June 8, 1998

Wewoka / Yeager, OK Tornadoes

Chase Account by: Scott Blair and George Hoelzeman

Chase Team: Scott Blair, George Hoelzeman.
It had already been a productive chase vacation. June 4th and 5th led us across Oklahoma and Arkansas, while 24 hours ago we were chasing across the beautiful terrian of West Texas. We viewed a brief tornado near Flagg, and aquired 4 new very large hail dents in the rental car. We stayed the night in Amarillo at the Comfort Inn. A great sunrise greeted us around 6am with a suprisingly clean car due to earlier light rain. The dryline was already on the move, east of AMA. After forecasting for several hours, we departed Amarillo around mid morning.

Our original target area was areas of SW Oklahoma. We decided to first head to Childress, then up into the target zone. On the way, we were able to visually depict the dryline... crystal clear sky to the west with hazy cu skies to the east. We also shot a few pictures of the undeveloped natural terrian. For lunch, we ate at a local diner in Childress called the "Green Chilli Dog." The food was good, but it took 30 minutes to serve. This delay was actually significant.

After lunch, we stepped outside and realized the dryline was racing east. This meant that our target needed to be updated and that we were already behind. We quickly made our way up to Altus. By 1pm, towers were already building with pileus clouds everywhere. We briefly stopped to shoot a few pictures. Soon after, we noticed significant convection right next to us and to the north. Around this time frame, SPC issued a tornado watch for most of Southwest and Central Oklahoma. We decided near Blair, OK to target the now backsheared supercell to our north. The storm was a good 60 miles to the north and was moving away from us. We knew we had to make some great time or the day would be a nasty bust.

We passed through Lone Wolf and Hobart, finally reaching Hwy183 northbound. Shortly after, we jumped on I-40 in Clinton towards the tornado warned storm near El Reno. George did some excellent fast driving (I think he liked the rental car) and we approached ominous skies near OKC. After having several tornado warnings issued for the storm, it was clear that it was weakening as we arrived in Harrah.

We pulled into a restaurant (Braum's) parking lot south of Harrah, Oklahoma on Hwy 270. We were trying to regroup and get our bearings after the previous supercell, examining maps, considering possibilities and noting that we were nearly out of gas. As we addressed these various issues, the rain free base of the previous tornadic cell passed overhead, providing some dramatic photo opportunities. This base was followed shortly by heavy rain, so we again proceeded south on 270. Reasoning that at the junction of 270 and I-40 there would be a gas station, we made that our next goal.

The Texaco at which we stopped was a typical rural station, with the usual aroma of oil and old fried chicken. Still, the folks were friendly and helpful in providing directions to Hwy. 9 toward Norman, where we had observed a large cell developing for several minutes. Somewhere in this time frame, the NOAA went off with another tornado warning, this one near Amber about 15 miles SW of Norman. It was this storm we decided to pursue next, though fuel concerns mandated a brief stop.

Wherever you go, people are fascinated by storm chasers. This gas station was no exception. While most of the folks hanging around were fairly blase about the issue of tornadoes (you get used to it in Tornado Alley after awhile), one "well-fortified" gentleman (I use the term loosely) was aggressively intrigued by our activities. After following us back to the car, he sat in the passenger door regaling us with tales of twisters past and asking incessant questions about where the next one would be. Finally, knowing a powerful cell was approaching and in an act of desperation, we informed him that we had a storm to pursue and would he please leave us to it. When this failed to dissuade him from beginning yet another story about his house trailer, I started the engine and shifted into gear. We last saw him in the rearview mirror, gesturing enthusiastically, as we sped down Hwy. 270 toward the now strengthening Amber storm.

