A Day I Will Always Remember...

Ten years ago, a massive tornado outbreak struck Oklahoma and Kansas.  The most notable tornado from this day, was the one that hit in and around Oklahoma City.  Specifically, it hit Bridgecreek and Moore, Oklahoma as an F-5.  I was working in Sioux City, Iowa at the time.  We had been watching the severe weather parameters all day, and knew that Oklahoma and Kansas were going to be in rough shape.  However, we were also looking for severe weather to develop in Nebraska and head our way that evening.  Regardless of what some will have you believe, it wasn't clear than an event of this magnitude would happen that day.  Lots of clouds and cool, moist air were in place in the Southern Plains.  The uncertainty was rather this would clear enough to allow some heating to occur, and storms to form.  What happened late that day, will be remembered as a landmark day in tornado research and emergency response.  Click on the following link and it will take you through the day that was May 3rd, 1999:  http://www.srh.noaa.gov/oun/wxevents/19990503/

While this was going on, our morning meteorologist ( Brian Olson ) and myself were chasing storms in eastern Nebraska.  We were going way too fast in his Jetta, and only had intuition, lightning flashes, and WNAX radio for meteorological assistance.  We dealt with extensive hail, heavy rain, and strong winds, as we were trying to get our glimpse of a tornado.  While tracking a storm heading toward Yankton, SD, we quickly realized that it would outrun us.  We stopped and surveyed the situation ( it was dark ), and tried to see where a better opportunity would arise.  We had a storm just to our south that was weaker than the one we were chasing.  Granted it wasn't the most exciting storm, but it might have to do.  As we were sitting there on the dirt road, we got out and looked up in the sky to see a billowing thunderhead lit by moonlight.  This was the one we were chasing just to our north.  Just then, strong outflow winds surged past us heading south.  We both looked at each other and realized that this strong outflow boundary may be enough kick to get the weaker storm to our south going.  We were right.  We turned around and hadn't driven 200 yards and started getting pounded by quarter-size hail.  As we punched through the hail shaft, the storm was moving north, and allowed us to get into the southwest flank of the storm ( good locations for supercell tornado formation ).  This part of the storm was rain and hail free, but the lightning was constant.  We knew we may be in business.  Just then, 10:13 pm near Bow Valley, Nebraska, we saw a wide funnel touch down and destroy a barn.  It lasted only a few minutes, but was strong enough to do F-2 damage to the farmstead.  How could we see all of this in the dark?  Like I said, the lightning was constant.  I have seen lightning like this only one other time, and that was during the severe storm outbreak that produced the Limon tornado on June 6th, 1990.  We looked at each other in amazement and couldn't believe that we caught our first tornado, on our first chase, IN THE DARK!  What a dangerous, stupid, rewarding, crazy time...LOL.  We got back to Sioux City later that night ( he had to get up and work the morning show the next day ), only to turn on CNN and see the tremendous damage and loss of life that occurred in Oklahoma and Kansas.  Unbelieveable...

Brian now works at WKOW in Madison, WI as their morning meteorologist.  He was here visiting in late March and we relived that story.  Heck, we tell that story whenever we get together... 

Chief Meteorologist Brian Bledsoe

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