Eric and I were in the Xterra.
We observed four tornadoes tonight including an approximately thirty minute (or longer) tornado that crossed SR 70 and struck homes on the eastern edge of Olton. But the one we’ll always remember was Tulia, where we were struck by the compact but vigorous initial circulation as it entered town.
We were repositioning on the storm and observed what we both agreed was, at the time, an elevated and ragged updraft base. Moments before entering the city, we observed small lowerings but each weakened and the rotation lost focus. When we were in the center of Tulia, neither of us imagined anything like what was about to happen. I was scouting navigational options on StreetAtlas, with my camcorder turned OFF (that’s how nontornadic it appeared at that moment) when Eric shouted “tornado.” Imagine looking over your left shoulder to see, about 100 yards away, a tornado that looked like nothing if not Chuck Doswell’s and Al Moller’s Pampa video: a violent circulation swirling with industrial debris. We accelerated, our ears popping, but the inflow jet tugged us off the road and we came to a stop in front of a small brick building, what might have once been a gas station or a general store. When the tornado reached us, it collapsed the building, blew out our windows, and tipped a parked semi tractor trailer onto the driver side front of Eric’s Xterra. We huddled in the center of the truck and shut our eyes.
When it was over, we climbed out to find a scene straight out of the movies, a wasteland of debris and downed power lines. A police officer passed us and we waved for him to keep going; we didn’t need help and were already feeling the guilt of potentially distracting emergency services. Our friends from OU took us to Amarillo where we’re spending the night.
We’re neither proud nor ashamed of our actions. I’ve taken some calculated risks in ten years of chasing; this wasn’t one of them. We thought we were repositioning between tornadoes. We had talked about how the storm had crossed the baroclinic boundary oriented northwest to southeast and might have become fully outflow dominated. I was wondering if it would produce another tornado at all.
We both regret that it happened, that we put our own lives in jeopardy and threatened to distract emergency personnel. Tonight, I’m glad that I’m alive and uninjured, that my friend is alive and uninjured, and that, from what I have read, the residents of Tulia are mostly safe. I’ll never release the videotape of this incident, publicize or profit from it in any way. If there’s any lesson it might only be that life is precious. We’ve ransacked our minds for the tiny detail or decision that might have kept us safer, and found nothing. What we did I would likely do again, because there seemed nothing unsafe about where we were at the time. Obviously we were wrong. Our choice was a mistake and we paid for it.
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