A Stormy Farewell to US Storms - 30th May

Posted on 1st June, 2018

We awoke from the hotel in Enid and had chilled start. Not making much of the breakfast, we packed up and head off towards the nearest McDonalds. There was time to kill today and with the enhanced risk given by the SPC given due to many models showing a mesoscale convective system forming just outside the Oklahoman panhandle and blasting east over north-western Oklahoma over the evening and night, we had decided that we would head to Woodward for a hotel, push out west towards where they would initiate before letting them follow us back to the hotel and to let it pass over us.


The lads also wanted to check out the nearby airbase at Enid (Vance Air Force Base) and watch some of the planes fly over. We were watching them for a good 30 minutes before heading off towards Woodward.


The journey to Woodward was becoming a familiar sight as we have passed through here many times during our chase this year. We located a Days Inn, which had a slight south-west view, which we thought would be a perfect view if the expected storm  behaves the way we had hoped it would. We couldn't check in until 3pm and it was 2:30. We wanted to move and get into position, so we collected our keys and got back on the road, where I took the wheel.


Mammatus starting to show over Guymon, Oklahoma

Mammatus clouds beginning to form over Guymon, Oklahoma


Our plan was to target Guymon (in the panhandle) and meet the storm as it followed its forecast path. We stopped off in Guymon for some food, where we spotted an Italian type restaurant and pulled up. It felt very weird eating at about 5:30 pm on a chase day. Usually we are midway through a chase, but we were eating our evening meal before the chase had become. The restaurant we chose was Mazzio's Pizza.


The place looked quiet, so we thought we could go there for a quick bite and get back on the road. Olly and Adam ordered a pizza and I ordered boneless chicken wings. We took a seat in a small booth (where even I struggled to fit in) and waited. And waited. And waited. for an empty restaurant, it took a good 50 minutes to receive our food - which for an empty restaurant and basic food, seemed a bit too long. At one point I was ready to get up and go, but the food arrived just in time. We wolfed as much as we could before Olly picked up the car keys and we head further west to meet the storms, that were already starting to line up nicely.


The Hyundai Santa Fe before the storms

The storms beginning to get organised


We pulled over to take a few structure shots and to observe the storm organising. I was a little uneasy as my location marker had disappeared on Radarscope, making it a little more difficult to give our exact location in relation to the storm. I wasn't too worried about the hail, the winds or tornado rok, but from this I was most worried about the lightning. The reason for this was there were frequent lightning strikes in front, beside and behind us. I stuck to my usual tactic and stayed in the car.


Adam Simpkins, Wiltshire Storm Chaser photographing the storm

Adam taking photographs of the storm


The storm was racing towards us at a rate of knots (I think we worked it out to be moving at speeds of up to 35-40 mph) and it soon was upon us. We hopped back in the car and drove a few minutes before pulling over again for more photographs. Again, it was on us in a matter of minutes, making us realise that we would need to keep pushing forward for longer before pulling over to maximise our time imaging it.


There were many lowerings that made brief appearances and the radar showed many areas of persistent rotation. Could this storm produced a tornado for us? Out of the blue, a not-to-distant lightning bolt struck in the field next to us, quickly causing a new fire. The fire started to grow rapidly, causing an impressive amount of smoke. This smoke was soon to be lit by the large fir causing it, with it being inhaled by the monster of a storm system behind it. It was both very cool but very dramatic. We feel the outflow from the storm helped to fan the flames, causing the fire to spread more rapidly, but wondered if the storm's precipitation would extinguish it just as rapidly.


We soon approached Guymon on our return pass. We drove into town and filled up with gas. The sky looked very ominous and I have to admit, very low bases on severe-warned storms in a town/city environment never sits easy with me and I was glad when we were back on the highways again. We pulled up just east of the city limits and again stopped for photographs and video.


