Sunday, May 16, 1999|
Chase accounts, data, maps, and photographs
J.W. King --
As late as Saturday night (the 15th), I had no intention of chasing, but Sunday's A.M. scenario in western OK looked very unstable, with high dew points, two slow moving mid level troughs behind the dry line, and CAPES in the 3000s. No action would take place until well into the late afternoon, so I set out for Lawton at 1 P.M. Can't I get out any earlier? Last week, a similar late start got me to Dallas just in time to have the massive storm of the 11th give only spectacular nighttime lightning. It's the curse of living in Little Rock. It's just too far from the action. This time, if I was late, I'd have the whole next day to pace the storms back across NE Texas.
A data stop in Shawnee at 5:30 showed some strong storms developing south of Childress, Texas, in the very area forecasted by SPC earlier that day. My, they're good. Movement was very slow, so I raced onto Chickasha and points south, as the time to reach these storms was growing late and they weren't in any hurry to get closer. A quick look at the radar in Chickasha showed lots of strengthening and a slow track to the North. It was already getting dark when I got to Lawton, and the constant traffic near Ft. Sill made my arrival in Altus coincide with total darkness. There were sirens wailing, too. A radar-indicated tornado was right over the town.
This was my first encounter with the "bear's cage". I had seen some intense HP storms, but this one, even in the dark, looked like a living, electric animal. A slowly rotating wall of rain and lightning was pushing through the north side of this little burg, and the outflow was the thing that stopped me. I felt the van lift up on it's springs, and decided that I really didn't need to get any closer. I waited for a few minutes as the storm moved into open country, and then saw that straight-line winds had done less damage than I expected, and no sign of rotational damage was evident. I left the scene and chased the storm about six miles before thinking how useless it was to be doing this at night. Turning around, I checked into a Lawton motel and got some decent lightning shots that night. At 12;30, a very intense storm blew through Randlett, thirty miles south, and I tried to get position for more lightning shots, but it moved too fast, and I was too bleedin' tired.
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