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  • Writer's pictureMichael Thornton

The 2020 Spring Chase Season.

The time has finally come. The blog that talks about my 2020 spring storm chase adventures is here! Only a week late, of course. I have decided to include every chase that I did from April until June in this blog. As always, I hope that you enjoy reading this chase blog!

April 21st, The Night Of The Lightning

On April 21st, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK put a slight risk over Central Oklahoma that extended West into the Texas/Oklahoma Panhandles. With dewpoints in the 60s, moderate instability, winds maxing out at around 69mph 18k above the earth's surface, and steep lapse rates, the main concern on April 21st was for the threat of straight-line damaging winds along with hail. However, there was a small tornado risk. At 6:45pm I left Norman, OK, and headed North on I-35, where I then headed West on I-40.

Radarscope and GRLevel3 screenshots showing the Anadarko storm and New Cordell storm at separate times.

I reached the town of Yukon, OK around 7:25pm. Looking to my Southwest I saw beautiful Cumulonimbus towers (An exceptionally dense and vertically developed cloud associated with Thunderstorms) going vertical up into the atmosphere near the town of Anadarko, OK. When I saw this I took a look at GRLevel3 (Windows Radar Application).

Just a few lightning bolts from April 21st.

Having noticed that a single-cell Thunderstorm was forming near Anadarko, OK, I began to keep an eye on the Thunderstorm visually as I was more interested in a Severe Thunderstorm to the Southwest of Weatherford, OK. I reached the town of Hinton, OK (24 miles from Weatherford,OK) at 8pm. I then drove south on U.S. Highway 281and stopped in a wide-open parking lot where I had captured lightning in 2017.

By now the single-cell Thunderstorm near Anadarko, OK had gone severe. By sitting in this wide-open parking lot I had a pretty great vantage point of the LP Severe Thunderstorm near Anadarko, OK, while I was watching the now HP Tornado Warned cell near Weatherford make its way towards me. This HP Tornadic cell began to give off a

pretty good amount of CA flashes (Cloud-To-Air) signifying that the storm was indeed beginning to become stronger. Once the now Severe Thunderstorm reached the outskirts of Hinton, OK, I got back on I-40 and headed West towards the town of Calumet, but stopped at a Route 66 gas station near I-40 because it had a great vantage point for me to safely watch the storm as it passed to my South. The storm began to decay soon after and the chase was over for the night.

April 22nd, Tornado strikes Madill

On the morning of April 22nd, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK put an enhanced risk out for NE TX/SE OK/SW AR/Northern LA. Deep layer shear, strong instability, and steep mid-level lapse rates made the environment prime for supercell development. The main risks consisted of large hail and wind, however, a hatched 10% tornado risk also existed for all of Southeastern Oklahoma. By 2:35pm storms had already gone severe in SW OK, but there was one problem. I had college and ironically had to focus on Meteorology

A Tornadic Supercell near Elmore City, OK

before I could leave and chase. This meant that I had to try and catch the storms as they moved rapidly across Southern Oklahoma. Once I had finished Meteorology I blasted South on I-35 towards a soon to be Tornado Warned cell near the town of Springer, OK. When I reached the town of Tishomingo, OK I realized that I would not be able to catch the Tornadic cell due to the speed at which it was going.

Photo showing some of my SAR gear

Here I am sitting in Tishomingo, OK, trying to decide what I should do as there were other cells to my south that I could try and catch when I heard a voice over my GMRS Radio saying that Madill, OK had been hit by a tornado. I noticed that I was only 18 minutes away from Madill, OK, and with me being trained in Search & Rescue/being an EM student with SAR gear in their vehicle I blasted south to see if they needed any help.

Severe Thunderstorm as seen from Madill, OK

People in weather forums that I am apart of were freaking out and over-exaggerating the tornado that had struck Madill, OK. I was worried that I was going to be coming up on a town that had been completely devastated by a tornado. However, when I reached Madill, OK most of the town was without power and I saw that the damage was confined to a small area. Only 7 houses were affected by the tornado, but sadly 2 people lost their life. Police officers had the area locked down and after talking to an officer to see if they in fact did need help, he

said that they already had enough resources, and thanked me for offering to help. Now knowing that I wasn't needed in the town of Madill, OK, I set up in the eastern part of Madill, OK, and shot beautiful photos of Thunderstorms to my East. At one point a man came up to me and showed me photos that he had taken of the tornado. This is when I learned that a second tornado had developed not even a mile from where I was taking photos of Thunderstorm structure. I watched in awe as I had never seen Cumulonimbus this precise since August 2005 when a tornado struck the town I was in. I captured photos and a timelapse of this structure until the sunset below the horizon.

