May 3, 1999 Chase Summary
Here is the original storm chase summary I wrote for the May 3, 1999 outbreak:
This has been one of the most INTENSE experiences of my life! We always knew the OKC metro area was due for a major tornado event. Monday was the day. My wife Tracy is still shook up.
We have a lot of family and friends in the OKC metro area. My Aunt Cheryl lives in Midwest City near Rose State College (just north of TIK). Her house was hit but my grandma says damage was "minor." Her next door neighbors were not as lucky. My mobile auto mechanic Ray lives in a trailer park near ground zero in north Moore. My chase was stopped when I hit the damage path near where he lives. I do not know if he is ok. My wife Tracy used to work as an accountant at the SAMS supercenter along I40 in Midwest City. She does not know if her former co-workers are alright or even if SAMS is still standing. My co-worker Karen Winston had her almost completed new house hit. At first we though her house was leveled, but we just found out her house sustained window and shingle damage. She was not living in it at the time. Her neighbors were not so lucky!
I left OKC at 2030z and traveled southwest on I-44 to intercept echoes just southwest of SPS. I stopped short when I intercepted a storm near Elgin. Unfortunately, I was running low on gas (I didn't expect so much so soon), so I stopped for gas at Sterling.
Viewed the RFB and soon a tornado developed around Elgin/Fletcher. Filmed the tornado from about 10 miles away. Too far! Classic tapered cone. I then tried to catch up to the storm and get ahead of it on I-44. Unfortunately, I-44 is a turnpike with few exits. Also, my camcorder kept locking up on me (Jim Leonard, I need to take you up on your offer to borrow your old HI-8!). These lock-ups would haunt me the rest of the day.
Everytime I looked back to my west and southwest I saw an awesome classic supercell updraft with low hanging wall cloud and occasional glimpse of tornadoes. I stopped at the turnpike (I-44) toll booth southwest of Chickasha and filed the birth of the latest wedge. Took lots of video (when working) as well as wide-angle and zoomed-in slide film. Looked like Chickasha was in dire trouble!
I then drove to the northeast exit on the northeast side of Chickasha. Stopped on an overpass and filmed the spectacle. Tornado varied from near wedge, to fat cone, to complete absence of a condensation funnel. I tried to set up my tripod on the overpass, but camcorder kept locking up (#$%^) and a very close cg sent me jumping back into the car. However, the spectacle demanded attention, I took more still and finally got the camcorder to record. Tornado resembled Hesston at this point, but lighting was not quite as good. An awesome satellite rope tornado was apparent to the north and northeast of the fat cone. Finally, the tornado become hidden by the hook to my north and northeast.
Decided not to drive up I-44 and risk getting stuck on an interstate without exits (damn politicians!). Drove east on Hwy9 and set up again at a telecommunications tower near Middleberg. Filmed a true wedge to the west and southwest. Rich Thompson and Roger Edwards drive up and we enjoyed the event together for about 10 minutes. Noted a new wall cloud and probable tornado through the haze to the southwest with the Anadarko supercell. Rich and Rog may have dropped onto this storm. I think they did.
I drove to OUN and then north on I35 into Moore. This is the road I drive to work everyday. Very surrealistic! I knew a worst case scenario was about to unfold. The tornado was 1/3rd to 1/2 mile wide at this point (estimated). Wichita Falls was 1.5 miles wide when it went through in '79. I continued to have video problems (%^&!) but was able to film some of the tornado from an overpass near Wall Mart Super Center in south Moore. Brilliant blue power flashes were frequent and chunky debris engulfed the dark tornado.
I drove north to the I-35 overpass just south of Shields BLVD and filmed the monster as it crossed about 1/3 to 1/2 mile to my north. Too dark for stills, but video worked periodically. I knew people were dying at this point. Very sobering. This is my first view of a killer tornado. The long-track event continued northeast to Tinker AFB. I lost sight of it in the wrapping rain-curtains to my northeast. Power flashes confirmed its existence.
I drove east to Sooner road (Hwy 77H), then north to I-240. Homes just south of I-240 were hit by damaging (non-tornadic winds) with fences down, sheds blown over, and shingle damage. Debris littered the road. I've never seen so much insolation on a road surface in my life. The smell of natural gas additive filled the air. From what I've heard a plant which produces this additive smell was struck which explains why the entire Metro area stank of a gas leak. Power was out everywhere. Stopped by the damage path and with sunset approaching, I drove home and watched from my house.
I later learned that RJ Evans and Charles Edwards filmed "14 tornadoes" (2 after dark) by following very close on back dirt and mud roads in 4x4. Dillo Cam was deployed twice. They filmed within 500 yards and saw a house blow away from its foundation. They had trouble driving home to Norman due to all the roads and interstates being closed. They called me at 11 pm saying they couldn't get home! They can write more.
THE METEOROLOGY OF THE EVENT
Needless to say, this event exceeded my expectations! Eric R, I'm sure this exceeded your expectations as well. Apparently, no augmentation was required. I was worried about cirrus seeding, but the storms were classic supercells in every sense of the word. I've never seen so many classic hooks in my life. A true textbook full of hook examples, be them WSR-88D or tv station.
Met up with Rich Thompson and Roger Edwards on Hwy 9 just southwest of Middleberg. As we filmed the true wedge several miles to our southwest on the other side of the South Canadian River, Rich said something to the effect of "Giant CAPE kicks a$$...makes up for other problems." I have to agree. Need to perform some meso analysis on this event.
One of the most interesting details was the mesoscale orientation of the lifting mechanisms reletive to storm motion. After sunset, a line of tornadic supercells oriented WNW-ESE lifted NNE across central and north central OK. This apparent boundary was a "wedge factory," with the supercells moving perpendicular to the boundary and the upper flow. Media reports indicate some of these tornado swallowed the towns of Mullhal and Dover. Perhaps other towns were too or came close like Cresent and Stroud.
Detailed damage assessment of the outbreak is very important for research purposes. Most of the media attention will be focused on the OKC Metro. But many other amazing events happened in the rural areas of Oklahoma too.
1999 May 3 Storm Chase Music Video by Robert Prentice
1999 May 3 Cyril-Chichasha, Oklahoma Tornadoes (part 1 of 2)
1999 May 3 Bridge Creek-Moore, Oklahoma Tornado (part 2 of 2)