Monday, May 30, 2011

My Grandfather, a rare American Flag and Memorial Day

(ABOVE: from 1949. Tom Windham, my uncle, sketched this image of my Grandfather with lead! My Aunt Thelma Windham Emory gave this to me.)

I would like to share with you a neat and somewhat unique part of my family's history-- my Grandfather that I never knew.

Bert Flickinger was born in the late 1800s. As a young teenager he lied about his age so that he could enlist in World War I. He served as a 14 year old solider!

After "the World War" he returned to Orange, Texas, and lived a normal life. He was best known as the town photographer, in fact he photographed every high school student in Orange for the yearbook!

His photography became his life and family business.

My Dad, Aunt Thelma and Grandma kept "Flickinger Foto" afloat for years. ( For folks from Orange who might read this, Flickinger Foto was located on Green Avenue across from old Stark High School. Was in a building next to the old KFC.)

Grandfather died about 50 years ago when Eisenhower was president. Thanks to Grandfather's military service in WWI our government provided an American flag for his casket. The large flag remains with our family.

Year later, my Dad helped start a new tradition on Memorial Day: sharing the flag with our church, First Christian Church of Orange, TX.

Dad hung the flag inside the chapel each Memorial Day. I later helped out as I got older and understood its significance. The flag itself is also a rarity...

(ABOVE: From near 1940. Grandfather owned his own photography studio in Orange, and he created this humorous postcard called "Texas Minnow". The model is my Aunt Thelma as a teenager. BELOW: My Aunt Thelma and me in 2009 at her farm near Mauriceville, TX. She shared most of the stories that I know about my Grandfather! She died in 2011.)

...My Grandfather died during a unique part of our country's growth as his death occurred between the few months of both Alaska and Hawaii becoming states.

Alaska had been admitted, but Hawaii wasn't a state yet. Our country had 49 states when he died, so his casket flag had 49 stars!

A traditional 50 star (from my other Grandfather) along with the rare 49 star flag remain in the family.

I look forward to sharing this story and these flags with my children someday.

Thanks for reading.

(BELOW: A 49 star flag represented our country for only months. The family flag hangs at First Christian Church in Orange, TX on patriotic occasions such as Memorial Day.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 24, 2011 Tornadoes and Storm Chase

(ABOVE: The SPC's morning forecast shows a bullseye tornado target in southern KS and central and eastern OK.)

The storm chase of May 24, 2011 was a bit unnerving as strong tornadoes were forecast in our region. The SPC issued a rare "High Risk" for severe weather from Wichita to west of OKC to Tulsa. Due to the expected low storm cloud bases, the tornadoes would likely be hard to see. The chase would prove difficult.

(BELOW: From our chase two days before, a small tornado near Twin Oaks, OK. The tornadoes expected on 5/22 would be much larger.)

My assignment was to drive to the middle of the High Risk area, then chase the storms back toward Tulsa and our viewing area. (no, KJRH doesn't force me to do this! But I'm the first to volunteer for it.) Enid was the preliminary target.

My chase partner (Wifey) and I left Tulsa near 1pm. Storms were beginning to fire in western and central Oklahoma. A Tornado Watch was issued. We drove west on Highway 412 in StormChaser 2 (SC2).

(ABOVE: Bucky and our other doggies have a storm shelter in case of bad storms. Bucky approves!)

We encountered a computer problem in SC2 near Hallett and were delayed about 20 minutes. We got going again after I fixed the computer and live video feed.

Along with reporting live via Bluetooth, I've gotta: answer and ignore two dozen phone calls and texts, look at weather maps, road maps, GPS, radar data, figure out where to drive now and future, while taking pics and video when possible, scanning the storm with my eyes, and grabbing a handful of Runts candy for dinner, I have to fix whatever computer problems come up. And drive in severe thunderstorms-- storm chasing sound fun yet?! Oh, and watch out for falling debris too! More on that shortly...

(ABOVE: The blue cross-hairs shows our location. We decide to abandon heading west toward Enid as the storms toward OKC have better potential to become dominant)

Storms fired from west of OKC to west of Enid. The storms near Enid were behind the main line, and were having difficulty achieving their potential. They were unlikely to "turn right" and head due east, so we changed our plan and targeted central Oklahoma.

(ABOVE: My view driving SC2. The sky appeared the same shade of gray.)

We dropped south on I-35 toward Guthrie. The storms immediately to our west didn't look worthy of chasing, so we pulled off I-35 to refuel. I also have to plan ahead on gas as we have short cruising range.

