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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  • by Brian Location: Weather Center on May 4, 2009 at 08:13 PM
    Yeah, that was quite a day. The supercell storm that produced the F-5 in OKC, was one of the more classical storms I have ever seen. Check out the link that shows the storm on radar just before it hit Moore, OK: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tornadic_classic_supercell_radar.gif
  • by Sarah Location: C/S on May 4, 2009 at 11:22 AM
    I rememeber hearing about these Tornando's on the news 10 years ago. Very intresting story Thank you for sharing!
  • by Randi Location: Trinidad, CO on May 3, 2009 at 09:21 PM
    I remember this day, Gary England had been on news9 storm warning, My kids were babies, Gary England said if you live south of SW 29th and I-44, go underground, this was the largest tornado ever.... Needless to say, we left our south OKC home and headed to NW OKC to my mother in laws home and sat thru 4 more warnings/sirens in the laundry room. At this point, the High School I had gone to had been hit, (WESTMOORE), the school I had gone to Kindergarten was leveled completely, my home town was like a war zone. I was born and raised in OK, and had never seen a tornado like this, I was scared for my life, my childrens, friends and family. I had gone to the scaredy hole many times in my life and not been so scared, but watching that storm on May 3rd coming up I-44 from the Lawton area and through Moore, and the outbreak that night. thank god my family was safe from harm. probably the most scared of a storm I have ever been in my entire life. I was running scared.....
  • by Brian Location: Weather Center on May 3, 2009 at 08:26 PM
    Yeah Tim, it is amazing what outflow boundaries can do to an otherwise normal t-storm day. Here in the land of outflow boundaries, you have to know how they work and how they can impact a rather pedestrian storm. Getting to be that time of year... Thanks for checking in Tim.
  • by Tim Location: Colorado Springs on May 3, 2009 at 08:16 PM
    Wow, Brian, thanks for sharing the account of your chase that day! Between this experience, and your description of the Limon case study, it's easy to see why you should have a particular liking for outflow boundaries :)
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