STORM CHASING USA 2011

Distance driven today: 644kms | Total so far: 10334kms

Unfortunately, today produced a killer tornado. Literally. At the time of writing, 90 people are confirmed dead in Joplin, Missouri with fears that number will rise. So far, it's the fourth deadliest tornado in US history (since NWS started keeping records in 1950). It was apparently over 1km wide at times during it's 6km track.

I was in Oklahoma City and nowhere near it. Due to a massive bender the evening before, and getting Drew to the airport for his departure, there was little chasing for me until later in the day. The storms that produced the Joplin tornado were too far away for me initially, and some closer updrafts got my attention.

I started off E towards some mighty chunky congestus towers because they were closer. Further away to the S an anvil had already formed, but that cluster was over the Texas border about 200kms away. Here's one of the tower's after anviling a little:

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Chumpy as they were, they just weren't taking off as I'd hoped, so I made the call to head S instead to a line of storms that was heading roughly towards me, making it easier to chase.

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New updrafts were springing along this line as I got closer.

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I intended to stay NW of the storms, but one crept up on me to my SW headed directly for me. Its speed added to my surprise.

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I managed to slip NW for a decent look at its updraft:

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It had me in a trance as it drifted by, as another sneaky cell was again forming to my SW... whoops.

Another interesting thing to note about the difference between these and Aussie storms is that added real element of fear. Rarely am I worried about really damaging winds or a tornado popping out of a SE Qld storm, but the damage some of these hulking US monsters can produce (Joplin and Tuscaloosa are two recent examples) adds a scary new element to chasing. As well as the surprise hail on Tue 17 May, some outflow winds from this sneaky SW storm had me wondering for a few moments if I was safe. I was on a dodgy dirt road trying to negotiate an exit and battling with the GPS as small branches and foliage debris was flying everywhere banging into the car and whirlwinds of dust was kicked up, reducing visibility. A few CGs were landing close by as well, just to make things that little bit more exciting.

Thankfully, I also got out of Sneaky's way and got a look at its base.

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In hindsight, the situation probably wasn't as bad as I'd feared, but there is always an element of unpredictability with any storm, let alone ones in, what is essentially to me, a foreign country. A six-minute delayed radar image becomes kinda useless if all hell decided to break loose five minutes ago. Still, its taught me to perhaps keep a little more distance.

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I was surprised to see a small tree down from the outflow winds alone. This tree had not even seen rain, let alone the main body of the storm:

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I stopped again for another view. This was honking and I probably needed to be on my skates to keep pace with it.

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I probably dragged my feet a little, then encountered the hideous anti-chase territory to the SE of Oklahoma City. Reminded me of the visibility nightmare that is the Sunshine Coast hinterland. A saw quite a good number of massive positive bolts jump out of this storm as the sky darkened, frustrated that I couldn't find a decent view. I did also want to get closer so I kept driving, regretting that I hadn't kept up with it earlier. It continued to flicker away as I finally took a compromise between the vicinity of the cell and the possibility of it dying.

Set up finally around Prague, Oklahoma, I pleaded for just one more positive strike, but it didn't want a bar of me. One thing that did please and surprise me was the magic that is a hundred flashing fireflys drifting lazily around me. I'd seen fireflies before, but in these numbers. I didn't think they'd show up, but you can see them in the bottom of the following two photos:

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Having already booked a hotel in Oklahoma City, it was time for the 100km dash home.

Still waiting for the big one!