|El Reno, Oklahoma EF5 tornado account, May 31
HD VIDEO: EF5 tornado at close range, El Reno, OK
GPS TRACK: GPS log with tornado track overlay (Thanks to my brother Matt for putting this together)
It is my hope that by sharing this and collaborating with others who were there, we can determine exactly what happened with this event, and move forward with lessons we can apply for the future.
Like many others, I began the chase in El Reno, targeting the dryline/outflow boundary
intersection to the west. When storms initiated, a dominant cell was
apparent taking shape along I-40. To avoid chaser traffic, I chose to
utilize the county road grid to observe the storm rather than main highways.
I observed and filmed the start of the El Reno tornado for several minutes
on Jensen Road about 1/2 mile east of S Heaston Road. The tornado
exhibited multiple vortices, horizontal vortices and rapid motion, and was
approximately 1.5 miles to my due south.
As heavy rain began falling at my location, I then proceeded east on Jensen
Road. The tornado was still ongoing to my south, and was clearly moving
farther away as I paralleled it heading eastbound on Jensen. From this I
derived that the tornado was moving in an east-southeasterly direction.
The tornado soon wrapped completely in rain, but moments later was faintly
visible as a large wedge, still moving farther south away from Jensen Road.
This appearance continued as I approached S Choctaw Avenue. Due to the
tornado's apparent southward component of movement, I chose to turn south
from Jensen onto Choctaw for one mile to position closer to maintain a good
I estimated at this point that it was two miles to the south. It was
heavily rain wrapped at this time, but its outline was still easily visible. Here was my view looking south on Choctaw at this time:
Power flashes were visible as I traveled south on Choctaw. I was also
monitoring another wall cloud with rapid motion visible just to my north.
I chose to turn east on NW 10th Street (Reuter Road) to position safely
northeast of the tornado to obtain a better contrasted view. At this stage,
it appeared the north edge of the tornado was approximately 1.5 miles to the
south. At this time, the tornado gave no indication that it had deviated
from its eastward movement.
At the intersection of NW 10th and Highway 81, I briefly considered turning
south again on Highway 81, but could see that the tornado was already
beginning to cross the highway to the south by approximately 1 mile. For
this reason I chose to continue east on NW 10th to maintain a safe distance.
At this point, the white Chevy Cobalt occupied by the Twistex crew was
immediately behind me.
Other than the Twistex Cobalt and a red pickup truck parked along Highway 81, there were no other vehicles in our immediate vicinity. In other words, chaser traffic was a non-factor at our location.
At this stage, my last visual assessment of the tornado was that it was
continuing its general eastward movement while crossing Highway 81.
However, after traveling approximately 1/2 mile on NW 10th/Reuter east of
Highway 81, I observed the rain curtains rapidly approaching the road from
the south. This is visible on the front-facing dash camera. At the same
time, the ill-defined wedge tornado suddenly appeared to the south rapidly
approaching the road. At this time, the tornado is not yet visible on
either front or rear cameras.
This was my first indication of trouble, and I began accelerating eastward
to escape. The rain curtains and inflow winds into the tornado quickly
enveloped the car. My car's wheels were struggling to grip the gravel road
against the force of the wind, and the vehicle's traction control was
continuously engaging and reducing power to the wheels. The vehicle was
struggling to maintain speed and was difficult to control. I made several
unsuccessful attempts to disengage the traction control.
My rear-facing camera shows two satellite tornadoes or subvortices during
this time. The first satellite is visible as a brief rope tornado almost
due west. The second satellite or subvortex emerges from the rain on the
left side of the screen as a large barrel/cylinder tornado. At this stage,
the main tornado is still off-camera to the left. Jeff Piotrowski's video
at this time, shot from the north, shows this barrel tornado as the only
fully condensed vortex. The large barrel satellite/subvortex then merges or
expands very rapidly into the main condensed wedge tornado at maximum width,
which then is visible overtaking NW 10th/Reuter. Nearly the entire rain
curtain zone condenses into a wedge at this stage, this happens almost
I finally abruptly emerged from the winds and rain curtains just east of the Evans
Road intersection on 10th/Reuter, and could now see that I was out of the
path of the tornado clearly behind me. I stopped briefly to observe the
wedge tornado now crossing NW 10th/Reuter a few hundred yards to my west.
Violent motion was apparent.
This was my view (video capture) looking due west down NW 10th/Reuter Road at what I had just barely escaped from. The east edge of the tornado is right at Evans Road:
After 15 seconds, I repositioned east again to
maintain a safe distance from the tornado. Now clearly out of its path, I then exited the vehicle to
obtain video and photographs. These are the two DSLR still images I obtained at this time, both at 10mm on the Canon 10-22mm wide-angle lens (click each to open a full screen view):
After a few seconds, the powerful rear flank downdraft - likely in excess of
100mph - struck me and the car. The force of the wind caused me to stumble
across the road and into a fence. One of my loose-fitting diabetic shoes
was blown off and into the field. One to two inch hailstones, driven
sideways by the wind, began impacting me and the car. The first impact to
me was directly into my left eye, opening a 1.5" gash above my eye.