Between the NOAA reports and TV broadcasts we were able to identify the track of the storm over Norman. We theorized that by proceeding to Hwy. 9 and going West, we would come in just south of the storm just east of Norman - at least that was the theory. As we rounded the intersection of 270 and 9, we were able to observe a strong anvil with well-developed mammatus overhead. At the same time local TV was indicating that the hook echo on this cell was one of the most classic ever observed recently in the area. Hwy. 9 curves though some hilly woodlands to the SW just after the junction with 270 and (we believed) this would take us far south to be in prime viewing location for the wall cloud - not to mention clear of any hail shaft.

After capping a few hills, we came to a ridge which gave us an excellent westerly view of the storm. Intense windshear patterns could be identified in the upper levels of the cell, and an intense precipitation core was visible slightly to the north. One the cusp of one ridge, we encountered some other chasers and decided to stop for a few moments of conversation and photography. Meanwhile, local TV indicated that minimal rain was falling in Norman, and George opined that heading what was now due west on Hwy. 9 would allow us to skirt the core and pass far enough south of the wall cloud to be safe, yet get some excellent imagery. The storm, it seems, had other plans.

While parked near the top of the ridge, both of us observed scud moving rapidly overhead. This was soon followed by an intense gust front. Still under the impression that the storm was moving NE we stayed to photograph and video this feature. Suddenly, however, we realized that the gust front was heading toward us followed by a strong hail shaft. The storm had turned! Now a right-mover, the core and possibly the wall cloud was heading straight toward us.

We launched into escape mode, throwing cameras and tripods into the car and quickly making an U-turn to go east on Hwy. 9. Our goal now was to avoid the potentially baseball and larger hail in the core and get south of the wall cloud. Realizing that proceeding toward Norman (west) was not smart, we attempted to run east, then cut south on one of the county road to County Road 59B. This proved to be a fateful decision.

At this point I would add an interesting footnote: Immediately before we made the aforementioned U-turn, a guy passed us heading straight into the core of this storm - on a bicycle. Considering the intensity of the hail which we encountered, I shudder to think what befell this poor cyclist.

Anyway, we were running east. The gust front rapidly overran us and then the hail began. Dime, then nickel, the quarter size hail. We passed one south running road and briefly slowed to consider turning back. This proved to be a mistake. At this point let me recall to your attention my previous note concerning the direction of Hwy. 9: southbound, it curved to the SW, which means that northbound, it curves to the NE. Thus, Hwy. 9 now lead us inexorably into the core of the storm. In a matter of seconds, golfball and some baseball hail overtook us. Traffic slowed, allowing the core to pound us with all its might. Now being slammed with increasingly large hail, we desperately sought a side road with a shot straight south. Finally, with hail shredding trees and inflow winds increasing, we found such a road and threw ourselves onto it. Again, an unfortunate decision.

In future, we will try to get a map with more complete details concerning local roadways. This road which held such promise of escape went south for about 1/4 mile, then turned sharply west. With several cars, trucks and a van parked under overhanging trees, we were trapped. The roadway was covered with debris torn from trees by large, intense hail and strong inflow. Our only option was to return to Hwy. 9 and attempt to run north, then east and clear the core. For a 15 minute eternity, we crashed through pounding hail, then torrential rain. Finally, we were free with only blue skies and gentle breezes before us. We considered to return to Oklahoma City and seek a room for the night.

Then the NOAA Wx Radio wailed. A tornado warning was issued for Seminole County. Realizing that we could come up on the cell from the rear (avoiding the hail shaft) we abandoned the hotel quest and rejoined the chase. Exiting I-40 at Shawnee, we proceeded south on Hwy. 177 to (again) Hwy. 9. After driving east toward Seminole, we cut SE on Hwy. 270 toward Wewoka. The classic supercell was now directly ahead of us, still a right mover, still showing a strong hail shaft and incredible updraft towers and a solid anvil. Impressive.

Wet roads and hilly terrain dictated cautious driving, and we were not able to pursue at the rate we would have liked. We were, however, gaining on the storm and things were looking good. We paused briefly near Wewoka to consider our route, but decided to stay on 270. Shortly thereafter, we rounded a small hill at a brisk pace. Suddenly, we saw power lines in the road and phone poles snapped off and scattered. Tornado damage!

