April 13, 2012


Initial Target: Hobart, OK
Departure: Colby, KS 9:00 am
Arrival: Chickasha, OK 10:00 pm
Intercepts: Apache, OK
Tornadoes: 1
Hail: Severe (1.5" estimated)
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: Tornado, HP Gust Front
Miles: 625


Second day in four day plains trip with Jennifer Brindley Ubl and Brad Goddard.  Dryline/warm sector chase across Oklahoma.  Targeted southwest Oklahoma for best shear and instability combinations.  Intercepted severe warned supercell near the Quartz Mountains which quickly fell apart.  Retargeted HP supercell behind it, and followed it to Cooperton noting large RFD gust front as it produced a tornado invisible to us.  Left storm to navigate around Wichita Mountains, picking it up again at dusk on the eastern side of the park.  Noted brief rope tornado west of Apache, OK after dark.  Called it a chase and headed to Chickasha for dinner and room.

Crew and Equipment:

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley and Brad Goddard.  Equipment:  Kenwood TH-F6A Tribander, Dell Inspiron Laptop.  Millenicom 760 USB datacard and cradlepoint router, Holux 236 GPS, Canon 60D and EF-S 10-22mm

Photography courtesy: Jennifer Brindley




Friday was my second day out on the plains with Brad Goddard and Jennifer Brindley Ubl.  Saturday looked like the big day, but we were hoping to get a few photogenic supercells or a surprise tornado while we were on the plains and the pattern was active.  This day’s setup featured a dryline draped from Wichita southwest into western Oklahoma where it curved south.  Subtle boundaries were also at work in southern Oklahoma.  Midlevel flow was modest but provided adequate shear for supercells with cape forecast to reach 3000 over much of the warm sector.  The question was where to target, the northwest corner of the dryline which was closest to the upper level energy, or further south along the boundary.

We left our room in Colby, KS bright and early and made the long drive down into Oklahoma.  After getting a warning for 73 in a 65 mph speed zone, we stopped in Alva to check data.  Storms were ongoing in southern Oklahoma, a ways out and we might miss any sort of show having to drive across the state to get them.  The cumulus field over the northern end of the target didn’t seem very robust, however.  Convective models indicated that storms would continue to build west from the activity in southern Oklahoma, with rotating storms in the southwest corner of the state by early evening.  We decided to make for that play and headed south and west through Seiling and Clinton, OK.

Three cells were tracking east to our south, each severe warned.   We headed south for the intercept, but the lead cell evaporated in front of us, leaving behind just an orphaned anvil.  We made for the next cell in the line, hoping it wouldn’t do the same. 

We raced the forward flanking core around Lake Altus and the Quartz Mountain State Park, coming out on the south side under the rain free base to see a large scuddy gust front.

We tracked east with the storm for a short ways.  The storm provided some photo ops, but there wasn’t much in the way low level rotation or any real organized structure.  The storm looked like it was starting to fall apart, while the rear one really ramped up on the radar, so we decided to bail and head west.


We caught the last cell in the line near Blair, still several miles out to the west we let it come to us.  The storm exhibited a large high precipitation gust front.  While dramatic looking, it would probably obscure any views of tornadoes.

We blasted east to keep ahead of the gust front as it rapidly fanned out.

Losing a good east road, we dropped south to 62 to put some ground on the storm to get ahead of it a ways before getting back in front of it.  The storm went tornado warned with a massive high precipitation hook echo showing up on the radar.  It was agonizing as we raced south of the storm with no view of the inflow notch to the north while it was warned, fearing that we were missing the show.  We opted to drive around Snyder so we wouldn’t have to drive through town and would have some more distance on us and the storm before we got into the inflow notch.

