March 27, 2004
It looked like today would be our first "real" chase of the year...March 4th wasn't much of a chase. There were a lot of uncertainties about today...would their be enough instability etc. etc...A strong trough was ejecting into the plains and even though we had just gone through four or five days of southerly flow straight off the gulf, dewpoints were mainly in the low 60's. In addition, there was quite a bit of low cloud cover and to make things worse, numerous showers and thunderstorms had developed across western Oklahoma during the morning. There was a good dry line moving into western Oklahoma, with a strong cold front coming into northwest Oklahoma.
Initially, it looked like southwest Oklahoma might be the place to be, but as of the late morning hours, northwest Oklahoma was looking better, as it appeared the triple point may set up there. I finished work around 7am and went to bed hoping to get a few hours sleep in. It didn't happen that way as Ch9 paged around 9:30, wanting us to head towards Leedey in northwest Oklahoma. I was surprised they wanted us to leave so early. I called Tom to let him know and gradually got myself cleaned up. I took my time thinking it was way to early and eventually got over to Tom's house around 11am.
There were still numerous showers and thunderstorms across western and central Oklahoma, but they didn't seem to be affecting things to much. Some clearing was going on in the far eastern Texas panhandle into western Oklahoma. Since we were a little late leaving, we were now told to head west on I-40, as storms in northwest Oklahoma forming just ahead of the dryline were already covered by Val Castor and Mark Hill. We heard of a new cell developing just across the border heading towards Sayre...this would be our storm. The trip west was fairly uneventful and other than a few showers, we didn't see much of interest. Surface winds were quite strong from the southeast and somewhere near Hydro, we came across an accident on I-40. It looked like a horse trailer being towed by a pickup had come off the hitch and rolled into the median. Officials were already there so we continued on.
Skies were beginning to break a bit, but the temperature was only about 70, which concerned us.
West of Clinton, we heard our storm was severe and heading for Sayre and Elk City. We soon could make out the south edge of the anvil through the low clouds..it was quite well defined. In addition, we could see towers to our north. We heard of a severe storm in Ellis county as well. We made it to Elk City to gas up, just ahead of the core. Word from the station was that our storm looked really good on radar and likely had large hail with it. We finished up and got back on I-40, hoping to hit Hwy 6 south. We had the base of the storm in sight for awhile, even before we got to Elk City, but there was no lowering that we could see. We began to get rain on the south side of town and quickly ran into our first problem of the day...Tom's wipers were in bad shape, leaving nothing but smears across the windshield. Just about the same time, we heard spotters reports a rotating wall cloud to our southwest. We came into the heavy part of the core, with blinding rain and 1" hail. We couldn't see anything and Tom kept drifting onto the shoulder.
He finally decided to just pull over and as luck would have it, we stopped right at the exit we needed at Hwy 34! Tom wanted to stop under the bridge to look at the wipers, but I thought we should keep going, just in case something touched down and moved right at us. We quickly broke out of the rain and soon stopped about a mile or so south of I-40. There was a wall cloud to the west, but the storm base was somewhat linear and we though it was gusting out. However, the small wall cloud persisted and rotation increased with it. We then discovered our next problem...the computer was messed up so we had no way to send pics back to the station. While Tom looked into that, the wall cloud tightened up and a nubby funnel formed. RFD began to cut into the base and wrap into the wall cloud, causing rotation to increase. A new area of rotation formed just to our north and produced a brief funnel. This area fell apart and the main rotation increased as RFD wrapped nearly all the way around the wall cloud. We were surprised to hear no tornado warning was in effect. While on the phone to the station I overheard someone say Val was seeing a large tornado in northwestern Oklahoma...looks like things are coming together nicely! Or maybe not. We were suddenly told to turn south to check out new cells going up, leaving this storm to someone else. We weren't too happy, but we decided to stay with it for the time being since it was so close and looked tornadic. But we had to do something about the wipers. We went into town as a large wall cloud passed just to our north. We found a Ford dealer on the south side of town and stopped to see if they had anything. They didn't, but an employee called an auto parts store and found a pair there. We headed over to Napa Auto Parts to buy them...a kind employee even put them on for us. By now, the storm was to our northeast and we thought we were done with it..we were in full sunshine and figured we would head south. However, the boys at the station told us to hang with it as the southern stuff was struggling with the cap. We could see a partially rain wrapped wall cloud to the northeast, but because of poor road options, we had to go north from Elk City, then east, coming in from behind the storm and hoping we could avoid the hail core. The storm was quite pretty from behind, with a nice, low