May 26, 2002: Oklahoma gustnado outbreak

chase images and log by William T. Hark, M.D.


The day started with very low expectations for severe weather; however, we were still hoping for storms in the western Oklahoma panhandle or in southwestern Kansas. The storms would form from convergence along the dryline. Sufficient moisture was still problematic and supercells were very unlikely.

George, Chris, Dave (pictured L. to R.) (1P) and I had a relaxing and very unhealthy chaser breakfast in Amarillo before heading north to Guymon, Oklahoma. There were storms developing in eastern Colorado and they were moving east. One storm was moving toward Keyes, Oklahoma. We traveled west on 64, and the storm near Keyes was visible by 3:45PM. Within 20 minutes, we could see the storm structure. There were multiple precipitation shafts, and the storm appeared "mushy." It was clearly not a supercell. We crossed into Cimarron County at 4:05PM and turned north onto County Road 540. We parked along the gravel road just south of Route 56 and watched the storm approach (2P) . The storm was dark, linear and relatively silent. Cool wind blasted away from it. As the storm neared, we quickly packed our camera equipment (3V) and blasted east on 56 to get ahead of the approaching storm. Clouds of dust churned ahead of the storm. We saw a swirling mass of dust form a funnel (4V) that crossed the road, just missing Dave, Chris and George. This was the first of many gustnadoes. These are weak vortices that occur along the gust front of a thunderstorm and are caused by wind shear along that outflow boundary. We continued along 56, buffeted by high winds, dust and debris. Visibility often decreased to almost zero. Our vehicles were shifted by the high winds and were pelted by dust, debris and even tumbleweeds. Clouds of dust (5V) formed and shifted along our path. There was little rain and only a few flashes of lightning from the storm (6V) . We stopped in Elkhart, Kansas at 5:05PM and took shelter in a carwash as the storm passed us. Dave recorded cold winds as high as 40 miles per hour. After about 30 minutes, we continued to Rolla, Kansas and then south on 51 to intercept a more isolated portion of the storms. There was dusty outflow from the storm (7V) dropping visibility to almost zero. Gustnadoes (8V) rapidly formed and dissipated. We encountered additional areas of swirling dust (9V) that would often form brief gustnadoes (10V) . Driving was difficult due to the low visibility (11V) . We observed one especially large and black gustnado (12V) form and break apart (13V) at 6PM. We continued east on County Road 7 to Hooker, Oklahoma. The town was dark and eerie as telephone and power lines howled in the storm winds. We crossed the town and headed east on 64. A few miles later at 6:20PM, I looked to the north and saw a rotating red mass of dirt and dust (14V) towering into the sky. Was this a tornado? (15V) It appeared to be connected to the cloud base (16V) . I had difficulty finding a place to pullover, and then I decided it was too close. I blasted east to catch up with Chris, Dave and George and to avoid the funnel that could shift toward me. Chris later stated she briefly felt some warm inflow winds when the circulation formed. I think this was a large gustnado rather than a tornado. (We later talked to a group of Oklahoma and British meteorology students at a Pizza Hut who had a better look at the gustnado and swear it was a tornado.) If it wasn't a tornado, it was the largest gustnado that I have ever seen, and it had rapid and violent rotation.

We went south on 270 and then through the town of Beaver to intercept another storm. We pulled off at 7:25PM and watched a feature that initially appeared to be a wall cloud, but then became more linear and outflowish (17V) . We went further south into Texas on 305 near Lipscomb and watched some awesome lightning streaking across the sky. (pic#1 18V); (pic#2 19V); (pic#3 20V). Although no supercells or tornadoes, we saw wild duststorms, gustnadoes and ligtning. It was a successful chase.


Gustnado video from YouTube (3 min 16 sec)

1P 2P 3V 4V
5V 6V 7V 8V
9V 10V 11V 12V
13V 14V 15V 16V
17V 18V 19V 20V


(P -- Photo) (V -- Video Still)


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