April 1, 2014


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Walters, OK
Springfield, IL 12:11 PM 3/31/2014
Oklahoma City, OK 9:05 PM 4/1/2014
0 mph
Towering Cumulus


Day before the day triple point play in south central OK. Targeted Walters, OK for early evening supercells. Despite towering cumulus, cap failed to break. Spent night in OKC.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley Ubl. Equipment: Canon 60D, Canon t2i, Canon EFS 10-22, Canon EF 50mm, Sony HDR-xr500v..




The opening of April presented what looked to be the first decent Plains setups of the year. Tuesday, April 1 was a modest looking setup at best, something you wouldn’t give a second look at for a run to the plains. The potential was there for supercells or maybe even a tornado over the same region as the next day’s much more promising looking target, however. If we’re making the long trek from Illinois we might as well head down a day early and get an extra chase day out of the trip. Issues with capping, lack of lift across the initiating boundaries, and possibly even moisture looked to be limiting factors for the setup. A little triple point was forecast just north of the Red River in southwest, OK with a dryline extending south into TX. The trough lagged well to the west. The Storm Prediction Center gave less than “Slight” probabilities for tornadoes at 2%.
Brindley and I were super geeked about finally getting out to the Great Plains after a long, brutal winter. Brindley hopped a train out of Milwaukee and came down a day early so we could get some work done on various projects and hang out before our long haul south.
The van’s configuration for the start of the ’14 season: a new touchscreen monitor that allows for easy navigation and data usage on the road, a field monitor for the roof mounted cameras, and a speedy laptop with Windows 8.
Brindley and I both adopted a strict vegan diet during the off season. That might seem like a problem when traveling through the Great Plains with its limited grub joints, as storm chasers are accustomed to eating fast food crap. It isn’t at all, however. We simply bring most of our food with us, and there are still plenty of ways to eat out vegan on the road. It’s cheaper and healthier than stopping at Wendy’s for every meal and doesn't leave you feeling run down. We packed a basket filled with grains, nuts, and fruits, and a large cooler with greens, vegetables, beans, and of course beer and rum.
We left Springfield the day before at noon, taking 55 to 44 through Saint Louis toward Oklahoma. Our first trip west to the plains of the year! We were super excited.
We made it Tulsa by dusk. A line of short topped storms erupted paralleling the highway to the west. They were gorgeous in the setting sunlight, casting sunbeams all the way across the sky. We stopped for Mexican in Tulsa and the storm hit while we crunched some chips and salsa and drank margaritas. The roof hatch in the van flooded in the process, but luckily none of our gear got ruined.
We spent the night in El Reno. We wanted to visit the memorial that had been erected for Tim and Paul Samaras and Carl Young and retrace our steps of the infamous May 31 chase last year. Tony Laubach caught up with us at the hotel to say hi and then we departed early in the morning heading a couple miles south out of town toward haunting memories. We stopped at the corner of 15th and Country Club, where we had first spotted the El Reno tornado. Well north of the warm front, the skies were bleakly grey and the air had a cold bite to it. It was the same location, but without the storm, the scene seemed completely empty, like a dark, deserted stage where an epic performance had taken place long ago. The foreground looked pretty much the same, but down the road we noticed there were a few less trees than there had been last year. We retraced our chase route heading east down 15th. The tornado had followed directly behind us, so we were also traveling down the damage path. The first house we came to was largely destroyed. The roof was blown over into the backyard, the yard was strewn with debris. The windows and doors were blown out. The furniture still sat in the house. It was as if the place was deserted immediately after the tornado and remained untouched since. The next couple of houses we passed had been repaired or rebuilt. There were new out buildings. One house looked brand new and was for sale. The trees and landscape were still scarred, however, and large sheets of metal and other debris remained in nearby fields.

We took 81 north and turned east onto Reuter, retracing the last few minutes of the Twistex team’s route. We stopped at the memorial site at Reuter and Radio and stood in somber silence looking at the collection that friends and family had left: tokens of memory, a jersey, planted flowers and lights, an etched wood plaque, crosses, Easter decorations. We left the site sad and reflective. A mile east of the wreck location Brindley spotted a coyote hanging from a barbed wire fence. It looked like it had tried to jump the fence and had gotten caught on one of the barbs, hanging limp from the fence by its throat, a grisly sight.
We headed south to Chickasha and then down 44. We were feeling better soon and back in the chase mood. As we headed toward our target of Walters, OK I munched some of my favorite chase snack: kale.
We stopped near Geronimo to check data and hang out in a deserted area. The warm front was still hanging out on the Red River so we’d have a ways to go yet before things to started pop. Brindley’s groovy shoes:

Walters, OK
2:38 PM
We had time to kill so we stopped for Mexican at a local mom and pop joint in Walters: Mi Familia. It was a dingy little grub joint setup in what used to be a gas station. The food was delicious and the servers super friendly though. We ordered custom burritos, having them leave out the cheese and meat and fill them with rice and beans. Our server said in a Mexican accent, “You aren’t from around here are you?”
Walters was just a bit too far northwest. We were behind the dryline and the dews were a paltry 40 F. We headed southeast to Comanche where the dews were approaching 60 F and bummed around in the back of the van waiting for storms. Brindley went to go shoot some cows and a guy in a pickup stopped to see what was up and chat for a bit.
For the past couple years, Brindley has been documenting not just the storms we encounter, but the people, colorful characters that are the life of the Great Plains. Her photos capture their essence and we learn about them and their stories as they stop to tell us their history. There are so many stories to tell and people to capture. Read about Ronnie and this local’s portrait on Brindley’s Facebook page.
Towering cumulus were bubbling right on the triple point, just west of Comanche. We went into town to get closer to them and gas up in preparation for the chase.

Turkey Towers
13 miles SE of Duncan, OK
6:47 PM
The cumulus drifted overhead so we went back east again to get downstream, watching turkey towers trying to go up in front of the low sun.
The cloud filtered sun made for beautiful, golden light in which to shoot. Brindley shot some horses in a nearby field, the photos coming out like an oil painting.
The tops of the turkey towers were shed into dissolving wisps of clouds, getting blown off the tops of the low cumulus that remained. We were looking squarely at a cap bust now. Meanwhile, a storm had fired 120 miles to our south on the dryline in Texas. Chasers were pouring out of Oklahoma for the intercept. The cap was forecast to come back with a vengeance at dusk, however, and the storm was 120 miles out of the way from tomorrow’s target. We decided that it wouldn’t be worth the trip south, since we’d be coming in after dark, and with the capping forcing the storm into an elevated state, the tornado potential was minimal.
We stayed for a few more minutes, time lapsing convection and then decided to call it a bust and head for OKC to get a room for the night. The sunset started to present gorgeous colors as we headed east toward 35.

Gorgeous Sunset
4 miles S of Pauls Valley, OK
8:07 PM
North on 35, we were treated to a spectacular sunset. We had no storms on this chase, but beautiful skies and photographs, and fun times can still make for a highly enjoyable chase. We made it OKC just after 9 pm, got a room on the north side of town where it would be easy to depart the next day, and then joined Tony Laubach, Ben McMillan, Brennan Jontz, and Daniel Auel at Old Chicago for some pizza and beers. Our server: “I’ve never served a pizza without cheese before! Y’all must not be from around here.”


Our first day on the Great Plains in 2014 was a spectacular cap bust. We could have played further south in Texas and gotten a photogenic supercell, but we decided to stick to our target which had a better chance at producing a tornado even if the chances for storms were lower. Hanging out with Brindley, meeting locals, and shooting photogenic skies made the chase very enjoyable, even if it was a cap bust.

Lessons Learned

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