2 0 0 1 Severe Weather Events
2001 Hoisington, KS
All right reserved Copyright 2007 Kathryn Piotrowski for TwisterChasers.com, Inc.
And the answer is "C". A very large circular saw blade was flying around in an F-4 tornado and lodged in this tree! I told you storm chasing can be and often is VERY DANGEROUS! Anyone care for a steel helmet?
The 2001 Hoisington Chase
April 21, 2001 was a beautiful
morning in Tulsa, Ok. Jeff, my husband, was out of town in Las Vegas at the NAB
(National Association on Broadcasters) Convention. I had followed the SPC
forecast for the last few days before the 21st and I new that there was a good
chance for significant weather out near the panhandle of Oklahoma and up into
south and central Kansas. And also the fact that Jeff called me and said that I
should really think about going chasing that day because things looked very
good. I had recently outfitted my SUV with a TV and cell phone and THAT was the
extent of my chase gear other than maps. I did not have a HAM radio and you
will see why I now have a HAM license as you read on.
Thinking of the panhandle area and with the warm spring weather, I really wanted to go chase and if things didn't gel with the weather I could always stop in Fairview or Canton and visit my relatives. Maybe I could get in a hike on the plateaus of the Glass Mountains, but I didn't really want to go alone. I gave my mother, Barbara Reames, a call. She is more than just my mother, she is a GREAT friend and she has a wonderful adventuresome spirit! I said "Hey Mom, What are you doing? How about we go to Fairview and visit the relatives?!?!" "And if a storm pops along the way, well......". She gave some thought and then said "Sure! When are you leaving?" It was already 1 o'clock in the afternoon and I said "in an hour or so". Now most chasers would have already been in position, and Jeff couldn't believe that I hadn't already left, but really I think that I was a little apprehensive about REALLY going out on my own. I had spent the past winter, reading every book I could get my hands on about severe weather and I had been going out with Jeff and Brian Stertz for the past two chase seasons and was like a sponge filled with storm info. So I decided to go just abit late in the day.
Mom and I were off into our adventure. We headed west, down the Cimmaron Turnpike toward Enid. We were talking and laughing as we usually do feeling good on such trips. All the while I am looking to the sky. We were in a great deal of low heavy moisture filled clouds and broke out into a clearing line somewhere around I-35. The temperature started rising rapidly and the winds were outrageous. I could see another boundary to my west this time big puffy individual clouds were scattered across the sky. At Cleo Springs on 412 hwy I was very impressed by what I saw. Long individual lines of clouds, running parallel with one another racing up from the South to the North and then somewhere into Kansas the clouds were making a bend toward the west. I told mom that where those clouds are curving to, that moisture is fueling a storm, I was certain. I received a phone call from Aaron Tuttle, meteorologist with KTUL Channel 8 in Tulsa, he said "Jeff told me you were out chasing today, I just wanted to let you know that there are some tornadic supercells to your north and west. Just wanted to give you a heads up." I thanked Aaron for the information because, other than the racing parallel clouds, I couldn't see much else. We headed north from Cleo Springs, up past the Salt Plains, jogged over from Kiowa, Ks onto 281 to Medicine Lodge.
Between Medicine Lodge and St. John, the sky changed to clear with screaming Southeast winds. The sun was close to setting and quite frankly, I couldn't make out ANYTHING threatening looking. Long in the distant northwest looked to be perhaps a supercell but not a very good one from my vantage point. But we continued on.
I don't like to chase at night. Never have.....never will. To be quite honest mom and I were considering turning around when I received a phone call from Brian Stertz in Tulsa, Ok. He asked " Where are you Kathryn?" I told him that I was near St. John and he said " you have a tornadic supercell about 50 miles to your west". I said your kidding, in disbelief really, because we had the TV on and the Meteorologist on the station we were watching was not saying a thing about them. I asked him what town, I heard him say "West of.......and then the cell phone started breaking up. I yelled Brian, I couldn't hear you what town?" He broke up again and again.....and it is near dark now....I am getting a little nervous. Finally, in one clear crisp blurb of cell phone coverage I hear him yell "LARNED!" That was the last critical information that I would receive, because after that the cell connection just went dead. I thank Brian for that information, it would prove to be crucial to our survival later.