April 24th, A magical day

On April 24th, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK put an enhanced risk out for SE OK/NE TX/SW AR/NW LA. All throughout the morning hours, the big question was if low-level moisture would be able to make a return before the afternoon hours. SE OK had strong instability and shear. All we needed was moisture return and the chance for tornadoes could skyrocket.

Looking SW into a Tornadic cell with a wall cloud

Even though the terrain in SE OK is questionable, and the fact that I had never had a great chase in that part of the state, and the idea that moisture return might not come in time, I still headed Southeast towards the town of Antlers, OK. Soon after I arrived in Antlers, OK, a storm began to become noticeable on radar near the town of Durant, OK. This storm quickly gained intensity and became severe. I headed south on US-271 and then west on US-70 where I stopped off on a side road and watched as a wall cloud formed right in front of my eyes.

Slanted Wall cloud

At one point this wall cloud was completely slanted, signifying that the storm was very healthy. A couple drove up next to me and asked if it was safe to continue. They had just driven through the most intense part of the storm, but had to go back home as they had forgotten something. I showed them the wall cloud that was right in front of us and told them that at any minute a tornado could form as the storm was showing tornadic characteristics. I highly advised them that they stay where they are and let this storm pass over US-70 before continuing on. They agreed and commented saying that the storm was absolutely beautiful. Minutes later I pulled a risky move and drove West on US-

Backside of the now HP Tornadic storm

70 for a closer look. The reason behind this being a risky move isn't probably for the reason that you think. Remember, in SE OK visibility is limited due to most of the area being forested. By leaving a perfect spot on the top of a hill to get closer, I was risking not being able to see the storm clearly again. However, at that location on the hill, the storm was beginning to become HP. By the time I found a location without trees the storm had gone completely HP.

Incredible LP Thunderstorm near Boswell, OK

A group of older men came up next to me on 2080 Road and asked what the storm was doing because they had a mother who lived a mile south of them. I showed them the radar images on my phone and explained to them what the storm was doing. Once they left, I could no longer see any visible structure signifying if the storm was still tornadic or not, which in SE OK is a big deal as there are no radars near that region of the state making it a radar dead zone (Meaning that you can not rely on radar for accurate data). Because of this, I decided to abandon the storm. This decision was one of the best decisions I have made all year long, as it set me up for one of my most favorite and most popular photographs that I have ever taken. I pulled off of US-109 and looked at my options via radar. I then popped my head up and saw that right in front of me was a developing LP Thunderstorm. I had never seen a Thunderstorm this LP before. I was absolutely shocked. This was singlehandedly one of the most beautiful Thunderstorms that I have ever witnessed in person.

The Thunderstorm in it's dying stage

I followed this beautiful LP Thunderstorm down US-109 and then North to US-70 for 15 miles until it began it's dying stage. The storm itself never became severe, but it was one of the most incredible LP Thunderstorms that I have seen in my 5 years of chasing. Night began to fall soon after and another chase was in the books. This chase was one of my most favorite chases so far this year. I had an incredibly fun time chasing on April 24th and I dub it "A magical day".

May 4th, Cracked windshield

Cumulus building in the background near Shawnee, OK

On May 4th, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK had put an enhanced risk out for NE & SE OK/SW MO/NW AR. Strong instability, bulk shear, and moisture were all available in that region making it prime for tornadoes. However, I really dislike chasing in that region so instead, I chased in Central Oklahoma where a slight risk had been placed. I left Norman, OK around 3:30pm and headed North on I-35. As I

An HP Severe Thunderstorm producing 2.75 in hail

was getting off I-35 to head eastward towards I-40, a man in a 2000s Silverado hauling a trailer had an item come loose off of his trailer striking my vehicle. My explorer jumped up into the air because of this item and I immediately pulled over on the side of the road to see if the vehicle had taken any damage. Thankfully it did not, so I continued on. I noticed on radar that a storm near Hall Park (Norman, OK) was beginning to form.

The storm begins to show more structure

I turned off of I-40 and went south on 192nd Ave outside of Pink, OK. With this being a chase in eastern Cleveland County, the road network was good, but not the visibility. I had to drive 21 miles south before I was able to get into an area with flat land. I finally was able to get a view of this beast of a storm coming right at me. I underestimated how powerful this storm truly was and decided to stand my ground as it overtook me.

