Chase Log: May 6th, 2019 McPherson, KS Tornado-warned supercell

My first major chase of 2019 resulted in some stunning storm structure across central Kansas.

I had been keeping an eye on this day for a while, as strong instability underneath some flow was looking likely. A cold front moved south out of Nebraska. The question was if and when storms would fire. A couple days before it was looking like the I-35 corridor in east KS, then maybe the Manhattan area. The morning of the event, it appeared the Salina area was the place to be, at least for my purposes. My wife and I headed west from Lawrence around 2:30, and by the time we reached Junction City, it was apparent convection was already firing north of I-70. I wasn’t feeling very confident on this stuff, but I figured I should take a look at the cell near Bennington. I got off I-70 between Junction City and Chapman, and after driving around a bit, found a good vantage point near Chapman.IMG_0776 (2)

4:52 pm, a mile northeast of Chapman, looking northwest. A big shelf cloud in the middle clues me in that there is little tornado threat. After a few minutes of sitting there and taking pictures, I headed southwest to where a new cell was forming on the outflow of this one. I went south to old US 40, through Chapman, and saw a big smoke plume of some kind northeast of Enterprise. I found a good vantage point between Abilene and Enterprise to take photos.IMG_0781 (2).jpg

5:12 pm, a few miles east of Abilene, looking northwest. It’s obvious that this is a supercell, with a good inflow tail on the right, but it appears to be elevated above the outflow from storms to the east. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful sight. Yet another cell was forming on the western flank of the outflow, west of Salina. After the storm near Abilene started to weaken, I moved southwest again to get a better look at the furthest west cell. I took K-15 southwards, then went west to the tiny town of Carlton.IMG_0783 (2).jpg

5:45 pm, just south of Carlton, looking WNW. Some nice structure here, and the storm may have been surface based at this juncture, but it was hard to tell. In any case, I wanted to get a better look at this storm, so after this brief stop, I continued south and west utilizing the gravel roads (which became pretty difficult, as the terrain was suddenly very hilly south of Carlton) until I found a nice spot east of Roxbury.IMG_0786 (2).jpg

6:25 pm, a couple miles east of Roxbury, looking northwest. Stunning structure is evident, but again, this storm was undercut by outflow. The storm was producing at least golf-ball sized hail at the time. While I was enjoying the structure, I was a bit disappointed that everything was getting undercut quickly.IMG_0797 (2).jpg

6:45 pm, same location. The storm bears the hallmarks of an elevated supercell, but it was quite nice to look at, so I watched it for about half an hour as it was the only decent storm around at the time. I noticed that a new cell was forming from the outflow (yet again) northwest of McPherson. I figured this was the only shot I had for a tornado for the rest of the day, so I headed east out of Roxbury to avoid any precip and then south on a good gravel road. I passed Lehigh and headed west on US 56 until I found a decent spot near Canton.IMG_0807 (2).jpg

7:35 pm, a few miles southeast of Canton, looking WNW. If only those clouds in the foreground weren’t there. The storm was exhibiting great structure, and it appeared to be strengthening. Lightning activity was also picking up. On radar, the storm appeared to be trying to ingest the outflow boundaries near it to produce a tornado. The storm was producing baseball-sized hail around this time. I quickly headed west on US 56 to get a better look at it. A new cell quickly developed over me and dropped some hail as I was driving, but it luckily wasn’t very big. Just before reaching Galva, I dropped south on a county road a bit and stopped for pictures.IMG_0808 (2).jpg

7:48 pm, just southeast of Galva, looking northwest. Mean looking supercellular structure. The storm became tornado-warned around 7:45, as it was showing strong rotation, but not long after I parked, it became apparent that this storm too fell victim to being undercut. It exhibited great structure for a while, though. After 8 pm, it was starting to get darker, and as it became clear that the storms were becoming elevated/outflowy, I headed for home.

Not a bad first big chase of the year, with great structure across central Kansas, but it mostly just whetted my appetite for more.

Advertisements

State of the Season: March 24th, 2019

As we begin spring here in Tornado Alley, there are promising signs on the horizon. We are currently ahead of 2018’s tornado count up to late March, with a few significant events in the southeastern US in the books. March 3rd in particular was notable, with devastating EF4 impacting Lee County, AL, along with several other strong tornadoes that day. March 12th brought the first Plains tornado event of the year with a few tornadoes in eastern NM and TX (a couple photogenic ones too). On the 23rd and 24th, supercells producing large hail impacted the OKC metro and the DFW metro. This has already been a far cry from 2018’s misery. The long range signs look pretty good, with another system possible at the end of this week. I believe my seasonal outlook, which called for a decent-to-great Plains season, is still on track. The signs for April-May-June are in general pretty encouraging. Perhaps most encouraging is the near total lack of drought across the entire Plains; all of Kansas in particular is near record levels of soil moisture. Hopefully, I will get my first solid chase of the year in the next few weeks.