Tornado Warnings 100 miles away. Tornadoes touched down west of OKC. We heard reports of damage in the western suburbs of OKC. We would chase whatever evolved from it. Dan Threlkeld called. He wanted us to patrol this area to cover the storms as they moved toward our viewing area.

Storms with Tornado Warnings proceeded through and north of OKC. We repositioned ourselves south of Stillwater to intercept. We abandoned I-35 in case of traffic problems due to the Warnings.

(ABOVE: We drive south. We are positioning ourselves to intercept the northern Tornado Warning. This storms looks larger than the Tornado Warned storm in the middle.)

We drove parallel to I-35 heading south on dirt and gravel roads toward Langston. On radar, a massive looking wrapped up tornado signature appeared to head toward Guthrie. We heard reports of a tornado "on the ground".

We turned west from Langston and nervously drove on Highway 33 toward Guthrie searching for the tornado. Little conversation in the car as we scanned the skies.

A huge storm was obviously in front of us. The gray sky appeared a solid color, and it was hiding subtle features which could indicate where the tornado was hiding. Dan Lockhoff back at KJRH messaged us saying that a tornado was highly likely in Guthrie. We were three miles away. I switched our radar data feed from rain to velocity, and the tornado signature was obvious.

(ABOVE: This is wind velocity mode. The tornado would be where green meets white and red. We very cautiously drive westward.)

The sky darkened as we approached Guthrie from the east. Tons of lightning in front of us. Several police cars and storm spotters were the only cars on the road. The clouds were dark and spooky; lightning nearing. On radar, the tornado should appear in front of us soon.

Wifey and I couldn't see it, and we were getting too close. We turned around one mile from Guthrie and drove back east. We didn't want to get caught in town if a tornado suddenly emerged in front of us. We drove up a hill for better visibility. With the SW to NE movement, the tornado should pass just to our north.

We pulled off 33. A dark feature appeared just north of the highway. I recognized a crisp wall cloud through the rain. A black cloud then extended to the ground-- this was it. A large, dark tornado was one mile away. It didn't look like a classic "Wizard of Oz" tornado, instead it was a dark cloud attached to the ground. Rain being pulled into the circulation meant the tornado was hard to see.

(ABOVE: Tornado. The crispness of the mesocyclone isn't obvious. We are looking just northeast of Guthrie.)

The wind suddenly and rapidly increased from the west-- this was the rain and wind wrapping around the circulation. The rain overtook SC2 and our visibility was quickly dropping to zero. We accelerated to safety driving east. When safe, we pulled off a few miles later to capture more video. The tornado, now between Guthrie and Stillwater looked more like a cloud on the ground. The rapid churning could only be seen up close, and this wasn't a storm that we wanted to see that close!

The outer rain bands and wind caught up to us again. Stuff started falling from the sky. Roof tiles fluttered past! A tree branch from somewhere soared over the road. The tornado obviously had hit homes somewhere near Guthrie, and occasional pieces of storm damage fell from the sky. I vividly remember a black, asphalt roof tile flying past the windshield. We were safe from the tornado, but the strong wind, falling chunks of whatever weren't fun to drive in.

Lightning. It was intense as it gets.

Frequent, powerful bolts struck every few seconds. We saw a tree get hit. The gas station we briefly pulled into had its sign blasted by lightning. Blinding purple flash, and the thunder sounded like an explosion.

(ABOVE: Highway 177 toward Stillwater. We can't tell from our view, but this tornado remains "on the ground".)

Rain bands rocked our vehicle. We zoomed east and decided to leave the storm especially as the rain began to completely choke off the inflow wind. And we couldn't see the tornado anymore.

The tornado died before moving into Stillwater, and the tornado threat was over for now. The storm would later produce an EF2 rated tornado in Osage county.

We headed east and south as our attention turned to Tulsa. The storms were somewhat evolving into a line. The storms were changing structure as visually they appeared outflow dominant. We followed the storm line for about an hour into Lincoln and Creek counties as they moved toward Tulsa.

We then decided to leave these storms as "only" straight line wind and hail were the immediate threat. Quarter-size hail pelted us near Bristow. We shrugged it off and kept driving. At this point I visually knew for the first time that Tulsa county was going to live. The ugly looking clouds were more scary-looking than tornado-like.

(ABOVE: Old Highway 75 near Sapulpa. The leading edge of the cloud indicates cool, but strong wind pushing out from the storm. Tulsa would be fine.)

