Paul's Valley Shelf Cloud

Late on the evening of June 8th 2014, I hopped into the Honda after probably 20 minutes of pussyfooting around and drove just 41 miles down I-35 out of Norman, Oklahoma.

Lightning flashed throughout the sky to the beat of whatever mortifying gangster rap that I permitted to blast through my open windows and into the windows of the big ole pick-up trucks of the cowboys on the road near me.

Car radios that I have used always seem to have critical malfunction of blasting Lil Boosie in small cowboy towns and Hank Williams in inner city rust belt ghettos. These radios must really want me shot dead.

A Severe Thunderstorm Warning was now in effect for the relatively small town of Pauls Valley, Oklahoma; a town of just 6,000 people. Certainly not even close to the smallest town that I’ve ever wound up in, but still plenty small enough for people to stare at you from all directions when their “Youaintfromroundhere” alarms go off.

No offense intended, I’m from a small town and understand the mentality. When you know everyone and everyone knows you, it’s alarming to see a car containing a strange person with out-of-state plates running around like a loon at a gas station.

The aim was to find a gas station awning to sit under as the small but relatively powerful storm was prepared to strike the area. In this instance a microburst was garnering itself together, ready to belch 80mph winds; just over hurricane force; and hail up to the size of tennis balls down onto the small town of Pauls Valley.

Night had fallen several hours ago, and while turning off of the interstate, lightning flashed in the sky and illuminated a magnificently sculpted shelf cloud nearly directly overhead.


——–PHOTO GIF of Shelf—–


As I attempted to pull off of the interstate and into the gas station, there was a car in front of me traveling just above the speed of a seahorse. I distinctly remember grumbling several profane remarks to myself involuntarily and simultaneously stomping on both the gas and brake pedals while desperately attempting to pull into the gas station before summer fell to autumn, and autumn fell to winter.


Once under the awning and situated next to a lovely gas pump, an attempt was made to grab some pictures of the bottom of the shelf cloud as it moved overhead, but it proved to be a useless effort.

—-Radar Shot of VIL and precip —–

As the severe storm moved overhead and the rain went from zero to 100 immediately, I threw the camera and myself back into the car. Moments after the first raindrops fell and the wind began to gust, several hailstones around golf ball size slammed themselves into the driver side rear of the truck, right around the gas door.

The gas pump was immediately next to this side of the car. I was parked at the far end of the awning, opposite of the direction the precipitation was falling from the sky. This roused a suspicion at the moment that the car may be receiving quite the ass kicking from hail in the next ten minutes.

Surprisingly only a few seconds later, the hail decreased greatly and the skies turned to unleashing a fury of murderously heavy rain and strong wind gusts. The winds increased and were gusting over 80mph at their maximum strength, (a hurricane has winds that gust above 73 mph).

Hail up to the size of quarters was now accompanying the extreme rainfall. As the wind continued to gust, small pieces of debris were now flying past the car from numerous directions. As seen in the video from the dashcam, a sizeable piece of the metal roof of the gas station sailed by the front of the car during the peak of the hurricane force winds.

As you witness in the video, the gas station suffers several power surges as sparks fly from the outdoor sign, followed by a total loss of electricity. Despite silence in the video, I was quite on edge and wondering if something huge would blow by and slam into my skull.

The intense winds and rain continued for about another minute before quickly subsiding. Once the rain had calmed down, it was time to cautiously get out of the car and walk around the gas station.

There were small pieces of debris scattered about everywhere, and the lack of electricity amplified the hazards. After walking around the station I hopped back in the car and decided to drive away from the interstate and into the actual town part of Pauls Valley. Blackness prevailed throughout the normally well-lit roads.

As I continued down Oklahoma Highway 19 into town, water was suddenly spraying well over the top of the vehicle on either side as if the Honda was a speedboat. Oops. Turn around don’t drown! There was about a foot of water covering the road, and from what the headlights were able to indicate, it was likely as much as two feet deep further ahead.

I reluctantly turned around in the middle of the road and started to head back towards my original location at the gas station, albeit very slowly while looking for damage that may have occurred. At this point, there were several other cars slowly wandering around in the pitch black streets of the small town.

In the very faint glow of the headlights there appeared to be several power lines draped across what appeared to be a car dealership; indeed it was the local Seth Wadley Ford and Lincoln dealer. There were also several power poles down and broken around, one of which appeared to have fallen on a brand new and luxurious Lincoln. That will hurt some company numbers!

The most obvious aspect of the storm was the slaughtered trees. You couldn’t drive five feet without being attacked by orphaned tree limbs, laying in the road and grabbing at your car’s ankles asking to be saved, but it was too late.

Trees were down in people’s front yards and pieces of trees were all over the car lot and the Wal-Mart parking lot. The dense maze of tree decimation coupled with the flash flooding made driving unmistakably hazardous.

After arriving back at the Love’s gas station where this event had begun, I took the opportunity to watch and photograph the lightning that was still occurring in the backside of the storm as it moved off to the east northeast.

The electricity on the ground was still out, but the electricity in the sky was running rampant, providing somewhat of a unique opportunity to photograph the storm from the gas station awning and capture the passing of cars on Interstate 35 in the process.

Normally enjoying a late night lightning show with minimal light pollution requires that you forcibly donate a pint of blood to the local mosquito population; however the gas station deterred this horror. The lightning photograph below certainly isn’t my favorite ever, but it was splendid to have the opportunity while the giant street lights were out at the freeway junction.

This surprise storm was the perfect real life presentation of the necessity to take Severe Thunderstorm Warnings seriously. The storm was very small in size and had virtually no chance of producing a tornado, however the microburst that it produced caused roughly the same amount of damage that the [link]EF1 Tornado near my hometown[/link] did.

Had you been sitting out on your porch at the time, it’s likely some small tree branch pieces may have flown by and smacked the shit out of your face. Perhaps you are driving down the road and a power pole falls and lands on your beloved car, or even into your lap.

Ouch! That shit hurts, and now you’re dead. This unfortunately happens all of the time with trees, especially in the eastern states where there are a ton of trees.

…Obviously driving into the middle of the winds and watching from a gas station isn’t exactly the smartest idea either.

Do you pay close attention to the weather? Do you usually ignore Severe Thunderstorm warnings?