Extra chases of 2018

While I have documented my good supercell chase days on other blog posts, I wanted to talk about the days I didn’t score. These are the days that I didn’t see a nice supercell or tornado, but I still want to report my experiences. These kinds of days can be learning experiences, both in getting accustomed to the terrain and landscapes, and also understanding why things didn’t pan out. I also wanted to include a couple days that I didn’t chase, but are still important events of the year.

May 3rd, 2018: Morris County, KS Storms

A couple days removed from the Tescott tornado, another day of storms presented itself. I didn’t have much expectations for this day; low-level moisture was pretty bad (maybe upper 50s dews) and low-level winds were veered to the SSW. Still, there was a lot of bulk shear, and after a couple other chasers on the discord decided to head out, I figured I might as well. I first headed west on I-70 and then south on K-177 to Council Grove. Seeing a storm in the distance, I moved west on US 56 to near Delavan. The storm was quite high-based but was spitting out lightning every now and then. I headed south through Burdick and began navigating the gravel/dirt roads in the rough terrain of the Flint Hills of Morris County.

4:10 pm, a few miles east of Burdick, looking southwest. The storm is quite high based here with little in the way of supercell structure. This gravel road was the only road around for several miles, and it was not a straight north-south or east-west road, so navigating was difficult. Couple that with relatively fast storm motions and I didn’t have much time to dawdle. I followed the storm back to Council Grove before it fell apart. I contemplated heading home, but a new line of storms developed to the west, and I headed back west on US 56 for a closer look.

5:14 pm, a few miles west of Council Grove, looking WNW. There were a few lightning bolts, but these storms were pretty benign. After a while of looking at these cells, I headed back home.

May 29th, 2018: Udall, Kansas hailstorm

May 29th was one of the bigger chase days in May 2018. NW Oklahoma into SW Kansas looked like the target going into the day, and that’s where most chasers focused on. I wasn’t willing to go that far, so I looked at areas closer to home. An east-west boundary was draped over the Wichita area, and adequate cape and shear was present. I thought it would be worth a shot, so I went down the Kansas Turnpike to Cassoday, and intercepted a weakening shower. I saw on radar that storms were initiating near Arkansas City and moving north towards me, so I headed to El Dorado, then south on US 54, then west on US 400 to Augusta, then south again on US 77 (neither the first time nor the last time in 2018 to take these roads). A decent little cell was going up west of Winfield moving north, so I headed west towards Udall on K-15. The cell had a mesocyclone, so it was a supercell, but it looked intriguing. The mesocyclone was narrowing and lowering, and was a good photo op. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a good spot to take a photo yet, and I drove through Udall. I found a due north road and drove on it for a few miles before I noticed hailstones littering the ground. I stopped as I realized that the hail was falling just in front of me. I got out of the car and could hear the stones falling on the house just a hundred yards in front of me.

6:58 pm, a few miles north of Udall. These hailstones are at least 1 inch in diameter (possibly larger), and as I was the only spotter in the area, I reported them to the NWS. My report made it into the SPC reports for that day and then into Storm Data, so I’m pretty happy about that.

7:05 pm, same location. The storm continued northeastward for a bit before fizzling out. Maybe capping was too strong that day, not really sure. In any case, as there weren’t any more good storms developing, I headed for home.

July 18th, 2018: Overbrook, KS storms

Hot on the heels of my maybenado day in the Flint Hills, I headed out again on a very marginal day. This time, there was big cape but little shear. The shear was forecast to arrive eventually, but I was afraid that the storms would die out before it did. Storms started to fire in southern Shawnee County and slowly moved southeast. I set out around 6 pm and drove down towards Carbondale in Osage County and got a nice car wash. It became pretty obvious that not much was going to happen, as the storms were very high based and outflow dominant. I headed east towards Overbrook on US 56 and then south a bit.

7:33 pm, a few miles southwest of Overbrook, looking southeast. While the storms themselves were nothing remarkable, I saw some nice rainbows, including this one. I headed home soon after.

July 19th, 2018: Topeka, KS area windstorm

The windstorm/derecho/whatever on July 19th was the biggest wind event that I have experienced. Widespread tree and power line damage occurred around the city, and around 18,000 people were without power at the peak. In the early afternoon, a cluster of thunderstorms developed in north central Kansas and moved southeastward. The storms became severe and moved through Manhattan, with some damage there. As the MCS got closer to Topeka, it grew in strength, with winds over 70 miles per hour reported. Around 3 pm, the MCS reached Topeka and caused widespread damage. A wind gust of 82 mph was recorded as numerous trees and power lines were downed. Some structural damage occurred as well. At home in southeast Topeka, I estimated wind gusts to at least 60 mph, perhaps higher. A neighbor had some minor tree damage, and our home had some shingle damage. My grandparents got it worse; most of the shingles on one side of the roof were gone, and trees and power lines were damaged at the farm house. Quite an amazing event.

