Extra chases of 2019

Like the 2018 edition, I want to catalog the days that while I didn’t score big, I still enjoyed my time out chasing.

February 23rd, 2019: Lebo, Kansas storm

February 23rd was the first day of convective activity in Kansas for 2019, and that alone would get me out the door. The day was a cold core setup with temps/dews around 50 and lots of low-level cape and bulk shear. However, low-level winds weren’t very conducive to tornadoes, but I hoped that a bit of ambient vorticity would go a long way here. My wife and I headed down US 59 to Ottawa, then I-35 down to Lebo, where a low-topped supercell was heading. After breaking through the deck of stratus, it was a great feeling to see a CU tower again. Of course, as soon as we got on the storm, it permanently transitioned to an outflow dominant state. Oh well. There were a few lightning strikes through the chase, so that was nice. After almost getting stuck twice in the ridiculously muddy gravel roads, we headed back east (north) on I-35 and got off at US 75 north.

2:53 pm, southeast of Melvern Lake, looking northwest. While I’m looking at the south end of the shelf cloud, those might be a couple of shear funnels there. In any case, the combination of fast storm motions (50 mph+) and my reluctance to use any unpaved roads meant that we quickly got left behind. The storm was actually severe warned for a brief time for 60 mph+ winds, but I was too far away to experience any. I decided to head for home, and on the way back we ran into the core of the storm where some heavy rain and pea sized hail fell. On to the next one.

May 21st, 2019 Ottawa, KS Supercell/possible funnel

I would have put this into the main page if I wasn’t so disappointed that I busted so badly on one of the best chase days in NE KS in recent years. Multiple photogenic tornadoes occurred near Junction City and near and north of Topeka, but I missed all of them.

A classic cold-core setup presented itself on this day. In the morning, I had thought about heading west on I-70 towards Junction City, but after overanalyzing the setup, I decided to sit out. Of course, a storm got going south of Salina and produced two tornadoes near Abilene and Junction City. Kicking myself, I saw more storms firing near Emporia and heading northeast. I headed south to intercept storms coming through Osage County.

6:07 pm, a few miles east of Overbrook, looking west. Some storms were trying to get organized, and this updraft base was pulling in some scud. Still, the storms were too close together and couldn’t do much. I opted to head south towards Ottawa, where storms were more isolated. As I headed down there, reports were rolling in of tornadoes north of Topeka.

6:50 pm, just north of Ottawa, looking south. This cool feature persisted for a while, but it was hard to tell exactly what it was. Updraft? Downdraft feature? In any case, after looking at it for a while, an updraft base became obvious north of me. The storms were moving quite fast, so I quickly headed north on US 59 towards Baldwin City to catch up with it. At one point, an RFD cut was quite apparent with what seemed to be a small funnel cloud north of Baldwin City. The storm permanently junked out after that, and I went home dejected after seeing what happened elsewhere. This was the first major bust of my career, and I doubt I’ll ever completely get over it.

September 22nd, 2019 Hillsdale Lake, KS Storms

A decent low-topper setup in late September presented itself this day, with storms initiating in the early afternoon west of Ottawa ahead of a cold front. I was already planning on going fishing at Hillsdale Lake so Lijun and I left Lawrence and headed south on US 59 to intercept the cells. A decent storm took shape south of Baldwin City, so I went east on US 56 to get close to it. The storm looked ok as we headed south towards Wellsville, but it wasn’t too organized and the outflow seemed stronger than the inflow. It seemed to be a theme that storms couldn’t quite organize to the point to where they could take advantage of good 3CAPE and some surface vorticity. Low-level shear was probably just too paltry. I kept going south and east towards Hillsdale Lake before I stopped briefly just west of the lake.

1:55 pm, just west of Hillsdale Lake, looking northwest. A wimpy updraft base is there, but it didn’t do much. I didn’t see any lightning during the chase. After messing around with this cell for a bit, we headed to my fishing spot, as there wasn’t much going on by this point.

2019 in retrospect and a look ahead to 2020

2019 was an odd year for chasers. We are likely to end the year above average for tornadoes, and late May in particular featured an outbreak sequence with over 300 tornadoes in a span of twelve days. However, it wasn’t a perfect year for chasing. Several big busts in that span, combined with some tough conditions for chasing, made 2019 a difficult year for some. Locally, May 21st was an amazing day, probably the best chase day in northeast Kansas in many years, but I completely busted. August 15th made up for that somewhat, though this year has left me wanting more. There were other notable events (May 28th especially) that featured tornadoes but not particularly photogenic ones. Overall, 2019 was a good year, both overall and in C/E Kansas, but not all-time great.

I believe I did a pretty good job with my forecast released after the 2018 season. So what will 2020 hold? That question might be a little tougher than last year. My forecast confidence is not quite as high as last year, though in general, I believe 2020 will be good-to-great, much like I thought 2019 would be. There are several factors that come into play when I make a spring forecast. I take ENSO, PDO, and other teleconnections into account, and create an analog composite. While not technically at El Nino levels at the moment, the atmosphere is largely behaving similar to some weak-moderate Nino years past. The PDO fluctuates, but has been trending lower. With all this in mind, my top 5 analogs are 1968, 1993, 2003, 2010 and 2019.

1968 and 2010 were likely similar in that they “spread the wealth.” The Southern Plains, Midwest and Northern Plains all had good events in both years. Chasers in each region would be pretty satisfied with a repeat of either year. 1993 had a very good three-day stretch in early May, and another good stretch in early June, but mid-late May was probably disappointing. 2003 had an incredible first ten days of May, and another big stretch in mid June, but had its down times like 1993. 2019 was summarized earlier so I won’t bore you with that again. After going through the analogs, at this point in time, I think the goalposts are similar to last season, with a decent year at worst and a pretty high ceiling.


