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Storm Chasing
The Most Amazing View: A Diary Page 4

by Amos Magliocco   Copyright 1998 Amos Magliocco All Rights Reserved


Jeff watches the MRF channel
Jeff Gammons watches The Weather
Channel in Tulsa  Copyright 1998
Clinton Norwood All Rights Reserved


From the mini-recorder: "Okay…back on the air. And we’re going east on State Road 60. We’re in Bartlesville Oklahoma which was our second target area—we’ve changed our minds a couple of times. It’s June 3 at 1:00 PM in the afternoon. Stayed the night in Tulsa. Yesterday we went to Oklahoma City—visited the Storm Prediction Center in the National Severe Storms Laboratory building. Picked up Clint Norwood, professional photographer extraordinaire, who is taking our picture and documenting our long chase through the ridge that is dominating the southern plains the last couple of days. The outlook for today is a slight chance of severe storms in the Northeast sections of Oklahoma, Northwest Arkansas, extending into the Missouri valley along basically a quasi-stationary front that extends all the way from the lower Tennessee valley through here and on into the Texas panhandle. Unfortunately, even though the temperature gradient is pretty substantial along the line…it’s not really a good source of lift and the upper level dynamics are very weak with a zonal flow setting up north of the front and southwesterly flow (aloft) south of the front. We are seriously capped across Oklahoma with a layer of warm air in the mid-levels keeping everything nice and stable.

Right now in Bartlesville Oklahoma we’ve got a partly cloudy sky of cumulus—high-based clouds. Temps are in the lower 90’s and the dew point in the upper 60’s. We are going to head east and probably look to stop somewhere near the triple point of Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Expecting to see some storms this evening—maybe late tonight. So it looks like a night chase. We’re hoping for some better things to happen tomorrow—maybe back in Texas and Friday, maybe even in the Texas panhandle. So, that’s where we are now and that’s where we’re headed. Anything I’m forgetting? Laptop is working great. We’ve been able to get internet connections every time through the cell phone which is pretty neat. The GTE local dialup service has been very steady, and they even had a dialup number for Bowling Green, Kentucky. So we’ve gotten lots of information, but the information has been pretty vague, as all the forecasters in this area scramble to figure out how this frontogenesis is going to shape up over the next 24 to 36 hours. That’s what we’re doing. See ya later (‘Peace,’ yells Jeff in the background)."

I made a determined effort not to laugh as Norwood slid around us, snapping images of Jeff and I standing in a gravel strip off the highway, staring into the sky. We searched for any sign of vertical development in the clouds, but they were so high-based that I felt certain nothing would come of them. There was good moisture at the surface now, but these clouds were not tapping into it. They were not rooted in the boundary layer, and therefore had little chance of surviving the shredding forces of the upper level winds they climbed towards. Only a storm with an open pump of warm, moist air would survive this trip through the vertical depth of the atmosphere, where cold air and winds blow with far more ferocity than at the surface. A storm that did endure, and grow, could be twisted and turned by these winds, which sometimes blew in different directions at different heights. This phenomena, called veering, simply means that the wind direction changes as an observer moves higher into the atmosphere, like a spiraled deck of cards. The ideal profile for severe storms was a stiff surface flow from the southeast turning gently with height towards the west.


I took my camera out and began photographing anything that struck my eye. There was an old beer bottle on the ground, and Clint made a compositional suggestion: put the old fence in the background of the shot. Wow. I looked through the lens and liked it. As I turned back toward him, I noticed he was photographing me photographing the bottle. I waited for him to turn his attention to Jeff, who was videotaping the expanse of green that was the field behind the fence. Jeff, a native of the crowded and congested South Florida cement zoo, was amazed at the breadth and scope of the American Midwest. As Clint shot him shooting video, I began taking pictures of Norwood. Not because this would make an interesting exposure, but simply because it was the consummation of this strange uniquely 20th century ritual of recording everything on celluloid to the point of distraction.

This was the ultimate incarnation, I thought to myself: I was taking a picture of someone taking a picture of someone taking a picture. It reminded me of something Kurt Vonnegut wrote once about American literature, where academics with little life experience beyond reading classic literature, wrote all the new literature. And so, concluded Vonnegut, American literature was disappearing up its own asshole.

The heat was overwhelming. We sat in the truck and watched the sky. One cloud began to make some progress. It was growing taller and taller, and while still with a base too high for my taste, looked more interesting than anything else.

Then it exploded.

In minutes we were racing through the backroads of Craig county, Oklahoma. The growing raincloud moved east, and we trailed it through the dirt roads and gravel strips, rocks and dust kicking up behind us.

Jeff films the prey
Jeff Gammons captures the convection on tape. 
Copyright 1998 Clinton Norwood All Rights Reserved

"This is more like it," said Clint as he squirmed around the back of the truck, trying for a better angle on Jeff and I and snapping the developing storm outside. We lost track of ourselves on the map: the roads here were labeled with four digit numbers, the last of which was always zero. The map we used, called "The Roads of Oklahoma" was a hyper-sensitive road map where every page is a county, and where the roads of Craig county were only marked with the first three digits of the designation. We found ourselves again just east of Vinita, and our storm was moving fast. The sudden development could mean nothing else but the cold front had arrived. This imaginary boundary between two airmasses: one warm and humid, the other cold and dry, would be our wailing wall for the rest of the week


Cyclone Road