Jul 092013
 

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.

 

Jim

Jul 082013
 

Monday, 8 July 2013

 

I feel like a broken record in saying this, but things have been far too busy as of late! I’m just now putting my footage of the May 31 El Reno EF5 tornado online from before I got on I-40 heading east. The editing has been delayed so severely because my time over the past few weeks has been filled with numerous obligations. The two biggest ones of course being life and work. And quite a bit of time has been filled working and collaborating with researchers as well as other storm chasers with respect to the El Reno tornado and some of the events that unfolded that day. And it’s work that I am honored to do. And I think there’s always been an unspoken agreement between the chasing and scientific/meteorological communities for collaboration to better understand tornadoes, and I have always and will continue to support that effort whenever possible.

The video I’m posting begins with my first visual of the wall cloud. We were on the 119 on-ramp off I-40 looking southwest in position to head east towards El Reno. The footage was shot at approximately 5:53pm, or just a few minutes prior to the El Reno tornado’s initial touchdown.

The next shot is from Country Club Rd (exit 123) driving south and looking west. There you get a much better visual of the mesocyclone. We then turned west onto Jensen Rd and you can see the tornado to the west-southwest. We drove about 1.5 miles or so and watched the tornado as a multi-vortex for a few minutes. We then repositioned, briefly, about a mile to the west and to the south for a closer view before committing to an east option. However, this is just as the tornado was clearly expanding rapidly into a large wedge. In the video, you can see rain bands on the northern edge of the meso getting close to our location as the entire mesocyclone was rapidly expanding from the south towards the north.

We drove east back to Country Club Rd and then north to I-40 to head east again and to get off the dirt/gravel roads. But we didn’t have much time since the tornadic circulation was expanding so rapidly in addition to the tornado itself turning to the northeast. We were forced to, momentarily, drive through blinding rain and high winds just as we were getting back on I-40. These winds were associated with the northern edge of the mesocyclone. In this case, every few seconds prior to getting back on I-40 eastbound were extremely important, though we made it there just fine. But we were slowed down quite a bit while trying to head north on Country Club Rd as a chaser blocked the road for almost 30 seconds. fortunately, we still had enough time to make it to our east option.

As always, there is more to say about this chase, but time is not my friend. I have footage from a camera that was mounted on the windshield which captures was pretty dramatic shots while driving away from the 2.6 mile wide EF5 El Reno tornado on I-40. That video (not online) and summary will become a later blog post.

 

Jim