We turned north on a county highway just west of the Wichita Mountains, passing the tiny town of Cooperton.  We had passed dozens of small towns already, but for some reason we took note of this one, Brad making a comment something along the lines of, “this is a happening spot.”  We got into the inflow notch of the high precipitation supercell, the updraft base still a few miles to the west.  Any further north and we’d be in the forward flanking core of the storm.  Our lone east road took us all the way around the north side of the Wichita Mountains.  We started to take it, until I realized that the storm had slowed down significantly and we’d have some time to get in front of it before we had to cut east.  That and we had no real view to the south except of mountains. 

We turned around and dropped south a ways, driving back through Cooperton.  The rear flanking gust front was in view.  We stopped a couple miles south of town and watched it approach.

Brad and I got out, and crossed the road to the shoot the storm without powerlines marring our shots.  I heard a whistle off to my right and a thud.  A single golfball hail stone landed on the ground next to me.  “GOLFBALLS!” I shouted across the road to a smattering of other chasers and Brindley who were standing outside their cars across the road, and we ran back to the van.  It was the only hailstone that we saw.  Everyone else must have thought we were crazy.

We lingered until the gustfront was overhead and we started getting outflow.  The storm was dramatic but we had no view of any tornadoes, which would be embedded in rain to our northwest.  We finally bailed south to avoid getting cored by the RFD.  It was about this time that the Cooperton, OK tornado formed doing substantial damage to parts of the town.  We had no view of it, however, as the RFD core obscured our view.

Just above the ground in the center of this photo is the area that produced the tornado:

We took the southern road along the Wichita Mountains State Park, not wanting to mess with the core of the storm like if we had taken the northern road around.  We watched anvil crawlers between breaks in the mountains to our north, and passed a few bison milling about on the side of the road.


It took us quite awhile to through the park and back north to our storm and by then night had set in.  We sat a few miles to the east of the updraft base, before we decided to move in and get a closer view.

We pulled off, just south of the updraft base, west of the town of Apache.  We were soon joined by fellow Illinois chasers Jesse Risley, Dr. Tom Williams, and co.  We chatted it up, watching the base of the storm to our north backlit by lightning.  It looked pretty outflowy and unorganized so I wasn’t too impressed despite the storm maintaining its tornado warning the whole time.  I managed to cut my arm on some barbed wire we were standing next to.  Dr. Tom saved the day with some antibacterial ointment he was carrying on him.

Brad, Jenn, and I went back to the van to check the radar out and assess the situation.  We were chatting it up in there, when Jesse and co., started shouting “TORNADO!”  Brad and Jenn bounded out of the van while I pointed the video camera in the dome to make sure I had a shot of it.  They had spotted a slender cone/rope shaped tornado off to the n north.  It didn’t last long, illuminated by just a few flashes of lightning, and by the time I got out of the van to check it out, it was gone.  I did manage to snag this frame of it from my video, partially obscured by a telephone pole:

After the tornado roped out, we said our farewells to Jesse and Dr. Tom and went after the storm, following it from the south.  It cycled and developed a nice bowl shaped wall cloud.  I thought we were going to get another tornado, but the storm fell apart.  We followed it in the darkness until we were sure it was done before calling it a chase near the Fort Cobb Reservoir.

We snaked our way over to Chickasha to grab some dinner and a room for the night, and were joined by Nick Nolte and Jonathan Williamson.  A beefy looking, severe warned supercell hit us while we were eating bringing torrential rain and frequent lightning.


Catching a single, obstructed, backlit frame of a roping out tornado, this was probably my weakest tornado intercept.  We counted it is as a tornado day, and the day also featured some photogenic supercell structure, so it was a success.  We hoped for bigger and better the next day, which was forecast to be an outbreak, however.  Those who got shots of the Cooperton tornado were precariously close to it within the core of the storm and only managed low contrast views.  We were bummed we were so close to it and didn’t get a shot, despite it not being a very photogenic tornado, but were still happy with our chase as a whole.


Lessons Learned: 

  • Don’t go more than 5 over on Oklahoma highways

  • Southern Oklahoma’s mountainous terrain is less than ideal for maintaining position on a storm.