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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

5/24/2011 Canton, OK Violent Tornado uproots trees

Started the day at the house in Russell, KS where I had chased central OK the day before. Today I would end up in almost the same areas except that today was the day that the upper level trough was coming in in earnest and a high risk for severe weather had been issued by the SPC.

I left Russell, KS about 11am CDT and proceeded straight south through Pratt and into OK and down just west of Alva, OK when the first tornado watch was issued. It was a PDS watch for Particularly Dangerous Situation.

I could see on visible satellite that a CU field was building just to my south and 3 cells quickly formed on the western edge of the CU field. I was in perfect position to intercept the northern one and so I went after it.

I caught up to it just west of Canton, OK and followed it's updraft for quite awhile while it got organized.

Just south of Canton Lake, OK a wallcloud formed and began to spin strongly. I knew that it wouldn't be long before this storm tornadoed.

The rotation area headed north east and I opted to take the north option that I was on right there and not try to get further east. This proved crucial to my excellent positioning!

As I shot north the line of trees kept blocking my view of the developing tornado but I could hear it spooling up like a jet engine at the airport. A sound I will never forget!

I found a few breaks in the trees and could see the monster going laminar and touching the ground now. I could also tell that it was vectoring and would cross my road very soon. As soon as I saw it break the line of trees I hit the accelerator, turned off the wipers and let the video tape roll!

What a tornado and it was right in front of me and no one else was around. They had all gotten one county road east and would not have the unique white rope view that mother nature would show only to me.

Tree branches and leaves were swirling all around in and over my car as I kept the window down the entire time to get the full sound experience. The rushing wind and jet engine sound was almost as memorable as the visual treat of the widening and multivortex cone that was now to the east of my road.

I quickly reached where the tornado had crossed the road and it was completely blocked by numerous downed cottonwood trees and the powerline. I turned right up a field access road but it was blocked by a large root ball that had been dropped there.

I quickly jumped out and began to run towards it with video in hand. The RFD wind was incredible and I thought I was going to break an ankle as it propelled me over a cattle guard that I was sure I was going to fall inbetween and break a leg in. The tornado was still only 100 yards away and completely denuding the grove of trees in from of me. I watched as it stripped 50 foot high cottonwoods to 10 foot tall stumps!

The tornado then began to widen and take on a look of the Tuscaloosa, AL tornado that we had all seen from the month earlier. The seething updrafts of white rotating around the dirt swirls were strong, violent and relentless.

I knew my chase was over. No roads to get through, no way to keep up on foot without getting miles from the car and so I contemplated my next move as I videoed. I didn't think about the first piece of ice that rocketed in next to me. You can see it at the end of my video busting up as it hits the ground. The next winddriven softball hailstone flew over my head and into the field. I realized the danger and turned to run back to the car when *whack* the next one hit me right in the inner right thigh! I thought 'oh shit' and ran back to the car with my hands over my head and hunched down thinking the next one was going to hit me in the head and kill This scared me more than the tornado - these I could not see and were like cannon fire from the heavens.

This tornado was rated an EF-3 and was my best intercept of my life to date. The tornado went on to be visually the strongest over Canton Lake where a higher rating would be impossible. I have not heard of any injuries or fatalities to date with this tornado thankfully. Later tornadoes south that I could not reach went on to do much damage in and around OKC.

Here's the Norman, OK NWS page for this tornado.

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