Saturday, May 15, 2010

05/10/10 High Risk & Supercell Mayhem in Oklahoma

Occluding supercell north of Copan, OK

Last Monday, the day hyped by many in the media and storm chasers included for nearly a week became a reality with SPC highlighting southern Kansas and north-central Oklahoma with a HIGH risk of severe weather including long-track strong tornadoes possible. I started the day rooming the previous night in Emporia, KS and by mid-day headed to my (obvious) target along the I-35 corridor in northern Oklahoma. Early in the morning it was hard to ignore low-clouds/fog that overspread much of the risk-area with surface temps. downright chilly around 50°F with a brisk southeast wind. It surely didn't feel like this would end up being a "wedgefest" later in the afternoon at that point. Nevertheless, I figured the dryline would mix out the atmosphere enough that strong destabilization would indeed be found across the target area. Shear-wise we had all you would need with great turning in the low-levels and aloft as well. The only fly in the ointment would be if we could get enough moisture and heating to get some much need CAPE to go along with the high-shear environment. By mid-afternoon, I made it to my target with instability increasing rapidly along the dryline in western Oklahoma. The first cell of consequence developed west of Enid, OK screaming northeast toward Wakita, OK. The storm speeds on the range of 50-60mph would later be my biggest frustration to take away from this chase. Anyhow, after taking a look at some radar scans I made the call to intercept (at the moment not seeing anything developing farther south along the dryline). I headed west out of Blackwell, OK on SR-11 toward the Medford, OK area. I preceded to drive north out of that town on Highway 81 and sat for a good while letting the storm become more organized to my west. Not soon after I noticed the updraft becoming more and more pronounced as this storm was now becoming a supercell rapidly. It was quite a site to see and with the favorable environment I thought hmm...this could be big! I remained patient for a good while, but it would turn out patience wasn't really a virtue on this day. I quickly found myself out of position rather fast with a wall of baseball-size hail approaching from the RFD. I quickly blasted south trying to dodge the hail-core. By dodging the hail-core I would give up my view of a multi-vortex tornado 6 miles northwest of my location that chasers reported...Argh! That would annoy me most of the day! I quickly blast east to try to catch up and maybe catch another brief view farther to the northeast, but this storm was moving way too fast and the road networks didn't really cooperate. I than made a decision to drop south and east to catch a new supercell developing to its south along the dryline as this storm was tapping extreme instability on the order of 5,000J/kg. A good decision at first, but rush-hour traffic in Ponca City, OK and poor internet coverage really hurt my chances here as well. I found myself with no internet data for nearly a half a hour..cmon right?! Driving through a supercell's core with no radar scans...I don't recommend, but with these storms moving so fast it was hard not too. I definitely will remember this "dead zone" for further chases no doubt as I would later find out this storm produced a nice photogenic tornado as well to my south. Ya, today was a big cluster f*** for myself. Finally, I get internet access back near Bartlesville, OK only to find the supercell now in the weakening-phase too. What could go wrong went wrong on this chase (typical of HIGH risk chase days for myself). I'm not real sure why that is, but it seems to always be the case. Anyhow, a new tornado-warned storm gets going on the dryline to my west. I stopped at a Casey's to fill up the gas tank only to find myself feeling incredibly dizzy (also searching for a nearby trashcan) after slamming my finger in the front door and rather quick I found myself hitting the deck. Damn that hurt and I'm lucky to have my finger! Trust me, I had a few words to say rather quick! This was the first time I felt like wow...what the hell is going on with me right now. I dust myself off get back in the Ford Escape and get my barrings again really not knowing what was going on. Looking back I think what happened was since I didn't get a chance to grab some lunch my body was shocked a bit when I slammed my finger in the door and it didn't know how to respond. I don't know! I guess the lesson is to wake up earlier and grab something to eat along the way like I usually do. It kind of reminded me of getting car-sick in a way which I do every now and then...wierd. Furthermore, I get back on the road and take a few photos of an occluding supercell to my north along the dryline. It was really cool to see just about every cloud rotate on this day thanks to the incredible low-level shear present. I've added a few photos from the chase below, but if you're looking for wedges, multi-vortex tornadoes, and amazing photo-ops from me on this day you won't find them unfortunately:

Supercell producing a multi-vortex tornado at this point
(only too far away and low contrast at my location...argh!)
Occluded supercell to my northeast
This area of interest actually exhibited rotation for a time
(chaser convergence (left))

Somewhat picturesque I suppose, but still disappointing...
Circulation crossing the highway making one last effort to
produce in the convective contaminated atmosphere

In conclusion, it ended up being a frustrated chase, but that was to be expected with too many chasers and fast storm speeds. It was my first visit to the state of Oklahoma though...another state I can check off my list of states I haven't visited yet. This day though just goes to show you when extreme instability and extreme shear come together in the Great Plains you can have quite a tornado outbreak on your hands. I'm not real sure when my next opportunity to chase will be as I've been incredibly busy as of late logging some serious hours, but hopefully I'll find some time here in the next few weeks and the pattern will cooperate...