Spēg's 2011 Chases

Spēg's 2011 Chases

Spēg's main page
Spēg's main chase page

Spēg's 2011 Chase scorecard:

16 chases
12 supercell chases
7 chases seeing tornadoes

The synopsis of Speg's 2011 chase season.

Monday, November 7 - Fort Cobb/Nowhere OK

Two tornadoes. 357 miles, 7:30
Chase partner: David Ewoldt

Having just got back from an Arizona vacation on the previous day, I actually got into the car again for a chase. Dave had texted me while I was in Flagstaff/Sedona a few days before that there was a set-up for an autumn chase day, and things looked like they were coming together enough that we took a trip to southwest Oklahoma. Although storms looked likely over a large area, we cheated toward the west side of our target area initially and watched a storm near Willow in Greer County that produced a well-defined wall cloud and a lot of rotation. There was enough motion that there may have been a small tornado with it, but we didn't see enough to know for certain or to count it as such. But as the storm drifted north-northeast, it started to disorganize so we left it and went east to watch another storm near Hobart that also developed a strongly rotating wall cloud as it approached Hobart. But again, this storm disorganized as it move north-northeast.

Meanwhile the next storm east had already been producing multiple tornadoes, including a long-duration tornado near Tipton OK that later up being categorized as an EF4. We had found out this storm was tornadic, and bailed quickly on the Hobart storm to make a play for it, although we were uncertain if it would disorganize as it move north-northeast as the other storms had. But we planned for an intercept near Fort Cobb. We set up on a small hill south of Fort Cobb and as the storm approached it did produce a tornado (as seen on the right). Or as Dave wrote, we went to see fall colors and ended up seeing a tornado. This tornado persisted for a little while as it moved north-northeast, and the storm still was rotating strongly and we suspected that something was still happening as we drove north, but could not see it because of the trees and terrain. We reached a clearing north of Fort Cobb and saw that a wide multiple-vortex tornado had developed and moved toward Fort Cobb Lake (and the nearby community of "Nowhere, OK"). We watched the tornado for a few minutes to our northwest before the storm weakened and we lost light due to the pesky early November sunset.

Monday, June 20 - Hampton-Stromsburg NE

Three tornadoes. 750 miles, 18:56 (including drive home on June 21)
Chase partner: David Ewoldt

This is a big enough day, it gets it's own page

Sunday, June 19 - Benkelman-McCook NE

Three tornadoes. 461 miles, 13:07
Chase partner: David Ewoldt

This is a big enough day, it gets it's own page

Saturday, June 18 - Jetmore KS (positioning day)

Storms with lightning. 438 miles, 7:37
Chase partner: David Ewoldt

Even after our Kansas-Nebraska bust a couple of weeks prior, we decided to give this another go. A strong storm system (especially strong for this late in the spring) was forecast to move into the plains on Sunday and Monday. Although this type of scenario is sometimes difficult to chase, it's hard to believe that this storm system would not produce some tornadoes somewhere, and it looked like there would be a couple of chase days. And looking at the longer range computer models, there did not appear to be any significant storm system forecast to affect the plains for a long time after this, so it looked like the last significant storm of the season, which fortunately corresponded with an extended weekend for me.

Today was mainly a travel/positioning day to get closer to what we believed was the Sunday target area of northwest Kansas, southwest Nebraska and eastern Colorado. But we did have a few storm photo ops today as well - first with a distant storm to the east with the wind farm near Buffalo OK in the foreground, then with a lightning storm near Jetmore KS (although I didn't get any decent lightning photos).

Saturday, June 11 - Follett TX

Two supercells, great storm structure, one rain-wrapped tornado. 438 miles, 13:13
Chase partner: David Ewoldt. Convoy with Peter Scott, Steve Lansdell, Ester Rus

Even after working overtime on the 10th, today was a day off and I saw enough potential in northwest Oklahoma and the northeast panhandles today to make a chase of it. And Dave did as well despite just returning the previous evening from a multi-day Wyoming/Colorado chase. An outflow boundary from the previous night's storms was draped across the area, and high dewpoints were moving northwest, and the wind shear was quite good for June, especially with southeasterly surface winds north of the outflow boundary. So I made the trip to Okarche and met Dave, then we drove to Arnett, met Peter, Scott and Ester, threw rocks, and watched ants play with Cheetos. Yep, storm chasing can be that exciting!

