2011-05-24 Pawhuska, OK TOR

Left town on Tuesday morning after looking at the 1300 SWODY1, on my company-mandated week off, with nowhere to be until my daughter’s wedding on the 29th.

It was clear that I had to head south–way south–optimistically hoping for west of just Wichita but expecting northern Oklahoma.  From southern Nebraska to south of Topeka on the Turnpike I was in high-based rain and lightning, disconcerting to turn your back on a sure thing to get in the way of something hopefully better.  This was two days after Joplin, and not only was local radio on edge already, but the SPC was coming this close to guaranteeing the same deal somewhere today–PDS watches a certainty.  Thankfully, the government-funded armadas were taking the year off, but that was made up for with boatloads of chasers, stringers, and rent-a-satellite-feed syndicated-media companies.  There is so much data available now, that as my friend Shane Adams says, you have to work hard at not finding a tornado on days like this.  But I was going to try, lol…

I don’t know what’s worse–being the only chaser on a storm, or coming across a hundred chasers at the same interchange, rest area or gas station.  Back in the day, I knew everyone who was out, and even if they were too busy to talk, you knew you were in a good area.  There are a lot of people now with good intentions, but anyone with a laptop and a McDonald’s hotspot can at least find a storm, and then promptly get themselves in a hail core, or get road-screwed, or worse:  In Tuscaloosa, at least one car with fatalities was found with a camcorder in it.    So, me and my laptop blasted south on I-35, hitting the hotspots at rest areas and the Mickey D’s in Wichita and Wellington…lol…

Certainly had the juice I was looking for–the sun was out by Matfield Green, dews in the low 70s, southeast wind was decent and PDS Red Boxes issued just after 3PM, as I was in Wichita topping off the gas tank.  Time to get off the Turnpike now–don’t want to get stuck ten miles from an exit…US-81 South from Wichita, sure, there were towers going up but I was bothered that there were too many of them!  Nothing looked dominant.  Also, by now I could get KFOR out of Oklahoma City and things were going nuts down there–because the storms were discrete.

Wellington, KS–one more hit of Mickey D’s internet, Rain-X at Walmart, rain starting and lightning hitting across the parking lot–but only a SVR warning.  To make my hypocrisy complete, back on the Turnpike, south to South Haven, still nothing to see, back on I-35 and on the KS/OK border I looked off to the west.  This was no good at all.  I could rationalize that the scud underneath the thunderstorms was moving upward…occasionally…but I couldn’t will a TOR out of them.

Further south, right along I-35 from Perry, OK to Denton, TX tornadic storms were firing.  I didn’t want to go to OKC–and no one needed me there, given the carnage.  However, storms were leaving OKC and continuing to be tornadic through Stillwater.  If they continued to be worth watching, I could get northeast of Stillwater in time–and I wanted to spend the night around Tulsa anyhow, with an eye toward Wednesday’s setup.  (For obvious reasons, there were no hotel rooms in either Joplin or Springfield, MO).  So, east on US-60.  Reports coming out of Stillwater made mention of debris from Oklahoma City falling from the sky before the thunderstorm arrived in Stillwater.  I made a note to watch for plywood…

Ponca City, drove through the frickin’ huge Conoco refinery, neat to see old-school, obviously AT&SF-vintage signal bridges on the BNSF mainline that bisected the plant.  The refinery smelled so good, too–just like Alton IL when I was a kid.

Local radio was okay, KFOR was tabloid-sensational and didn’t give a rat’s about anything outside of the OKC metro, let alone the Osage Rez I was driving through.  No internet, either.  I was in a zone, but that doesn’t mean it was a good zone.  After a while, I was aware intellectually that I was in a TOR, but radio was indicating it was doppler-indicated and I still wasn’t in front of the storm.  I wasn’t even looking off to the southwest at this time.  I was just driving until I felt that I should be in the right area.

Which was Pawhuska, OK.  I saw a grass airstrip, and I felt that if there was any unsecured internet in this wide spot in the road, it’d be at the airport and I was right.  Fired the laptop up again, but without waiting for data I pointed my camcorder west.  Again, without any algebra, geometry or trigonometry I just pointed the camera because it was time for something to be there.

And it was a tornado, confirmed by NWS TSA, but In the Zone?  Whatever.  Weirdest chase I’ve done.  Almost Zennish, but Zen gets a lot of people killed.

Time to get to Tulsa, but there was a problem with that.  In advance of the cold front which was now through OKC, stuff had popped along I-40 heading toward, north and south of the city.  I had to go through it, but thankfully TUL radio was on top of it.  A bit of hail where I was driving, a couple of branches down, but thankfully the only major deal was the rain.  I was driving on state highways and county roads for the most part, and the tree canopies caught the rain and dropped it straight down on the road, like someone wringing a beach towel out above me.

Drove through Barnsdall, OK–home of Anita Bryant and location of the World’s Only Oil Well In The Middle Of A Street, supposedly.  Too dark to take a photo of it, (or one of Anita, for that matter), so here’s a representative photo:

Owasso, OK, gas at QuikTrip while still nominally in a TOR.  Drove east on the off chance that I’d see one of the tornadoes that went just south of Tulsa, but no dice and had to drive though flash floods in a cul-de-sacky residential/ranch area for my trouble.  Spent the night at a fantastic TownePlace Suites, except that all the storms had knocked out their internet…

Wednesday was another day…

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Author: Damon Hynes

Used to chase tornadoes, until Ma Nature ran out of them...

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