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.

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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.

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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.

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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.