Tuesday, 9 July 2013
I’m finally getting around to posting footage taken from a video camera mounted to the windshield during the May 31 El Reno tornado. The footage begins just as I decide it’s time to begin driving east to get away from the 2.6 mile wide EF5 tornado that is rapidly approaching I-40.
I made the decision to drive east with plenty of time to drive safely away from this large, destructive tornado. However, what I didn’t know was the car had traction control. Given the conditions with the increasing inflow winds and rain, the traction control certainly impeded — at the very least — our initial acceleration and overall ability to drive away from the tornado.
About 30 seconds after we began driving east and away from the tornado, violent inflow winds began slamming the car in addition to periods of heavy rain. The car was shaking at times due to these powerful winds, and Jesse was having difficulty driving the car. At around 1:10 in the video you can see a billboard on the north (left) side of the interstate get ripped apart by winds. Then immediately following you can see the edge of satellite tornado approaching the interstate from the south (right) with some debris in the air. While not visible in this particular video, I remember seeing this satellite tornado destroy a barn just south of the interstate not far from our vehicle right before my eyes. Debris was being thrown high into the air, some of which flew well over our vehicle.
We then passed under the overpass and emerged just as the edge of the satellite tornado was crossing the interstate right over us. In the video you can see the windshield wipers slow down significantly. In reality, they froze to the windshield for a few seconds as the satellite tornado went over us. I remember this moment, like time stood still. I remember feeling like something was grabbing hold of us, of the car. Just for a moment in time. And then it let go. We drove through the outer circulation of this satellite tornado. It continued moving north and across the interstate, and we continued driving east. We were out of its grips. It was liberating because for this moment in time, this brief period when everything seemed to slow down, we had no control over anything. But suddenly we were free. It was over. We had driven away from a historic 2.6 mile wide EF5 tornado only to be held captive — if only for a few seconds — by a small satellite tornado.
I think an important lesson here is you never really know what kind of a curve ball you may be thrown when chasing tornadoes, even when taking calculated risks.