The smooth bottoms and unusual looking attachments indicated cold air blowing out from the storms. Storms which produce tornadoes (except for gustnadoes) suck in air. Sure, straight line winds can cause damage, but a big tornado wasn't going to remove Tulsa. Our doggies back home would be fine. :) Back at KJRH, Dan, Andy and Julie warned Tulsans of the wind.

Another cluster of storms was moving into our viewing area just south of Tulsa. These storms produced Tornado Warnings and damage earlier near Chickasha and Shawnee-- if locations south of Tulsa were going to have tornado problems, this would be it.

We drove through Creek county to get south of Tulsa. I took county roads and Old Highway 75 to avoid traffic in Sapulpa. SC2 was drinking gasoline with my spirited driving too. The needle on the gas gauge was plunging quickly.

A Tornado Warning was issued for Okmulgee county. We drove to Kiefer, then east to Glenpool then south on Highway 75. A gas station I planned to stop at south of Glenpool was closed.

Stupid trees were blocking our view to the southwest. While doing a phoner on live TV, I said something like "Hey Andy (Wallace). I love our beautiful trees here in Oklahoma, but I don't like them much now as they are really getting in the way of me trying to see the storm!" He chuckled. A little humor, I guess during a stressful situation.

We kept zooming down 75 looking for a clearing. What was beyond the trees? Our radar velocity feed indicated a not-well-developed circulation approaching Beggs. We exited Highway 16 toward Beggs. I found a small clearing and pulled over.

Finally able to see the storms, the supercell had good structure and a small, not-ready-to-tornado-yet wall cloud. "We have wall cloud, but no tornado," I told our viewers on live TV.

The storm was sucking in air. We were east of the storm, and a steady east wind was flowing into the storm. Tornado potential was growing.

My low fuel light came on. I had driven 201 miles since refuelling. A "normal" Honda Element should return about 25mpg on the highway. With our weather stuff nailed to the top of our heavily modified Honda, heavy on board computers and electricity usage, we averaged 16.6mpg for the chase. When your gas tank only holds 13 gallons, uhm, yeah, you do the math!

With no gas stations anywhere for miles, we were forced to briefly leave the chase. I zoomed south to Okmulgee to refuel. At the Shell station, lots of people swarmed our vehicle with weather questions. People took pictures of us. We quickly told them that Okmulgee was fine. I was in hurry, so I put in just 6 gallons and left abruptly.

Back to the chase. Our velocity data indicated the circulation crossing Highway 75 near Highway 16. We were 10 minutes behind it now. We exited on 16 east, and we saw no signs of tornado damage. I relayed this info to our viewers.

(BELOW: I don't recommend this! We drive due east through the edge of the circulation.)

We drove in the rain, east on 16 while the strongest part of the storm churned over rural Okmulgee county. The storm was intensifying on radar as it approached Haskell. The storm was intensifying also from our view. A tornado could develop at anytime a few miles to the left of my driver's side window.

A very strong NW wind tried to blow us around. Two hands on the steering wheel. Very heavy rain was falling.

I did another live phoner. I warned of the increasing inflow, and that a tornado could form near Haskell. Andy and Dan called my driving "performing a surgical manuever" as I knew exactly where we were in relation to the possible tornado toward my left.

This mesocyclone wind was circulating counterclockwise. Our driving goal was to navigate around the wind, around the circulation, and we'll stay out of the tornado. I felt the west wind push us. We would be fine in our location.

(ABOVE: Purple dot shows our position. We choose to not pursue the tornado northward as we might not see it near sunset.)

As we got south and east of the storm, a very, very strong south inflow crosswind made driving more adventurous. The storm was sucking in tons of air, doing everything visually and wind-wise to produce a tornado, possibly a large tornado. Chief Meteorologist Dan Threlkeld warned viewers of a tornado approaching Haskell. Wifey switched the radar feed to rain mode-- the display looked like a "tornado on the ground" near Haskell.

We got east and ahead of the storm, the proceeded north with caution toward the tornado. Was now nearing 9pm, getting too hard to see thirty minutes after sunset. If a tornado was on the ground it would cross in front of us. We couldn't see anymore.

Would require vigilant driving heading toward Haskell as we could be driving into the debris path.

(ABOVE: Oak tree completely blocks our path. Would find a different route into Haskell.)

