5/25/97 TX/OK chase by Earl Doughty


From: "Earl E. Doughty III" (edoughty@swbell.net):

Wild In The Heart-Chase Log May 25, 1997
Earl Doughty  edoughty@swbell.net
This report is mostly from memory since I chase alone and don't usually have time for documentation while driving 70 mph with a video camera in one hand and the steering wheel in the other.  I believe that most of what I say can be corroborated by the droves of chasers which were out this day.

The 1 Day Outlook called for a MODERATE RISK of severe thunderstorms over a broad area of Oklahoma and parts of Kansas.  Moderate? Now your talking!  Still, it was hard to put any confidence in a real outbreak after so many busts this spring.  But I went through the routine of checking wind patterns, speeds, dew points, temps, and so on.  There was a front in Kansas, a surface low in southern Colorado, a dry line moving through the panhandles of TX and OK, and everything else said this thing was going to happen.  According to my clumsy calculations with tremendous help from NWS, it looked like the bulls eye was Norman OK.

I left Garland TX at noon and drove north.  The sky was cluttered with fuzzy cums and they became more numerous the further north I drove.  To my east I could see the remnants of the mornings storms but they soon faded from sight.  I kept a watchful eye to the west hoping to see something start to build.  About 15:00 near Pauls Valley I spotted two anvils to the west and WNW.  The southern tower looked weak and probably would die but its sister was growing fast with a flanking line developing at the WNW base.  My instincts told me to go after it because Norman was still an hour away but I needed to know if these were isolated or part of a developing line.  I thought I could get an update at NSSL and then make a decision so I continued north.

Arriving a NSSL at 16:06 it began to rain and a tornado warning was issued for northern Grady County with a tornado moving ENE that may pass between Norman and Noble.  I watched the storm for a while and it appeared to be moving further south than predicted.  Another warning was issued for Purcell and the Lexington area so I drove south.

Arriving in Purcell from I-35 to 77 I was greeted by a torrential downpour and hail.  NOAA radio said a tornado was on the ground 4 miles south of Purcell moving east.  There was no way (in my car) that I could travel these rivers that once were streets so I found a nice high spot to wait it out.  Once it let up I got back on 35 and drove south.  About 17:30 near Paoli I encountered quarter size hail nearly covering the road and soon after a massive black wall cloud that appeared to be on the ground west of the interstate.  As I was filming the apparent tornado a chase vehicle passed me doing about 85mph and took the next exit.  I followed to get a better view (on a hill) and we parked.  We stayed for not more than a minute because we found ourselves in the core of a super rotating cloud a hundred feet overhead.  Quickly moving to a safer location a block south I watched the cloud move across I-35 as a funnel became rain wrapped.  Again I opted not to chase because of the seve!
re hail and rain.

My next stop after driving through yet another core with hail was near Wynnewood where I found myself again in the core of a fast rotating wall cloud.  This one was much higher with little wind so I used the photo opportunity.  I didn't want to press my luck so I moved south to watch it move as the last one did, into a rain wrapped situation.  As it moved off the sun came out and I was treated to a wonderful look at a giant three striation barber pole and behind that the hard edged tower reached into the heavens.  Leaving there about 19:30 I stopped at the Turner Falls lookout to photograph two wall clouds to the north.  No severe weather in my area at the moment, just shear contrasting beauty.  From there I drove to Ardmore where I witnessed another wall cloud but the activity seemed to be winding down.  The sun, near the horizon, was just visible through rain and produced a farewell rainbow in the storms moving off to the east.  I decided that the day was over and I thanked !
God for an incredible adventure that left me and my car in one piece (except for the hail dents).  This was great because for once I might make it home at a decent hour.

Leaving the Ardmore area I noticed it was getting pretty dark towards Texas; I figured it was just rain till I heard a tornado warning for Gainsville.  Oh no!!! Here we go again.....about 21:30 a large tornado was spotted on the ground SW of Gainsville moving ENE at 10mph.  I drove through Gainsville and pulled over at a rest stop south of town.  Other weary chasers were there as well as local Sky Warn spotters.  We could see the tornado in the lightning illuminated distance blowing up power transformers.  It sat out there for at least 20 minutes as it lifted, dropped, lifted.  The wall cloud looked to be a mile wide and the inflow was dramatic overhead.  While we watched the lightning became more intense than any I have seen in my 20 years of chasing.  Constant ground strikes that sounded like explosions rather than claps were blinding.  Being the intelligent person that I am I photographed the spectacle out in the open with a metal tripod.  One bolt struck a few feet away, e!
lectrified my tripod, and knocked me back......that hurt!!!  Some chasers left but I got in my car to photograph in complete safety.  Finally the wall cloud began to move ENE but it had a flat base by now and I presumed it had run its course.  As it moved across I-35 the spotters left to chase it into town.  I could clearly see another storm coming my way from the SW so I stayed.  The radio reported that a tornado had touched down at the Gainsville High School and was moving out of town.  About 22:30 I walked behind the buildings out of the light and spotted a large elephant trunk tornado a half a mile away.  As I attempted to take pictures the wind increased out of the north and the rain began in earnest.  I retreated back to the car just as hail started pelting me.  The wind picked up (I'm guessing) to over 60mph and I was trapped.  The only thing I could see out my windows were the brilliant green flashes of bursting transformers to the south.  All I could think was that my!
 car was going roll and I would be found upside down with a tripod up my rectum.  After about ten minutes of this all became quite again and I could see the green flashes to the SE of I-35.  Well....that was a little more than I bargained for; can I go home now?  When I arrived back in Garland I could see lightning to the north but the Dallas area was dry as a bone.

Final Score:
1 Flash Flood (Purcell)
5 Hail encounters (Purcell, Paoli, Wynnewood, Ardmore, and Gainsville)
Numerous wall and funnel clouds (Noble to Gainsville)
3 Tornadoes (W of I-35 near Wayne and SW of Gainsville)
The mother of all lightning storms (Gainsville)

Return to Reports Page