August 16th, 2018: Topeka area storms

August 16th was a decent summer day with a slight risk for severe weather. I convinced my wife to chase that day, and thankfully, a decent storm developed right over south Topeka. I drove to my grandparents house so we could get a decent view of it.

3:07 pm, south of Topeka, looking west. There is a defined updraft base in the center of the picture, but it looks as if the storm is elevated. In any case, the storm was producing quite a bit of lightning, so as it drew near we got in the car. I wanted to sample the core for hail, so we headed west and south a bit. I did find some pea sized hail but nothing substantial. After the storm passed over us, we followed it into Douglas County.

3:42 pm, west of Clinton Lake, looking east. It appears as if there is hail falling in the middle, but I couldn’t find any more. Not long after this, I called it a day and went home.

October 8th, 2018:

A fall marginal risk/2% tornado threat drew me out of the house. I headed west through Topeka to the Maple Hill area in Wabaunsee County and drove north from I-70. A linear mess of storms developed and moved quickly northeast.

2:56 pm, west of Maple Hill, looking northwest. A decent attempt at some shelfy structure is evident. A local in a truck drove up next to me and we chatted for a bit about the weather. After he left, I looked at radar, and I saw a bit of a notch in the line where rotation was present had developed near Alma. I headed west towards Paxico and stopped for a bit.

3:08 pm, just north of Paxico, looking southwest. The precip-filled area in the middle was a notch in the line. There was some decent rotation briefly on radar with it, but I never saw anything with the feature, and the storms became completely outflow dominant not long after. I saw that a supercell was trying to develop further south, near Eskridge and Harveyville. I headed east and then south near the Wabaunsee/Shawnee County line, but that storm junked out quickly. I headed east to get ahead of it, but as the storm was moving over south Topeka, it was difficult to find a good spot. After it moved over Topeka, it became very outflow dominant, so I went home soon after.

2018 in retrospect and a look ahead to 2019

As the 2018 chase season ends, many chasers are saying “good riddance.” A very unsatisfying year for most, 2018 will be near the lowest total tornado count on record for the United States, with no violent tornadoes (a real anomaly), and the southern Plains in particular had a bad year. 2018 was good to me, with three great chase days (May 1st, May 14th, June 26th) and Kansas overall was better in 2018 than in 2017. However, that was not the case for most. 2018 had some fantastic tornadoes (Laramie WY June 6th, Camp Crook SD June 28th, Douglas WY July 28th) but few chasers saw the best ones. The High Plains of WY/MT/SD, along with Iowa, had a banner year, but elsewhere 2018 will not be missed. In my “look ahead to 2018 post” I think I did a fairly good job of diagnosing the possibility of another subpar season, and it seems 2002 and 2014 were fairly decent analogs to 2018. What does 2019 have in store?

It’s going to be tough to be worse than 2017-18 for chasing. Perhaps the worst two year stretch since 2001-02, chasers have been pretty downtrodden lately. I do have good news for everyone: I expect 2019 to be better than 2018. Why do I say that? Let’s take a look at analogs and ENSO and the like.

We are in the midst of a weak-moderate “Modoki” El Nino event with a slightly negative PDO. El Nino is predicted to remain steady-state until the spring when it should wane. the PDO may start to go positive again as we enter 2019. I saw an interesting graphic (which I can’t seem to find now) a few months ago showing every year since 2000 and their related ENSO strength. Most of the years in the weak-moderate Nino category were good chase seasons. Taking a look at ENSO, overall SST anomalies and other factors led me to pick some analogs for 2019.

My top 5 analogs for 2019 are 1987, 1995, 2003, 2005 and 2015. This is pretty good news for chasers, as the only subpar year in that group is 1987, and even 1987 may be an improvement over 2018. 2005 and 2015 were OK-to-good, and 1995 and 2003 were very good years.

1995 and 2003 were both very good years with some high-end events. May 1995 was a very active month, with much of the country getting in on the action. The beginning of June was a landmark period in the Texas Panhandle, with multiple days of significant activity. 2003 was slow until mid-April, but a couple of decent days in OK started off the chase season. The first ten days in May were incredibly active, with an astonishing 401 tornadoes recorded from April 30th to May 11th. There was at least one F3+ tornado on May 4th, 6th, 8th, 9th, and 10th. May 15th featured a big day across the TX/OK panhandles into SW KS. Late June was another big sequence, with South Dakota having a huge day on the 23rd. I would be more than happy if 2019 is similar to 1995 or 2003.

2005 and 2015 were decent years with some positives and negatives. 2005 had a nice event in late April and again in mid May, but early June was quite active with multiple memorable chase days. 2015 had many good chase days from early April through June, but more than once days failed to reach their high ceilings, leaving a bad taste in chasers’ mouths. Still, spring and summer 2015 was pretty good, and multiple big days in November and December made 2015 a pretty decent year.

