April 9, 2012 was one of the best days chasing I have ever had. We (Becky Elliott and I) left Wichita, KS around 11am and headed towards our target destination, Woodward, OK. We arrived in Woodward around 2pm and waited for storm initiation.
A cu field was beginning to go up to our northwest, so we decided to head just a little farther northwest to Fort Supply. We hung out for a while on some back roads as the thunderstorms began to build to our north. At the time, the storms were moving straight east, but we knew that once they became surface based they would turn more to the south southeast so we stayed put.
From Ft. Supply we headed east towards State Highway 34. A few miles west of State Hwy. this northern storm produced a rapidly rotating wall cloud and came very close to producing a tornado on multiple occasions. At this time another storm moving in from the south began colliding with the northern storm, cutting off the inflow and effectively killing the wall cloud.
We hung out in this area for a little while waiting to see what the storms would do after they merged. Shortly after, they became surface based and started turning to the south southeast. This put the storm on a direct path to the Woodward, OK area.
We had no internet and our phones would only update every once in a while, so we really didn’t know what all was going on. We made a few phone calls and had a basic idea that a massive hail core was about to pass right over Woodward. We knew we needed to get south, but seeing as State Hwy. 34 was really our only south option we waited for the core to pass off to the east.
A few minutes later we headed south to Woodward. We ran into the northern edge of the hail core and encountered sporadic hail to the size of half dollars or so. As we ventured into the north side of Woodward, we came across the biggest hail I have ever seen. A majority of the hail on the ground was at least the size of baseballs, with a few pieces just over 4 inches!
After stopping to take some pictures of the massive hail, we began our trek south once again. The view of the storm at this point was unbelievable. We were right under the largest meso-cyclone we had ever seen. The entire meso was several miles wide and contained very rigorous rotation.
As we headed just south of Woodward, we were getting reports of a tornado and within a few seconds we saw it just off to our north. We rushed to get out of the car and get video and pictures, but by the time we got out of the vehicle it was already lifting.
We continued a little west to try to get out from underneath the meso. Approximately 1 mile down the road we pulled over to get a better view of the storm. The previous tornado touched down about 2.5 miles from where we were at this point and we were still under the edge of the large meso.
Out of no where, a couple of people next to us yelled “tornado on the ground!” and were pointing to a field right next to us. We looked but didn’t see anything. After a few seconds we saw some dirt being kicked up about 150 yards away, and the area of dirt being kicked up began to grow very quickly. It was at this point that we realized it was a small tornado (or maybe even just a spin-up on the rear flank downdraft) and we took off for the car. This small tornado was upon us before we could even run a few feet to the vehicle.
Winds of 70-80 mph quickly hit us right as we jumped in the car. I had trouble closing my door, but after a second attempt managed to pull it shut. We then gunned it out of there and drove another mile or so down the road. Everyone else who was pulled over on the road with us made it out safely as well.
When we finally pulled over we looked back on the storm and could not believe what we saw. The meso-cyclone was huge and was extremely close to the ground! It was perhaps the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.
Several tornadoes touched down under this meso and most were short-lived. Unfortunately, from our vantage point, they are not visible here.
We were told that a hail core was going to pass either right over Vici or just to the west of town. We didn’t want to be stuck in the hail core, so we decided to head west 5 or 6 miles to avoid the core. We pulled over about 4 miles west of town to look back on the storm when out of no where, a golf ball sized piece of hail landed right at our feet. We immediately went back into the car and continue west. However, we were too late. In just a matter of moments hail close to baseball size started falling and I pulled over off the road next to a few pine trees for protection.
After about 5 minutes of hail, we were in the clear and only suffered one minor dent on the hood. One gentleman a couple hundred yards in front of us wasn’t so lucky, however. He had a near baseball sized piece of hail shatter his entire back window.
When it was all said and done, we saw 5 tornadoes (one or two may have been “RFD spin-ups”) and measured 4 inch hail. We would have been able to position ourselves better in location to the storm had we had internet, but this was the best we could do chasing practically blind, and I’d say we did pretty good!
What we saw:
Severe Storms – 8
Tor-warned Storms – 2
Tornadoes – 5
Biggest Hail – 4.1″