May 4, 2003
The day began in Weatherford, TX where I and David LaRue, who was tagging along on his first chase experience, stayed in a hotel after the previous day's chase near Rule, TX. After much waffling around on I-40 and without a decisive target, I finally decided to go north on Hwy. 75 toward Tulsa. Fortunately, we arrived just in time at 4:15 to intercept a developing supercell west of Barnsdall, OK.1. I was finally able to get us in a position to see the meso at 6 p.m. in Fairland, OK 2.; 3., but to my disappointment, the wall cloud soon wrapped in rain as we were blasted by the RFD.4. Attempting to re-intercept the rain-wrapped meso, we were blasted by 80-90+ m.p.h. RFD winds which toppled trees and sent large pieces of debris flying, such as a 55-gallon drum that almost slammed into the right front of my car.5.; 6. Upon re-intercepting the storm near Ritchey, MO just before 7 p.m., it was obvious that the cell had undergone a transformation from a monster HP into a Classic supercell. A large and well-formed funnel formed about five miles east of Ritchey, and it soon began churning dust and lofting large pieces of debris as it moved east at a quick pace.7.; 8.; 9.; 10. By the time the tornado entered Pierce City, it had become a large cone. After emerging and passing north of Monett, it was a wedge with incredibly violent motion.11.; 12.; 13. The tornado weakened briefly during it's approach to Aurora, but it soon re-strengthened 14. and showed an incredible display of multiple vortices 15.; 16.; 17. that continued well east of town as the tornado approached Marionville.18. The tornado finally crossed Hwy. 60 in Marionville, and we were forced to take a farm road in order to stay south of it. At the time, it appeared that the tornado had dissipated in Marionville since all we could see was a ragged updraft base 19. Unbeknownst to us though, the tornado had continued all the way to Battlefield, just southwest of Springfield, before it finally dissipated as the parent supercell lost its punch.20.
Unfortunately, this tornado did not stay over open land but instead affected many communities during its 43-mile path. Seven people were killed, there were numerous injuries, and nearly every building in Pierce City sustained some type of tornado-related damage. This was one of the many incredible yet destructive tornadic events that took place this day and my thoughts are with the victims of this ordeal. The National Weather Service in Springfield has put together a page detailing this event. It can be found here.
Also, much thanks must be given to Scott Blair for providing excellent nowcast updates throughout the chase.