The month got off to a slow start without much of a drag on tornado activity. A brief thunderstorm occurred as the atmosphere rose around May 11 and 12, but most storms were fluff. It was around the time Aaron arrived in Oklahoma City. Without much to do, we made it through the hours of driving around the area.
We stayed in Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb south of town that was largely flattened on May 3, 1999, when an F5 tornado tore through the city. Thirty-six people died when the mile-wide cylindrical humming saw 300 mph winds destroy residential areas and turn city blocks into rubble. With the National Weather Service declaring a tornado emergency for the first time, meteorologists are scrambling for ways to come up with uplifting words to convey the life-or-death nature of the situation.
Moore’s brief history with twists has only continued from there. An F3 tornado again swirled through the city on May 8, 2003, knocking down several newly rebuilt homes. Yet another high-profile tornado — and the last EF5 to touch the nation in a decade — claimed the lives of twenty-four people in Moore on May 20, 2013, prompting the issuance of another cold tornado emergency reminiscent of a fateful afternoon fourteen years ago.
As soon as I rolled into town, it was obvious to everyone – Dalia, receptionist at La Quinta on 119th Street Southwest; Mark, waiter at Waffle House; Amy at the barbershop on North Broadway — has their own tornado story. I felt like I was standing on a majestic battlefield. Residents have learned to hold their breath throughout May.
At one point, Aaron suggested we kill a few hours and watch a movie somewhere. He directed us a mile to the Warren Theatre. It was used as a medical facility during the 2013 tornado. The vestiges of past storms have been replaced by new constructions and slushy vegetation, but they have never been. really disappeared now.
On May 15, Aaron and I chased hailstorms in the Texas Panhandle. I’ve only seen a quarter-sized hailstorm before; I was playing now when a hail the size of a golf ball fell from the sky on a dirt track in the middle of wide open fields. Naturally, that resulted in a few victory bruises, but at least I was wearing a helmet.
The next day begins in Guymon, a small farm town in the Oklahoma Panhandle. I knew it was going to be the first “real” day of chase we had (and as I later found out, it was the only good day in a record-breaking nearly dull season). Aaron and I gobbled up blueberry muffins from our hotel’s continental breakfast while I pored over early morning data. There will be some scratches and dents todayI thought.
At lunchtime, Aaron and I were on the western border of Oklahoma, where a foreboding pink eye was drawn into inclement weather at midday. A rare PDS or particularly hazardous situation, tornado precaution is in effect. The sun is out, but things are about to get worse.
The storm broke out at around 2 p.m., a small but dangerous trio of cells that exploded like mushroom clouds against a volatile atmospheric backdrop. They were moving from southwest to northeast at 30 mph. Half an hour after their reign, tornado warnings began to appear. With clear focus, I drove to the unincorporated town of Alanreed, consisting of three deserted streets and a cemetery, and waited for the storm to our southwest to pass.
The sunshine gave way to light rain that turned into torrential downpours, and finally the interjected haildrops. The Doppler radar said the rotation was about to pass us, but when it did — nothing. No tornadoes. I decided to reposition before the storm again to intercept again.
That’s when I realized my rookie mistake: I actually fell after the storm. Once the storm has passed, it is virtually impossible to weather it again. The next hour proved to be a mess of traffic jams and receding clouds.
At 5 p.m., I accepted my mistake, resigned to my incompetence. The storm that passed in Alanreed went on to create a tornado just twelve miles away, which I ignored. But something in my gut tells me the day isn’t over yet. Turns out I was right.
A new storm is forming in southwestern Oklahoma, and if we leave immediately, we’ll catch up. We drove east on Interstate 40, reaching Sayre, a rural community just west of Elk City in western Oklahoma, an hour later.
We got off the freeway just after 6 p.m., turned south, and rolled along the undulating hills of Oklahoma State Route 283. Heavy rain was pouring down, but radar data said it was coming to an end, and I was just a moment away from facing the heaviest rain. storm of my life.
“Sir,” I said abruptly to Aaron, who seemed equally astounded. As foretold, the curtain of rain lifted, revealing a giant spiraling tower of dark clouds slowly turning to our southwest. A bell-shaped depression protrudes from the base, obscured by a film of rain and hail around it. The two arm-like appendages — cork streams that flowed in — caught up in a fifty-thousand-foot storm — were wrapping around each other like Brume’s curved staircase to the stratosphere. We looked at a supercell. It looks so cruel.
Within an hour, the cell would take down a deadly EF2 tornado just east of us in Elk City. The vortex was covered in rain, but that didn’t stop me from getting closer to find a way to peek. That means driving into the center of the storm.
“Aaron, now is the perfect time for you to get under your seat and get the safety gear I have for you,” I said at 7 p.m. as we approached the core of the storm. I was ready, but Aaron thought I was joking.
“No, actually,” I say after a moment, my voice firmer. The angry hiss of the elements seemed to want to press against the truck. “We’re going to have hail.”
I’ve put a hard hat, goggles, and work gloves under the passenger seat for an occasion like this; When he found the items, Aaron seemed startled.
“How big will this hailstorm be?” he asked, suddenly confused. “Like the nickel size? Area? “
“No,” I said, grinning. “Softball. We’re about to lose the windshield. “
Taken from Looking Up: The Real Adventures of a Nerd . Storm Weather by Matthew Cappucci. Published by Pegasus Books, 2022.