May 212013

The radar view once we settled in on the hill

The radar view once we settled in on the hill (white circle)

The Moore/Oklahoma city was the single most devastating storm I have tracked while storm chasing!  I sit here the next day thinking about the destruction and loss of life caused by the storm and I still get a bit weak.

I’m writing this blog from a storm chasing perspective.

When you set out to chase storms, lots of factors need to be considered.  The one I wrestled with yesterday was seeing the incredible signature on radar, knowing it was a low-to-the-ground tornado and realizing it was likely tearing apart the towns it was striking, how do you chase?  My answer was: you don’t!  Not in this situation.

If we had come up from the south or west, it would have been different.  The tornado developed over open areas with good visibility at the start.  Here’s one video (although still way too close for a tour group!):

When it comes to the safety of guests, I wasn’t willing to drive into a relatively unknown metropolitan area to chase this storm. I actually think we would have been successful at seeing this monster tornado had we decided to drive in. But with regular traffic, gawkers,  emergency vehicles, flying debris (it goes farther than most people realize, the day will come when a chaser is hurt or killed by this!) and the unknowns about the exact size of the storm, it was a conscious decision not to chase any closer.

We decided to wait for the storm to come to us.  We spent a lot of time searching for a safe spot with a good view. But as I found out last year, the area east of the Oklahoma City area is much like the Ozarks, lots of hills and a surprising number of trees.  It took us about a half hour.  We ended up on a hill which provided a great vantage point but in a surreal twist we were just on the southern edge of the path of the tornado which struck Shawnee the day before!

The idea was to watch the tornado pass safely to our north. Fortunately, the violent tornado lifted. We saw the storm, tracked the weaker circulation and watched in pass to our north.

During the entire time coming down from Missouri through Oklahoma, the focus was on the science of severe weather forecasting.  We talked about things such as dew point depressions, helicity, old outflow boundaries, CAPE (a measure of unstable air), the dry line, jet stream winds and rotation cuplets on radar.

My tours are about the science of forecasting severe thunderstorms, tracking their development, explaining what is happening and staying safe!  Seeing a tornado is a great experience, I strive to do it, but it has limits.

Here’s a bit of video leading to our hill top perch:


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