As we passed an opening in the trees, we were able to view the Wewoka Tornado in the distance. Now we knew there was a tornado on the ground, possibly around the next few miles. Damage was fresh - the police had not even arrived on the scene. As we approached Holdenville, we stopped on a hill. There were other chasers along the roadside observing a region of the storm to the NE. We pulled over to consult and were informed that Hwy. 48 North had been blocked due to damage. This confirmed that the tornado was still on the ground. Briefly seeing what was being described as a very large tornado, we ran further down Hwy. 270.

As we came over the next ridge, we discovered a few chasers parked and again gesturing to the NE. Again we stopped to hopefully get a better view. At this point, we were clearly on the south cusp of the wall cloud and scud was spinning up into the cloud base all around us. For several minutes, we scanned the skies for any kind of funnel in the nearby clouds. Suddenly, our eyes focused on an area near the hail shaft - there it was, in all its mysterious glory! The Yeager Tornado.

White as snow it was, with the yellow-white hailshaft as background. Gracefully it snaked between heaven and earth. This was a moment of transcendent awe. The tornado was about four miles away and magnificent in its serpentine perfection.

Now excitedly yelling to each other, we turned to get the cameras. But, alas, when we turned back and setup to photograph the wonder, it was gone. In the twinkling of an eye it had roped out and dissipated and now only the hail shaft was visible. After watching for a few minutes, we backtracked up Hwy. 270 to Yeager Road, proceeded north, then east on a farm road. This road was too muddy for the car to go too far, so we stopped by a cow pasture gate. We spoke with a local who had just seen the tornado at its peak.

After catching our breath, we returned to Yeager Road, wondering at the magnificent sunset accented by the anvil of yet another supercell over Oklahoma City. VORTEX was chasing the supercell in the distance. Looping back to 270 East, we followed to storm for another hour or so, maintaining a safe distance (night was falling). The lightning display was incredible, but the apex of our chase day was over. Eventually, we stopped by Eufaula Lake on Hwy. 69 to watch the cell's fireworks, then returned to Little Rock. It had been a long and satisfying day of hunting.

This cell produced numerous tornadoes, mainly after dark, and remained tornadic until just short of Clarksville, Arkansas, and was still producing dime size hail east of Morrilton - a distance of more than 300 miles from its initial development. What a classic Oklahoma chase day! -Scott Blair and George Hoelzeman.

~~~~~~~~Additional Information Related to this Account~~~~~~~

***Local Storm Report from NWS OUN***
06/08/98 HUGHES

Summary of events of June 8, 1998 (NWS OUN):
This storm travelled east along an instability axis and a warm front. From a radar perspective, this storm was impressive in that it kept a classic, well-defined hook on its entire journey across southeast Oklahoma. From a human perspective, this storm was impressive in that it produced ten tornadoes in southeast Oklahoma, hail as large as golfballs, damaging thunderstorm winds, and torrential flooding rains...
Surveys revealed that this tornado formed about a mile east of the intersection of State Highway 48 and county road EW129. About one mile after touching down, the Wewoka tornado apparently merged with it. This tornado damaged a house and destroyed numerous pecan trees shortly after the merger. The tornado moved east passing one-half mile south of the town of Yeager, but overturning a mobile home and downing power lines along a railroad just south of town. The tornado then began moving east-northeast as it moved south of Yeager. It completely destroyed a mobile home and toppled an oil pumping jack and storage tank east of Yeager. The last damage was a barn damaged 4 miles east of Yeager and the tornado lifted at 815 pm. The Yeager tornado was on the ground for 8 miles with a maximum width of four-tenths of a mile. This tornado was rated F2 (winds estimated between 113 and 157 mph) based on the destruction of a mobile home east of Yeager.

National Weather Service in Norman Summary