1987 was the worst of the five analogs, and it was quite bad. The only memorable stretch was in late May in Texas. We really need to hope 2019 isn’t like 1987.

So how do I see 2019 playing out? A fairly slow start to tornado season seems plausible, with significant tornado activity waiting until mid-late March possible. April might not be too active, but May should be a big month (especially relative to 2018). June will also be active in my opinion. Overall, there is a pretty good shot at a nice chase year.

Chase Log: July 17th, 2018 Alta Vista, KS Tornado?

An impromptu chase in mid-summer rewarded me with a decent supercell that may or may not have produced a tornado.

July 17th was a pretty average summer day, with modest northwest flow aloft and a strongly veered (but weak) wind profile. An outflow boundary was present over the Flint Hills, but was moving southward. You want outflow boundaries to be about stationary for maximum effect, but I still was keeping an eye on mesoanalysis and radar. A couple storms developed near Manhattan, and another one popped up east of Junction City. It looked like junk on KTWX (Alma, KS radar site) but when I checked the Wichita radar it looked much more interesting. I decided to head west on I-70 towards it around 4:40 pm.

Sure enough, as I was heading west, I noticed it was starting to develop a telltale supercell shape. I should have left a bit earlier. I got off I-70 at the Alma exit in Wabaunsee County and headed south on K-99 and then west on K-4 towards Alta Vista. I got off the highway a few miles east of Alta Vista and headed southwards on gravel roads until I could find a good position.IMG_0610.CR2.jpg

5:42 pm, a few miles southeast of Alta Vista. Although structure isn’t great, a big inflow tail is visible on the right side of the photo. I was keeping an eye on the center of the photo, where the inflow tail is feeding into the storm. I crept west a bit on the road for a slightly closer look.IMG_0611.CR2.jpg

5:45 pm, a bit west of previous photo. A Rear-flanking downdraft cut is starting to show itself here in the center. I was starting to wonder if this storm was going to try to produce a tornado. As I was driving west and then south, a suspicious lowering appeared where I would expect a tornado in relation to the RFD cut. I stopped twice to look at it, but it appeared to just be scud rising into the base of the storm. I found a good stopping point to take some photos.IMG_0613.CR2(1).jpg

5:53 pm, six miles southeast of Alta Vista, looking WNW. The image is slightly color-enhanced to help with contrast. There is a bit of a lowered area in the center on the NW side of the RFD cut, right where a tornado usually would be. There appeared to be “scud” filaments rising into the feature. The feature persisted for approximately 3 to 4 minutes. If it was a tornado, it was likely very weak. I wasn’t completely sure what was going on, so I didn’t send a report to the NWS about it. Later as I checked my photos, I sent a report to the NWS via Twitter about my experience, explaining that I still didn’t know what that was. As of this writing, no tornado has been confirmed yet.

After the feature dissipated, the storm transitioned into an outflow-dominant state. I continued south and east some more to find a good spot.IMG_0616.CR2.jpg

6:10 pm, southeast of Alta Vista, looking NW. There is still somewhat of an RFD cut visible, but I was getting NW winds at this time. I was beginning to wonder if the storm had become elevated, as the outflow boundary was 10 or so miles south of the storm by this point. It appeared to try to bring in surface or near surface based inflow one more time, then started to dissipate.IMG_0620.CR2.jpg

6:26 pm, southeast of Alta Vista, looking east. A couple of nice rainbows ended a very interesting day in the Flint Hills.

Chase Log: June 26th, 2018 Butler County, KS Tornadoes

This entry has been edited after the June 2018 Storm Data was released. I was unaware that I witnessed two tornadoes until much later.

A great late-season chase produced some amazing structure and two tornadoes in south-central Kansas.

June 26th had been on the radar for a couple days, as strong mid-level flow for late June overspread the central Plains. Parameters had looked good for eastern Kansas, it was just a question of storm mode/early convection. An MCS had developed in the morning in eastern Kansas and moved south, effectively destroying any hope for a close-to-home setup. However, as the MCS continued into northeast Oklahoma, it produced a North-South oriented outflow boundary that stalled near the Wichita area. Usually in the Plains these N-S OFBs don’t work, but this day had shear vectors from NNW to SSE, so storms should propagate southward along the boundary. I checked parameters, and it looked good, and I remembered my chase in mid-May that produced a tornado, so I left home around 4:30 pm and drove down the Kansas Turnpike. As I went through the Flint Hills south of Emporia, an impressive thunderstorm was exploding northeast of Wichita. I got off the turnpike at Cassoday (first mistake) and drove southward a bit before stopping on a gravel road. As I came to a stop, I spooked a deer out of hiding, but he was fairly curious and I got a photo of him before he ran away.IMG_0575.CR2.jpg