Storms formed on the boundary in west central Oklahoma and finally also in the northeastern Texas panhandle which became our target storm. It was a slow-moving low-precipitation storm (at least initially), and the Texas landscape gave us a nice panorama. With the slow movement, we were able to stay at the same location for 75 minutes just west of Follett TX and take numerous pictures as it slowly moved east-northeast, developed more rain and became more of a classic supercell. The structure was very impressive with a circular updraft base and an impressive vaulted region.

At about 7:40 pm, we watched one significant attempt to produce a tornado. A vortex developed, but as it tried to strengthen and develop toward the ground, the outflow from the storm kept pushing the vortex to the south, elongating it, and preventing it from reaching the ground as a tornado. This process lasted three to four minutes, and it was difficult to discern what was occurring as we were watching. Later, watching Steve's video in fast-motion, it became more obvious how this vortex was developing and being pushed out. At one point there was some blowing dust with what may have been the extrapolation of this vortex toward the ground, but we could not discern rotation with this debris, so we did not call this a tornado.

A few minutes later, at about 7:49 pm, Dave noticed a vortex buried in the rain to the northwest. As I called this in to the Amarillo National Weather Service, we watched a few vortices within this rain-wrapped area as the embedded tornado was multiple-vortex on a small scale. This lasted for about three to four minutes. I did finally get a few tornado photos this year with this tornado, but it was not very photogenic. But the storm overall was impressive.

Another storm was developing to the southeast of us while this was occurring, so we decided to target this new storm after the tornado dissipated, and we raced east through Follett and into Oklahoma driving through the new storm core. We noticed rotating rain curtains developing, and although it did not develop very close or a tight enough rotation to be concerned that a tornado was eminent, we did not waste time getting ahead of the storm. And as we got ahead of the storm, we were treated to impressive storm structure (see photo on left), and we stopped several times to take photos of the structure and lightning. This was definitely an upper-end storm as far as storm structure and definitely worth the price of admission.

Monday, May 30 - Alma NE

Bust chase, severe storm at hotel. 944 miles, 23:27 (including drive on May 29)
Chase partner: David Ewoldt

Chase #8 in 13 days. First we took advantage of a positioning day on May 29 and saw some nice scenes in Kansas on the way to Great Bend. First an abandoned house (and another shot of the interior through "a window to the past") in southwest Kansas, then a fiery sunset (and another photo).

The chase day on the 30th was not so exciting though. We knew there was a good chance of tornadoes in central Nebraska, but were concerned that those tornadoes would be in an area that might be difficult to chase, and may not be the most visible. And I'd seen enough non-photogenic tornadoes this year, thank you. And there were what appeared to be good signals in the computer models that additional storms would develop along the dryline in south central Nebraska and north central Kansas, so we targeted this area. We stumbled upon a cabin in Smith County Kansas that was the home to the author of a poem that became the lyrics to the song "Home on the Range." (photo on right.) Then we waited in Alma NE, and watched... nothing. Well, ok, we took some photos of a colorful bird near Harlan County Lake, but nothing stormwise. Storms did not develop on the dryline. So we drove back to Great Bend. Meanwhile, a line of strong storms formed on the cold front and moved through central Kansas after our dinner, and gave us a decent lightning show. But overall, it was not really worth the drive and effort of the trip.

We ended up with a sobering drive home on the 31st though. Driving out of Great Bend, we encountered a relatively fresh damage path with significant tree and structure damage. Not knowing much about what happened or when it occurred (or if it may have been from the storms on the previous night), we turned around to take notes and document it. I researched it through the internet on my phone and discovered that this was the path of a large tornado from the May 24 outbreak. Then discovered that two fatalities had occurred in the driveway where we had turned around. While continuing driving south and still processing the information that we discovered, we then came across the cemetery on the north side of St. John KS where services were being held for the two victims of the tornado where numerous law enforcement vehicles were providing traffic control. This is a stark reminder of why I am in the business that I am in - to learn about severe weather and provide warnings of these deadly storms. And while chasing typically does not directly help with the warning process of the most deadly storms (which typically show strong radar signatures and can be warned with or without chaser reports), I believe that I have learned a lot watching storms over the past 20 years that helps make me a better warning forecaster.

