I’ve had three chase days and a day “off” (to work) this Tornado Alley trip, and two of the chase days found me in front of tornadoes I could not have imagined. In fact, the first tornado I saw on Monday was the most dramatic in my 20 seasons of chasing – or at least compares to the 12 May 2004 chase in Attica, Kansas, that saw a house destroyed.
Unfortunately, several houses were damaged or destroyed by the EF4 (upgraded from EF3) tornado I saw near Elmore City, Oklahoma, on Monday, and it killed one man. A hundred feelings rushed through me as I watched the tornado get close to my location on a hill in the difficult-to-chase, tree-filled terrain of southern Oklahoma. First, I considered my escape route, because the tornado was coming my way. And then I was filled with dread as I saw the tornado approach the structures near where I was parked – even though I had no idea so many homes were in the path. Once it started hurtling debris with incredible force and speed, I felt sick, even as I was filled with wonder. This was the most stunning tornado I have ever witnessed, partly because of my proximity to it, but also because of its unusual visibility, manifest power, long duration (it was on the ground for about 25 minutes), and sheer beauty as it shifted from a multi-vortex serpent to a swirling white stovepipe wreathed in dust to an ethereal white rope. And the roar – it had an incredible, clearly heard roar.
It was also a thrill to see two scientific research vehicles speed past me to plant probes in the tornado’s path. For a second, it was like a scene from one of my novels.
You can see all of my photos and video at my sister site at SkyDiary.com, though I’m embedding the video in this post as well. I hate to see tornadoes destroy people’s lives, but I am humbled to be a witness.