Still, looking to my west, I saw nothing. No lightning, AT ALL. Nothing. And again, the meteorologist was REALLY downplaying everything, and maybe if she would have zoomed in on the radar indications then I could have seen for myself how serious the situation was. And then I saw it.....Lightning! It was due North and just a bit West.....and I thought Man, these storms must be rocketing North. I started racing toward it. It started lightning like crazy, way north. I went through Great Bend and raced toward Hoisington, still no concern on TV. When I arrived in Hoisington, I was just to the South of town and Blood Creek was swollen to almost bridge level. But we were not in any rain ourselves. As a matter of fact, things were quite calm, very little wind if any, and no sirens. I drove straight through the downtown of Hoisington, a lovely tree lined street. As we got closer to the west end of town, I could see that the lightning was even further north than I had thought. We passed a lovely old church on our right and then came to a T in the road, intersection of main street and hwy 4. I hesitated for a moment then turned left heading due west. It was after 9:00 and we were tired and hungry, mom and I are both thinking the same thing as we looked at a Pizza Hut coming up about a block away.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, no wind or rain......TINK....TINK....BAM....TINK...BAM....I was startled....WHAT? I thought HAIL?!?!?! And then remembering just seems like slow motion to me. I was heading due West, Instinctively, I looked to my Southwest and KA-BOOOOM, big, green POWER FLASH! BOOM, BOOM, BOOM....Power flashes all over the place to my Southwest! I said "CRAP" (for lack of a better word). And my mom is still staring at the Pizza Hut when I started turning my little SUV around on little two lane hwy 4. She says "Whats the matter?" And all I could think as I am racing back to the T intersection is "Oh my God, I've brought my mom out here to have her killed". I said "Mom don't panic but I think that there is a tornado on the ground" Mom says very slowly, "Ookkaay." I was the one near panic really. I tried my cell phone and "buzz, buzz, buzz...." was the only thing that I could hear. Cell phone coverage was gone. I had such a hopeless sick feeling in my stomach, there was no warning for the people of Hoisington, and nothing I could do. That is why I now have a HAM Radio and my license. Funny what goes through a persons mind in a disaster situation, a hundred different things, I was calculating the Northeast movement of the tornado, in relation to the power flashes I saw and trying to make decisions on which way to go. When I got to the T in the road, I could have gone due East out of Hoisington, but it was pitch black countryside and after seeing the swollen banks of Blood Creek, I didn't want to chance that. I turned back South going down Main Street. I kept thinking that the tornado should go to my West and then I thought, Oh God I don't know how wide it is. But then again, I rely heavily on God in this type of situation so I pressed ahead.
Immediately after turning South on Main Street, blowing branches started snapping off the trees and blowing everywhere. I raced through downtown Hoisington and when I got to the South end, the sky was lighting up behind the buildings looking west, powerflashes were filling the night sky. I turned the SUV around facing North again, only this time I pulled onto the sidewalk, between a brick building and the parking meters. My thinking was that I would much rather have some protection from a one story brick building than across the street where all the debris would slam into me. I told mom to get down in the floor board. I started filming looking North, down Main Street. The only thing that we could do now was watch the ferocity of the wind as the tornado ripped through the town of Hoisington. Watch the Video showing a telephone pole racing through the intersection and slamming into the powerlines.
To my amazement some people wandered outside onto the sidewalk to see what was going on, I yelled for them to go back inside that a tornado was on the ground. They started running back into the building and one lucky guy just missed some missile debris striking him in the head.
And soon, it was over. Quiet again, eerily quiet. I drove off of the sidewalk and headed back down main street (North). Emergency personnel were there within minutes. People were stumbling out of the devastation dazed. One scene that I will never forget was a young teenage girl went running by me, she was dressed in a prom dress. Several minutes later she was coming back with an arm wrapped around each parent. The high school was having their prom that night. My mother and I walked around talking to folks asking them what we could do to help. Most just wanted to tell their story, and were thankful to be alive.
Mom and I left for Great Bend, sometime around midnight. My cell phone started working in Great Bend and Jeff had tried to reach me and couldn't believe that I had gotten on the Hoisington storm and was glad that we were safe. The next morning, I went to the command post and received permission to take photographs of the devastation. It was then that I decided to carry new toys with me as well as coloring books and crayons for the children. There were a lot of families camped out at the command post. The rest of the day is explained visually in a few of my many photographs.
All right reserved Copyright 2007 Kathryn Piotrowski for TwisterChasers.com