Tuesday, May 24, 2011
The Storm Prediction Center warned of the possibility of severe weather and strong tornadoes over a large portion of the southern Great Plains for Tuesday, May 24. We left our location in Oklahoma City, but we didn’t have to travel far before we were on our first supercell near the town of Greenfield, OK. We observed one funnel form, unfortunately we had troube keeping up with the storm due to a poor road network. Ultimately, we caught up with our storm near El Reno (a suburb of Oklahoma City). By this time, other tornadic supercells had formed making us feel that we were surrounded by tornadoes at times. We knew tornadoes we on the ground; however, they were impossible to see at they were wrapped in rain. Near the communities of El Reno and Piedmont, OK we were within about two miles of a killer, half-mile wide wedge tornado, but because it was obscured by rain we couldn’t see it; all we could see the dark outline of a massive wedge. Winds were later estimated at over 150 mph in that tornado. What we did see during our chase were violent multi-directional winds, hail, tropical-like downpours, downed power lines, damaged homes and businesses, overturned tractor trailers, snapped telephone poles, and other evidence of powerful tornadoes. Near Moore, Oklahoma we took shelter at a closed gas station to escape getting pounded by baseball-size hail. The sky turned the color of a badly bruised shin and the wail of tornado sirens kicked in. The wind couldn’t make up its mind as to which direction to blow (howl actually), and we all knew that a tornado that we couldn’t see was very, very close. I stepped out of our car to shoot video as up to quarter-size hail hit the ground and shattered like broken glass. I decided to step into the hail to see how it felt to get hit by hail of this size…it hurts a little. I also looked around to see where I would take shelter if the tornado hit our location. Fornutely for us, the tornado passed us by but it was a close call. Just to our north, there was obvious damage along I-35 including downed power lines on the pavement. We made our way north along the interstate taking shelter several times under overpasses to escape the hail. Whenever we stopped, each underpass became a wind tunnel and made it quite clear that seeking shelter under an overpass to escape a tornado is extremely dangerous. Finally, the storms moved away allowing us to see some of the resulting damage. We survived but others were not so lucky. At least eight people died and 60 were injured in Oklahoma today. A little boy was swept away from his family and has not yet been found. Fourteen Oklahoma counties have been declared disaster areas. Many folks in Oklahoma, as in Joplin, as in Tuscaloosa, as in Birmingham, as in many other communities too numerous to mention need your prayers.