May 25 - 29, 2011: Rest, Damage Survey and Busts


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


May 25, 2011: Down Day at The Guest Inn in Norman, Oklahoma


This was a down day at the Guest Inn in Norman, Oklahoma and time for much needed rest after an insane tornado outbreak. The area of severe weather had shifted too far west into very poor chase territory. None of us wanted to chase that far east, and I also had to fix or replace the left front tire that was flat. I had replaced the tire with a spare the previous night. Everyone was staying at the Guest Inn in Norman. After a lunch and a quick get-together to discuss weather data, several of the group went to survey the damage from the recent tornadoes near Chickasha southwest of Oklahoma City. I stayed behind to relax and get the tire fixed. Since no new cars were available due to recent hail damage, my only option was to have the tire replaced (at their expense.) In case I had to trade in the car, I had spent time removing much of the storm chase equipment. One can't show up at the car rental counter with a car covered in severe weather-related magnets. Chris Kridler decided to drive to northwwestern Kansas for possibilities of severe storms the following day. Jason and Robert were also relaxing at the Guest Inn after their May 24th experience as first responders in the damage zone south of Norman. As the reports and video filtered in from the May 24th tornado outbreak, I did have a bit of "tornado envy" though I had success near Shawnee and a close encounter with a rain-wrapped tornado southwest of El Reno, Oklahoma. For dinner, we all met at the Cattleman's restaurant in Oklahoma City (Thanks to Robert Balogh for the idea). This is one of the most famous steak houses. Of course I ate steak, the traditional chaser celebratory dinner after seeing a tornado. The steak was especially good and a nice way to relax with friends after the previous wild chase day.

Discussing the morning

Waiting at the Cattleman's
Steakhouse in OKC

Traditional post tornado steak
dinner at the Cattleman's
Steakhouse in OKC


May 26, 2011: Down Day and Damage Survey in Oklahoma

This was another down day and it was nice to sleep in and relax. I spent another night at the Guest Inn in Norman, Oklahoma along with the rest of the group. After a leisurely lunch, we followed the damage path of the EF5 tornado that went through several areas including Binger, El Reno, Piedmont and Guthrie Oklahoma in a 75 mile path of destruction. This was the mile wide rain-wrapped wedge tornado that I encountered just south of I-40 and again from El Reno. Mark needed a few shots for his show and the path took us to Rocky's house in Piedmont. Mark also wanted to interview one of Rocky's sons and his wife who had to flee to the storm cellar. Several days earlier, Rocky had hosted his annual StormTrack barbecue that we attended. We all enjoyed checking out his storm cellar that he had installed after the May 3, 1999 tornado outbreak. It was ironic that we were there again but under unfortunate circumstances. Luckily for Rocky, the massive tornado missed his house by one third of a mile but many of his neighbors had significant damage to their homes. We passed by damaged neighborhoods but the most affected areas were blocked from public access, and we had negotiate a maze of closed streets to reach Rocky's house.

After spending some time at Rocky's house, Rocky and his family joined us for dinner. We also stopped by Chris Novy's house to check out his damaged car. Chris is a friend of Rocky and works in emergency management. He was caught by the same tornado that I encountered and had his car shifted. Except for the windshield, all his windows were blown out and one side of his car had some paint removed from sand blasting. Chris is very lucky to be alive.

I finally had a chance to see more of the video and photos from the recent May 25th tornado outbreak across Oklahoma. I must admit that I had a bit of “tornado envy” since I missed some of the long tract violent wedge tornadoes, but I am still happy with my pretty tornado near Shawnee. It is easy to look back at decisions that I should have made that would have allowed me to intercept some of those tornadoes. I also didn't punch through the core of a couple of storms that would have been a short cut to the tornadoes. Core punching those storms would have been extremely dangerous due to poor visibility and traffic. It is sobering to see such devastation caused by the tornadoes and my thoughts are with the victims. Another child was found dead that day as the death toll continued to increase eventually reaching 9 for the El Reno tornado. I certainly don't want tornadoes over populated areas and the best experience is watching a tornado over open countryside. I can't change things or make them go away.

This used to be a truck

Checking out Rocky's
storm cellar in Piedmont, OK

Chris was grazed by
the El Reno tornado 5/24/11


May 27, 2011: National Weather Center Tour in Oklahoma and Cap Bust

May 27th was a clear sky bust. The target was around Oklahoma City. The parameters appeared great except there was a strong cap or layer of warm air that can suppress development. We started the day in Norman, Oklahoma just south of Oklahoma City. We had time and Jason Persoff was able to arrange through some friends, a last minute VIP tour of the National Weather Center. This new facility houses university and government agencies including the Storm Prediction Center, National Weather Service and the OU meteorology school.This is an amazing facility and is the "center of the universe" for those who research severe weather and climatology. In the lobby, there is a massive globe with a real-time projection of the earth from satellites. After the tour, we ate lunch at the Flying Cow Cafe. We then monitored weather data from the lobby of the National Weather Center. This was a more pleasant place to wait for storm initiation than a gas station parking lot. By mid afternoon, we moved our waiting area to a local barbecue and OU sports restaurant (Rudys). Several of the lead forecasters dropped by while we were there, and we chatted about the recent tornado outbreaks. We joked around in the parking lot and checked out one of OU's Rapid X-Pol mobile radar units. By evening, it was clear that the cap was holding firm and we all left for Woodward, Oklahoma for the evening.

