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April 26, 2009 Storm Chase Log

Great Plains Chase Expedition 2009

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Plains 2009, Day 3: Sunday, April 26, 2009

I awoke at my hotel in Elk City and immediately did my morning data check and forecast. Despite the great parameters, I was not entirely happy with the setup due to a lack of a focus for any particular area. Convection was already firing in the general vicinity of the threat area, further complicating the forecast. I decided that where I was was just as good of a target as any, due to the dryline setting up just to my west in Texas and a triple point once again setting up just to the northwest.

I checked out of the hotel just before noon, and was soon drawn to a tornado-warned supercell just to my south. Normally it is not adviseable to be pulled away from a target area by jumping on an early storm, but this one was so close that it would not cost me in either positioning or time. I caught up to the storm southwest of Clinton. Despite a brief wall cloud, the storm was otherwise not very impressive in person. Lightning was decent.

I followed this storm to just south of Clinton, and seeing that it wasn't showing signs of producing, decided to just break off and return to Elk City. Clearing was taking place to the west along the border, so I decided to adjust to Sayre. On the way, I encountered this LP-ish updraft north of the highway which clearly demonstrated the shear present:

I sat in Sayre for over an hour. As I did, storms fired to the west in Texas, moving quickly northeast. Another storm down near Vernon, Texas was heading into southwest Oklahoma around Altus. I had a choice to make, one I held off for as long as I could. I finally decided to jump on the southern storm, mainly due to the northern cell moving into the difficult road network around the Canadian River. I had just chased there yesterday and didn't want to find myself in the same situation, with no roads to stay close to the storm if it tracked along the river.

I took no photos on the long drive south to Altus to meet the storm. I finally got into position to view the updraft at Snyder. The storm slowly crossed the highway, backbuilding south a few times which prolonged its crossing. Other then a few wall clouds (the best of which is in the second photo below), the storm was otherwise unimpressive.

The only paved road available to keep up with the storm at this point was through a rugged, hilly area to my north. I did not want to deal with curvy roads and chaser convoys, so I decided to break off from the storm, go all the way to Lawton to I-44, then due north to Carnegie to re-intercept. I figured the straight roads would be faster, despite the total route being longer in distance. When I caught up to the storm again near Carnegie, it exhibited a large clear slot/horseshoe updraft, but otherwise no structure of any significance. The CG lightning was quite frequent and impressive, and with the fading daylight, I tried several times to set up to shoot some of it. Unfortunately this area of Oklahoma is very difficult for shooting lightning, as the terrain is more hilly and there are few places to pull off of the road. I gave up on the CG photos and decided to just head to the Oklahoma City tower farm, as the storms were evolving into a large convective complex, usually a good bet for tower lightning on the back side.

I set up on the south side of the towers and shot photos for about an hour. If you remember from Saturday's log, I did not have my cable release. Not only that, but the winds were too strong to set up my umbrella shelter. So, I was forced to improvise. I wedged my tripod in between the driver's seat and the door, and aimed the camera out of the window. This is not ideal, as the gusty winds were rocking the truck just enough to cause the tower lights to blur a little. Since I could not hold the shutter open with my hand without jiggling the camera, I had to shoot fixed 15 second exposures. Both of those issues turned out to not be a real problem. The winds died down, and the 15-second exposures were sufficient to capture the scene. In a 45 minute timespan, there were at least 11 discharges to the towers, some hitting two towers at once. I missed one discharge due to heavy rain briefly coming in the window. All but one of the strikes were upward moving, the exception being a normal cloud-to-ground hit to one of the towers (seen in the third image below).

This was, by far, the best tower lightning still photo session I've ever had. The two "Type A" discharges (with extensive low-level branching) were incredible to watch in person, and exhilarating to see on the camera's LCD when the exposures ended!

Notice that the majority of these were Type B discharges, with the two more spectacular ones being Type As. The last image above is a full-size crop (thus no larger image link) of one of the towers during the 7th discharge pictured above, where a small upward leader is visible. In addition to the tower strikes, the rest of the lightning was great as well. Many large anvil crawlers and CGs over and behind the towers rounded out the night's events, not unlike the show I witnessed on May 29, 2001:

After all of the lightning finally moved east of the towers, I stopped at a Denny's (another chase trip staple) and then continued on to Tulsa. I was expecting my chase trip to be over, as the next couple of days did not look too impressive. As I drove east on the Turner Turnpike, I could see even more upward discharges in the distance occuring to towers in Tulsa, over 70 miles away. I was exhausted and didn't attempt any more photos, though. I finally stopped for the night at a roadside parking area on the turnpike, bringing the day to a close. The next morning would change my plans from the 14-hour drive home to another few days of chasing.

NEXT CHASE: Blue sky bust in OK >

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