South of Haskell we screeched to a halt. A large oak tree covered the road, obvious storm damage. We couldn't drive around it, so we doubled back for another route into town. After dark and with no visibility, we decided to end our chase and look for possible damage. We have a large First Aid kit in SC2 just in case...


We arrived in Haskell minutes after the storm passed. Debris was scattered, a tornado has just torn through town. A few roofs were gone, signs destroyed, trees down, metal pealed away and electricity was out. I felt somewhat relieved as it wasn't a huge, "ground scrubber" type tornado. No injuries, no one died. The town would be ok.

I tried to help where I could before the news. I drove SC2 into a neighborhood so the headlights could shine and illuminate a tree which was being chainsawed to clear the street. A firefighter asked me to tell our viewers to "stay out" of Haskell. Non-residents were driving through interfering with the searching and clean up.

(ABOVE: Several trailers were blown over in Haskell.)

I did live reports from Haskell for the 10pm news. I stood next to a pile of roof debris and described what damage I could see as looking like an EF1 tornado. The NWS later surveyed the damage and assigned it an EF2 rating. The tornado was on the ground for 8 miles, and I'm guessing the worst damage was northeast of Haskell. The tornado crossed the Arkansas River and dissipated near Red Bird. Another tornado from the storm created more damage in the Wagoner area.

(ABOVE and BELOW. Wifey took these pics of 2NEWS reporter Jason Grubbs and me. In the bottom pic, I am the cameraman for Jason's live shot. I'm Skyping with a Ipad.)


Tulsa and our viewing area survived the storms. On what could have been a really bad storm day for eastern Oklahoma, most of us did just fine. On a scale to 10, the level of difficulty for this chase was about a 10.

We helped get the word out. I love my job and its responsibility. I live my dream every day working as a meteorologist in Oklahoma.

That's the story of my work day for May 24, 2011. Thanks for reading. George

(BELOW: This pic made me smile for some reason. Probably because everyone pitched in. A tow truck is used to haul away a fallen tree along the city streets of Haskell.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tornadoes and the night before...

(ABOVE: Wow! A KJRH viewer sent us this pic from Cleora, OK. Looking eastward as a large tornado crosses Grand Lake. May 22, 2011)

I'm tired but can't sleep. It's the night before...

I hope the forecast is a bust. Hopefully our data is wrong and nothing happens. Most computer models suggest Tuesday as a big day. The SPC is using terms like "classic tornado outbreak" after analyzing forecast data. I don't disagree.

This has already been the deadliest tornado year in modern American history. After watching the massive outbreak in Alabama and the Southeast, we got a scare closer to home when a likely EF-4 tornado smashed Joplin on Sunday.

KJRH Meteorologist Andy Wallace told me his parents are fine, but his childhood home is gone now. (Joplin is Andy's hometown.)

(ABOVE: My chase from May 22. I took this picture of a small tornado near Hwy 412 in Delaware county. This small twister was on the ground for about 5 minutes.)

Comparisons are now drawn between the April 3-4, 1974 "Super Outbreak" and the April 27, 2011 Tornado Outbreak in the Southeast. I bring that up as 1974 was an awful year for tornadoes around the country and in Oklahoma.

That was the year that several tornadoes created damage paths in Tulsa. Brookside, ORU and the 71st and Memorial areas were struck by large tornadoes. Multiple fatalities occurred in Drumright when a long track F4 tornado carved a damage path though Creek and other counties.

Is this like 1974?


No weatherman knows exactly what will happen Tuesday. But we are confident that severe storms will form in central Oklahoma then head toward Tulsa and Green Country toward late afternoon and evening.

A rare "high risk" for severe weather will likely be issued for Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. A heightened Tornado Watch, called a "PDS Tornado Watch" is likely. PDS means Particularly Dangerous Situation. (the Southeast tornado outbreak on April 27 was a PDS day)

(ABOVE: Tag-Tag dog is storm ready! Earlier tonight, Wifey and I prepared an interior closet as our storm shelter for our Westies.)

So please be ready! It sounds redundant as we preach it often, but have a plan for your family.

Underground shelters and tornado safe rooms are the only 100% safe places in a large tornado. Bathrooms and closets and hallways are the next best.

Have your radio, TV and cell phone.

Dan, Andy and Julie will be on TV with the who, what, where and when. I'll be storm chasing. Hopefully on the 10pm news, I'm not standing in front of a tornado ravaged something.