National Weather Center
Norman, Oklahoma

Cool globe with satellite projection

The real TOTO and fictional Dorothy
tornado probes

Flying Cow Cafe at the
National Weather Center

Checking weather data in the lobby
at the National Weather Center

Waiting for initiation at
Rudy's Barbecue in Norman, OK

Parking lot fun
waiting for initiation in Norman, OK

Checking out the
rapid X-Pol mobile radar


May 28, 2011: Cap Bust in Oklahoma

This was another cap bust. There were two marginal target areas on May 28th. One was near Denver with upslope storms and the other was in southeast Kansas and north central Oklahoma. The upper level dynamics were good but the surface moisture was poor even for areas in Colorado. After checking out data at our hotel in Woodward and then having a nail hole repaired in Scott's McPartlands' car, we decided on the southeastern Kansas and Oklahoma target. There was better moisture but a stronger cap and much less upper level winds. We drove west on 160 through southern Kansas and then waited in Wingfield. Eventually, a very isolated storm developed about 70 miles to the south in Oklahoma. We watched it for a while on radar. I liked that it was isolated but it appeared anemic on radar and it was getting late. Finally, everyone decided to drive a bit farther south to get a better look. Since we had a long drive this evening, I decided to go on ahead to the Super 8 in Salina, Kansas. As I expected, the storm croaked. Dave, Scott, Chris and the Canadians arrived a few hours later. Robert Balogh went back home to Lawton and Jason Persoff headed back to see his parents in Denver. May 29th was expected to be a marginal day. May 30th would definitely be a chase day and possibly be the last gasp of storm chase season unless one wanted to chase in Canada. I was not sure if I could chase Monday since I had a flight around noon leaving from Wichita on Tuesday. I could probably do Kansas or north central Nebraska. South Dakota and especially North Dakota will be difficult. Hopefully, the target area on Monday would shift further south.

Dayna, Brad and Jason have an
early start checking data

Checking data at our hotel in
Woodward, Oklahoma

Scott had a nail in a tire
that required repairs


May 29, 2011: Chaser Covergence in Beatrice and Dead Storm near Lincoln, Nebraska

I started the day in Salina, Kansas with the usual chasers and Dan Shaw who is from Australia. The day was marginal but there was still the possibility of severe storms especially in northeastern Kansas and southeastern Nebraska. The biggest concern was the cap, a layer of warm air that can suppress storm development. After sitting around the hotel lobby and then at a nearby IHOP, we headed north into Nebraska and east to Beatrice, Nebraska. We stopped and waited for development. While in Beatrice, we ran into Tempest Tours run by chasers including Bill Reid and Brian Morganti. It was nice to see them again along with well-known storm photographer Jim Reed. We also got to meet New York Times best selling author, Jenna Blum. Her first novel, "Those Who Save Us" is about a girl and her mother during the Holocaust. I have not read that book but it has gotten very good reviews and made the best seller list. I did read her second book, The Storm Chasers, about a the relationship between a sister and her brother who is bipolar set against a background of storm chasing. Although a "relationship book," I really enjoyed the storm chasing aspect and highly recommend it. The book has become very popular on the book club circuit and is now in paperback. From the town, we did observe a brief horseshoe vortex, an indication of significant instability. After waiting around in Beatrice, our group shifted northward to Lincoln, Nebraska. On the way, we noticed some towers developing to our north near the city. Soon, one became dominant and quickly intensified. We were in perfect position for an intercept. Just northwest of Lincoln, we could see the storm rapidly growing and showing signs of rotation. A tornado watch was issued for our area. The storm was nicely isolated and showed banding. Suddenly it died. We had hopes for a nice supercell and maybe even a tornado and nothing was left of our storm after about 20 minutes. I think the increasing cap killed our storm. The day ended at a Ruby Tuesdays in Lincoln. After the chaser dinner, we said our goodbyes. I wanted to stay slightly to the south in York while the rest of the group wiould stay in Columbus. There was a severe weather outbreak expected the next day on Monday but choosing a target was be difficult with a planned departure around noon in Wichita. The Canadians were also limited by work schedules as it was also their last day. Scott, Dave, Chris and Dan planned on leaving in the next couple of days but had the option to chase into the Dakotas.

Morning forecasting in
Salina, Kansas

The interior of my chase vehicle

Part of a chaser convergence in Beatrice
including Jenna Blum, Jim Reed & Brian Morganti

Horseshoe vortex

Developing storm; 6:53PM

Developing storm: 7:36PM

Same storm, now dead: 7:51 PM

Sad that our storm croaked

Go to May 30, 2011 Storm Chase

All images Copyright 2011 William T. Hark