Chase Log: May 28th, 2019 Lawrence, KS EF4 Tornado

A long and hectic birthday chase results in a giant tornado (first of 2019) near home in Lawrence, Kansas.

The morning started with a 15% hatched tornado risk for NE KS into MO and IA. I thought that this was a bit overdone, but it was my birthday, so I had to head out. At 1630z the outlook was downgraded to 10% hatched which I thought was appropriate. I decided to head out and went to Topeka where Lijun played with my moms dog Chapman for a while. We headed west to Junction City, as a triple point setup looked great in the Smoky Hills northwest of Salina. However, I headed south towards Herington, as the dryline along I-135 also looked intriguing. As I was going south on US 77, I saw an enormous updraft going up east of me, near Council Grove. I decided to head east from Herington towards Council Grove on US 56 after a cluster of supercells developing in the Flint Hills. I stopped a few miles west of Council Grove (where Lijun scared a prairie chicken) and contemplated my options. Northwest of Salina looked great, but that was a bit too far for me. The cells on the dryline near Hillsboro went up, but died soon after. I figured the cells to my east were my only option so I headed east through Council Grove on US 56. The supercells started rotating quickly and tornado warnings were issued to my east. I didn’t want to core punch, so I headed south to Americus and then to Emporia. I knew the supercell now going into Osage County was rapidly rotating and may have a tornado. I headed quickly east on I-35 to the US 75 exit and went north. The storm structure was hidden by rain, so it was hard to get a read on exactly what was going on. I zigzagged through Osage and Franklin Counties trying to catch up to the tornado-warned storm, and I had no data so I didn’t know what was going on. I finally got data as I came into Douglas County, and I was stunned to see a violent tornado signature over the south side of Lawrence. I drove as fast as I felt safe going to Baldwin City and then north on county roads from there. A huge rain-wrapped mass was to my north as I raced to catch up. As the tornado passed near Linwood, I saw power flashes in the rain, which was the only real indication that a tornado was there. After it became apparent that the storm was moving northeast into the KC metro, I headed towards home. I came upon the damage path just southeast of Baker Wetlands, where trees were shredded and structures were damaged. Everyone was safe in that area, so I drove home.

What a weird and shocking chase. I didn’t get a single picture the entire chase due to driving constantly to catch up with the storm. Driving all the way to Junction City only to see a huge tornado mere miles from home is strange enough. All this happening on my birthday is crazy.

My thoughts are with those affected by this tornado. Seeing a high-end tornado so close to home is humbling, and going through the damage path is something I won’t forget. Hopefully I won’t have to see something like that again. We’ll see what the damage surveys come up with, but an EF4 rating seems plausible.

Update: the tornado has indeed been rated EF4 based on damage in Linwood. It was on the ground from Lone Star Lake to just west of Bonner Springs, and was over a mile wide at points. A true monster.

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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.