Saturday, May 28 - Dover OK

Brief storm. 147 miles, 3:51
Chase partner: David Ewoldt, Mari and Jocelyn

Chase #7 in 11 days. Although I was working on a programming project most of the day at the house, some towering cumulus began developing not to far northwest of Okarche, so I drove up and met Dave and family at Okarche. A storm developed and moved toward Dover where we met it. And the storm died. A quick chase, and a quick bust (and no photos), but it's always cool to hang out with Dave and his family.

Tuesday, May 24 - El Reno-McLoud OK

Two tornadoes from two supercells. 283 miles, 6:25
Chase partner: solo

Chase #6 in 7 days (while on midnight shifts!) It was a high-risk day, as expected. But that doesn't make things easy on storm chasers. Storms had already developed by the time that I woke up, and so again a quick breakfast, grab the gear and out the door. The best looking storm when I left was in Blaine County with another cluster of storms developing in west central Oklahoma. I figured that the Blaine County storm (which ended up producing the Canton Lake tornado) was out of reach, so I targeted the south end of the cluster of storms west. I aimed to catch up with it west of Union City, but the absolutely ridiculous traffic in Mustang fouled up not only that plan, but also going north from Union City.

Once I got through Mustang, I drove up Banner Road to north of I-40 and northeast of El Reno, and found a spot to watch. The crazy amount of lightning from the storm kept me confined to the car. Not that it mattered as there was very little to see as the large EF5 tornado was buried in the rain. There was a couple of times that I got a glimpse of it in the rain here, and to the north driving toward Piedmont, but it was difficult. And add this to the list of reasons of why I couldn't get pictures of tornadoes this year. And with driving solo, not getting radar updates on the jammed cel network, and knowing it had the potential to be a very dangerous storm, I gave this storm a very wide berth. I started moving east and north following it, but with the storm being rain-wrapped and getting away from me, I decided that I was done playing this storm.

As I considered plan B, I heard my buddy Rob Satkus reporting a tornado near Chickasha. But the time is 5:10 pm and I'm in northwest Oklahoma City. I've gone through Oklahoma City at rush hour with the Moore-OKC tornado bearing down on the city on 5/8/2003, and I did not want to play that game again. So I actually took the Turner turnpike northeast out of Oklahoma City figuring to bypass Oklahoma City and drop down to Shawnee or somewhere and see if I could catch the storm there. While circumnavigating OKC, another storm developed south of Chickasha and also began producing a tornado. So now two different storms are producing what turn out to be violent EF4 tornadoes, and both are generally heading toward Norman, which makes me quite nervous as well. I drop down through eastern Oklahoma County and toward McLoud. The first storm moves toward southwestern OKC, but the second storm will be moving toward me. I drop south from McLoud to get out of the rain, then turn north from Pink as the storm passes to my northwest and north. I started seeing very rapid motion at cloud base to my north-northwest, then suddenly a very thin but very strong tornado (that was initially hidden by the tree-lined road) passed from left to right across the road about 1.5 miles north of me. I grab the camera, but it had powered off after my last use. By the time the camera powers up, the tornado had become obscured by the trees lining the east side of the road. (D'Oh!) And yet another reason to not get tornado photos this year. But the motion of the winds around the tornado - both the circulation and the vertical motion near the surface - was some of the most impressive I have ever seen. In terms of rotation rate (in degrees or radians per unit time), this is probably the strongest rotation I have seen that was not part of a subvortex. (Tangential winds would have been stronger in other larger tornadoes like Red Rock, though.) I finally turned east and found a clearing - just in time for the tornado to dissipate. (Sensing a theme to the year yet?) I followed the storm for a while, but it never looked very organized again and was on a collision course with another storm, so I let it go and came home.

Monday, May 23 - Boone OK

Supercell storm with a couple of large funnels. 274 miles, 6:15
Chase partner: solo

Chase #5 in 6 days. A dryline set up across western Oklahoma, so this was finally an opportunity to go to the more open landscape of western Oklahoma. Shear was a bit weak and moisture mixed out somewhat just ahead of the dryline, so there was a concern that the storms would be high-based and outflow dominant, although both moisture and shear improved a couple of counties east of the dryline. Storms ended up developing in a lot of places, and at times it was a challenge to decide which storm to target, and I bounced between storms a few times as new storms developed. I finally chose a storm that was moving out of Kiowa County. It was a slow-moving storm with very good structure, although I drove a little too close to see some of the larger-scale structure that others were able to capture. There was a few decent attempts at organization of the thunderstorm base, and large funnel clouds developed a couple of times that reached 40% below cloud base - once near Boone and once near the wind turbines north of the Wichita Mountains, but I never saw any evidence of surface circulation.

