top of page
  • Writer's pictureMichael Thornton

"Chasing Storms and Gas Station Mishaps: An Adventure on May 11th, 2023"

On the morning of May 11th, 2023, the Storm Prediction Center issued an Enhanced Risk for a large portion of Oklahoma due to the possibility of tornadoes, large hail, and straight-line winds. Having looked at model data for the past 3 days, I set up to the Southwest of Lawton where I expected storms to initiate. By 4 PM, Mesoanalysis data showed CAPE values between 3,000 and 3,500 and decent bulk shear in Southern

Geromino, Oklahoma storm

and Central Oklahoma. Additionally, Mesoanalysis data showed increased Supercell Composites and Significant Tornado Parameters for Jefferson, Stephens, Carter, Loves, Murray, McClain, and Grady Counties. By 5 PM, two storms had developed in Southwestern Oklahoma. One storm was near Geronimo about 6 miles away from my location and the other was near Temple, about 17 miles away. The storm near Temple had rapidly developed while the Geronimo storm struggled to stay afloat. Due to our location, my girlfriend and I were able to view both storms and decided to target the Temple storm. We took Highway 36 from Faxxon to Geronimo where we continued South until we turned east on Highway 5 towards Walters. As we began heading towards Walters, I noticed a wall

My girlfriend under the wall cloud.

cloud and had my girlfriend verify what I saw so I could pay attention to the road. Minutes later we reached the City of Walters and headed south on Highway 5. As we continued south towards the storm, the wall cloud held strong. 6.2 miles south of Walters, we reached the intersection of Highway 5 and Highway 5A, where we set up and watched the low-precipitation supercell. By this point, the wall cloud was about 500 feet to our southeast and I told my girlfriend to pose and I took a picture of her under the wall cloud. Her first time being under one. To say she was excited was an understatement! After taking a few minutes to geek out over the coolness of the situation, we repositioned ourselves on Highway 5 and continued to track the storm as it moved near the Town of

Large wall cloud near Agawam.

Temple. Around 5:55 PM, I noticed that the storm began to fall apart, and as my girlfriend and I drove towards the Town of Comanche, I gave her options to either go north or south as storms were forming in both directions. Having been one of her first chases, she asked me to decide and I chose the northern option. We raced north on Highway 81 from Comanche and at 7:11 PM just a few miles north of Rush Springs, we found ourselves right under a Tornadic storm. I pulled over near the intersection of Highway 81 and East 151 Road and watched as a funnel cloud developed about a hundred feet from us. This funnel cloud soon dissipated and in its place, a large wall cloud developed near the town of Agawam. From Highway 81, we took Peach and Dell Streets to Highway 19 and then south to Alex where we stopped for a second to compare the

Funnel cloud on County Street 2940.

storm we were on to a storm south of us. Ultimately, we decided to stick with the storm we had driven north for originally. At 8:05 PM, both my girlfriend and I found ourselves north of Alex on County Street 2940, where we observed a clear lowering and a few minutes later a second attempt at a funnel cloud began to take place. This second attempt was unsuccessful. Soon after, the tornadic storm became rain-wrapped as multiple storms merged. With this in mind,

Another view of the storm from CS 2940.

a new problem arose. My vehicle dinged and alerted me that I had about 50 miles to empty. I asked my girlfriend to look up the closest gas station to our location. The closest gas station was an Alon gas station west of Dibble. This was great news because we were only 9 minutes from the gas station, however, two miles north of us at the intersection of County Street 2940 and Highway 39, was road construction. Using Google Maps, we tried to find the fastest way to the gas station, however, our mapping system brought us to a private drive. As we turned back towards Highway 39, my girlfriend and I watched as other chasers drove through the construction-filled area that was closed to the public. It was closed to the public because bridge maintenance was being performed. I chose not to endanger my girlfriend and me and drove south on County Street 2970 and then east on E137 Road. From this point on, we were about 6 minutes from the gas station. Those six minutes were the longest in my life as we now had two tornadic supercells between us and my concern was keeping my girlfriend safe. Six minutes later we arrived at the Alon gas station. I began pumping and right as I hit 4 gallons, the power went out at the gas station. Moments later, it turned back on and I tried to continue pumping gas, but the pumps were faulting. By this point, a tornado was forming near Cole only 4 miles northeast of us, and then to our south was another tornadic supercell that was moving northeast towards us. Knowing the danger, I did some quick map work and blasted north on Highway 76 towards Blanchard to get us out of the danger zone.

This escape route worked flawlessly and we

arrived in Blanchard nine minutes later and filled up on gas. Night fell shortly after and we called off the chase. For the next 30 minutes, we watched lightning from surrounding storms on Highway 62 in between Newcastle and Blanchard at the old KFOR Doppler Radar site.

About the writer: Michael Thornton graduated from Rose State College majoring in Emergency Management. Currently, he is the Director of Tillman County Emergency Management, an Oklahoma Certified Emergency Manager, and the SW Oklahoma Emergency Management Association VP Alternate.



bottom of page