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04/27/2014 Mayflower-Vilonia, AR

April 27, 2014 was a big day for me. Not only was this my first storm chase ever, but it was also my first "high risk" chase and also my first "violent tornado". Anyway, my chaser friends and I were planning on chasing in North Texas on the 26th but it looked to be a bust so we decided to try and get in position for the explosive day that was promised on the 27th. We drove most of that day until we got to Texarkana where we stopped for the night.

The next day, we woke up to see that it was overcast outside, which worried me a lot but the atmosphere seemed promising on a big day. We checked the sounding and hodograph for Little Rock and it was completely insane. You really couldn't get a much better "hook" shape. So we were all pretty riled up. At around 3 pm SPC issued a high risk for most of Arkansas. The only downfall was that it still was overcast. Although that didn't really matter because at around 7 pm NWS issued our first tornado warning of the day.

The storm itself wasn’t that impressive on radar. There was hook coming around but it didn’t really get going till it almost got into Mayflower. The weathermen on the radio were talking about substantial damage and that cars were being thrown off the interstate. I’m not going to lie, with this being my first experience chasing, I was pretty terrified. I was using a radar app on my phone that was showing a very pronounced debris ball on radar. You could tell that this was an extremely violent tornado. I could look out the window and see such an impressive inflow tail and lightning like I’ve never seen it before.

The mesocyclone was freaking insane. I could see the striations clear as day and it was rotating rapidly. We pulled into Mayflower just as the NWS issued a Tornado Emergency for the tiny community. We were stuck in the damage path for a while and I could not but help but look on the side of the road for places to take shelter, I was that paranoid. After finally getting out of the damage path, we split up because the lead vehicle was going to go right up on the tornado, but since it was not visible I didn’t want to risk it.

Pulling into Vilonia, AR was the most surreal experience. The tornado managed to go on track to the northeast to hit this tiny community as well. I’ve seen damage photos and video hundreds of times over my life. But to see this in real life was the most disturbing thing I have ever went through. For some reason I remember this very vividly, as we were driving down a neighborhood where the houses were completely destroyed I saw a washing machine in the ditch, just sitting there. People were walking down the street, bloody and muddy. They were crying and trembling and holding on to each other for dear life. I started to become extremely overwhelmed and began to feel grief and misery. How can a force of nature do something so cruel and so violent?

At around midnight as we were still driving we came up onto the big building in the damage path. We got out to see a busted pipe flooding the area and a giant frame with debris scattered all over the place. We went up closer to get a look and was astonished but what we saw. The roof of this building was in the field across the street and some of the walls collapsed. Some of the metal from the roof was twisted around a power line. This gentleman came up to us and told us that he was a worker on the building and told us it was a school that was going to open in the fall. He told us in great detail that the school was built specifically for tornado damage and that the children in the hallways should have been ok. As we looked into the building we saw that the building did its job and kept the hallways from collapsing.

After we went through the damage path, we decided to head back to Little Rock to rest up for the long drive home. My friends were going to go the next day to Mississippi but were to drained to make the drive. That my friends was my first storm chase experience and the experience of the Mayflower/Vilonia tornado.