6:05 pm, south of Cassoday, looking west. At that moment, the storm was not very organized, but it did have a severe thunderstorm warning, and could have contained large hail. I didn’t want to risk going through the hail to get to the other side of the storm, so after a few minutes I headed south and then west, wanting to get to El Dorado for a better look at the storm. Not long after I moved out, the storm intensified rapidly and became a supercell. I needed to get into position quickly. I drove south just east of El Dorado Lake on K-177, then headed south again once I drove through Prospect. I found a good stopping point a few miles southeast of El Dorado.IMG_0580.CR2.jpg

6:44 pm, southeast of El Dorado, looking northwest. A wall cloud is visible in the middle of the picture. According to Storm Data, a tornado was ongoing at this time. It’s pretty much impossible to pick something out in the photo, but the tornado is somewhere within that wall cloud, so I’m going to count it. I continued westward and then headed south on US 54 to find another stopping point.IMG_0583.CR2.jpg

6:56 pm, south of El Dorado, looking northwest. There is still a wall cloud in there, but it isn’t as well defined as before. The storm would go through several cycles where it would get visibly stronger and more likely to produce, but then would fall apart a bit.IMG_0587.CR2.jpg

7:06 pm, south of El Dorado, looking northwest. Here is an “upward” cycle, where it appeared as if the storm was close to producing. That didn’t happen here, however. After this picture, the storm continuously declined in intensity. I moved south to US 400, then east to Leon, then drove south from there.IMG_0596.CR2.jpg

7:20 pm, south of Leon, looking northwest. Although the storm seemed to be falling apart, it still had photogenic structure to it. I noticed on radar that a new storm was developing west of the current storm and seemed to be strengthening, so I decided to head west for that one. I drove to Douglass, and then south again.IMG_0600.CR2.jpg

8:28 pm, south of Douglass, looking northwest. The supercell had fantastic structure from this point on (easily the best I have ever seen up to now) and for at least 45 minutes looked like it could produce a tornado at any time. I continued southward to the small community of Rock and found a nice spot just east of there.IMG_0604.CR2.jpg

8:49 pm, just east of Rock, looking north. Magnificent striations in the mesocyclone are quite apparent. I didn’t have the best view of the tornado-producing region, but as there was no tornado it seems I didn’t miss much here.IMG_0606.CR2.jpg

8:53 pm, same location. Even more striations are visible. At this point, darkness was setting in and light was decreasing. I was worried that the storm wouldn’t produce before sunset. IMG_0608.CR2edit.jpg

9:03 pm, same location. For some reason the picture did not turn out well (possibly due to fog on the camera lense). This super-enhanced photo was taken right when a tornado was ongoing. It’s tough to pick out, but I believe it is visible directly below the right side of the mesocyclone. Another chaser, Brett Roberts, captured a good photo of it and it is on his website at http://skyinmotion.com/chase/chase.php?id=251 (second photo from the bottom). In any case, it’s nice to look back on a chase and realize that you got a tornado without even knowing it.

Shortly afterwards, light faded and I headed for home a happy man. Between Andover and El Dorado I ran into hail on the turnpike where many vehicles were stopped underneath bridges. Not sure why, as the hail wasn’t very big.

Considering I thought the chase season was effectively over, this late June surprise was quite nice. Superb structure and two brief tornadoes made this a chase to remember. Let’s hope summer has some more stuff like this.

State of the Season: June 12th, 2018

As the main part of chase season has passed by, 2018 has been an interesting year. From a meteorological perspective, it’s been one of the most boring years on record. There have been no major events, and even relatively minor outbreaks have been few and far between. To date, there have only been five EF3 tornadoes, which is very low. However, from my personal view, it’s been great. I saw three tornadoes in May, including the Tescott tornado, so I can’t say that I’ve had a bad year. Now to take a look into the future…

While the summertime is often pretty quiet, eastern Kansas usually gets at least one chaseable event (August 2016 had three!) so hopefully I can get a chase in during the summer. We have been in a La Nina base state since late 2016, but that is predicted to change beginning in the fall, where at least a weak El Nino (probably moderate) should develop. It seems like chasers bemoan El Ninos, but considering the last two years haven’t been great, a change in the pattern is probably a good thing. Some great Plains years have been El Ninos (1995, 2003, 2010) so we’ll see. Some of those Nina-to-Nino years also had pretty active fall seasons, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the fall gets some decent events (hopefully some chaseable ones). It’s too early to get some analogs for 2019, but I’m rather optimistic, as it’s tough to get a year worse than 2018 (from a meteorological perspective).

Chase Log: May 19th, 2018 Overbrook, KS Supercell

A decent backyard chase day produced a supercell fairly close to home that tried to produce a tornado, but failed to do so.