Sunday, May 22 - Muenster TX

Supercell. 281 miles, 6:00
Chase partner: solo

Chase #4 in 5 days. The environment looked more favorable for tornadoes farther east (as evidenced by the Joplin MO tornado), but eastern Oklahoma was not really an option with my work schedule. And there still was potential farther west along the dryline, although the dryline mixed farther east than I thought it would. Storms developing in south central Oklahoma similar to yesterday, so I drove south. As I approached Springer, one of the initial storms split with the left mover moving toward the Ardmore area and the right mover becoming anchored in western Love County. I was able to drive south ahead of the left mover (which ended up producing softball size hail near Lone Grove) with the intent to get to the right moving storm, but that storm weakened as I drove south. So the next option was to drop into Texas to look at a supercell near Muenster Texas. It was nice to watch this storm over a more open landscape, and the storm had good supercell structure, although I never saw anything that made me think it would produce a tornado. I followed the storm toward Gainesville, then took I-35 back north.

Saturday, May 21 - Vanoss OK

Three tornadoes. 182 miles, 3:37
Chase partner: solo

Chase #3 in 4 days. This one took me a little by surprise. I was on the midnight shift, and when I woke up in the afternoon, things looked quiet so I decided to run some errands. But while running errands, I noticed a large storm developing to the south, so I figured "why not", went home and got my gear, and went out after it. While I was driving down this storm began producing a series of tornadoes from near Hickory into southern Pontotoc County. The storm was slow, but moving fast enough that it would have been a challenge, it still would have been possible to catch. But when I realized another storm was developing closer to me east of Pauls Valley, I targeted that storm.

I found a very good spot to watch it's first attempt to produce a tornado near Stratford (photo on right). Strong rotation and rising motion developed, but it occluded. That would be my last good vantage point to see the storm today. Although I kept very close to the updraft area as the storm moved toward Vanoss and Center, hills and trees were a continuous problem in viewing the storm. I actually likely saw three tornadoes, but all of my views were brief and/or obscured by trees and hills. At one point near Vanoss, I saw some impressively strong rising motion of the edge of a wall cloud, but underneath that a large hill obscured my view. The storm was producing a tornado at the time, and I got a quick view in the distance as I moved away to try to find an unobscured vantage point.

My usual chase partner Dave was actually at a party this evening and did not chase (although he got a very nice photo of the distant storms as he went toward his party.) But when I turned on my location reporting on SpotterNetwork and people saw that I was keeping very close to the storm rotation, apparently more than one person called Dave to ask "how big is it [the tornado]?" assuming that we were chasing together.

Thursday, May 19 - Anadarko OK

One tornado. 177 miles, 3:55
Chase partner: solo

Chase #2 in 2 days. Today had the look of a severe weather outbreak in Kansas and Oklahoma with a few tornadoes likely. But I also had a United Way meeting in Oklahoma City in the afternoon, which was very unfortunate when storms developed between 1 pm and 2 pm, even before I left Norman for my meeting. I was surprised though when I did not get paged any tornado warnings until around 4 pm as the meeting was wrapping up. And then I was very surprised when I looked at radar and all of the storms in Oklahoma north of Interstate 40 had dissipated over the last couple of hours. At least this made the decision of where to go easy as the only remaining storms were in southwest Oklahoma. So I drove down to the Cyril exit and started driving north.

There, I was presented with two storms and a decision. One storm was moving into southwest Caddo County which would require me to go north to Anadarko and then west, or a second storm to the west in Kiowa County that would require me to go west to Apache and Boone. The front flank rain core of the southwestern storm was beginning to approach the updraft area of the northeastern storm, and I've seen that scenario produce a tornado too often to ignore, so I chose the closer northern storm. I drove north to Anadarko then west toward Fort Cobb. Unfortunately, this is one area in western Oklahoma where there are hills and trees with which to contend. As I rounded a corner at 6:10 pm, I observed a wide, well-developed funnel at the base of the thunderstorm, although trees blocked my view of the ground and much of the horizon so it was unclear if this was the top of a tornado or not. I found out later that a co-worker had a better view of this feature and it was a tornado. And as would become a theme of May, once I found a clearing with a better view, the tornado had dissipated.

I followed the storm northeast toward Verden and Minco. It occasionally had interesting structure and a few brief funnel clouds, but motion was weak and even when watching the funnel clouds, the storm never gave the impression that it would produce a tornado.

