April 8 was a fun but challenging first chase of the season. SPC issued a moderate risk for severe, including the possibility of strong, long-track tornadoes, through much of northeast Oklahoma and southeast Kansas. Overall, the day did not play out as forcast and was largely a bust, although we did manage to salvage the chase by getting to the tripple-point storm near Freedom, Oklahoma.
The storm went tornado-warned shortly after we arrived, however a *very* sparse road network made it difficult to position successfully, and we ended up approaching from behind the hook. Ultimately, this approach worked in our favor; since there wasn’t much rain-wrapping, we were able to catch a beautiful white tornado in the distance.
As we were driving north across the Oklahoma border into Kansas, we spotted a cone funnel extending halfway to the ground with a column of dust swirling at its base. This was about 6:15 pm, to the southeast of Coldwater. We briefly debated trying to find a way to get closer, but muddy dirt roads made approaching from the west a little too risky. The tornado seemed to be moving through it’s lifecycle fairly quickly; it had briefly become a fairly compact stovepipe and was now tapering into a slender, perfectly vertical rope. We decided to pull over and shoot the tornado from a distance. We hopped out of the car, photographing and watching as the tornado became a needle and then roped out, backlit by the sun. It had been on the ground for five to ten minutes.
After the tornado dissipated, we drove north and east as the storm cycled, trying to get ahead of it. Just before Medicine Lodge we stopped to let the hook cross the highway ahead of us, and at this time velocities shot up and spotters began reporting a large tornado on the ground. Waiting for the wrapping rain and hail to pass ahead of us, we didn’t have a view of this tornado yet, even though we were probably within half-a-mile to a mile of its location. Had it stayed on the ground longer (apparently it was down for only about two or three minutes) we would have been well-positioned to catch it once it was on the north side of the highway. Unfortunately, that was not to be. We followed the storm for another hour as it moved east of Medicine Lodge and began to weaken.
Although the day did not pan out and meet its tornado-producing potential, we were fairly successful given what we had to work with, and we managed to get our first tornado of 2015 under our belts. Regardless, it just felt good to be back in Tornado Alley and under a storm!
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