made US-77 just south of Arkansas City, Kansas just as the sirens were going off. I actually had made time on the storm during my trek east. Too much time, honestly, I had enough time to get lost downtown. I was trying to find US-166 West, although that would have been stupid to drive toward a confirmed tornado with me not being cognizant of N-S road options. But it would have been more stupid to drive so far north that I’d miss the tornado and at the same time get hit by what was advertised as softball hail. Manifestly more stupid to get caught downtown when it hit. Thankfully I came to my senses, found a bypass along the east side of town, hauled azz south and found a high spot.
After this had passed, (whatever this was, I hadn’t seen a funnel) I got back on the east side bypass with an eye toward getting on US-166 East. By now, the sun was out, I saw something metallic about two hundred feet up. I thought to myself, “I guess that’s one of Reed Timmer’s RC airplanes” when in fact it was sheetmetal…falling to earth in my general vicinity! Highway signs were twisted (not blown down), shingles were missing from houses, so that was indeed a tornado! I was on the phone to 911, the operator asked me if I saw any powerlines down, and at that second one bounced off my windshield!
So by now, my plan was to blast east to US-75 near Sedan KS, the next good south road option. I was expecting a string-of-pearls to form south of me and indeed they did, however the atmosphere was getting more stable and while there was the odd TOR, I couldn’t get in a position where I felt comfortable punching whatever core was there. By the time I got to US-59 in Coffeyville, I had a choice to head to find a hotel in Tulsa with tornadoes to the south and southwest, or Joplin about two hours downstream of those storms, or back to KC. I chose KC, enough was enough. Marriott Springhill in Overland Park, then a few train pictures and Steak ‘n Shake again Tuesday morning, then back home.
Looking back, even though I was less then enthusiastic on the way home, I reckon I did a good job intercepting, and if I’d actually tried to see a condensation tornado cloud, I might be dead. Mother Nature didn’t want a visible tornado to form. And a lot of chasers besides me were caught out by the TOR outbreak in OKC, not like if I had foreknowledge I’d have driven two hours further south to get caught in an outbreak in a major metro area during rush hour. No thanks.
And, with all the cautions about huge hail I never saw one hailstone!