We'll be watching for you-- Let's stay safe and get through Tuesday together.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"2 Walks for You" Walks in May

(ABOVE: Doggies can bring their human friends at 2 Walks for You)

Come join Deana Silk and me as we walk for better health and fun!

"2 Walks for You"is a walking club meeting twice a month (first and third Saturday) at a park in the Tulsa area. For May, we are again meeting at River West Festival Park (west side of Arkansas River) at 11am. We'll walk for about an hour and cover about 3 miles. You will burn about 300 calories too!

(ABOVE: 2 Walks for You will begin and end at River West Park (the X) on the first and third Saturday this month, so we'll meet May 7 and May 21 at 11am.)

I started this walking club as I discovered it's more fun, easier and safer to exercise and walk with friends instead of doing it alone. I lost weight too. I dropped 25lbs last year by exercising every day and changing my diet-- cutting out fast food and my addiction to donuts!

If you want to enjoy our beautiful outdoors, breathe fresh air, and enjoy life then join us on Saturday. We walk WITH you.... that's 2 Walks for You :) George

(BELOW PICS: From last month. Deana Silk leads the group from River West Park. A few familys brought their children and "children".)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Mission of Compassion"-- how you can help. :)

(ABOVE: Jeff Smith's most recent "Mission of Compassion" was last month after the deadly tornado in Tuska, OK)

Jeff Smith's name might be familiar to you. If you have watched Channel 2's severe weather coverage then you've seen his storm chase video or heard his voice on KJRH. He's also a great friend of mine!

After the storm chase ends, Jeff does what he can to help out storm victims. He began "Mission of Compassion" a few years ago. This grass-roots effort provides direct relief to storm ravaged families. Jeff loads up his personal SUV and trailer and drives across the country to bring needed relief supplies. Everything comes from his own pocket and his church friends. Jeff is the Youth Director at New Life Baptist Church in Verdigris.

Jeff's next "Mission of Compassion" could be the biggest so far: he's heading to the tornado damaged Southeast. He leaves for Ringgold, GA on Friday, May 6. He sent me an email asking for help with bottled water, trash bags, Bibles, gloves, buckets, diapers, baby food/formula, handy-wipes and paper towels, first aid items and pet food. Toys too!

If you would like to donate, Jeff's trailer will be in front of Channel 2 on Thursday, May 5 from 11am to 6:30pm. Come on by and bring your supplies for the tornado victims! George

(BELOW: From previous missions. Jeff and friends unload in Picher, OK after an EF4 Tornado in 2008)

Please contact Jeff if you would like to help :) He's a great friend of mine, and he's all heart! George

Jeff Smith contact info:

phone: 918-808-4683.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Lightning vs Tree

(ABOVE: This used to be tree. Photo courtesy: Paul Orosco. BELOW: I stole this picture from the Internet as I couldn't find my own lightning photos... Anyway, this tree looks typical of a negatively charged lightning strike. A narrow stripe of bark is carved out.)

Trees struck by lightning rarely die from the actual lightning strike. The lightning usually doesn't penetrate the wood very well, and superficial bark wounds usually result. More than 90% of such strikes are of negative polarity.

Typically, the lightning strike resembles work done by a paint scraper. The tree looks like someone carved (as in the above stolen picture) out a thin stripe of bark. You can usually follow the lightning strike/missing bark trail from the top branches toward the base.

The lightning damage sometimes ends before reaching the ground. You might notice the bark channel stopping about 10 feet or so above the roots. If you see this, the lightning likely jumped to another object to finish its cloud to ground connection. This commonly occurs as lightning jumps from trees to homes or to metal fences, whatever conducts electricity more easily.

The tree usually survives the initial strike, but the now weakened tree is susceptible to bug infestation and disease.

As a second grader, I remember a 100 foot tall pine tree in our front yard in Orange, TX. The tree survived the lightning strike but died months later due to pine beetles.

(ABOVE: Paul Orosco took these pictures in Okmulgee. This could be the result of positive lightning. Either way, it's just as dead.)

About 2-5% of cloud to ground lightning strikes are positively charged, and they do much more damage.

Positive strikes are much hotter, last longer and carry much more electricity. House and forest fires are often caused by positive lightning. Tree also don't fare as well.

Aside from the one picture which I stole from somewhere, the tree pictures on this page are from 2NEWS viewer Paul Orosco. The properties of the tree and exact path of the lightning can obviously factor into how well the tree fares, but I'm guessing that Paul's pictures could be from a positively charged lightning strike.

And I'm fairly positive the tree is dead!