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The Concord Stormchaser encounters a tornado "right over our heads'' near Memphis

Posted by Your Town  May 26, 2011 08:54 AM

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My name is Chris Curtis and most days I run the West Concord Five and Ten in Concord, but this weekend I headed to Oklahoma to find some tornadoes for the next two weeks. What follows is a diary of the fourth day of storm chasing with our group. You can click here find my diary from Day One, where I witnessed the destruction of Joplin, and click here for Day Two and here for Day Three.


We are on Interstate 40 in Arkansas moving east toward Little Rock. The Storm Prediction Center has again issued a high risk, and even a PDS (Particularly Dangerous Situation) watch for this area. There will likely again be numerous destructive tornadoes this afternoon and evening, in fact several have already hit ground up in Missouri. This is horrible chase territory, lots of hills and trees, but it is where the action is and so we will do our best. By the time we get to Little Rock we may already have a target. Things should be firing up soon.

5:20pm We are still on the road, trying hard to catch up to any of a number of cells. One that looked great was just too far and moving too fast. We have almost completely crossed the entire state of Arkansas, through lots of flooded fields. As I am typing we can just barely make out a funnel off to the north, but it is just too far away for us too know for sure if it is on the ground or not. We are going to try to intercept the next cell, to our south, and see what we can find before we end up in the Mississippi River.

We are in the town of Wynne, and turning south. There is another cell, and to get to it we will have to 'core punch'; drive right through the main core of precipitation, including hail, in order to get to the zone where the tornadoes live. This is an excellent way to smash out a windshield. Especially since this next storm has baseball sized hail....

Well, we got on that storm and continued east with it. Just before the Mississippi River we pulled over having finally positioned ourselves in front of it and saw some very interesting areas of rotation and lowering. It was just about on top of us when the rain core hit us again so we moved on ahead and approached the river, and Memphis.

We got back on I-40 and approached Memphis, keeping barely ahead of the mesocyclone. We had to ask people sitting in back to look up out the back windows to be sure a funnel wasn't coming down right on top of us. Just as we headed to the bridge over the river we got out of the rain and pulled over to get a look.

There on the shoulder of the interstate we watched as a funnel lowered out of the meso, and headed on a path directly toward us. We craned our necks and snapped off pics and watched it get closer and closer and spin and spin and it was almost right there over us, with truck drivers honking at us to warn us and van 2 almost panicking and jumping back in their van to get away.... And we stood there taking more pics. We just could tell that it was going to go right on over us without putting down and we stood our ground. Of course, those in van 3 were instead watching as it did indeed put down, into the waters of the crazily swollen Mississippi (the reports of Mississippi flooding are not exaggerated; that sucker is all over the place, and it is now down from where it was) and all but creating a water spout on land.

So, a tornado. Right over our heads.

Not even knowing that (but we saw the film afterwards) we calmly got back in the vans and chased it some more, right through the Memphis metro area, on I-40. Eventually it lined out and all we experienced then was some rather torrential downpours, and then some rather excellent BBQ at Neely's.

Now we are back in a hotel in Memphis, a first for Cloud 9, our stormchasing tour guides, and in a minute I will join the gang for a few drinks down in the lobby.

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