May 16th had arrived and we had awoken in North Platte, Nebraska. To our surprise, SPC went with a 15% hatched tornado probability with the possibility of a widespread tornado outbreak across the plains. I had originally only planned on chasing Friday and heading back because I wasn’t impressed with Saturday. However when I saw the strong wording and some of the mesoscale models were showing, I had to chase it. I figured there could be something noteworthy
However despite these high probabilities, there was a large shield of precipitation and cloud cover over much of Kansas and Nebraska. For that reason, I decided it was best that I get south to at least the KS/OK border. We headed south early on and made excellent timing, only stopping in Hays for breakfast. By the time we got to the border, it was early afternoon and I noticed a large area of clearing across Western OK/Eastern TX panhandle and decided that area was probably the best shot of seeing a tornado. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of heading back into Texas after being damn near Wyoming yesterday, but hey, I’ve came this far, why not? Storms started firing fairly early on across the panhandle (~1pm).
We intercepted these near the TX/OK border and they looked like outflow dominant crap, so I decided we should head south towards the cells coming out of Northwest Texas into Southwest Oklahoma.
The cell near Paducah, TX was really spiking my interest. Parameters in this area were great with a strong 70 knot jet core punching into this area along with great backed 850 flow. Instability was fairly strong as well with values reaching over ~4000 J/KG with strong low level helicity in excess of 300 m2/s2. This would support a strong tornado threat as we got into the evening.
Eventually our cell near Paducah pushed into the Quanah, Texas area and had incredible structure albeit appearing a bit elevated at the time. I followed it east toward Chillicothe, Texas where it appeared to lower in and ingest a storm merger from the southwest which caused it go nuclear pretty much. As we crossed the border into Oklahoma via highway 283, I noted a massive bowl lowering to my southwest and sure enough a large tornado was developing (will post photos later)
We crossed the river into Oklahoma and a large violent wedge was ongoing at the time with incredible motion. The structure above was extremely spectacular too with a large alligators mouth inflow banding feeding into it from the east. We were in perfect position south of Elmer, Oklahoma as the beast approached…
Radar indicated a couplet of 191kt intensity as the beast neared Elmer growing to over 200 knots as it passed by to the south of town by no more than a couple miles. No doubt had this monster tornado moved through town the damage would have been catastrophic. Luckily it mostly impacted rural areas with damage being minimal despite its size and intensity. The tornado managed to cross the road no more than a few hundred yards in front of us and I have attached a few video stills and a DSLR capture to show our experience. The roar of this tornado was incredible as it also exhibited violent lifting vortices similar to other huge tornadoes (Andover 91 and Bowdle 2010) as well as multiple horizontal vortices (IE rolling pin effect) that are also associated with violent intensity tornadoes.
Lightning striking through a monster wedge tornado on 2 occasionsas its just to our west.
Violent wedge tornado with huge collar cloud extending around the west side. This also indicative of higher end violent tornadoes. As the tornado passed to my east it exhibited some very wild multiple vortex structures and also many horizontal vortices as well. I shot this DSLR still as it sideswiped a building although missing it to the north.
We got blasted by softball size hail here which destroyed our windshield and dented up the body of the vehicle along with extremely strong RFD winds. We clocked a wind gust of 105.2 mph before the hail destroyed our anemometer. We tried getting back north and east to get ahead and a higher contrast view of the tornado again, however we managed to stay with the wedge making out the sides through the heavy rain and hail and then intercept another strong tornado east of Synder, Oklahoma which I shot a few stills of (that I will add later). This tornado we almost drove into as it crossed the highway ahead of us and touched down, tearing up trees in the field no more than about 150 yards ahead of us. We got east and out of the storm after that crossed and decided to call it a day heading to Norman with our vehicle battered up and already satisfied from our harrowing close up intercept. Here are a few shots of the damage we incurred from the wind driven softball sized hail
Dents on the corners of the vehicle
Wide shot showing the massive stone which clipped the front of the car, I measured the dent being about 5-6″ across which is one of the largest hail dents I’ve ever seen (and yes it is a hail dent!).
Shattered wind shield
Another close up of this monster sized hail dent.
Conclusion: All in all this was an incredible chase day tracking a long lived, violent tornado that crossed the red river into Oklahoma. Overall the damage was minimal and thus the tornado only got a lower rating (high end EF2) because it impacted very few structures. Had it gone through Elmer, the story would have been VERY different, thankfully it did not. I have little doubt though this was a high end violent type tornado (by the indicators I’ve described above). Definitely one of my top 5 tornado intercepts and so far the best day of the year for myself!
Largest Hail: 4.75″ (Softball)
Strongest Wind: 105.2 MPH (Measured)
Note: This also brings my tornado count for 2015 to 13 tornadoes so far (as of May 26th). A pretty decent year so far!