hanging flanking line. We could see a large hail shaft illuminated by the sun. An OHP officer blew by us and we soon found out why...someone had hydroplaned and smashed into a ditch just ahead of us. There was a lot of water around, with minor low land flooding. We were surprised not to see any hail on the ground. We went north to Hammon then east towards Butler. It soon became apparent we wouldn't beat the core and a few miles west of town, we began to get rain and small hail. The hail got larger and about a mile or so west of town, we got hammered by up to 2" hail. It quickly covered the ground, making driving difficult. A tornado warning was issued for our storm, with the circulation indicated just southeast of Butler. We came into town, with 1 - 1.50" hail covering the ground. We started south at first as the initial report we received said the possible tornado was southwest of town. We went about a mile, seeing hail that covered the ground and at least one road flooded, before turning back at the correct report. A few 1" stones were still falling as we went east. The base was wrapped up, but we saw what looked like a wall cloud within the precip. We heard a spotter report of a tornado northeast of Butler and Terry Kern called a few minutes later to say he had seen it. It was a small rope, but it was obscured from our view. We saw what looked like baseball size hail on the ground and then we were suddenly hit with strong northwest winds, likely RFD. Soon after, the winds were back around to strong southwest...we were on the south side of the meso. We strained to see through the rain and hail curtains but couldn't see anything. We knew we needed a north road and hurried to Hwy 183 north of Clinton. It was here we ran into the chaser circus. Numerous chasers were heading north on 183. We joined the crowd, turning east towards Custer City.
The storm had a large, laminar forward flank gust front, which gave it the appearance of being linear. We could see an apparent wall cloud as we headed east and Tom wanted to stop to verify it, but I thought it was best to keep going to get ahead of the millions of chasers, who had pretty much every available spot taken. We continued on towards Thomas, where we finally came out ahead of the others. Just as we stopped, we saw a lowering to the southwest. A small funnel formed and slowly lowered towards the ground. We were probably 5 miles from it, but had a good view...except for one tree!
The ropy funnel came all the way down and then slowly rose and dissipated.
The whole sequence lasted about 4 or 5 minutes. After the tornado lifted, dozens of chasers started driving by and I have to wonder how many missed the tornado as they drove through the river valley back to the south. A new wall cloud formed to our west and began to rotate, with strong upward motion noted. Just as it was looking good, a thick rain/hail shaft wrapped around the circulation, cutting off our view. We started northeast towards Thomas, pulling off again just south of town. The storm structure was a bit odd, with the linear looking base or gust front to our west. We could still see the thick precip core to the southwest and I fully expected a funnel or tornado to emerge from it. Terry Kern pulled up and we exchanged stories of the tornadoes seen so far. There was interesting motion in the clouds to the west, but the area to the southwest still had my attention. Suddenly I noticed a thick cone funnel halfway to the ground, partially wrapped in rain. I jumped out to take pictures and...my camera wouldn't work. We all noticed inflow was quite cool, so we thought this might be it for the storm.
The funnel fell apart after a few minutes. Several chasers claim there was a circulation at the surface with it and are counting it as a tornado, but until I see proof, I am sticking with a funnel. ** Note: This has since been confirmed as an F0 tornado.**
A new storm was developing back towards Clinton and many people began to drop south after it. We had to stay with the storm, following it to Watonga, where we saw the long gust front wrap back into the base. RFD tried to cut into the base, but nothing came of it. We went north from Watonga, then east at Hitchcock, where we received 1" hail just outside the south edge of the core. We stopped near Okeene as a lowering formed again, but there was no rotation. The storms base had risen, but it still maintained good structure, with the large laminar gust front. Surface inflow was still strong as well.
Tom and I were ready to call it a day..we were both tired and hungry. We stopped at Sonic in Hennessey, grabbed a chili dog and went north of town to watch the storm drift away. At one point a large funnel shaped lowering formed, but this was likely scud. We still had to follow it, so we went to Enid then east, finally giving up at dark near Billings when the storm finally weakened. On the way south we enjoyed the light show from the Clinton storm, stopping west of Guthrie to try some lightning pics.
Several tornadoes were confirmed across northwest Oklahoma into southwest Kansas, including a large F3 near Kinsley Kansas. A tornado near Vici, that Val and Mark saw, was also quite large but hit nothing. Based on video I would say this was at least F2 in strength. Our storm produced at least 2 tornadoes, both F0 and small. There were numerous reports of hail, some to baseball size.
All in all a good chase, even with the crowds. For the most part everyone seemed to behave, although there sure seemed like a lot of people who didn't know what the hell they were looking at.
A big thanks to a little brother for sending out timely pages!