Searching for Storms: Part Four - KALB-TV News Channel 5 & CBS 2

Searching for Storms: Part Four

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The two chase days after we saw the Bennington, Kansas tornado were a little slow- we saw a couple of supercells and some small hail, but not much more than that. Friday May 31st was our sixth day of chasing- and we knew ahead of time that it would be our last. The forecast beyond that was not favorable for severe weather, so we were hoping for one last chance to catch the storms. But it was on this day for the first time in history that chasers caught the storms, and the storms caught the chasers, as the biggest tornado on record tore through an area surrounding El Reno, Oklahoma. 

After spending the night in Ponca City, Oklahoma, our group had identified El Reno, Oklahoma as a prime location to set up for our final day of chasing. The weather conditions in this area were nearly perfect for the development of tornadoes...almost too perfect.
Explosive thunderstorms were expected to develop in Central Oklahoma ahead of the intersection of a cold front and a dry line, where instability was maximized. As a result, a moderate risk was issued by the Storm Prediction Center.

By six o'clock that evening, the first tornado touched down, to the west southwest of El Reno. We headed to the storm, stopping along Highway 81 to look at the supercell.
After a few minutes of intense winds and a nice view of the storm we checked the latest radar image...we suddenly realized that we were among dozens of storm chasers in the direct path of the tornado, and that it was time to quickly move south.

But it wasn't in time.

As the tornado rotated around it's moved both to the left and to the right, an erratic path, that threw many chasers off guard-even some of the most experienced.

The tornado crossed the roadway we had just been driving on and it rapidly intensified into one of the most violent tornadoes in history.
After we were safely out of the storm's path, we looked behind us and saw the storm morph into a 2.6 mile wide tornado...the widest ever recorded.

To put that into perspective at it's widest, the tornado would stretch from the foot of the Jackson Street bridge in Alexandria to the MacArthur Drive overpass on the opposite end of Jackson Street.
The University of Oklahoma's mobile Doppler radar recorded winds within the storm of 295 miles per hour...the second highest winds ever recorded on earth.

And another first occurred during the El Reno tornado...the first recorded deaths of storm chasers. Scientist and veteran chaser Tim Samaras, founder of the Twistex tornado research team, his son Paul, and his chasing partner Carl Young were killed after they were caught in the storm's path. Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Bettes and his crew, who were not far behind us along the highway, were also caught in the tornado. Their vehicle was thrown across the roadway, injuring them all.

The next day we returned to El Reno, driving the same stretch of roadway we had traveled while trying to escape the storm. Thankfully, much of the area that the tornado affected was rural. Although there was damage, it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been had it moved through nearby Oklahoma City. Sadly, the storm took multiple lives and caused numerous injuries.

After chasing storms all week that seemed other-worldly, and surreal, we had found the tornado that brought storm chasers, meteorologists, and families that call the plain their homes reeling back reality. Reminding us that we're here only to study the science, to try to put the pieces of nature's puzzle together...and although we may understand, although we can predict and forecast...mother nature is always in charge.

So our group to said goodbye to the land that had taught us even more than we already knew about weather....and even more than we already knew about searching for storms. 



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