Events of May 23 and May 24

Very severe weather events visited Kingfisher and Canadian Counties on May 23rd and May 24th.  For Okarche, the overall damage was fairly minimal.

The fun started on the afternoon of the 23rd when severe thunderstorms formed in western Oklahoma.  We chased storms that day and ended up seeing a brief tornado in northern Blaine County.  After dark – and after returning to home – severe storms continued to form to our northwest and drive southeastward toward the town.  Most were missing us just to the northeast, but a very intense storm finally hit the target of Okarche between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m.

Lightning was continuous as the storm approached and radar indicated that very large hail was likely falling with it.  There was a strong meso-cyclone associated with the storm, but tornado potential was limited as the storm appeared somewhat elevated.  Still, it was a nasty looking thing when it rolled into town.  As with every storm like this – I always have the thought of what did people a hundred years ago think when they saw this image?

Hail started at the house at 9:36 p.m. and continued until 9:55 p.m.  Most was around golf ball size, but several stones reached tennis ball – baseball and even larger than baseball size.  The largest stone I could find measured 3.10 inches (a baseball is 2.75 inches).

Being “weatherwise” helped.  We got Mari’s car under the tree out front, moved in the glass patio table top and moved in several other things that could have been broken by large hail.  A bird feeder was smashed and the garden took a bit of a hammering, but overall we came out pretty good.  Most important, no glass was broken in the cars or the house.  We will be having the roof looked at soon, but given the fact that it sounded like people were smashing the roof with sledge hammers – I bet they will be finding some damage.

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Maximum Expected Hail Size (MEHS) product from the KTLX radar was pretty much right on the number:

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Then came the severe weather events of May 24.  This was a highly publicized event in which numerous strong or violent tornadoes were expected.  In some ways, the event lived up to its billing.  There were numerous tornadoes – some appeared strong or violent – and one was long-tracked.  However, I was a bit surprised to see as few number of tornadoes as we did.  Still, people were killed and there are many families who’s lives will never be the same.  For them, the event definitely lived up to its billing.

What was likely the strongest, largest and longest lasting tornado tracked just ten miles southeast of Okarche across a good part of Canadian County.  There was heavy damage in the El Reno and Piedmont areas.

On May 3, 1999 – a strong tornado moved across Highway 3 about eight miles southeast of Okarche.  This tornado did an extensive amount of tree damage that was easily visible from the road.  Driving into and back from Oklahoma City, there was hardly ever a day that I didn’t cross that damage path and think about the May 3 event.  It took about five years before the trees had returned to a somewhat normal state, and about another five before it was hard to tell a tornado had passed.  Basically, it’s just been over the past two years that things have looked normal along the drive between Okarche and Oklahoma City.

All that changed on the 24th.  The tornado was over a half mile wide as it crossed Highway 3 – taking out homes and trees that I have become used to seeing on my trips.  The tree damage is incredible.  The homes will be rebuilt I expect, but the very wide path of devastated trees will be another scar that I will be seeing for at least another five or ten years – similar to the results from the May 3 tornado.

Roger Edwards is a Mesoscale/Outlook Forecaster with the Operations Branch of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.  He is also a fellow storm chaser and was in position on Highway 3 to observe the violent tornado cross.  His picture below is copyright / Roger Edwards and Insojourn /  http://www.insojourn.com

Piedmont Tornado -- Rain Wrapping Wedge with Satellite Vortex

This morning (27th) – I took the time to drive and photograph some of the tree damage that occurred near where the tornado was located in his picture:

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Google Map with paths of May 3, 1999 and May 24, 2011 tornadoes where they crossed Highway 3:

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It was disappointing to see the number of fatalities (nine as of this writing) – but I can’t help but think that not only could it have been worse here – it would have been worse in other areas of the country.

People that normally don’t let the weather bother them have told me that by early afternoon, they were scared of what might happen.  For once, I’m glad they were.  It had probably been about 20 years since I have seen a setup look so dangerous, so far in advance.  If getting people scared was what it took to get them to take action in advance – good enough.  If I ever see a setup like that again, I’ll do my best to scare them into reacting again.

On a positive note, the total rainfall for the month of May in Okarche has pushed to over six inches (6.02).  We are still a little below normal on the year, but not by that much.  The garden was pampered this evening and herbs and radishes were harvested.  Life goes on here in one of the best little places on earth to observe the weather…

OUTBREAK OF STRONG OR VIOLENT TORNADOES LIKELY (TUE, MAY 24)

A very strong upper level storm system and associated jet will be moving over the plains this afternoon.  In response, a deep surface cyclone will take shape over southwest Kansas.  A dry line – which will become the primary focus for severe thunderstorm development – will extend from the cyclone to western Oklahoma and into Texas.  East of the dry line, the atmosphere will be very moist and extremely unstable.

Most all model guidance suggests that basic parameters necessary for tornado producing storms will be in the strong to extreme range from mid-afternoon into the evening hours.

Scattered thunderstorms will form along the dry line from Kansas to Texas and move at a seasonably quick pace to the east or northeast.  The combination of strong low level and deep layer shear, with high to extreme instability, will encourage these storms to quickly become supercell in nature.  There is little reason to believe that a tornado threat won’t rapidly develop with any established storm.

The largest population centers with the highest risk of seeing tornadoes includes Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Wichita.

There will be the potential of a significant tornado threat extending well after dark – with the greatest risk at that time being in eastern Kansas and northeast Oklahoma.

Well over 400 fatalities from tornadoes have already occurred across the U.S. this year.  Many could have been prevented.  People living in the threat area are urged to pay attention to weather information and most important – TAKE ACTION – when warnings are issued for their area.  It would be nice to make it through a potentially deadly outbreak of tornadoes without increasing the fatality numbers for the year.

