There's a lot to say about Friday's storms, and after this morning there just aren't enough words to say them. Earlier today, we found out we lost three of the best storm chasers and researchers there ever was. Tim Samaras, his son Paul Samaras, and Carl Young were killed by the violent El Reno tornado on Friday. It is hard to put into words how gut wrenching this is, both for their families and the storm chasing community as a whole. They were among the most respected chasers and known for their safety and preparedness in chasing storms. My heart and prayers go out to their families.
The erratic storm that went through El Reno was tough for many, including me. I started out chasing it near El Reno, but when it wedged and started to track I-40 I realized I had to give up my chase and go get my family. We had purchased a house in Yukon about 6 months ago and it didn't include a storm shelter, so our first plan in case of this kind of situation was to simply move out of the way. Earlier in the day I had contemplated sending my wife and children out to western Oklahoma since this would take them out of harms way much earlier, but around 2:30 there were reports coming from news stations that the cap was expected to break within the next 30 minutes, so this made me re-think my decision due to knowing how fast storms can blow up and become tornadic, and the last thing I wanted was her to be stranded on I-40 with nowhere to go.
So the decision was for them to stay in place. I would be out keeping an eye on things, and I kept close enough to react. After the tornado developed I dropped east, telling my family to meet me outside when I drove up. They hopped in and we took off to the south. At this time the tornado was heading due east, and I like many others expected it to remain on this path. My main concern would be how bad traffic would be when the metro realized a violent wedge would be heading its way. Luckily for us, we reacted about 15 minutes sooner than everyone else and dropped south on Sara Road into Mustang. Traffic started to back up on Sara, so we moved east a few blocks to Mustang Road and edged south again, but again ran into traffic so we took a side road back east to Sara Rd. At this point, Sara Rd was clear so we started back south. About this time we noticed the storm moving further south into Mustang, and taking a strong SE movement. Sitting in long lines of traffic at lights, I was starting to get a bit concerned. The lights changed and we finally were able to move to a safer location near Newcastle, ironically where the May 20th tornado in Moore had begun. So, we made it south but we had no clue whether our house was ok or not, but I didn't care at this point because I had my loved ones with me. To begin with I figured I would be one of the few to do this, as it has always made sense to me having the equipment, GPS, radar and everything else that I could maneuver away knowing where I stood with the storm. But, factoring in metro area traffic makes it much more dangerous as people begin to jam roads and then you become a sitting duck. For us, we acted sooner so we avoided the mess. Had it been 10-15 minutes later, we would have had issues. Especially with local news stations telling people to get in their cars and go south. This is not standard protocol. Until we get a shelter, we will be reviewing our personal plan as well.
Anyways, we ended up avoiding the storm all together. I went to Chickasha where I talked to another fellow who did the same thing I did. I then saw the storm back-building, so I moved us to the west to Anadarko and eventually ended up out at my parents house in western Oklahoma at the very least to drop the kids off so we could observe the damage in Yukon, if any (We were assuming the worst). Ultimately, the house was fine and the only damage we took was a blown over fence and a ceramic tile busted out of our patio table.
I had a really good idea where this storm would track, and the most likely place that might be affected. Most chasers and meteorologist expected violent tornadoes. No one predicted how erratic it would be and that it would track down one of the most traveled paths in the U.S. It was a tough day that day for many including myself. Today's news makes it much tougher.