Surviving a Hailstorm: A StormWatcher’s Point of View (6/3/2012)


This blog is based on the events of Tuesday, May 29, 2012.

Being in a hailstorm is a very scary thing. Being in a helpless, hopeless place while damaging hail is falling outside and your car is outside and you can’t so anything to protect it. That was the position I was in the evening of Tuesday, May 29th. This is my story.

At 6 pm, a few chaser friends of mine were on a storm, chasing it near Hennessey, OK. The storm, initially moving east, was making that daunting and hunting right turn toward Kingfisher, OK.

7 pm, the storm barrels on a helpless Kingfisher. At this post, the storm is producing near baseball sized hail. Weather people and chasers alike forecasted the storm to be in the OKC metro by 9 pm.

At the same time, a storm was quickly developing near Chickasha, OK. This storm was producing small hail and moving northeast up the I-44 corridor. This storm, too, could hit the south side of OKC by 8:30 pm. I had just started an inventory at the Walmart near Penn Square Mall at this time. I was keeping an eye on the storms thinking they might hit.

8 pm, the northern storm was near Okarche, OK. Minutes earlier, it had hit Kingfisher with baseball sized hail. Hail was such a threat, my manager told me that people at the Kingfisher Walmart had to take shelter in the freezer. Meanwhile, the southern side was rapidly strengthening. It was near Newcastle, OK producing baseball sized hail. Weather people and chasers alike agree, the storms were going to merge somewhere in the OKC metro, but where. Severe thunderstorm warnings are issued for the OKC metro this point. The southern storm was looking like it was going to hit Moore, Norman and Midwest City. The northern storm was projected to be in OKC within the area. I go outside to bring all work related stuff inside to protect it. At this point, I tell my associate that I was monitoring the weather and would take action should the storm hit our location. Since I was at work, there was nothing I could do move my car out of harm’s way.

8:15 pm, the northern storm is just northwest of Piedmont, OK with hail sizes growing to near grapefruit sized. The southern storm was producing tea cup sized hail near Will Rogers World Airport in southwest OKC. The storms were looking like they would going to merge over my location. At this point, the first drops of rain start falling.

The following events happen between 8:15 and 8:45 pm. After the first drops of rain start falling, the hail was close behind and the sizes area coming up in a hurry. Little did I know the two storms had started merging over my location near NW 50th and N Pennsylvania in north Oklahoma City. The picture below is the radar near this time.

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I continued counting meat items and had just finished counting this section of meat. The hail was roaring outside so loud, sounding like artillery fire. The noise was deafening. I turned my head to this skylight above me and 10 feet to the left. Next thing I know, pieces of skylight are falling from the hail. At this point, my associate met me and I told her, “Shelter now!”. So we proceed to where we had set up.

I called my manager to tell him I had halted and stopped the inventory due to the weather. I got off the phone with him and called my wife to tell her what was happening. She could barely hear me due to the roaring of the hail.

As I continued trying to talk to my wife, I heard the faint sound of a siren. I listened closely more. The siren sound was a tornado siren and at this point, me and my work associate decided to head to the backroom. It was at this point the Walmart staff had announced that we needed to go to the back of the store. The two of us, with all the Walmart associates and customers go to the back of the store. As I was going to the backroom, I was cautious of the skylights because of the damage the hail was doing.

Once I got to the backroom with the others, I checked my messages including my friends on Twitter. Chasers were tracking an elephant trunk tornado, later classified as an EF-2, near Frisco Rd and Northwest Expressway near Piedmont, OK. Hail continues falling but was starting to let up at my location.

Minutes later, the tornado lifts and the all clear is given. The hail at my location had stopped and the store told customers to leave the store due to the damage the hail had done. All the skylights in the store had been damaged. Also, they told the associates they could check on their vehicles. I decided to check on my car, not noticing anything more than dents on the car. I go back inside to continue the inventory. I did notice as I went out the door, the melted hail was still baseball sized hail. I had figured we had near grapefruit sized hail. I also called my manager to explain we were going to continue to do the inventory. Also, the Walmart closes its doors to survey damage from the hailstorm.

At 9:45 pm, we had completed the inventory. Rain still was falling. The two storms had merged and had caused hail damage throughout northern Oklahoma City, The Village, Nichols Hills and Edmond. Car dealerships reported total or near total destruction to all their cars. Enterprise Rent-A-Car reports all their cars had been damaged as well. The Walmart I was at reopens at this point as well.

I had got out to my car. As I start to drive off to another inventory, I noticed something I didn’t see on my visual inspection an hour before.

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As you can see, my car, dubbed the StormWatcher Mobile by me and my Twitter friends, and the windshield was no match for the 4 inch in diameter hail. Turns out several peeps in the area had windows busted out of their cars. A dear friend in northwest Edmond, she reported that the hailstorm had destroyed her flower bed and garden. Wind damage also had occurred. Little did I know that the hail was blown around by 60 mph winds as well.

I started my insurance claim on the car, as did many people in that area. As a storm chaser, tracker, and follower, little did I know, it would be the storm that chased me that would do the damage instead of me chasing the storm. This storm sadly had taken me out of the chasing game for sometime as well.

As I close this blog, I am remained of words one of the Twitter friends mentioned. “Windshields can be replaced, our StormWatcher can not be.” Truer words spoken. I am thankful that God protected me and minimized the damage on my car. With my faith and love for weather in tow, I am glad I survived the great OKC hailstorm of May 29th. Peace, love and storms to all of you!

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