Several other wind-driven hailstones and debris objects impacted me in the
seconds following. I ran and dove into the ditch on the south side of the
road to escape the hail and any other wind-driven debris. I remained lying
flat and covered my head with my hands for about 45 seconds until the hail
and wind subsided.
During this time, my car also suffered damage to the rear window and both
external mirrors. My laptop screen in the front of the car also suffered a
hailstone strike and was cracked. Most of the glass from the rear window
blew into the front half of the car, with glass piling up at the bottom of
At this time, I chose not to continue the chase due to my injuries and
vehicle damage. My eye was bleeding, face half covered in blood and dirt,
and arms and back with bruises and scratches. I tried to drive south away
from the storms, but had considerable difficulty due to heavy traffic from
fleeing local residents. I eventually made it safely out of the path of the
storm complex to Chickasha, Oklahoma to assess my injuries and the extent of
It was not my intent to get into the path of this tornado. I expected its
eastward movement to continue with a gradual curve toward the north when it
weakened. One moment it was due south of me by at least a mile, the next
it was right on me.
Some may think witnessing an F5/EF5 tornado at close range would be the ultimate catch. But this has been a rather traumatic experience for me - not so much at the time, but to later realize what was taking place right
behind me and how close I was to the same thing. At last count, this tornado has taken 19 lives. The damage to my car is repairable, and my very minor injuries are already mostly healed. I've spent the last several days having trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating on work, as what happened to the Twistex crew and many others that day has been constantly on my mind.
One more item to add to this report regarding the money made from the sale of the video footage linked above. I used the ENG sales proceeds (earned from news outlets the day of the event) to help pay for the damage to my car and laptop. 100% of all additional proceeds from that point onward (earned from stock footage sales and Youtube ad revenue) will be directed to tornado research and/or relief in Tim, Paul and Carl's memory. The recipient of these funds is yet to be determined, but I will update this page with that information when the decision is made.
|I understand how this close call is effecting you. Thank you for this explaination. I think it explains a lot.|
- Posted by Ann
|Dan. My sincerest kudos to you for sharing such an open, honest, and detailed account of what you observed and experienced on that tragic day! I am sorry that you endured injuries and damage to your car, as well as substantial emotional/psychological trauma - which is most understandable given your own experiences and your awareness of the fate of the Twistex team. I am very impressed by your willingness to cast aside any consideration of pride or ego in order to provide your very professional account to the entire chase community. Not only does your story fill a need to visualize the situation for future safety, but you have helped fill in many pieces of the puzzle for those looking for answers regarding the death of such cautious, experienced, and savy chasers on the Twistex team. I will be looking over your videos when there is an opportunity. Please accept my heartiest thanks and most enthusiastic compliments on your generous and helpful efforts Dan! here!|
- Posted by Derek Baker from Milton, Ontario, Canada
|Dan your story was very well said and I can relate to the to your emotions, I myself was in my home in Joplin Mo, May, 22nd 2011. We all appreciate your words of the events and thank you for keeping us informed and prepared in bad weather with your information. My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones on that tragic day. |
- Posted by Susan from Joplin Mo.
|Dan, it's good to see your new blog, I worried very much after reading your last blog. And I'm sorry for what you are feeling and your trouble. I don't know what to say and which words can comfort your mind. At least, but very importantly, your experience will save lot of lives and other chasers from such dangerous situations, you made a great decision to post this blog. Currently, I know, it's very hard time for you, but later, you can help and advise many people with wise and realistic solutions.
"I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." Psalm 4:8
- Posted by Luka from Arizona
|Thank you so much for posting this account. I hope setting it down helped you make some sense of what happened. I am sure it contains valuable information about both the El Reno tornado and the tragic fate of the Twistex crew which will help everyone to understand what happened that day. It sounds like you are experiencing some PTSD, you need to give yourself time to heal and to recover. Maybe some mild sleeping pills to allow you to sleep and your mind to recover. |
- Posted by hazelmaryjackson
|Please forgive me if I'm only stating the obvious.. but perhaps a more substantial vehicle would've considerably helped your failed escape maneuver. (After all, a Yaris is pretty light-duty for EF-5 country.. isn't it?) What happened to the Ranger pickup you used to drive?|
- Posted by JM from BC, Canada
|Thank you for sharing. This shows plp how big and erratic this thing became. Sometime is there is no rhyme or reason for how nature morphs|
- Posted by patty
|That is the reason I was there with my 4x4 and not my Mazda3. It sucks on the cost of gas (especially from KC), but the safety factor in tight situations is worth the cost. Plus, I was able to get through some flash flooding later that night when I was forced into some flooded intersections with cars stalled out.
Great job on documenting and recounting your chase. It helps with my investigation into where the fatalities occurred. And glad you weren't included in those statistics. Thanks..|
- Posted by Cary from Plattsburg, MO