Chase Accounts

May 20, 2001
Pictures from this day.

After forecasting for much of the previous night, I awoke to an interesting severe weather situation continuing to materialize across portions of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. With a warm front moving north across Arkansas and an approaching shortwave, it appeared likely that a few tornadoes would be possible in my home state. However, because of better instability and deep-layer shear, the southeast Oklahoma/north Texas area appeared more conductive for violent tornadoes once the cap broke along an outflow boundary that was forecast to remain near the Red River valley. With SPC confirming my thoughts and a moderate risk over southeast Oklahoma and north Texas, I targeted Ardmore, Oklahoma. I departed Conway at about 8:45 a.m. and took I-30 southwest toward Texas.

Fellow Arkansas chaser and chase partner Scott Blair had also targeted the same area, and since he was on his vacation, he arrived in the target area much earlier than me. He had been joined by Jason Persoff, Bill Hark, and several other chasers. Scott's frequent updates of current conditions in the target area were quite helpful and a key factor in the success of this chase since the outflow boundary and the target area began rapidly shifting north as the day progressed.

After I took I-35 north out of Gainesville, Texas at 2:30, SPC issued a PDS tornado watch at 3:05 p.m. for much of east Oklahoma. By that time, the outflow boundary was located from Ada-McAlester, and convection was beginning to fire ahead of it. One particular cell south of Seminole began showing promise by 3:20, and I decided to go after it, exiting I-35 at Pauls Valley and heading east on Hwy. 19. About 20 minutes later, I finally caught up to Scott and the convoy as we took Hwy. 177 north to Hwy. 59 east. But soon after, due to miscommunications, everybody eventually became seperated, and I was chasing solo again.

The cell continued to intensify and a large hail shaft became noticeable to the east during the pursuit while on Hwy. 59. Upon reaching Hwy. 270 though, I was left without a good east option and was forced to take Hwy. 270 southeast away from the storm. However, before I left the storm, I stopped to observe the RFD punch into the rear of the updraft and wrap rain around the meso. I then continued on Hwy. 270 to Hwy. 75 north and eventually got back on track after taking Hwy. 9 east. During my jaunt to Hwy. 9 though, Tulsa NWSFO issued several tornado warnings and reports just a few miles to my north and northeast along Hwy. 9. However, it was impossible to see anything from that distance due to the HP nature of the supercells and the bad terrain. It became quite obvious that if I was going to have a decent view of a meso or tornado, I was going to have to venture into "the bears cage."

Finally reaching Hwy. 9 at 5:20 and now a few miles behind the supercell, I began heading east, but ten minutes later, my progress was slowed by golf ball hail from another cell that had fired behind the supercell I was pursuing. During the 20 minute drive through the hail core, several areas of intermittent wind and/or tornado damage were noted along the highway. Fortunately, the damage was limited only to downed trees and power lines.

After clearing the hail core at 5:50, Scott and I happened upon each other again near Vivian and teamed up for the remainder of the chase. We continued east on Hwy. 9, and upon entering Eufaula we cleared the rain and hail. The supercell's updraft base became visible 2-3 miles to the east. A pronounced clear slot was noticeably cutting around the meso, but it was impossible to see the area of rotation due to it being completely rain-wrapped.

We began our trek into the hook just east of Eufaula at 6:10 and experienced heavy rain being driven by intense north winds associated with the RFD. Obviously close to the meso, we continued cautiously while closely watching for a 180 degree wind shift, indicative of a nearby meso.

The rain then began letting up considerably at 6:25, and a couple of minutes later, the rain ended abruptly. We pulled over immediately just west of Enterprise. The meso was nearly overhead at this point and exhibited a violent twisting motion. The surface winds were quite turbulent. The trees lining both sides of the road were being whisked about in several different directions, and small branches and leaves littered the sky. Then, at 6:30, the meso spun up a small, brief tornado in the western outskirts of Enterprise only 2/10's of a mile east of our location. Within a matter of seconds, the vortex ripped a few trees, knocked over a free-standing sign, and then dissipated.

After the tornado dissipated, the meso continued to wrap up, and it took on a bowl-shaped appearance. Unfortunately though, we weren't able to continue pursuing the meso at that moment because Scott was having a bit of car trouble. Just after we had pulled over to observe the meso, Scott attempted to get out and shoot video. However, when he opened his door, the wind caught the door and flung it open. Scott was left holding nothing but the door panel, which was completely ripped from the door's sheet metal. In Scott's attempt to reattach the door panel, the power door locks engaged, and the wind then slammed the door shut, which resulted in Scott being locked out of his car.

We tried unsuccesfully to get into the locked car, but after a couple of minutes, we gave up and decided to try and continue the chase in my car. However, at that point, the chase was basically over, and we didn't stand a chance of catching the supercell again. We ended the day in Stigler and headed back to Scott's car so we could work on unlocking it. With the help of three good samaritans, we finally got Scott back in his car. We're obliged to extend our appreciation to Charles Shaw, Steven Daniels, and Steve Lane. If it wasn't for them, I doubt we would've made it back to Arkansas that night. Thanks guys!


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