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  • Writer's pictureMichael Thornton

Low risk in the Oklahoma Panhandle

The setup

On the morning of March 30th, I woke up and checked the weather models like I would on any other chase day. I noticed that the HRRR (High-Resolution Rapid Refresh model) had been extremely consistent with a rotating cell going up in Northwestern Texas all morning long. The cell in Northwestern Texas had dew points reaching into the mid-60s with a strong 500mb wind. Everything looked great for a lower risk chase day. When the 10 am HRRR model run came out, the once long-tracked single supercell in Northwestern Texas now looked to die around 7 pm, an hour after initiating. This led me to start questioning if I should chase in the Oklahoma Panhandle rather than chase in Northwestern Texas. The problem with the storms to the North in the Texas Panhandle and the Oklahoma Panhandle was that there were practically no 500mb winds, dew points were in the 40s and temperatures were in the 50's, all of this basically meant that severe weather potential would be limited in that region.

At 11:30 am the Storm Prediction Center updated their day 1 outlook and included Northwestern Texas in the slight risk. I felt so conflicted at this point because the HRRR had shown the storm in Northwestern Texas initiating around 6 pm and then dying one hour later, but now that there was a slight risk that included Northwestern Texas I kept asking myself "What am I not seeing that the SPC is seeing?" I couldn't make up my mind if I wanted to risk it all and go to Northwestern Texas and wait for a storm that might not even initiate or if I should travel Northwest into the Oklahoma Panhandle where all morning long the HRRR had shown a small squall line coming through the panhandle later in the day. Once the clock struck 12 pm I still couldn't make up my mind as to where I wanted to chase.

So I did what I thought was the smartest thing at the time and that was to pack up my chase gear and head West on I-40. That way if the Northwestern Texas storm began to look better on the HRRR I could drop South once I got to Shamrock, TX. Alternatively, if the weather models stayed consistent with the storms in Northwestern Texas going up and dying 1 hour later, I could head Northwest and chase in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Spoiler alert, the storms in NW TX stayed consistent and I chased in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

The Chase

The severe weather risk for March 30th was pretty low, the main reason for the slight risk was for the threat of large hail and damaging winds. I still decided to chase because I had recently purchased a 2012 Ford Explorer and I wanted to get comfortable driving long distances and chasing in it.

Storms began to form in Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle around 3 pm. At 5:20 pm I intercepted my first and only Severe Thunderstorm of the day in between the town of Hooker, OK, and Baker, OK. I parked my vehicle on Mile 50 road and began shooting a timelapse of the storm as it began to come closer to me. Using my brand

new Kestrel 5000, I was able to record wind speeds as high as 18mph 10 miles out from the core of the storm. At this point in time, I was mainly concerned with capturing structure photos and lightning so I decided to reposition myself on Mile 52 road as the storm began to come closer to me.

Once again after allowing the storm to get practically right on top of me, I booked it East into the town of Turpin, OK where I stopped on Hollow N1180. At 6:25 pm I would witness a Cloud-To-Ground lightning bolt blow up an object off to my North. I had no idea what the bolt had struck, but I could tell that whatever it had struck must have

been flammable as I watched a huge fireball fill the sky followed by a large billow of black smoke. I immediately called 911 from Hollow N1180 as I booked it North towards the pitch-black smoke. As I made it to the intersection of US-Highway 64 and Beaver Road I looked to my North and saw a battery tank engulfed in flames. This had been my

second encounter with a battery tank explosion as a result of a lightning strike. The only difference is that this time I had cell data to be able to contact 911. I pulled off to the side of the road and began to film the battery tank that was on fire. While filming the battery tank I was encountered by another chaser who asked if I was Mike Thornton. I,

of course, said yes. This chaser was none other than Jake Thompson, a storm chaser who I had seen on radar earlier in the day intercept a Tornadic cell near Hugoton, KS. We talked for a bit about the storm that he intercepted near Hugoton as well as the battery tank that had exploded. It was pretty neat to meet another chaser out in the field.

As the once Severe Thunderstorm that I had chased began to come closer to me, I decided to call it a day and end my chase. I drove South on US-Highway 64 where I got gas at Crossroads Express in Bryans Corner. Here I would capture a beautiful sunset to end the day. I truly enjoyed chasing on March 30th. I didn't have to deal with a massive influx of chasers and the storm's motion was very slow, allowing me to enjoy the storms. It also felt great only having to spend $50 on gasoline the entire chase. So that might be another reason why I enjoyed chasing that day. Either way, I hope that you enjoyed reading another one of my storm chasing blogs. Have a great day or night and stay safe out there! See you all under the meso!

Storm chase footage from March 30th



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