Golfball size hail hitting me (1.75 in hail)

screenshot courtesy of Holly

I vividly remember my Canadian friend Holly who was watching the event unfold on radar saying "What in the hell are you doing in there?!" I remember responding to her saying that it's all elevated (meaing that the storm was more of a hail risk and less of a tornado risk). However, I was still upset that I had underestimated the Thunderstorm and now was getting hit by 1.75-inch hail. This misjudgment caused my brand new Ford Explorer's windshield to crack in 4 different places as hail was hitting the windshield non-stop. I was less than thrilled, to say the least.

Looking at the SW side of the storm near Slaughterville

After the hail storm passed over me I drove 1 mile North towards Highway 9 and headed West to try and get a better view. Through the trees, I could see what looked to be a wall cloud. I finally got a clearing near 72nd Ave outside of Noble, OK. By this time the storm had begun turning linear and I called off the chase as I had no interest in chasing a linear storm in a soon to be forested area.

Vibrant mammatus in Norman, OK

May 13th, No tornado risk, no problem

My chase vehicle w/ towers going up in the background

On May 13th, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK issued an enhanced risk for most of Western Oklahoma, Northwestern Texas, and the Texas Panhandle. The instability on this day was around 4,000 with dewpoints in the 50s to low 60s. However, even with the tornado potential being extremely low I still chased because I love the Texas Panhandle and severe weather. I left Norman, OK around 11:20am and headed southwest towards

Severe Thunderstorm as seen from I-40 Service road

Arlie, TX. At the time I couldn't decide if I wanted to chase near Childress, TX, or near Shamrock, TX in the Texas Panhandle. Once I got to the T intersection at Highway 62 in Texas I made my decision and headed North towards Shamrock. At 4:12pm the first storm initiated to the SW of Shamrock, TX. I drove West on the I-40 service road, that way if I

less than a mile from the storm, look at the virga occurring

needed to turn around I could easily do so. I decided to get closer as this Severe Thunderstorm was moving very slow. Once I was on Highway 1547 I pulled over and let it pass to my NE. I watched as the storm's intensity went from strong to weak. I noticed the storm was beginning to die as virga began to take place (Precipitation that falls from a cloud but evaporates before reaching the ground.)

Cumulus tower going up in Texas

I decided to drop the now non-severe Thunderstorm and drove back to Shamrock. That is when I noticed a single developing cumulus tower to my east. I took note of the little tower and began chasing a developing Thunderstorm near Wheeler, TX.

The Thunderstorm I began to chase became severe soon afterward, however, the base was very LP and it was obvious nothing was going to happen with the storm I was chasing.

The same cumulus tower 20 minutes later

On the other hand, the once little cumulus tower had exploded into the atmosphere by now. I saw this and I was speechless. I had never seen such beauty before. I took at least 100 photos of this one cell. Immediately I dropped south on US-283 from Cheyenne, OK for the developing Thunderstorm to my south that was giving off such beautiful structure.

Soon after this photo was taken the developing Thunderstorm began to die. Notice the small streak of a rainbow.

As I was driving south on US-283 I noticed that the once beautiful Thunderstorm was beginning it's dying stage. Even in it's dying stage the Thunderstorm was absolutely beautiful. A rainbow began to emit from the left side of the Thunderstorm. It was spectacular, to say the least.

Shelf cloud coming over me outside of Elk City, OK

Since the storm I wanted to chase dissipated, I decided to get gas in Elk City, OK, and wait for the squall line (A line of thunderstorms that form along a cold front or out ahead of it.) that was heading NE from SW OK towards me.

After I filled up my vehicle I drove south on N1970 road and waited for the incoming storm. Once the shelf cloud was visible I began to record wind speeds using my Kestrel 5000. The wind increased with every step forward the storm took. As the shelf cloud passed over me, the storm produced a 42mph wind gust, while I recorded a sustained wind at around 26mph. The squall line then turned more to the east and I looked at other storms that were in the area as I had more of an interest in chasing single cells rather than chasing a squall line across Western Oklahoma.

Supercell near Strong City, OK at night

That is when I noticed the incredible structure of an LP supercell to my North. Almost Immediately I got onto I-40, then headed West on OK-34.

I had Severe Thunderstorms all around me giving off a significant amount of lightning to my NW/NE/SE/SW. It was an absolutely awesome experience. I ended my chase after I caught a Cloud-To-Ground lightning bolt. This was by far one of the most fun chases I have ever done. Even though the tornado threat was insignificant, that doesn't mean that day as a whole was insignificant, which is why I chase small setups as well.

