May 23-25, 1998 Storm Chase in Oklahoma, Kansas & Texas

May 23, 1998

I arrived in Dallas at 10AM for my first solo chase since my Cloud 9 experience last year. I had done a lot of reading and studying since and I felt I was ready to give it a try. Unfortunately, I would be doing the Gilbert's Budget method and be chasing without a laptop. I had checked data early that AM, but I would miss the morning soundings and models being in transit. Originally, I was predicting SE Kansas but it was looking more like NE Kansas/Missouri. I would have to quickly head North. I left the rental place by 11 and headed North. I stopped in Norman to find data and discovered all University and other libraries were closed for the Memorial Day weekend. The National Weather Service office was locked. I continued toward Tulsa and talked with Matt Crowther via cell phone. He was targeting NE of Topeka. I had a long way to go. (I was cursing my decision to save money and fly to Dallas instead of OKC or Wichita). I continued to Tulsa and obtained data from the NWS there. The staff was very friendly and provided me with the latest upper air data, radar images etc. (I bribed them with drinks!) It was obvious that the activity would not spread south enough for me to reach in time. OH well. It was looking like NW Oklahoma for the next day.

May 24, 1998

I spent the morning looking through data at the Tulsa NWS. There was a weak trough moving out of the southern Rockies providing steep lapse rates. This would also help support the deepening of a surface low west of the CDS. A frontal zone returning NWD ahead of the surface low would allow moist and unstable air to move into the area. Predicted CAPES would be about 3500 J/KG. There was a MDT risk issued for northern and centeral Oklahoma and southern Kansas. My target would be WOODWARD, OKLAHOMA or slightly to the west.

I left Tulsa at 11:15AM and headed west on I-64. There was a line of high based Cu which paralled I-64 near Tulsa. The sky cleared as I headed west. By 1PM, I was on Route 60 near Rinqwood, west of Enid. There was a line of CU which stretched SW to NE across the road. There was strong SE winds. At 2PM, I was 10 miles East of Woodward. The line of Cu was following the road and was more defined to the NW. I talked with Charles Edwards of Cloud 9 who along with Jim Leonard, had just left Norman. They were also initially targeting Woodward. Matt Crowther was to my north toward Alva and said that Marty Feely was observing "converging Cu" near Liberal. I continued west and stopped in Laverne, Oklahoma. Of course, there were no open libraries to collect data and cell phone coverage was very poor. By now, the scattered CU was decreasing and according to my dewpoint monitor, the dewpoint had dropped from the mid 60's to about 60. There was a weak dryline. (The main dryline was to the south and had already passed Amarillo). Here is where I made my mistake. My instincts told me to head east into greater moisture. I had no access to recent data but I heard there was development to the north and then a tornado watch was issued for SW-SC Kansas. I decided to go north on 283, then east on 160, and north on 34 toward Bucklin, Kansas. So far, there was no sign of development. Haze was severely limiting visibility. In Bucklin, I heard there were storms already firing to the far north toward Rush and Ellis counties. That was too far and I figured there was better upper level support to the south. There was Cu visible everywhere and some anvil blow-off to the far north. I turned east toward Haviland, Kansas. I observed a small tower forming to the east and a larger storm to the NW. To the south, there was a slight darkening, but I couldn't tell if there was a storm because of haze. I called Dodge City NWS hoping to get a radar report. They were very busy but said everything was firing to my north and there was nothing South. I headed east to get a better view of the NW storm which was looking better. I stopped briefly at a hotel and they were nice enough to let me look at TWC radar. It was about 6:30PM. The storm to my NW appeared to be beginning to turn right. The tower to my west was breaking up a bit so I decided to chase the NW storm that would be heading toward Hutchinson.

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I would approach from the SW on 61 and be in good position. I called Charles to tell him about the development and he was on a storm near Alva. Matt Crowther, Steve Sponsler etc were west of Dodge City on a storm. By 7:15PM, I was near the storm heading NE on 61. It looked crisp but no visible rotation. It formed a ?wall cloud though no rotation. The base was too elevated. I watched it for awhile. Suddenly, it died. Ahhh! At this point I realized I was suckered by this nice storm. I was too far north and in addition, a core of another storm was blocking my way south. I think the southern storm was too close and affecting my storm. Then, I heard the warnings for the storms in Kingman and Sedgewick County. Charles with Cloud 9 Tours and others saw a nice tornado near Medford, Oklahoma at that time. When the core to my south passed, I headed toward Pratt. It was getting dark so I stopped for dinner. There I experienced some pea sized hail. I headed toward Wichita and south on I-35 toward Norman. I saw the best display of lighting I've ever seen including many cloud-ground strikes.

May 25, 1998

I headed south from Norman in a large caravan of chasers including Charles Edwards of Cloud 9 Tours, Jim Leonard, Matt Biddle, Al Pietrycha, R. J. Evans and a crew from National Geographic. The target was Witchita Falls, Texas. South of Lawton, there was some clearing but the visibility was terrible. We stopped in Witchita Falls to gather more data. There, John Monteverdi joined our convergence. Although a watch box was issued for us, nothing happened. It was a lot of fun and we spent the afternoon at a gas station socializing, eating bad food and complaining about the bad weather and smokey skies.

From May 26 to the end of the week: I headed west to do some hiking. Nothing really developed in western Texas near Amarillo. By now most of the activity had shifted too far north and I soon had to return to Dallas for my flight home.

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Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Tx
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Hiking in Palo Duro Canyon
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Swarm of ?killer bees in northern Tx

My thanks to Matt Crowther, Charles Edwards and Jim Leonard for help with data along the NWS of Amarillo and Tulsa. I mainly busted but it was a great learning experience and I got to see many old friends. The scenery was beautiful and I took some nice pictures. Learning points: There are no libraries open over Memorial day weekend for data gathering. I doubt a laptop would have improved my success but it would have lessened my dependence on other sources. Cell phone coverage in NW Oklahoma is pretty bad and payphones are rare.

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