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The set-up

This was a typical stormy evening in central Oklahoma. As the afternoon wore on, towering cumulus filled the sky as surface temperatures reached 90 degrees. As the sun set, the sky was lit up by lightning of storms all around us. We stood in the breezeway of the apartments, shooting the breeze (pardon the pun) and watching the show.

It was around 10 PM that things got interesting in a hurry.

The chase

The storm began innocently enough a few miles northeast of our apartments, in our very own Cleveland County. It popped up quickly, and it didn’t look too strong because it was so close to the KTLX radar, and the radar beam shot way under the base of the storm.

The thing is, the storm almost appeared with a hook already in place! Twenty minutes after appearing as a random blip, it had a small, strong couplet and a nearly circular hook. It produced the brief EF-1 tornado around this time, and ten minutes later the circulation dissipated.

Several minutes after this, the tornado sirens were sounded across Norman. They went off briefly, then came on again. The tornado had already happened! I heard later the local emergency manager had technical problems sounding the siren remotely, hence the delay.

In this animation, which spans 10:04 PM to 10:36 PM, the white star approximately denotes our location. Look at that hook! Awesome!

Our reaction

This all happened so quickly we didn’t have time to get in any sort of position to see the tornado. The entire time this happened, not a cloud passed over our heads; only the stars were above. It was very surreal. There were many trees around so we couldn’t see the base of the storm.

Doug drove up to the National Weather Center to go up to the observation deck, but by the time he had made it there, others already there told him they had seen the tornado and it had dissipated.

When the sirens sounded, some folks in the neighboring apartment bolted for their cars. They were going to find shelter somewhere else, they said in the university library. I don’t know what they were thinking – it’s very dangerous to be in a car when a tornado is near, especially at night when you have no idea where you are going or where the storm is. We talked them into staying, and they took shelter in our apartment, since it is on the first floor and is the safest. Meanwhile, all us weather nerds are standing around outside with cameras, laptops, and radios, staring skyward. Go figure.

This was the closest I’ve been to a tornado so far, estimated at about five miles. I didn’t even have to drive anywhere. But I didn’t get to see it. No photographs, no video – nothing but a shaky video of us running around the apartments. Oh well. There’s always the next chase, next spring. It will always be there.

Here is a great video and a nice frame grab from other sources.

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