Extreme Tornado Footage: El Reno, Okla.

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By Stephen Barabas on June 2, 2013, 5:11pm Last modified: June 10, 2013, 10:10am

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We were about 20 yards from it once it wedged out... the traffic was so bad.  A very dangerous situation I never want to be involved in again.  This tornado also claimed several lives including three well-known storm chasers who are always nothing but safe when chasing.  This just goes to show you that when you do this sort of hobby it's a huge risk every time.  I'm fortunate to have been where I was and was able to maneuver us away.  It was about a few miles up the road that we hit the traffic on I-40 and that was the time I became scared. The traffic was the worst and that's how people died.  We fortunately made it far enough east that it passed us by, but it was way too close.

I flew out for my spot chase this year on Wednesday.  Both Wednesday and Thursday were flops for me.  But for Friday all the ingredients seemed to be coming together for a very intense and dangerous day.  Strong heating through the day and a decent capping inversion allowed for temperatures to get into the lower 90s in central and southwestern Oklahoma.  As a jet max screamed in from the west and two shortwaves came in, one from Colorado and the other from the Texas panhandled, everything was in place for a local tornado outbreak.

I targeted El Reno, Oklahoma and waited 4 hours for initiation which happened around 5pm.  After driving 10 miles to the west, about 30 minutes later... tornadoes were already on the ground.   Little did I know that this day would be insane chaotic with just how large these tornadoes would be.  But I think the thing that scared me the most was the traffic.  What would normally be open, seemingly deserted country roads would become traffic jammed highways... right when mile wide wedge tornadoes would be bearing down.

The videos posted here, I wasn't scared.  I was entirely aware of what was happening and with a clear mind I helped to navigate us out of the situation.  Was it stupid to be this close?  Absolutely it was!  But if you think about it, there were a lot of other people closer, and some of them were tossed.   Even as I right this I'm reflecting on the news that a few respected storm chasers lost their lives in the El Reno tornado.. the first storm chasers ever to be killed by a tornado.  It's sobering and heart breaking at the same time to think about all that has happened.  I thought it was one of the greatest moments in my life ever.   But looking back at it... I don't know if I would chase like this again.

The first video here is recorded from my friend's dash cam.  It was his car and he was driving while I navigated.  We stop, I run out and get up on the field to film the tornado that was probably about 100 yards away at this point.  As I'm filming the multi-vortex tornado thickens and rapidly expands before it would disappear again, only to come back down.  Other chasers begin to back up.  It isn't until RFD winds blow the glasses from my face (the reason I run into the road) that I realize it's time to go.  By this point the tornado was making a hard right and coming right at us.  But before I left I help to make sure the other chasers who are backing up to smash into one another so I wait and wave them on before I too, get into the car and get out.    As we drive the tornado rapid expands out into a mile wide wedge.  We turned east and drove as fast as we could as the tornado grew outward toward us.  By this point my ears were popping and I developed a light headed feeling kind of like when you take off in a plane.  It wasn't a good sign.  We had left our windows open while driving away and papers and all kinds of other stuff got sucked out from the vehicle as we drove, including my friend's 600 dollar pair of prescription sunglasses.   Also, a lot of mud and water got splattered on the inside of the windshield.  As we drove we were also hit by small debris.

The second video is of the same tornado but from my perspective of my hand camcorder.

I wasn't scared.  I had so much adrenaline pumping through me.  At least in this situation I had control.  Having some control is comforting.  It wasn't until we turned onto traffic jammed roads that I became scared of the situation. 

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Stephen Barabas

Town: Southbury, CT  

Reporting for WXedge since January 2012.

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