After a good night's sleep at a 'no-frills' hotel in Dodge City, we regrouped and planned to head back to Tulsa. Photo at right
: From left to right- Keith Minor (New Jersey), Greg McLaughlin (Tulsa, OK) discuss the events from the previous day while Bill Coyle (Virginia Beach, VA) and Grant Johnson (Tulsa) look on beside chase team Unit #4 (Ford Ranger, Charleston, WV).
Al Williams (Southampton, England) checks on the expedition gear in chase team Unit #1 (Chevy Blazer, Tulsa OK).
We were on our way back to Tulsa when we get a call that the SPC has issued a Moderate Risk zone for our location. At 12:00pm we stopped along the road in the middle of the Kansas plains and discussed our options. Photo at left: storm photographers excited about the new Mod Risk just issued! From left to right- Al Williams (Southampton, England), Greg McLaughlin (Tulsa, OK), Dave Crowley (Tulsa, OK), Bill and Amy Coyle (Virginia Beach, VA).
At Minneola, KS we stopped again to analyze more data and grab some cold drinks. Photo at left: Our chase unit convoy! From left to right- Unit #2, Toyota 4Runner from Boulder, CO; Unit #4, Ford Ranger from Charleston, WV; and Unit #1, Chevy Blazer from Tulsa. OK. Unit #3 would join up with us the next day. Photo at right: Dave rearranges some of the gear in Unit #1 while Greg and Al look on.
We stopped again at the Woodward, Oklahoma Golden Corral to eat lunch and wait for two other storm photographers from Tulsa to meet up with us. By now the storm outlook was beginning to lose its promise, and we decided to call this one a bust and head back to Tulsa. Photo at right: Disappointed storm photographers at Woodward after the news of a bust.
The morning started out gloomy and rainy except for a few cloud-to-ground lightning strikes around 9:00am. Unit #2 got their window fixed, and by 11:00am we were heading west again to a Moderate risk zone in western OK and northern TX that looked promising.
We almost caught up to a nice LP cell in the OK panhandle with an anvil that stretched for a hundered miles to the east (at left) but it quickly fizzled before we could get into position.
But the day wasn't over. We blazed south to Pampa, Texas where several supercells were exploding. We missed the big tornado in White Deer, TX by 20 miles, but caught up to this breathtaking rotating LP supercell east of Amarillo (at right) which would be the highlight of the week. Photos below: 1.) Composite of three vertical frames of the Amarillo supercell. 2.) The team stops to photograph the storm near Panhandle, TX. 3.) The bell-shaped updraft gets closer. In this photo, a bowl-shaped lowering is visible on the right side. 4.) Mammatus clouds cover the eastern sky.
This supercell generated a few brief swirls of dust under the center of rotation. After reviewing our video footage as well as conferring with other storm photographers that were near the storm (at various distances and angles), it was confirmed that our 'dust swirl' was indeed a brief tornadic vortex - making this my first tornado sighting. It wasn't a dramatic 'no-doubt-about-it-tornado, on-the-ground-with-big-funnel-and-debris-cloud', but I'll take it.
We followed this cell east for about 50 miles along I-40, but it gradually weakened. Near the Oklahoma-Texas border, we stopped once again and took some lightning shots with the advancing shelf cloud (at right).
We drove slowly on east in heavy rain through a developing line of strong thunderstorms, and finally made it to Oklahoma City well after midnight. Most of us were heading for bed, but for the lightning fans in the group, the night was just beginning. Bill Coyle and I drove around OKC for several hours shooting lightning in and around town. Below are a few of the catches:
Anvil crawlers above the towers in OKC around 2:30am:
Twice, while out catching lightning this night, I experienced one of the most interesting phenomena I'd ever encountered. On two seperate occasions, at the moment that a spectacular lightning discharge exploded around us, I could hear a loud buzzing sound eminating from power lines and poles on the ground prior to the blast of thunder.
Ground-to-cloud discharges repeatedly slammed the towers in OKC through early morning. The discharge in the second photo below produced one of the 'buzzing' incidents, one of which seemed to be coming from a light pole I was standing next to. The towers were hit over and over again in displays rivaled by few lightning disharges I'd seen. Catching these strikes was like shooting fish in a barrel, and you could say it was a lightning photographer's heaven:
The tower lightning continued for the next 2 hours, but I had to tear myself away from it so I could get some sleep. An all-day drive for the expedition tomorrow was certain, and I desperately needed the rest. But I was still in for one more show. At about 5:00 AM, as I put my camera gear back in the truck, a intensly bright, insanely spectacular tower discharge pierced the sky. I turned, then stood in awe as a shower of bright, glowing orange sparks fell from the top of the tower as if a firework had just exploded!
More lightning around OKC: