I awoke the morning of May 24, 2011 knowing full well what was to come was going to be a historical tornado outbreak across Central Oklahoma. As I perused model data and looked at how the atmosphere was coming together, I was honestly very alarmed as parameters were about as maxed out as they can get for late May in Oklahoma.
As I left my house just before noon, I remember looking back at it and wondering if I’d see it when I came back. That seems melodramatic but it was an honest concern of mine.
Storms broke the cap in the mid-afternoon. I remember how hard the anvils and updraft towers were from our position in SW OK. There was no denying the outbreak had begun, and that pit in my stomach wasn’t going anywhere.
We actually were a hair too aggressive early on and ended up only seeing the very beginning of the Lookeba wedge tornado as the storm raced away from us. This catch-up game eventually became a ‘we need to find another storm’ game.
From a chasing perspective, this was our lucky break of the day as we ended up bailing south towards new supercells to the south…
The realization set in as we drove south that every major town in the OKC metro had a supercell targeting it in a maxed out atmosphere.
This was a worst case scenario.
I ended up taking over the driver’s seat from Josh as we approached Chickasha, OK and a supercell which appeared to be a tornado imminent. As we approached the cell from the east we heard reports a tornado was on the ground and it became clear that was the case.
Violent Tornadoes in C. Oklahoma
To this day, the strongest, scariest, most powerful tornado I’ve ever seen was this tornado near Chickasha. At some points, this tornado looked like the absolute textbook definition of a violent tornado. It was an incredibly powerful tornado in every way.
As the storm to the south seeded up into the Chickasha cell, the tornado became rain wrapped and we bailed south to the supercell to our immediate south — where we were met with our second violent tornado of the day.
The Goldsby tornado also ranks as one of the strongest and most powerful tornadoes I’ve ever witnessed. As we drove through the damage path we saw debarked trees and homes which already had first responders on the scenes literally a minute after the tornado had come through. That was some incredible response time.
A Narrow Escape
The big thing which will always stick out at me about the May 24, 2011 tornadoes is just how lucky the Oklahoma City metro got. That may seem strange considering there was loss of life and three violent tornadoes on the SW fringes of the metropolitan area — but had each of the three supercells taken the paths they could have and continued to produce violent tornadoes we would have saw the hearts of three major OKC suburbs take direct hits in Norman, Moore, and Edmond.
There was immense damage but the worst case scenario for the day was narrowly avoided.