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May 22, 2011 Tornadoes – Eastern Oklahoma

By golly, tornadoes do occur in eastern Oklahoma!  My log shows that I have seen 175 tornadoes.  176 and 177 were observed on May 22nd in Delaware County, Oklahoma.  Of the previous 175… I can find only three tornadoes that I have observed east of I-35 (in counties that I-35 does not run through).

March 15, 1982 – Ada, Oklahoma (Pontotoc County)

May 6, 1994 – Kaw Lake, Oklahoma (Osage County)

April 22, 2004 – Haskell, Oklahoma (Muskogee County)

and now,

May 22, 2011 – two tornadoes in southern Delaware County.

About every seven years is all I want to put into it.  I have learned that to be successful in eastern Oklahoma, you first have to find a day with a lot of tornadoes.  You have to have good guidance and radar data.  You have to drive hard and stay focused.  You have to not stop until the last storm is gone and finally, you are going to need all the luck you can muster.

OK…that was fun, let us move the action out west now…

More precise times and locations will be forthcoming.

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Highway 3 / Highway 4

May 21 was not a chase day for me.  Severe storms did get going during the late afternoon and evening (mainly in south central Oklahoma) – along and east of a dry line which was located near I-35.  Mari and I had a great seat for watching the development of these storms while driving toward Oklahoma City.

May and June are the couple of months of the year when the chase equipment hardly ever leaves the car.  That worked out nice as we came up on the intersection of Highway 3 and Highway 4 in northwest OKC.  On the southwest corner of that intersection, there is an old farm site with abandoned buildings and a windmill.  This is a frequent target for photographers and I have used it on many occasions myself.

Rumor has it, that the current owner is well aware of this setting on his land and its contribution to everything from passing motorists pleasure to photographers work.  So much so, that when the top of the windmill broke off a few years back, he took the time to replace it despite it not being in use.  While I don’t know who the owner is, I appreciate his effort and commend him.

It made the perfect foreground for distant storms which would go on to produce several tornadoes in Murray and Pontotoc Counties.

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In the past, I have used the location for everything from non-storm days to morning lightning photography:

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Severe weather potential / Thursday, May 19

A significant severe weather event is possible on Thursday, May 19.

A strong mid-level jet will begin to make an impact on the plains states, nosing toward northwest Kansas and southwest Nebraska by late in the afternoon.  A deep surface low will be found over east central Colorado with a warm front from the low extending east northeastward to the Iowa/Missouri border.  A strong dry line will extend eastward into northwest Kansas and then southward through western Oklahoma and Texas.

The atmosphere should be quite unstable in the warm sector and shear profiles will support rotating storms with a strong low level jet forecast to extend from south central Oklahoma to central Nebraska and southwest South Dakota.

The greatest severe threat – including the potential for significant tornadoes will exist with storms that form close to the surface low pressure area and in the regions along the warm front and dry line within a few hundred miles of the surface low.  The dry line should become more active southward through Oklahoma and Texas as we get later into the afternoon and evening.

Most parameters in this area suggest the potential for rotating, supercell storms which will have the capability to produce all facets of severe weather.  Storms south of the Kansas border should be more isolated and accordingly, produce overall less numbers of severe weather events – still, some could be significant.

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Oklahoma severe potential / Wed, May 18

The weather pattern will be changing toward the active side of things soon – and likely continue for at least a week or so.  This means that rain chances will return to Oklahoma and the potential for severe weather will increase across the plains.

The first day to see a chance of severe weather will be Wednesday, May 18.

A strong upper storm system will be moving through the southwest U.S. resulting in south winds increasing in the southern plains and a transport of low level moisture northward.  While there are differences in model data… it is generally accepted that deep low pressure will organize in southeast Colorado.  A warm front will extend southeast from the low and a dry line will extend from the low into southwest Oklahoma.

Again, there are model differences in just how much effect the main storm system and increase in mid level flow will have, but forecast hodographs support supercell structure with any storms that are able to form.  With the increase in moisture, the atmosphere is expected to become marginally unstable across southwest Oklahoma.  Even without forcing from the approaching system, low level convergence along the dry line and a weak enough cap should allow for isolated storm development by late in the afternoon or early evening.  With increasing mid level forcing… a few storms could also form near the surface low and boundaries in southeast Colorado, southwest Kansas, northwest Oklahoma and the Oklahoma panhandle.

Storms that are able to form will likely have limited tornado potential due to the somewhat limited low level moisture which usually occurs on the first day of moisture return.  However, isolated supercells may produce some reports of large hail.

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STS-134

The 134th space shuttle flight using orbiter Endeavour – left launch pad 39A this morning at 8:56 a.m. EDT.  The six man crew started what will be a 16 day mission on what is the second to last space shuttle flight ever.

While watching the launch on NASA TV, I also monitored the Melbourne, Florida WSR-88D images for signs of the shuttle exhaust which showed up on the first volume scan after lift-off.

While the exhaust did show up, it was one of the less dramatic displays captured during launches.

The WSR-88D (Weather Surveillance Radar developed in 1988) was installed at over 150 sites across the U.S. from 1992 until 1997.  It remains as impressive of piece of equipment as it was when it was introduced in the 90′s.

Not only detecting precipitation used in forecasts and warnings, we have also watched it detect a variety of non-precipitation echoes including; bugs, bat flights from caves, blowing dust and sand, smoke plumes from fires and in 2003 – even the debris trail from the unfortunate failed re-entry of Space Shuttle Columbia.

From this morning:

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