An Enhanced risk of severe weather with a 5% tornado risk was in place for eastern Kansas on May 19th. It was looking pretty good a day or two beforehand, but unfortunately storms from the previous day mostly ruined what had been a promising setup. I had planned to head west from Topeka, but when I woke up, the highest risk seemed to have shifted to the OK/KS border. I didn’t want to go that far, so I waited at home to see if anything interesting could pop up closer to Topeka. In the early afternoon, some nice cells developed west of Emporia, but as they moved closer, they dissipated. I waited until around 4 pm when new cells formed near Emporia and moved eastward, seemingly along an outflow boundary. Driving south on US 75, my wife and I went through very heavy rain and emerged on the other side of the storms in central Osage County. We headed east on K-268 towards Pomona Lake, and stopped for a bit south of Vassar. IMG_0532.CR2.jpg

4:55 pm, south of Vassar, looking north. It’s tough to make out, but the trees are obscuring the base of the storm. What had been an ill-defined linear blob had turned into a supercell on radar. My one regret of this day was the lack of good photo opportunities, as the storm was moving fairly quickly and we were behind it from the beginning.

After a few minutes, we got back into the car and headed east and then north to Pomona Lake. As we crossed the dam, we had a good view of a wall cloud a few miles to our northwest. We drove through the community of Michigan Valley, and as we emerged, the storm looked impressive. An RFD clear slot and “horseshoe” was present, and a small lowering was visible right where I’d expect a tornado due north of us. I wouldn’t call it a funnel, but the storm was trying. I decided to head northeast using the unpaved road grid to try to intercept the storm. As we continued, the previously rain-free clear slot became filled with precipitation, making the area of interest obscured. We eventually caught up to the storm on US 56 near Globe in Douglas County, but by then, the inflow had been cut off. I briefly talked to another storm chase (he said he was chasing for WIBW TV) and then we went home.

Not a bad chase, especially considering how close it was to home and how low my expectations were by that morning. Although 2018 has been a very slow tornado year, its been fairly good to me so far.

Chase Log: May 14th, 2018 Arkansas City, KS Tornadoes

Another great chase day in 2018 started with very low expectations and resulted in two tornadoes in south-central Kansas northwest of Arkansas City, my third and fourth of the year and fifth and sixth overall.

Days like May 14th, 2018 are pretty common late spring/early summer days; a lot of instability with not much wind shear. This can lead to lots of storms that aren’t organized enough to produce tornadoes. On the morning of the 14th, I woke up to a Slight risk by the SPC with less than 2% tornado risk. I still had some hopes of a chase, so I paid some attention to how things progressed. By late morning, the SPC put a 2% tornado risk for eastern Kansas and western Missouri. I noticed a surface boundary of some kind (maybe the synoptic stationary front or an outflow boundary) moving slowly southward near Wichita, then stalling out. With a large amount of instability and a diffuse boundary of some kind, magic can happen. I figured in a slow year like 2018 I had to take my chances, so I left home around 1 pm to my initial target of El Dorado, Kansas. I got on the turnpike and saw some severe-warned storms to the east of Cassoday. I should note this was my first time in that area of the Flint Hills, and it was beautiful. I considered driving east towards the storms once I got to El Dorado, but there were some storms trying to form further south, near Winfield and Arkansas City. I thought these storms would have the best shot at having good structure at least. I arrived in Arkansas City as some updrafts were going up, but they were still competing for space. I found a good spot to watch things west of Arkansas City for a while. One storm started to look good, but a left-moving supercell developed and started to move towards it.IMG_0511

4:26 pm, a few miles south of Geuda Springs, Kansas, looking southwest. You can see the updraft base on the right (or north) side of the storm, meaning it had anticyclonic rotation, and posed no tornado threat. The storm wasn’t severe warned at the time, but it looked like it might contain some hail, so I wanted to sample the core. I drove through the tiny town of Geuda Springs, heading north, (where a turtle was in the road and a kid came out to grab it) and found a paved road heading north. I stopped at the Slate Valley Church four or five miles northwest of Geuda Springs where I awaited the heaviest precipitation. Sure enough, I saw some small hail after a few minutes, and I was fairly satisfied with my chase day.

A peculiar thing happened around this time; the left moving supercell merged with another storm to its north and became a right-moving supercell. I noted this on radar, and as I was in the core (north of where the updraft base would be) I headed back south towards Geuda Springs. I found a good spot to watch the storm for a while just west of town.IMG_0513

5:23 pm, just west of Geuda Springs, looking northwest. A nice updraft base is quite prominent here. I was beginning to have some hope for this storm, but there were other storms forming to the southwest that kept crashing into the big storm and disrupting it. I made a comment to my group chat at this time that I thought it would have a chance if other cells stopped merging with it. About ten minutes after this shot, another cell merged with it. I stayed at this spot, waiting to see what happened.IMG_0516.JPG

5:49 pm, same location. After the merger, another updraft base formed in about the same location. This one wasn’t as impressive as the first, but I had some hope still, as there looked to be one more merger coming up. If the storm could survive it, we might be in business.

