October 21, 2017

Southwest Oklahoma

David Reimer, Paige Burress, Jenny Brown, Chelsea Burnett, Jason Cooley

Chase Video

Photography

[envira-gallery id="57567"]
Written from the perspective of David Reimer. Jenny Brown, Chelsea Burnett, Jason Cooley, and Paige Burress were also chasing.

Summary

Paige and I chased a tornado-warned supercell from southwest of Indiahoma, Oklahoma northeast to the south side of the Wichita Wildlife Preserve – before meeting up with the storm again near Apache, Oklahoma near sunset. After sunset, we switched to night-time photography ahead of the storms as they moved northeast toward Oklahoma City. We witnessed one tornado and impressive supercell structure.

Detailed Written Chase Log

Written from the perspective of David Reimer

Paige and I left Norman around 2:30 PM heading southwest on Interstate 44. The plan was to head to near Snyder, Oklahoma to intercept any discrete thunderstorm development ahead of a cold front arriving from the north/northwest. We expected a short-duration discrete storm mode with a quick transition to a squall line. Low-level wind shear was weak, but good turning with height did promote a low-end tornado risk. The first storm fired up around 3:30 PM near Fredrick, Oklahoma and was booking it northeast around 40 MPH. We were still about an hour away at that point approaching Elgin. We stopped for gas in Medicine Park before heading west on Highway 62 out of Lawton. Additional thunderstorms were developing farther north and south – making us think we already were transitioning to a linear storm mode. We made it to the east side of Snyder – at the 62 business split – and were getting light precipitation from storms not far to the west.

Paige noted that a new storm had gone up back to our south near Frederick. We were too far west by that point to go south, so we had to go back east on 62 before going south out of Indiahoma. I thought we’d have to go south about ten miles to an east/west road, but Paige found an excellent viewing location about three miles south of town at an old cemetery on a hill. It is from that location where we sat for the next fifty minutes. The tail-end charlie slowly approaches our location from the southwest over that timeframe. Compared to other storms this one did exhibit deviant motion to the right (becoming a right-turning supercell) and a decrease in the storm’s speed. We witnessed the storms go through three cycles through our time at the vantage point. The first two cycles produced modest wall clouds with little in the way of low-level organization.

A boundary produced by the previous storm was ingested by our approaching supercell during the third cycle. That caused a substantial and rapid increase in the low-level organization with what I’d call a ground-scraping wall cloud. The wall cloud exhibiting moderate to occasionally strong rotation over a four to a five-minute period with one small funnel. The third cycle started to wind down with the wall cloud becoming more disorganized as the storm approached our location. It took us about seven minutes to relocate from our vantage point north to Highway 62. The area of circulation was directly behind us (to our south as we moved north to get east). Once we turned east on Highway 62 and we had a better view to our south Paige exclaimed her surprise as the laminar funnel not far to our south. We couldn’t confirm ground contact due to trees, but other chasers did confirm it was a brief tornado.

Our storm was now beginning to move northeast at a comparatively faster speed as it crossed Highway 62 near Indiahoma. Seeing as the storm appeared ready to produce another tornado we moved east on Highway 62 to near Cache before going north on Highway 115 three miles. We had a choice to make at this point with two available options: First to our north was the Wichita Wildlife Preserve and a lack of road options. Second and to the east was Lawton, congestion, and a north/northeast interstate. The intensifying circulation was now only two miles west of Highway 115 and moving in a direction to pass just south of our location – cutting off our escape route south. We had to decide quickly if we were going to take the slow road through the Wichita Nature Preserve or bail south and take an out-of-the-way route to get east of the preserve and mountains. We elected to bail south and take the safer option, although probably 30 seconds late. We punched through the outer ground circulation (which was just wrapping rain curtains with high wind). If there was a tornado in progress we would have been dangerously close to it, and the wall cloud looked ready to drop a tornado at any second.

We made it through that heavy rain to Highway 62 and quickly got back east of the heavy precipitation. To our northwest, the wall cloud continued to look very organized and taking the out-of-the-way route could have easily made us miss a tornado, but safety takes prescience over witnessing a tornado. It took us about 40 minutes to make it back northeast to the Highway 281/Highway 277 junction west of Elgin, OK and the storm wasn’t far to our west. It was near sunset and the storm had a less organized look as the cool front began overtaking it. With light fading quickly we elected to discontinue the ‘chase’ and begin heading back northeast on Interstate 44 toward home (Norman). The storm did go on to produce a substantial tornado near Cyril, Oklahoma after dark as it was now semi-entrenched in a squall line with the advancing cold front. Paige was able to take a few DSLR photographs southwest of Blanchard of the approaching squall line. We called it a night and headed home to Norman… and had a tornado pass within two miles of home thirty minutes later.

The same storm that produced the tornadoes in Southwest Oklahoma had made it to Norman as an embedded supercell in a squall line. As the squall line approached Norman a brief quasi-linear convective system (QLCS) tornado developed. This tornado was weak and lifted before impacting our home, but it was a rather close and unexpected call.