Also, a trailing cold front was expected to merge with the dryline/trough just after 6 p.m., and I wanted to be sure to be in my target area before that happened. I was thinking isolated cells would probably fire ahead of the dryline/trough before 6 p.m., and once the interaction of the cold front with the dryline/trough happened, I then expected a nasty squall line to form. A squall line usually diminishes the threat of supercells and tornadoes, so it was imperative that I be in a position to intercept any isolated cells that happened to fire before the cold front overtook the dryline/trough. After analyzing the models for most of the day and waiting for the SPC 2000z Day 1 Outlook, I decided to set up near the Fort Smith area, the general area in which I thought the surface low would be located by 00z. I was hoping that I would be in my general target area by 4-4:30 p.m. so that I could have the chance to chase any isolated cells that happened to fire in the area.
Instability was in place, and a veering of winds with height was also evident over the area with surface winds from the south progressively turning to WNW winds at 300 mb.
I left Conway at 2:30 p.m. and watched a few thunderstorms blow up ahead of the warm front as I travelled west on I-40. George Hoelzeman kept me company on the HAM radio while I was traveling, and we passed the time by talking about the storms that were developing. I didn't think these storms would intensify past severe levels, so I continued pushing towards my target area. Although, I did get some pictures of a nice shelf cloud associated with one of these storms ahead of the warm front.
While getting closer to OK., I noticed several convective towers blowing up and being tilted by the shear in the atmosphere. At this time, Scott Blair also called me on my cell phone, and he graciously offered to nowcast for me. This was going to be a big help, as it's very hard having to chase solo.
I decided to push into OK., and at 4:30 p.m., I stopped at the Best Western in Roland in order to check out The Weather Channel. The lobby manager graciously let me switch the channel over and was asking me what to expect. After telling her that she might want to keep an eye on the weather today, she related some interesting tornado stories to me. She was deeply afraid of tornadoes and was watching TWC as intently as I was. Finally, a radar image was shown of a tornado warned supercell moving through Haskell Co. It was moving SE at 35 mph. I looked at my map and decided that I would be able to intercept it. The storm was located in the severe thunderstorm watch box that had been issued by the SPC, and it was totally isolated and looked well organized on the radar. I travelled west towards Sallisaw, OK. and took HWY. 59 south.
During this time span, Scott called me again, and I told him my plans of intercepting the Haskell Co. storm. Scott told me that this cell was very impressive on the radar, and that it was holding together nicely. This got my hopes up, as I hadn't had the opportunity to see an isolated and well organized supercell yet this year.
While driving south, I began getting a good look at the supercell, and it was rather impressive. The inflow bands leading into the storm were curved nicely, and mammatus filled the underside of the anvil. After stopping to shoot some video and take some stills, I continued on my trek. Once reaching Wister, one of the cities in the path of this storm, I drove west again on HWY. 271, which eventually turned into HWY. 270. While taking this route in LeFlore Co., I began getting an excellent view of the structure through the light precip. that was falling. An impressive inflow band led to the storm, and a gorgeous, hard, convective updraft tower loomed to the NW. Between the cities of Wister and Fanshawe, I began getting into position to see what was happening under the updraft base. As I was getting into position, a well organized and rotating wall cloud came into view. The last time I saw a wall cloud this impressive was during my trip to the plains last year, so one can understand how excited I was to be experiencing this. A small ridge obstructed the view below the wall, and to a casual observer, it might have appeared that a large wedge tornado was on the ground. I finally got precip. free at 6:20 p.m., and I quickly stopped and jumped out of my car, my foot catching on a piece of plastic on the left side of my seat and breaking it in the process (No big deal, it'll be fairly easy to fix), and began filming.
During the time that I was filming the mesocyclone, a truck pulled up and slowed down on the highway. Apparently, their attention had been drawn by the storm and my antennae covered Thunderbird, and they were curious to see what I was filming. I looked back, and the passenger's jaw dropped open. He quickly yelled, "Go, go, go," to the driver, and the truck sped off at full speed. The meso still had the shape of a large wedge, and the base of the wall cloud was still obscured by the ridge. Apparently, they thought a large tornado was heading right for them. I imagine that they told all their friends that they saw a huge tornado.
Light precip. began falling soon after, and I was forced to film from inside the car. I certainly didn't want to get struck by lightning, especially since I was alone. I continued watching the meso push towards my location, and it took on a nice bell shape on the east side. Soon after, the RFD became evident, and the wall cloud began wrapping up and taking on a striated appearance. At this point, I should've went back east and continued south on HWY. 259. My thought was that as soon as I turned my back on the meso, it would probably produce a tornado, so I stayed in my location and continued to watch it move to my east into bad contrast.
Once I began losing contrast, I decided to head south, and I found an unnamed south road that led to the town of LeFlore. This road was going to be my saving grace, and I was beginning to get back in front of the storm. The road wasn't on the map, so I didn't quite know what to expect, but I was hoping it would connect to an east option to my south. Alas, as I thought I was going to get back in a favorable position, the road turned into a very rough and narrow dirt road. I cussed under my breath, and I wasn't even going to attempt to cross the Grand Canyon like crevices that were in the road. I guess that's where a four wheel drive SUV would've come in handy. I looked to my left and shot the last images of the supercell as darkness began to set in. It was a beautiful sight as inflow bands led into the updraft from several different directions.
The next day, I found out that at the time I was taking these pictures, 6:45 p.m., an F2 rated tornado had formed to the NW of Hodgen and tracked near the town, destroying a few structures that were in it's path. This storm was very well organized compared to most of the other storms that fired on this day. After looking at the 00z surface analysis map when I got home that night, the reason became evident. The surface low didn't track as far north and east as the models had placed it by 00z. Instead, the low stayed farther south and west in Oklahoma, and the Haskell Co. supercell formed very near the dryline/trough-warm front intersection. Also, the expected merge of a cold front with the dryline/trough just after 00z didn't happen until later that night. These factors allowed the storm to remain isolated and draw good inflow.
I then decided to head back home as darkness fully set in. Besides driving through a large area of heavy precip. on 271 and 59, I had a clear drive home. As I travelled back east on I-40, I watched the lightning show from some severe storms that moved through central AR. earlier and were continuing on their eastward track in the form of an MCS. I arrived home at 10 p.m., and I was still excited about the magnificent supercell that I had seen. This chase effectively concluded my first year of chasing that began on April 2, 1999. It's unfortunate that I didn't get to see the tornado, as it would've been a perfect way to cap off my first year. I'm pleased with what I saw, so I can't complain, but it was also another valuable learning experience.
An interesting side note: While chasing in southeast OK., a tornado warned supercell moved through Faulkner Co. and the city of Conway, where I live. This is very reminiscent of February 13th of this year when a tornado formed less than ten miles away from my apartment and tracked down I-40 while I was chasing in MS.
The difference: On Feb. 13th, I was stuck chasing a big line of convective junk in a tornado watch box and had nothing to show for it at the end of the day. On March 26th, the Conway storm didn't produce a tornado, although it did produce a few funnels, and I was fortunate enough to be chasing the best storm of the day. :)