Storm Chase Day 3: Waynoka, Oklahoma

Thursday was one of the best days of my life. It was a rewarding day after putting in hours of work on analysis, hand analysis and just thinking about the forecast in general. We began the Storm Chase in Woodward, Oklahoma looking to figure out where in the world we were gonna go. It was an extremely tough forecast, as all of the synoptic scale features that you would want were present. We had plenty of shear, created by strong mid and upper level flow across the warm sector.

The 500 mb analysis for Thursday from the SPC. h/t SPC

This was largely southwesterly flow, too, which is necessary to create good shear profiles. The upper level jet streak forced a response in the lower levels, creating a south to southeasterly low-level jet that pumped moisture into the region and allowed for shear profiles to improved across northwestern Oklahoma.

The 850 mb analysis for Thursday from the SPC. h/t SPC

In addition to this, southeasterly surface flow created very good low level shear, and allowed the northward moving storms to ingest inflow efficiently. Moisture at the surface and in the lower levels of the atmosphere was plentiful, allowing for cloud bases to lower to levels that favored tornadoes.

The surface analysis from Thursday evening. h/t SPC

We got up and had a forecast discussion around 10 am, and we laid all of these factors out there. There were three plays with surface features: the dryline, the triple point (the place where the cold front, dryline and warm front meet), or the warm front.

We thought that the best environment was in northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas, where shear would be maximized along with instability. However, the warm front (in southern Kansas) looked to hold onto too many thunderstorms, which would limit tornado potential. We decided to stay in Woodword and go from there that afternoon.

Woodward, Oklahoma storm

Storms took off around 2 pm to the southwest of Woodward, and we decided to target these. The waiting game had been rough before this, though, as we were all anxious to see what would happen that afternoon. We ate at an incredible Mexican Restaurant called Tortilleria La Victoria. It was the second great meal we’d had in Woodward, with the first being at a steakhouse the night before celebrating Tuesday’s tornado (Storm Chase tradition).

We targeted a storm just to the west of Woodward. We expected to ride this storm all the way into southern Kansas, where the instability was great and shear was much better. However, this storm quickly became a clustered mess, and was difficult to work with at all, so we left it for what would no doubt be the storm of the day.

Waynoka, Oklahoma Storms

We headed for the Waynoka supercell shortly after we experienced the crap that the Woodward storms had become. This storm moved out of southwestern Oklahoma, and had a history of tornadoes to our south. It quickly began to move northward, and strengthen as it did so.

The supercells as they developed across western Oklahoma. h/t UCAR Archive

With the low level shear environment improving rapidly, the storm organized and put down several tornadoes, and we were witness to one of the larger ones that it did. The storm was absolutely stunning. I mean, I can’t even do it justice.

We punched right through the hail and rain to try and get a better view of the storm itself from the east, and my oh my, I have never seen anything like it. The entire mesocyclone was a lowering from the parent storm, and there was a beautiful, rapidly rotating wall cloud at the base of it. You could see the entire mesocyclone rotating, with the wall cloud rapidly doing so beneath.

I’m just trying to emphasize it enough because I still cannot get over that I saw this storm. This storm was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. It was directly out of a textbook. In my mesoscale meteorology book, there are diagrams of everything that you want in mesoscale. You have conceptual models to help build your understanding of how the atmosphere works on a level like that. Well, this storm was just like that. The precipitation was separate faaaaaar from the updraft and mesocyclone itself. This allows for the downdraft to feed into the updraft as opposed to cutting it completely off.

We quickly were losing sight of the storm (and lightning was really close), so we hopped back in the van and headed westward to try and get north to the storm itself. Just go ahead and check out what we saw when we emerged over the hill we were behind.

Yeah, that is definitely what we saw. An immaculate, visually and structurally stunning, and very scary tornado on the ground in a populated area.

The tornado stayed on the ground for what I think was no more than 10 minutes, but stayed visually stunning throughout its lifetime. We don’t think it did significant damage, but for much of its life we were trying to get a good visual on it. We chased this storm all the way to the Kansas border, but it quickly lost structure and ultimately died. But, it did provide one last visually spectacular moment.

Waynoka, Oklahoma Storm 2

Once we had left the original supercell, we headed for another storm that developed to our southwest. This storm didn’t look as promising, but ended up with a very strong and rain-wrapped mesocyclone. It was dominated more by linear processes than supercellular processes, though, which was apparent by the classically structure shelf cloud, featured in these images.

This shelf cloud was literally as vertical as it could have been all things considering. This is classic for the strengthening of a linear system, which this had become more linear than anything. It was stunning, and it led to me taking out my textbook to see how textbook it was!

“Guys, this storm is so textbook!”

To say that Thursday’s Storm Chase was incredible would be to state the obvious. I have never experienced anything like it.


The supercells developed rapidly on Thursday afternoon. h/t UCAR Archives


The satellite images of the supercells exploding. h/t COD GOES-16