Stormy skies above Guymon, Oklahoma

Stormy skies over Guymon, Oklahoma


Lightning here was quite intense and I definitely didn't fancy getting out the car. Adam and Olly did so bravely, before a close CG strike caused even Adam to get in the car. Hats off to Olly, he was incredibly brave to stay outside as long as he did. We soon got back in the car and decided that we should really make tracks to get back to Woodward to make sure we are at the hotel before this passes over us.


Essentially the race was on. Those that follow me on facebook would have seen the video of us travelling east with the crazily impressive structure behind us, with constant lightning from all directions. This was probably the most intense storm in regards to winds and lightning I think I have ever been near. It was a new, but exhilarating experience.


Structure now showing as it races eastwards

Structure forming and a susect lowering as the storm races east


On the hour or so journey, with the storm on our heels most of the way, we saw an unusual sight. We could see the moon rising up from the horizon - with an eerie red glow. It must have been due to a mix of the sun setting behind the storm and perhaps some effect of the sunset travelling through the storm itself. It soon rose out of view as the anvil occluded our view.


It wasn't long until we arrived back at the hotel. We rushed to our rooms, but I couldn't get in. After 3 attempts of trying the door, the occupant answered - they had allocated me the wrong room number. A mad rush to the hotel desk soon had me allocated to the correct one, where I dumped most of my belongings and took out my camera and tripod, before joining the guys just outside to start photographing the incoming storm.


Storm base crossing over Woodward, Oklahoma

Stormy skies over Woodward, Oklahoma


Frequent lightning was easy to capture, as was the structure. We had about 5 minutes (max!) before the storm was upon us and we dived into an alcove of the hotel to watch as the 60 mph winds and rain whipped by our hotel, firing small to medium sized debris into the location where we had been stood only minutes beforehand.  It quickly intensified and the sky was almost just permanently purple-lit with lightning, perfectly illuminating the precipitation all around us. We soon bugged out back to Olly and Adam's room and watched for 20 minutes as the mesocyclone passed over our heads.


The rain was some of the most intense I've seen and the drainpipes were pumping it out as if there was an electrical water pump that had been installed just in front of us. It eventually came to a close and there was a sense of calm as the meso passed to our east. It left us with a wonderful light show, with plenty of anvil crawlers and a constant, but relaxing, roll of thunder.


With that, I walked out the hotel and just stood there and watched the storm move away. In my heart, I knew this was likely to be the last storm I'll witness this trip. I also know that due to family commitments and family plans over the next few years that this could even be my last US chase season storm for a long time (if at all). With no camera, no phone and no video camera, I stood there, watching and breathing in the storm. Every rain drop that hit me, every  lightning bolt that lit up the sky and the sound of every rumble she gave, I will hold with me.   I can only liken the feel to a break-up with a loved one - I sound really pathetic saying it, but thanked the storm and reflected on how I'll miss this lifestyle, the grounded feeling I get for seeing such forces of nature in play, making me realise that all my problems and worries are negligible in comparison to the grand scale of the world and universe that we live in. I may have shed a few tears.


After about 20 minutes of just standing there, I composed myself and grabbed a beer, before returning to the lads that were watching The Weather Channel, of which was showing the storm, now tornado warned, heading over Waynoka and beyond. It was our first potential night time tornado to follow on TV and we all got very into it. It never did go on to produce a tornado, but it was well worth watching the progress of the storm that we had located and tracked earlier that evening.


Half hour of watching the updates, I returned to the room, gave Hannah a call and then went to bed. It's likely to be  a down day tomorrow, and we will start our journey back towards Dallas, ready to make the 3-4 hour drive to Austin on Saturday. It's not long to go now until I'm back.


Storm season 2018, you've been a pleasure to chase. Tough season, but if you were willing to put the hours and the miles in, it provided some fantastic storms. I can safely say that this year, I have moved from storm tourist to storm chaser - a dream that only 5 years ago, never thought I would ever be able to achieve...


Let's see what the future brings...



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