May 24th, Small risk, big reward

Towers going up to the East of Pampa, TX

On May 24th, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK had a slight risk for all of Western Oklahoma and the Eastern part of the Texas Panhandle. The tornado threat wasn't there as storms looked to go linear soon after they developed, but that didn't stop me from doing what I love as a hobby and that is chase storms. I headed West towards Pampa, TX as storms looked to initiate in that general area.

Under a developing Severe Thunderstorm

Storms started to initiate to the SW of Pampa, TX near the town of White Deer, TX (14 miles away) just after 3:50pm. It was apparent that Virga was occurring with the cell that I was on as the radar was detecting heavy precipitation, but I was right under the storm and had absolutely no precipitation, which is why storm chasing and storm spotting will always be important because radar and ground truth are two separate things. I followed this Severe Thunderstorm all the way NE until it started to die 20 minutes later.

After the storm dissipated, I began to watch another cell coming from the south. I followed this Severe Thunderstorm all the way north into Miami, TX where I stopped on the side of the road. I noticed that practically 1 year later I was chasing on the same exact road and in the same exact area as I did with a Tornadic Cell on May 23rd, 2019. I laughed about the idea of this storm going tornadic just as the one last year did.

This chase was special for the simple fact that I wanted to get at least 1 or 2 good lightning bolts and structure, however, mother nature gave me multiple lightning bolts and showed once again why you shouldn't just chase the "big tornado days."

Looking west into an HP monster

After I picked my jaw off of the ground from the incredible lightning display I had just witnessed, I noticed that the most intense part of the storm was actually headed right for me, so I dropped south on Highway 283 and then went west on Highway 282, where I stopped and captured this photo showing the beast I had been capturing lightning from. I noticed that the storms were now merging with each other and

decided that it was best to head SE away from the squall line. My original plan was to get out in front of the squall line by heading down Highway 748 from Miami, TX, and then getting on US-82 towards Mobeetie, TX. That way I would have a direct road eastward away from the squall line so that I could safely stay out in front of it. While

Anvil crawler outside of Shamrock, TX

traveling down Highway 748 I watched as the rain shafts started to get closer and closer to me. I was right on the edge of the squall line. As I turned onto US-82 the squall line engulfed me, however, I was outrunning the squall line now that I was heading straight east. Once I got to the town of Wheeler, TX I dropped south on US-83 towards Shamrock, TX. When I got into the town of Shamrock, TX I noticed that towers were going up to my east in Oklahoma.

I then focused on the squall line as it slowly came eastward towards me. I began capturing lightning both in CA and CG form. At one point a stray elderly dog came up to me. I gave the dog some love and even tried to put it in my vehicle to shelter from the storm, but it sadly ran off. To this day I hope that someone gave him shelter before the

storm hit Shamrock, TX. May 24th showed me why I love to chase storms. I don't chase for tornadoes, I chase because I love seeing mother nature do what she does best, which is creating beautiful Thunderstorms whether that be in lightning form or structurally.

June 4th, not really a chase, but worth a mention

Shelf cloud near the Radar Operations Center in Norman, OK

Incredible shelf cloud coming over me at the Radar Operations Center in Norman, OK

Finally, even though it's not a chase, I still wanted to include this in the blog. On June 4th, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK put a slight risk out for all of Western Oklahoma that extended eastward into Central Oklahoma. I had absolutely no interest in this chase day, so I didn't chase, however, at 8pm I noticed a gust front (A boundary that separates a cold downdraft of a thunderstorm from warm, humid surface air.) on the radar that was headed directed for Norman. The Severe Thunderstorms stayed to the west of Norman, while the gust front headed SE. I looked out my window and began to see the structure forming so I drove to the Radar Operations Center in Norman and watched as this beautiful shelf cloud overtook me. After years of wanting to capture a beast of a shelf cloud on my camera, I was finally able to do just that on June 4th. The best part is that I only had to drive 10 minutes to set up for the shot. I definitely think not chasing on June 4th was the correct call.

With that being said, it's time to end this action and adventure packed blog. I sincerely hope that you enjoyed reading this blog as much as I enjoyed writing it! I also want to thank the 950 or so people who have liked my Facebook photography page. I never expected to get this far with either the website or my Facebook page. Again, thank you. If you would like to see all of the footage/photos from all of my chases you can do so by clicking here. Thank you again for reading my blog, I hope that you are in good health and have a great day!



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