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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
9:03 pm, same location. For some reason the picture did not turn out well (possibly due to fog on the camera lens). 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.