Sometimes the thing we hope for isn't what we want after all.
Yesterday was our third chase day and we got more than we bargained for. After seeing three piddly little tornadoes near Wichita on Sunday the 19th, the best of which was a brief ropy thing that I was only able to photograph through the windshield, and missing the main events down in oklahoma, we were ready for something big. We got something big. The only halfway decent photo was this one of a brief, weak tornado.
We started the day in Tulsa, OK and neither Dave nor Keith were convinced that there would be any storms worth chasing. They felt that since the cap wasnt very strong, lots of storms would form at once and we would have a big mess of severe thunderstorms. As we drove west on Interstate 44, I was driving and Keith was in the command chair. Dave and his friend Ross were sitting in the backseat. As we started approaching the Oklahoma City area around 1:30, Keith began seeing small storms popping up on radar. Since it was so early, Keith and Dave were not hopeful that the chase would be anything worthwhile.
We stopped at a gas station immediately after getting on I-35 to fuel up, get snacks, and use the restroom. As soon as we got back in the car, a little after 2:00, Keith noted that the storm was severe warned and we needed to move. So I continued driving into OKC. At 2:40, when the storm was tornado warned, we were sitting in stop and go traffic on the freeway. In pouring rain. With hail. In a tornado warning with a confirmed large tornado in progress. Awesome. We got off the highway ASAP and headed East. Traffic on the local roads was a snarled mess as people tried to get out of the way of the impending storm. We got caught in a line of cars at a red light and tensions began running high. All I could see in my rearview mirror was the blackness of the approaching tornadic supercell. We knew there was a large tornado back in the rain and we were sitting ducks.
Once we were through the light, we turned right onto East 149th Street and pulled into the edge of driveway to a horse farm. From this vantage point, we were able to see the tornado as it approached.
Once the debris from the tornado began falling around us, we headed further east and watched it rope out from the car. The tornado lasted 50 minutes and carved out a path of destruction 17 miles long, and up to 1.3 miles wide. It's been rated as an EF5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.
This was the first tornado that I've seen do damage. We knew this large, extremely violent tornado was going through Moore, but at that time, we didn't know the full extent of the devastation. All I knew was that I was watching a tornado destroy a subdivision right in front of my eyes. The people who lived in those homes lives as they knew it were over at that moment. All I could do was hope and pray that they were in their basements or tornado shelters. I knew I was likely witnessing loss of life. I knew that I would also never be the same after seeing that degree of horror. There was no celebration while watching this tornado, only tears.