Saturday, May 10, 2008

Deadly Tornadoes - May 10, 2008

SkyWarn Audio From May 10, 2008 Courtesy of David Williams (KE7ABH)

On Saturday May 10th, 2008 large damaging tornadoes affected Northeast OK, Southeast KS and Southwest MO. A few chase vehicles left the Springfield, MO area to intercept, but in the end, the tornadoes were wrapped in rain from the east side. There was no way to safely get in behind them from the east. In the end, the chasers became the chased. Below is the chase log from myself and my chase partner.

I contacted Jeff Kerr (KC0VGC) around 13:30 to confirm he was prepared to head out due to the moderate risk for severe weather, including large tornadoes. Shortly after 16:00 I started tracking a storm that was moving across southern KS. This discreet supercell caught my attention, and was the first indication that the forecast for severe weather was going to pan out. I contacted Jeff Kerr (KC0VGC) a little later to let him know it was time to head out.

I picked Kerr up around 17:20 and we headed west toward Mt. Vernon to meet up with Brant (N0BFR), Bob (N0XJJ), Rich (KB9YZE) and Brian (KC0JYE). Before we could get to Mt. Vernon, reports started coming in from the Baxter Springs, KS area confirming tornado damage. My wife contacted her family in Baxter Springs, and they were seeking shelter in their bathroom and their house was being battered by baseball size hail. They had one baseball size hail stone go through both layers of glass and land in their laundry room, and one that went completely through their soffit.

The team quickly decided that Mt. Vernon was likely in the path of this storm, and we all moved south towards Aurora to get a southern view of the storm as it approached. Brant and Bobby headed west towards Monett, while the rest of us met up in Aurora to form a plan. Things got pretty crazy at that point.

Jim Sellars (N0UAM) contacted us to let us know this was a very dangerous storm, and it was headed in our direction. Brian broke off and headed west to meet up with Brant and Bob were redirected to head towards the Mt. Vernon area because of another tornado heading just north of there, while Jeff and I moved further south on Highway 39 with Rich. Upon reviewing our map, and the towns in the path of this storm (Neosho, Newtonia, Stark City, Purdy), we decided we were still in the path of a storm.

Unfortunately, once we moved further south on Highway 39 towards Jenkins, our view to the west was completely obstructed. We made the decision to continue south out of the storm path because we did not have a clear view. Then the sickening news, another tornadic storm was reported in Cassville (yes, a possible third tornado), and was headed towards our escape point. Three tornadoes in a small vicinity all moving east towards us...that made for an interesting scenario. (Interesting = "Great, now what?")

We were forced to make a decision with the information we had. The decision we made was to continue south until we got to Highway 248, then to head east towards Galena and on to Reeds Spring so we could get on Highway 160 with an easy north/south escape option. This was a good decision, our only real option, but a very dangerous situation. Highway 248 took us quite a bit back north before we could head east. While we were making this trip, the big storm was to our north, and another was to our west/southwest, and it was gaining on us.

As we arrived in Galena, we came to a point where we were to go right to Reeds Spring, or left to Crane. No sooner did I utter the words "we'll keep going towards Reeds Spring" when the wind suddenly shifted direction and was clearly inflow into the storm that was behind us. Now when I say the wind changed directions, I don't mean a subtle change, I mean an immediate 180 degree snap of the wind and rain started blowing toward the storm. I made a split second decision to head towards Crane in hopes the storm was still moving east or southeast.

Rain and hail started driving hard against the windshield, and for about a minute, I thought the windshield was going to break. Fortunately, I think the hail was pea to penny size tops, but with the wind, it sounded alot worse. The highway to Crane led back to the northwest. Ironically, we chose very specifically to not take TT highway east from Highway 39, but it would have been the quickest route east for us. Unfortunately, at the time we chose not to take it, we were worried about one tornado, not three. Had it been simply a decision of escape, and not better positioning, I think TT would have been a better option.

A few minutes later, the nasty reports started coming in from the Galena to Reeds Spring area. Kerr says, "I think you made the right decision back there". On our way to Crane, while Kerr and I were enjoying the break in the clouds, and our safety, we passed Rich (who had taken TT) and was now heading towards the Galena area to get in behind the storm. At this point, going back into that situation wasn't something Kerr and I wanted to do. We dealt with uncertainty for 2o or 30 minutes, and quite frankly a few moments of horror, and we were glad to be out from under that storm and in a position where we could clearly see the approaching weather.

It's very concerning when we are in bad terrain, there's a storm behind us that is tornadic, and one just to our north (which was moving east-southeast) that has already caused confirmed damage and injuries. From what I understand, all four chase vehicles were faced with this situation yesterday, and everyone stayed calm (it's a relative term, but true) and made educated decisions based on multiple information sources. Everyone made it out safe, which is the most important thing.

At the time of this posting, the report is 20 fatalities. My heart goes out to those affected by this storm.

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