Well it has been 8 months since that fateful and active severe weather day. We had been keeping an eye on it for a couple of days. Being that it was February you just don't get excited about a set up like you do in May or June. Checking surface observations the night before actually showing promise of the warm moist air being advected northward into the would be warm sector. Still a lot uncertainty if things were going to pan out for a February chase day. The year before in January and February proved deadly in a few massive and historical tornado outbreaks. Would this day be a repeat of the year behind us. There was concerns that the day was going to just squall out and a discrete storm mode would not be accomplished.
The day finally came. Like normal I didn't get much sleep since I stay up all night and keep a close eye on how things are coming together. Making that decision whether to chase or not. I knew there was going to be severe weather and had a good idea of where. But was torn as to go into Central OK or to stay in Texas. Something was catching my eye for the area near Jacksboro TX. It seemed to have everything there for an impressive storm go up. Still again there were concerns but hey there is with every set up. I wake up early after only a few hours of sleep. Crunch and study the RUC, Skew Ts, Hodographs and surface observations. I came to the conclusion to chase TX. I called up a friend of mine Chris Harrell and we decided we would meet up off of I20 near Stephenville TX. I had some other people who had never chased before as well who were interested in seeing a supercell. We met up and hung around the gas station/rest stop for a couple of hours. We decided it would be best to head up towards Jacksboro. We got there and set up on the west side of town watching tower after tower struggling to go up. Storm had already fired by this time in OK and a couple of tornadoes had already been reported. I was loosing confidence in my decision to stay south in Texas. Storms than began to fire in NW Texas near Wichita Falls. We noticed these cells going into a supercell mode as the went into OK. So we made the choice to head NW towards Archer City to intercept one of the more southern cells and keep our fingers crossed it would do the same as the northern cells. Disappointed when we got to them at they were high based and outflow dominate. We took a few photos watched some of the cloud to ground lightning and then decided to head back towards Dallas to wait out for the squall line that was going to run through later that evening. We got onto US82 and proceeded back east. As we were getting out of Wichita Falls I saw firm towers back in the direction of Jacksboro. I looked at the radar and they did not impress. The towers though were telling a different story. I saw HW287 coming up down the road. We headed to the towers. We were getting near Belcherville TX and saw friend Craig Curlee on Spotter Network. I gave him a call and asked if how the storm looked on his side. Craig was on the SE side of the storm and we were on the NW side. Craig said it didn't look very good and the base was small and raggedy. He said he was gonna call it quits. We got down there and took a look and it was just like what he said.
We went back down the road a little ways and stopped at a gas station filled up with gas, grabbed some snack and drinks and was trying to make a decision on what to do. A couple of other chasers were also at the gas station we all mingled for a bit and then some of them went back home. It started to rain a little harder causing us to retreat back into the vehicles. I looked at radar again not expecting much. The radar just updated and the tops and VIL jumped on the storm. I looked at reflectivity and the storm was taking on an interesting shape. Still just sitting there and not doing much but just throwing hints. I looked at the velocity and it was showing a small piece of hope. some mild mid level rotation and some weak low level. I shouted at everybody for us to get back down the road a little ways to see what was going on. We drove for about 1 mile back the hill we were on earlier. Out of the rain on top of a hill with a good view. The base looked outstanding. Nice smooth base and inflow feeding into the storm. I looked even more closely and observed rotation under the base with rain curtain beginning to carousel. I yelled out "IT'S GONNA DO IT!". My target was going to verify! Within minutes the storm produced a beautiful cylindrical rotating wall cloud! With nice motion! It was such a great feeling sitting on top of that hill in February seeing such an incredible sight! By this time chasers from Texas Storm Chasers, Connor McCrorey and David Reimer pulled up just in time to see the show. After some heavy video and photographs of the soon to be historical and life taking storm we jumped back into our cars and headed NE to stay on it. After following it and getting back into position we observed our the storms first tornado and out first tornado of the year. A skinny white rope tornado coming down out of the wall cloud. This took place near Belleview TX. Some Chasers got some really great footage of this tornado as well as Veteran Storm Chaser Amos Magliocco, who took some nice photos. We were quickly running out of day light and road options and decided to go as far as we could until we got to the Red River. The storm had also picked up speed and started moving fairly quickly. We were watching the monster lowering up ahead from us getting harder and harder to see with each passing minute. We got near the town of Spanish Fort TX where we had come to a stopping point because of the Red River. We would just watch the storm leave us in the dark. Watching the storm a flash of lightning revealed something under the base of the Supercell. I wasn't the only one who saw it. Chris says is that what I think it is!? Another flash of lightning and it was still there! When it is dark you don't want to just start calling stuff tornadoes. It wasn't but a mile and a half from us at this point. More lightning and it was becoming obvious. One of the newbies with us had captured an image of the ominous object and it was not lying. Lightning by this time was constant and the cone like tornado had turned into a massive wedge tornado. Trying to control the adrenaline we reported this tornado via Spotter Network. NWS almost instantly tornado warned the storm. We could not believe our eyes on how large this tornado was. We couldn't even guess on it's size. We watched the tornado until we could no longer see it. Not knowing that what we had just seen was going to be the deadliest tornado to strike Oklahoma since May 3rd 1999 and be the largest tornado to occur in the month of February since record keeping.
Heading back home I received a phone call from Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel and did a short interview about what we had seen. We stopped at Dairy Queen had some food and looked over all the photos and video. I had then received news that the town of Lone Grove had been hit by a substantial tornado. At the time it was not known but the tornado we had actually seen going into Oklahoma was indeed the Lone Grove Tornado. It was hard to swallow. When something you do that is so incredible to see and experience can be taken all away from you so quickly once you find out the horrible news that a tornado you saw killed people and destroyed homes. Makes your passion not seem so fun anymore. We did our main job out there though and reported the tornado. Because of that we saved lives.
A couple of days later I spoke to Michael Ratliff who was also there to experience this historical event. We agreed this was a life changing event for us. We wished there was more we could do. We did what we could do.
I will never forget that day. It goes through my mind on a daily basis. It was an amazing storm. I hope that even now 8 months later the town of Lone Grove is still strong. I plan to visit there soon. I will never forget February 10th 2009 and I will never forget Lone Grove Oklahoma.
Connor McCrorey and David Reimer
Michael Ratliff and Ray Walker
From Michael Ratliff and Ray Walker
From Connor McCrorey
MesoSearch photos of the storm and Tornado from Spanish Fort TX
Links will not work so just copy and paste them.. sorry.