May 10th 2010 Wakita, OK Wedge & Pawhuska, OK Tornado
May 10th 2010 Wakita, OK Wedge & Pawhuska, OK Tornado

May 10, 2010 (All done from memory January 2015)

Was one of those obvious big Central OK tornado days. Naturally the high risk by SPC was in place and tornadoes were definitely going to happen. It was just getting there. This was before the crazy lines of cars type days that have made people afraid to chase Central OK. This day kind of had traffic like that, which lead to the situation I got in, but more about that later.

Leading up to this day there was a lot of hype, for good reason. Given the storm speeds (around 50 mph) there was a considerable danger that if you got in the path, it might be hard to escape. I even voiced this myself on facebook to stay out of the path of the mesocyclone, just to play it safe.

Started the day out pretty early from Borger, TX and I believe the dryline was already to my east. I think I crossed the dryline around the OK/TX stateline east of Canadian, TX. I was targeting North Central OK this day like many others as it had a parameter bull’s-eye there. I made it to Orienta (Fairview), OK and got a drink as the first towers went up to my west about a county or so. I ventured north off of OK Highway 412 to intercept and since I was so far west, I was one of the first to get a view of the base. It was a smaller base early on, but the corkscrew shape was obvious. I got on the back roads early as the storm motions did not allow for much time to backtrack. I got under the storm west of Carmen, OK. Took a little video and pictures and decided to start flying east. I come up on an intersection with 2 Sheriff blocking my road east as they are talking, so I am forced to turn north and go under the storm as the next east road is a few miles up. As I am getting close (.5 mile), I start seeing white streaks coming from the sky. Not only are these stones above baseballs in size, they are hitting in the ditch that is much lower than the road and bouncing back higher than my Jeep Grand Cherokee. I busted a u turn as fast as I could. As I cleared the hill I just came down, the 2 Sheriffs I had just seen were coming down the road behind me. I slowed to a stop and stuck my hand out for them to do the same. First one ignored me, but the second stopped. I told him unless he was set on destroying his car I would not go any further because of the hail. He said “thanks” and I booked it back down to my east route they were previously blocking.

From this point forward I was fighting with traffic just to catch the storm. Even 20 miles from the storm I was stuck behind people that looked like they were chasing, but were constantly doing 10 under the speed limit at 55. This doesn’t cut it when storms are moving diagonally to you at 50 or higher. I finally got away from these people around Nash, OK where I turned north and got back in front a storm that was turning into a real beast. The base had at least tripled in size by this time. Around 10 miles north of Nash I saw my first funnel (confirmed as tornado later) to my west on the south end of the meso. I encountered the main zoo of chasers near the intersection of Highway 11 and Highway 132, which I was coming north on. Most were still on the side of the road so I took the chance to get out in front of them by staying on the road. I turn left on 11 and head east about 3 miles before deciding to turn north on a dirt road to get a vantage point without being stuck on the shoulder of the road.

This was a major mistake. This storm was closing much faster than I realized. I recorded only a short time of a pretty strong tornado that had then touched down, when some rope tornadoes came dancing down on the east side of the meso much closer to me. My chance to get back down to the Highway 11 was closed. My only choice was to drive north to the next east option (less than a mile), which was dirt, and floor it. This was the point that everyone started having a real bad time on Highway 11 stuck between the tornadoes and a tour van ended up losing its windows to one small vortex. Once I reached my east option, being able to make 50 mph was really difficult even with the V8 in my Jeep. I drove for about a mile east before I stopped again to check out my view from the Bear’s cage. I watched the vortices dance on the highway just a mile to my south. I also caught awesome video of a downburst in the middle of the meso. The clouds above my head which were the north end of the meso were some of the fastest cloud motions I have ever seen. Looked unreal. I also had leaves that had been ripped from trees raining down on me at this point. I was still finding these for the next couple years in my Jeep. I let the tornado get exactly to my south and realized my mistake was now compounded even further.

I sat there considering my options. I could set there or go west and surely be destroyed by softball size hail. My view was still clear to my east. If I could go 60, then I could get away. I was not considering how much the winds in that environment and driving on dirt were slowing me down. I punch and try to go east thinking I will make it out easy. From my video it seems I have south winds most of the time as I am on the NE edge of the meso. I am 4 miles south of Wakita, OK just west of Highway 11A, running parallel with highway 11 to the north by a mile. As I approach a grove of trees about .33 miles west of 11A, a huge branch comes flying down in front of me, as the winds noticeable pick up. You can see it clearly in my dashcam video. I set there for a second sure I am about to get taking over by a tornado. I can see out any direction but forward. I set there for a couple seconds laying across the console of my jeep expecting my windows to go. I felt like I was screaming at this point and it felt like and eternity. Watching the video, it last for mere seconds and I dont say anything other than "whoa!". My mind changes back quickly to “run” mode and I floor it again. Right after that a sheet of tin metal floats across in front of me about 7 feet off the ground and clears the fence on my left. I have rain curtains wrapping in front of me as I fly east, putting me inside the broad circulation under the meso. I end up running about 4 stop signs as I flee east, eventually escaping the grasp of the storm.

I track east toward Medford, seeing the back edge of the wedge as I do so. This storm was now out of reach, so I target the storm south of me moving towards the Ponca City. I blasted east through Ponca City, got some gas and then headed east on Highway 60. I stopped on Highway 11 just west of Highway 18. I notice ome other chasers are parked in the area while I try to get more data. There was no clear area of rotation at the time, so it was hard to pick an area to look. A few minutes pass and I realize the TVN crew in the dominator is parked just behind me to the east a few feet. Before too long I notice the TIV is parked just to my west a few feet with its support vehicle parked across the highway. The bad part was all the chasers in normal cars were gone and it was just me, with two tornado intercept vehicles parked on either side of me. Visually I could not see anything going on nearby, by that was my cue to get out of there.

I ended up stopping about 10 miles west of Pawhuska, OK along the highway. I was locked on to the area to my west. There was some rotation, but nothing that threatening. I learned later a tornado came out of that area, but I missed it. As I was about to bail back east, I looked south a saw a large “elephant trunk” tornado coming out of a rain core. I snagged a few shots and yelled at the chasers across the highway who had not seen it either. 1, I didn’t want them to miss a tornado and 2, I didn’t want them to get hit by it either since they didn’t see it. We both scrambled east and out of its path. My day was done at that point. Some chasers were able to scramble down to I-40 and catch an awesome tornado down there. I continued to chase up into KS for a bit but didnt see anything worth while. I vetured back down in OK and found a random dirt road to sleep in the car for the night. The next morning I went and did a damage survey of the Wakita/Medford tornado on my way to the target the next day.

The trees I stopped by the day before, when the branch flew in across in front of me, were essentially shredded. A couple of trees were completely knocked down. Most were missing most there leafs… and limbs for that matter. The branch that flew across in front of me blew back across the road. The tin metal that passed me flying north into that field, was plastered on to the north side of that fence, meaning it had blow back to the south as well (just like that tree branch). That confirmed for me that a vortex had passed right where I almost gave up my escape. Glad I didn’t because it would have been a rough ride.

Below are photos from my damage survey.

Here is where I drove on this day.

Here are some other pictures from throughout the day.

Here are my 2 videos from May 10, 2010.