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  • Writer's pictureMichael Thornton

Preparing for and responding to damaging 85 mph wind gusts

October 3rd, 2023

A self-portrait of me looking at multiple weather models.

On the morning of October 3rd, 2023, I began analyzing weather model data for a severe weather event that was expected to occur the following day. Just after 12:30 PM, I started writing my first of two detailed weather discussions for stakeholders, storm spotters, and civilians in Tillman County. In this email, I wrote the following "As of October 3rd, the majority of 12z weather models support a good amount of instability, moisture, and shear in Tillman County early tomorrow afternoon. CAM Models (HRRR, NAM 3km, HRW) are all in agreeance that we will likely see instability values above 1,000 j/kg with moisture in the mid-60s to

The HRRR model shows multiple storms in SW OK.

possibly low 70s tomorrow. Data is also supportive that we could see bulk shear of around 30kts. The majority of models support thunderstorm activity in the afternoon hours after 3 PM, however, the HRRR model has started to show storms forming as early as 12 PM/1 PM in our region tomorrow. One thing is for sure and that is that once these storms form they will likely go from discrete storms to linear storms in the late afternoon to early evening hours and move southeast out of our region." After sending this email out, I informed my spotters that they'd likely be activated. I also put out a summarized version of this email on Facebook. My confidence with this setup was moderate given the data available and I even questioned if an upgrade in risk categories was going to occur.

October 4th, 2023

A detailed weather discussion email that I sent out on October 4th.

In the morning hours of October 4th, 2023, the Storm Prediction upgraded the severe weather risk from a slight to an enhanced for the majority of the Norman WFO. As a result of this risk upgrade, Tillman County was now in a hatched 30% chance for severe winds and a hatched 15% chance for large hail. What this meant was that Tillman County could see wind gusts between 60 mph to 80 mph and hail as large as baseballs during the afternoon hours. I arrived at my office at around 8 AM and immediately began forecasting the severe weather setup. I noticed that the majority of weather models were in agreeance that storm initiation could occur in the afternoon hours after 1 PM. The SPC HREF also indicated that severe weather parameters for Tillman County would likely increase after 3 PM with the threats primarily being hail and wind. After looking over real-time atmospheric and model data for 2-hours, I began writing a detailed email for stakeholders, storm spotters, and

civilians. Once this email was sent out, I activated my storm spotters at 10:25 AM. The Storm Prediction Center issued a Severe Thunderstorm Watch for Tillman County at 1:18 PM. Coincidentally, FEMA sent out their nationwide test at the same time. This is relevant because when the Storm Prediction Center issues a Watch for Tillman County, I send out the alert through our CodeRed system. With this in mind, I broadcasted the information over radio frequencies, but I

Top = radar reflectivity, bottom = velocity data.

waited 10 minutes before sending the watch out over landline, phone, email, text, and our app. About an hour later, storms began to enter Jackson County, Oklahoma, which borders Tillman County. I noticed an intense uptick in wind velocities southwest of Elmer on the Red River. While this severe storm was still to our west in another county, the storm was moving in an eastern direction. This meant that the severe storm was likely going to enter Tillman County. Around 2:47 PM, I received a call from someone in Grandfield. This individual asked for my opinion on the storm and then asked if they should cancel their outdoor skeet shooting training session. I informed them of the situation unfolding and recommended that they hold off on the training session.

Photo from a TCEMA Storm Spotter just south of Tipton.

As the severe thunderstorm moved into Tillman County, velocity data held strong, and at 3:05 PM, the Tipton Mesonet recorded 72 mph wind gusts. A TCEMA Storm Spotter 7 miles south of Tipton also reported 70 mph wind gusts. Given the data present, I started to perform weather updates over our VHF radio every two minutes instead of five in an effort to keep the City of Frederick and other towns downstream updated on potential impacts. As the severe

The storm moving into Frederick as seen from my office.

thunderstorm crept closer to Frederick, the KFDR Doppler radar outside of town continued to show 70 mph wind gusts, 1,000 ft above the ground. I quickly went outside to see what the storm looked like and I saw an absolutely nasty shelf cloud. There were two people to my right near a restaurant. One guy yelled over to me and said "That thing looks mean!" I replied by saying "It definitely is! It has 70 mph wind

No power? No problem! Let's continue working in the dark!

gusts and it's about 2 miles outside of town. Get inside now!" At 3:14 PM, severe straight-line winds entered the western side of Frederick. These winds quickly raced across town and subjected citizens to 85 mph wind gusts. Two minutes later, the City of Frederick lost power. When the City of Frederick lost power, so did my office. The generator also failed to kick on. This meant that I was going to have to continue performing operations in

the dark. I quickly turned on a laptop and my

hotspot and got back to work. Once Frederick lost power, radio communication ceased and I no longer heard anyone. However, I continued to provide information over the radio whether people could hear me or not. I also informed the National Weather Service in Norman that I had lost power at my EOC and that data was now spotty and asked them to inform me if they saw something on the radar that was of interest. The severe thunderstorm continued eastward through the county and at 3:27 PM, a TCEMA spotter in the Town of Hollister reported pea size hail and 80 mph wind gusts. This spotter also reported that shingles were blown off of a roof, a fence was knocked down, and that a shed had received structural damage. One minute later a resident in Grandfield informed me that

damage in Frederick.

they had lost power. At the same time, Hollister also lost power. A few minutes later TCEMA storm spotters began to send in information about both tree and structural damage in Frederick. At 3:41 PM, the City Manager of Frederick informed me that there were power lines down across all of Frederick. With this new information, I put out a CodeRed alert and informed citizens in Frederick of the situation at hand. Ten minutes later, storms finally exited the county and the rapid damage assessment began. During my assessment, I found a destroyed barn, silos toppled, power poles on the ground, tree damage, and structural damage to an abandoned building. All of this information was relayed to both the National Weather Service and Oklahoma Emergency Management.

October 5th, 2023

The front part of the cooling/charging station.

On the morning of October 5th, 2023, I released a 4-paragraph situational update and informed officials all across the county of damages in their respective areas as well as the winds that they were subjected to. Interestingly enough, no damage occurred where the Tipton Mesonet recorded 72 mph wind gusts. This was likely due to the fact that these winds struck an extremely rural part of the county. Both Grandfield and Hollister had regained power. Just before noon, I was contacted by the City Manager of Frederick. He was inquiring to see if I could establish a cooling/charging station so those without power could charge electronics and be in a cooler environment. I, of course, happily obliged to the request. I set up a cooling/charging station at the Civic Center in Frederick and even provided water for those who may have needed it. I did not have food on hand as this was expected to be a short-term station. Throughout the day citizens came to the cooling/charging station and utilized this resource. Later that night, the City Manager for Frederick informed me that they had received power to all parts of the town.

In conclusion, I felt that I did an excellent job at forecasting this setup and then acting on it as these events unfolded. My TCEMA storm spotters absolutely knocked it out of the park and their reports were essential to providing information to towns downstream in Tillman County as well as to the National Weather Service. Our agency had consistent communication with officials at both the city, county, and state levels before, during, and after severe weather. However, on the flip side, the power outage in Frederick caused a significant power failure to our EOC. When this power failure occurred, my office lost the ability to have working internet, computers, and radio equipment. But even then, I adapted to the situation at hand. Thank you for reading this article and have a great day wherever you may be!

About the writer: Michael Thornton graduated from Rose State College majoring in Emergency Management. Currently, he is the Director of Tillman County Emergency Management, a Southwest Incident Support Team member, and an Oklahoma Emergency Management Association member.



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