After the merger, I headed northward now, as it looked like the storm was moving a bit north of due east. I stopped at the Slate Valley Church (again) and checked the radar on my phone. I was stunned to see that rotation in the supercell had rapidly increased. It appeared to have ingested a boundary of some kind, increasing the helicity in the near-storm environment. I could see a clear slot, but there was no visible rotation in the cloud base. My phone rang, and my phone said the call came from Wichita. The National Weather Service in Wichita called me to ask what I was seeing. I told them I saw on radar the rotation had increased, but I couldn’t make out any visible features of interest (like a wall cloud, funnel cloud). They thanked me and told me good luck, and I drove back south towards Geuda Springs. I found a good gravel road to stop on with a couple other chasers. I looked to my north and gazed upon an amazing sight.IMG_0519.JPG

6:09 pm, a few miles northwest of Geuda Springs, looking north. A wall cloud is visible less than a mile to my north. It was an incredible feeling, being so close to the center of the storm. The storm was strengthening rapidly at this point. My phone got an alert saying that the NWS had issued a tornado warning for that area.IMG_0520

6:11 pm, same location. There was visible rotation in the middle of the photo. There was even a funnel-wannabe at a couple points, but the storm seemed like it wasn’t ready to produce quite yet. I was lashed by rain as the rear-flanking downdraft pushed eastward, signalling a temporary end to the tornado threat. The storm was nearing the Arkansas River, meaning I had to pick a good river crossing to my east. I drove through Geuda Springs (again) and found a good road with a bridge heading east.IMG_0523.JPG

6:28 pm, just east of Geuda Springs. The small feature just above the cedar bush in the middle-left was something to keep an eye on. Sure enough, as I continued eastward, it developed into an impressive funnel. I found a gravel road to stop on a few miles northwest of Arkansas City.IMG_0525

6:35 pm, a few miles northwest of Arkansas City, looking north. Obvious funnel in the middle (obscured by a power pole). You may be able to make out a darker area in the rain where the tornado is touching down. I could see a swirling motion at the ground, so a tornado was in progress. Later, it was confirmed as an EF0 tornado that downed a few power poles. The tornado appeared to be weakening after a few minutes, so I drove eastward and found a spot to get a look into the storm as I came into Arkansas City. I could barely make out a tornado roping out in the heavy rain as I looked northwest. Turns out that this was a separate tornado, so that’s two on this chase. I drove east of Arkansas City, hoping to keep ahead of it, but the combination of terrain, bad road networks, and the fact that the storm appeared to have permanently transitioned to an outflow-dominant state made me decide to head for home.

For a day with almost zero expectations going in, this has to be considered a great chase. Hopefully there is more to come in the next few weeks.

Chase Log: May 1st, 2018 Tescott, KS EF3 Tornado

Easily the best chase of my life so far, I witnessed two tornadoes in north-central Kansas, including the large, intense Tescott/Culver, Kansas tornado.

This day (and week) had been on many chasers’ minds for a while, as computer models indicated a large trough would develop in the western US and move slowly eastward. May 2nd had looked like the biggest day for some time, while May 1st was a “day before the day” kind of setup. I had planned on chasing for a few days, as central Kansas is not far from home, and I felt like there would be a good chance for tornadoes. The SPC issued a 10% significant tornado risk for May 1st, in a relatively small area of central Kansas, including Great Bend and Salina. Supercell thunderstorms were forecast to develop in the mid-afternoon, and if they remained isolated long enough, would have significant tornado potential closer to sunset. I decided that Great Bend would be a good starting point for my day and left home around 9:30 am.

I topped off my gas tank in Ellsworth and briefly visited the Cheyenne Bottoms nature center before arriving in Great Bend. There were a lot of chasers in Great Bend (and other towns nearby) as many people from out-of-state had decided to take a chasing vacation (chasecation) for this week. I met some of my fellow chasers before storms developed, and around 2:30 pm I headed north to Hoisington. Several storms were forming from north of Hays south to Dodge City; the question was which storm would go on to be a long-lived supercell. A couple of strong cells developed east of Jetmore, so I drove west of Hoisington to near the small town of Olmitz and found a nice spot to let the storms come to me.IMG_0448

3:31 pm near Olmitz, looking WSW. At this point, storm cells/updrafts were still getting organized. I was pretty sure one of the cells to my southwest was going to be a good one, it was just a matter of waiting. Once an updraft became established, I moved a few miles further west to near Otis to await the storm.

