Storm Chase May 20, 2013: Oklahoma tornado but missed the Moore EF 5


chase images and log by William T. Hark, M.D. Video (HD) and pictures available for licensing. Click on images to enlarge


I started the day in Henryetta, Oklahoma. A severe weather outbreak was expected for central and southwestern Oklahoma. After reviewing forecast models and current data, I decided on a target of Waurika near the southern border of Oklahoma, southeast of Lawton. Storms were expected to form a line of individual storms, and I wanted to target the southernmost. I had a late start and was concerned the storms would fire before I could reach the target area. I headed west on I-40 and passed the horrible damage path of the Shawnee, Oklahoma tornado that I had filmed the previous day. Houses were damaged or destroyed and trees were twisted and scoured of bark. By this time, the skies had cleared and there would be ample warming to add to the instability. I passed through Moore, Oklahoma and stopped on the southwest side to eat a quick lunch at Subway and review some weather data. I was also having trouble with my GPS. All my weather programs (XM Mobile ThreatNet, GR Level 3, Spotternet, DeLorme)use the GPS signal for mapping and it stopped working for no reason. After several unsuccessful resets, I swapped GPS antenna and the new one functioned. I usually try for redundancy. A check of weather data confirmed that storms would soon develop in a north to south line of individual cells across Oklahoma. As I left the gas station on the southwest side of Moore, I noted that shape and character of the puffy cumulus clouds had the look of a tornado outbreak day. It is hard to describe that appearance, and to the average non-chaser, the sunny sky with scattered clouds would appear pleasant and nonthreatening.

As I blasted southwest on the turnpike toward Chickasha, a storm exploded near the town of Duncan directly to the south Chickasha. There was another more disorganized storm forming along the Oklahoma border and some development to the north near Oklahoma City. When I reached Duncan, the storm on the west side was strengthening and starting to rotate. I eventually wanted to head south but this storm was looking very good and there was a nice gap between it and the storm to the south. I dropped southeast and east on an old part of 7 (Cemetary Road) and then north on Potts Road toward the town of Bray. This put me in front of the approaching storm. I stopped along Potts Road, about 550 feet north of El Plato Road and 2255 feet south of Camelback Road. (near the Ketchum Ranch) I was the only storm chaser around, and I had a nice view on top of a low hill. I also had a road eastward to stay ahead of the storm. The area was being pummeled by lightning strikes, and I had to stay inside the car for safety. The storm, backlit by an orange sky, developed a nice rotating wall cloud. While watching the storm, a local stopped by to ask about the direction of the storm movement because he had some farm workers on his property. He was nice enough to offer his storm shelter if I needed it later. Soon after he left, I observed a funnel cloud at 2:57 PM. It lasted for a few minutes. I later found out that some ground circulation was observed with the funnel, therefore it was a tornado. The distant trees blocked my view. The storm was moving in my direction, and I headed north from my original position at 3:06 PM on NS 2940 Road and then east on 29 at 3:19 PM for 3.6 miles. As I drove north, I could see a distant wall cloud. I lost visual about the time the next tornado formed and I missed it. The town of Bray was 3.4 miles to the west of where I turned east on 29. I briefly stopped before I shifted east and west a couple of times on 29 north of Lake Fuqua trying to get a better view of the storm before again continuing east. I reached where 29 becomes 76 by the intersection of N3030 at 3:42 PM. More storms to the south were hindering my storm's development and it was wrapping in rain. I encountered a massive chaser convergence including the armored Dominators run by Reed Timmer and his crew. Visibility was aweful due to rain and trees. I continued to follow the storm. I passed the turnoff to Foster at 3:54 PM. I had no internet and could only see radar images from the XM system. I ran into Charles Edwards of Cloud 9 Tours who was also on the storm with his tour group near Elmore City. We watched the storm for awhile. I learned through Charles that Moore, Oklahoma received a direct hit from a powerful tornado, and there were many casualties. I decided to bail on this storm at 4:10 PM by Elmore City and head south to a stronger more isolated storm near the Oklahoma border. It was already tornado-warned. I drove south and then east. The tornado sirens were blasting in Ardmore as the massive storm approached. People were either running for cover or standing outside taking pictures of the shifting scud clouds. I was blasted with cold outflow. This storm was not going to produce. I left Ardmore and headed south into Texas. Near the Texas Oklahoma border along the interstate, I tried to view a tornado-warned storm for some structure shots but was having difficulty finding a safe place to view the storm and have an escape route. After a few more pictures, I continued south. I met up with Dave Lewison, Scott McPartland, Dayna Vettese, and Brad Rousseau at Denny's for a late dinner. They were also on the same storm that I was but viewed it from different angles. Interestingly, almost all of the storm chasers including the very experienced ones targeted further south in Oklahoma and not the Moore area. Oklahoma City was part of the National Weather Service's threat area but the best storms were expected to be further south. I spent the night at a Super 8 in Denton. Charles Edwards and his tour group arrived later that evening. I later found out that there was another very nice tornado near Bray after the one that I observed. Jeff and Kathryn Piotrowski and J.R. Hehnly along with a couple of other chasers obtained some great video. It was difficult to see from a distance due to rain. After seeing that Bray tornado video, I am annoyed that I missed it, as I was on that storm. I was just too far away.

Damage from the May 19 Shawnee, OK
tornado along I-40

Wall cloud, 2:52 PM CDT

XM radar image, 2:55 PM

Funnel, 2:56 PM

Funnel, 2:57 PM

Funnel, 2:57 PM

Wide-view supercell, 2:58 PM

Storm from I-35 in Texas, near
Oklahoma border. View to the south.

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All images Copyright 2013 William T. Hark