Wednesday, May 18 - Southard OK

Bust. 248 miles, 7:14
Chase partner: David Ewoldt

A day off, and day #1 in a series of a lot of chases in a short period of time. This turned out to be a disappointing day. There was moderate to high instability and excellent shear, so I met Dave in Okarche and we went northwest where towering cumulus were developing along the dryline. Unfortunately, a layer of high clouds spread over the area, and the cumulus did not like the cooler environment, and they died. So we shifted gears into landscape photography mode on the way back.

Sunday, May 8 - Fletcher OK

Supercell. 366 miles, 9:06
Chase partner: Christine Riley, Kevin

Christine came back from California to chase and meet with friends. And on her last full day in Oklahoma, we at least had some storm potential. A dryline was located in western Oklahoma, but it also looked as if we would be fighting a capping layer of warm air, so it was uncertain if storms would develop. As we drove southwest, satellite showed cumulus developing near Frederick, OK. We met one of these developing storms as they moved near Lawton as it created interesting shadows in the sky and other landscape photos. Although the storm was a supercell (photo on right), it never looked organized enough to think that it would threaten to produce a tornado. The first storm weakened as it moved northeast, and despite the concern that storms might not form, the opposite turned out to be true in that a lot of storms formed - almost too many. The next best option looked to be a somewhat isolated storm that was in north Texas and would move northeast into Cotton County, OK, so we drove that direction... and watched it weaken. So we called it a day and had a great Mexican dinner at Lawton. Storms began developing just northeast of Lawton (or a longer time-exposture photo of the same storm and gave us a nice lightning show on the way home.

Sunday, April 24 - Wynnewood OK

Storm. 175 miles, 4:10
Chase partner: solo

We finally got rain in Norman on this Easter morning! A warm front was located to the south of Norman later in the afternoon, and although the situation was marginal, it was close enough it was worth the quick trip. Storms developed along the boundary and a storm near Stratford looked to develop some weak low-level circulation on radar. When exiting I-35 at Wynnewood, another storm just to the east developed an interesting shape visually, so I followed the latter storm east through Garvin and into western Pontotoc County. Although there were some brief attempts at a wall cloud or possibly even a funnel cloud, the outflow of the storm appeared to win.

Thursday, April 14 - Cromwell OK

Supercell. 206 miles, 5:06
Chase partner: Steve Speheger

My family was in town, but a chase day presented itself, so I talked my dad into hitting the road with me for a little bit. A dryline moved through central Oklahoma and to the east of Norman. Although the chances of tornadic storms looked best in southeast Oklahoma and northeast Oklahoma near the Kansas border, I targeted areas just east of Norman/Oklahoma City for proximity, simplicity, and because there are areas where terrain is less of a problem than farther north or south. A cluster of storms developed in the Shawnee-Chandler-Prague areas, and we initially targeted a storm that was somewhat isolated near Shawnee. It developed some decent structure and we followed it. There were a couple of attempts to develop funnel clouds northeast of Shawnee, south of Castle/northeast of Cromwell, and was organized again east of Okemah (photo on right). Other storms began developing nearby interfering with it so we started driving back home, although we played one more storm briefly near Shawnee on the way home.

Friday, April 8 - Medford OK

Supercell, large hail, well-developed funnel. 323 miles, 11:13
Chase partner: David Ewoldt

I met up with Dave at his house in Okarche in the mid afternoon after stopping by Baker Photo and Video in Yukon to replace some gear that broke on a recent photo shoot thanks to the wind. We watched weather and radar trends in Okarche for a couple of hours before a storm developed to the northwest and moved into northern Kingfisher County. As this storm to our north moved toward Enid, another storm had developed in northwestern Blaine County, and we decided to go for this storm instead of battling traffic in Enid. While not terribly organized, we took advantage of a few opportunities to photograph lightning, sunset colors, and nice lighting under the anvil (such as pictured on the left), which were actually the highlights of the chase. And the storm kept enough organization to keep us interested.

After sunset, the storm intensified and organized considerably as we followed it into Grant County. West of Medford, we could make out a well-developed funnel cloud in the twilight. Fortunately for Medford, a tornado did not develop. We began to encounter severe hail, quarters to half-dollars. We turned south from Medford and saw hail as large as tennis balls. Although the storm still retained some structure, we called it a night.