IMG_0450

4:17 pm near Otis, to my southwest. An updraft became dominant southwest of Rush Center, with a base visible in the middle-left of the image. The storm is still 30-40 miles away from me at this time, and is moving in my general direction, so I figured staying at this spot and waiting for a while would be a good course of action. I kept seeing chasers heading west around this time so I figured I must be doing something right.IMG_0459

4:24 pm, same location. It didn’t take long after the supercell fully developed for a healthy wall cloud to appear. Chasers closer to the storm reported some light rotation in it at this time. After a few minutes, the wall cloud became obscured by rain from my vantage point. Some rotation was continuously occurring on the storm.

IMG_0473

4:48 pm, same location. As the storm got closer to me, it started to lose some of its splendor. It became largely outflow dominant, with little tornado potential. I moved back eastwards to near my first spotting location. At this point I realized that my camera had low battery (rookie mistake) and I didn’t get many good photos for a while, as I had to conserve my battery. The storm, while still a supercell, continued to lose its good structure. A supercell had begun to develop on the southwest flank of the first storm, and another storm was approaching from the south, likely to kill the first storm. Seeing as there was another impressive supercell near Greensburg, and some other chasers I knew moved towards it, I began to head to the south to intercept that one. I traveled down dirt and gravel roads for around 20 minutes and began moving east on K-4 east of Claflin, thinking I could quickly go south. However, I began to realize that it was likely too far to go. Some chasers who were on the first storm reported that the supercell that developed on its flanks had begun to organize, so I decided that hell or high water, I was going to stick with the northern storms.

Driving northward from near Bushton, I had to drive down dirt road after gravel road to get to the new supercell. I’m glad this area has such good roads, as they afforded me the chance to catch up with the storm. I could make out the mesocyclone of the supercell, with a relatively high base. The area became very hilly southwest of Ellsworth, and while beautiful, was getting somewhat difficult for chasing. IMG_0474

7:08 pm, west of Ellsworth, looking north. While contrast isn’t very good, it’s easy to pick out the funnel cloud. Some chasers closer reported that there was ground circulation at the time, so it appears as if this was a tornado. The storm still has a fairly high base, which explains why the funnel didn’t reach the ground. I stopped a few minutes for pictures, and the tornado dissipated. I continued east to Ellsworth, and drove north through town. The storm was to my northwest by this point, so I got on I-70 eastbound to get east and then north of it. Driving east, I noticed the storm was looking pretty impressive, with a strong rear-flanking downdraft cut in the base, and although it was tough to see in the rain, a wall cloud appeared to be taking shape. Many chasers were doing the same thing I did, and some got off I-70 at Brookville Road in western Saline County, heading north. I thought about doing that, but decided one more exit would be best. I got off at Hedville Road with a couple other chasing vehicles, and turned north.

As I drove north towards the small town of Culver, a large lowering was evident. Due to the hills/trees, I couldn’t see what was going on at ground level, but I remarked “it looks like that whole thing is a tornado.” Surprisingly, I was right. In a chatroom I use for weather and chasing, another chaser reported a cone tornado, but he got too far behind it to tell what was going on. I thought I saw something in the mesocyclone, but rain and scud clouds obscured my view. I drove northward until I finally came into a relative low spot and the town of Culver was in front of me.

My jaw dropped as I looked to my left (northwest) and a large, violent-looking tornado loomed in the distance.IMG_0061

7:53 pm on the south edge of Culver. Tornado is approximately 3-4 miles to my northwest at this point. There’s even some greenish colors east of the tornado. The guy in the foreground is Aussie storm chaser Daniel Shaw, who I follow extensively.IMG_0480

7:55 pm, same location. The tornado began to grow larger as it continued northeastward. The motion at the base of the tornado was quite impressive. Although the tornado was rated EF3, it was likely capable of causing EF4 damage at some point during its life.IMG_0483.JPG

7:57 pm, same location. Tornado is moving more north than east now and is heavily rain-wrapped. I stayed in this spot for a few minutes, and although rain was covering the tornado, I could still see the violent motion of the vortex. Many chasers were driving north, hoping to get a better view. I decided to head eastwards, thinking I could take US 81 towards Minneapolis for another intercept. However, the sun was setting, and the storm looked like it was going to stay HP (high-precipitation) so I drove south on US 81, got on I-70 east, and made it home.

The National Weather Service in Topeka surveyed the tornado the next day and rated it EF3 based on damage to a home southwest of Minneapolis (far to the north of where I saw it). It touched down at 7:41 pm in far northwest Saline County, moved into Ottawa County, missed Tescott to the southeast by about a mile, moved north of Culver and dissipated southwest of Minneapolis around 8:10 pm. It was on the ground for 14.5 miles and 29 minutes.

Interestingly, I chased twice in this area last April. I even drove down this same road chasing some garbage storms (can’t even remember the day) and on April 19th, I drove through Tescott. Third time’s the charm, I guess. A great start to May for me, and hopefully there will be more to come.