Top 5 analogs with no weight


10 analogs with weight

Chase Log: August 15th, 2019 Volland, KS Tornadoes

An amazing summer chase results in multiple tornadoes and superb structure in the Flint Hills of Geary and Wabaunsee Counties.

Some strong mid-level flow for August was present on this day, and accordingly the SPC put out an enhanced risk for severe weather with a 5% tornado risk for most of NE KS. Multiple outflow boundaries were present, making the exact location of initiation difficult to predict. The day before, I thought I would chase, but the morning of the event, I didn’t expect much. However, as the day went on, things started to look pretty good in the northern Flint Hills. My wife and I left home around 4:30 and went to Topeka for a bit, as we wanted to get some vegetables from my grandparents and I wasn’t in a hurry. Storms had initiated northwest of Manhattan, but they were on the cool side of the boundary. As the storms moved southeast, they would encounter a much better environment for tornadoes. I figured it would be best to wait somewhere southeast of Manhattan in Wabaunsee County to let the storms come to me. I unhurriedly went to Alma and Skyline Drive, which is a scenic drive on a hilltop east of Alma (also where KTWX Radar site is) where there is a great view in all directions.

6:52 pm, on Skyline Drive a couple miles southeast of Alma, looking northwest. A wall cloud is evident in the distance. I waited in this spot for quite some time as the storm was moving towards me. It was some distance away, close to Manhattan at this time. I waited here for about 30 more minutes before deciding to head southwest towards Alta Vista, as the storm had turned more to the south. After seeing a bobcat on K99 (don’t encounter those too often) I found a nice spot just south of K4 east of Alta Vista near a cemetery. IMG_0862 (2).jpg

7:59 pm, southeast of Alta Vista, looking northwest. The guy in the truck coming towards me (along with his two dogs hanging out the window) stopped to talk with me for a minute about the storm. The supercell was developing its structure better by this point, and it was definitely on an upward trend. IMG_0871 (2).jpg

8:05 pm, same location. Overall structure has markedly improved and a large, low-hanging wall cloud is visible. I was beginning to really believe in the storm, as it was rapidly intensifying. About five minutes after that photo was taken, strong rotation within the wall cloud occurred, and I told my wife that a tornado was coming. Sure enough, a funnel cloud began to form.IMG_0880 (2).jpg

8:13 pm, same location. A tornado is pretty obvious here, about 6-8 miles northwest of my location. While only on the ground for 30 seconds-1 minute, it was a rather nice one. It was also the first tornado that my wife saw clearly, and she took a short video that I posted on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycHAxbqIKBs). The storm continued to rotate strongly, and I suspected there was more to come. We stayed in the same spot for a while as the storm continued to rotate. For a while, a notable anticyclonic circulation was evident in the wall cloud, closer to us, and I thought we might get an anticyclonic tornado, but it didn’t happen.IMG_0894 (2).jpg

About 8:30 pm, same location, looking northeast. It appeared to me that there was a tornado ongoing, to the right of the electric pole. There was a lot of motion in there. I can’t be sure, and we will see what the surveys come up with. (Edit: although there was no tornado confirmed, my pictures and radar velocity data make a pretty compelling case for a tornado here, but I won’t count it). About ten minutes later, we left this spot to go east on K4 to try to go home, but we saw something that made us stop. As we were driving eastward, a white cone tornado became visible off to our north.IMG_0899 (2).jpg

About 8:44 pm, the intersection of K4 and Illinois Creek Road east of Alta Vista, looking north. We could see the tornado for quite some time but it was difficult to capture it in the darkness. The NWS surveyed the damage the next day, and rated it as an EF1 tornado that was on the ground for 7 miles and about 20 minutes, damaging some outbuildings and trees. At the same time as this tornado, another tornado was ongoing a few miles east of us that was confirmed by the NWS much later. After watching the tornado continue moving north and eventually dissipate, we headed for home and were treated to a great lightning display.

A chase to be remembered for a long time, this amazing storm became my favorite chase to date. The NWS in Topeka has surveys to do, but there were at least four tornadoes, and I saw at least two of them. This event will go down as one of the best off-season tornado events in eastern Kansas in recent memory. Interesting how in July 2018 I may have seen a tornado very close to where I was chasing on this day, but couldn’t confirm it, and it was a bit of a weight on my back. Spring 2019 also didn’t go too well for me, but this day completely redeemed my year.

Chase Log: July 21st, 2019 Osage City, KS Supercells

A nice midsummer chase resulted in some supercellular structure in Osage and Coffey Counties.

Up until the morning of the 21st, this day looked pretty boring. A cold front sagged southwards into KS, and along with some decent mid-level flow for late July, severe weather looked possible. An outflow boundary set up south of the cold front, and a 5% tornado risk was issued for NE KS on the morning of the event. I decided to keep an eye out to see what developed. I thought that the Herington-Council Grove area would be the best spot, but I didn’t go there immediately. I went to Topeka around 3 pm, and around 4 pm cells were firing in northern Lyon County. I headed south on US 75 to take a look. By the time I arrived, a nice looking supercell had developed right on the boundary north of Reading and west of Osage City.IMG_0832 (2).jpg

5:10 pm, a couple miles NW of Lyndon, Kansas, looking southwest. The supercell looked great on radar and had a nice updraft base, and it was moving very slowly. Unfortunately, a cluster of cells had developed to the south and was moving towards the storm. IMG_0839 (2).jpg

5:15 pm, same location. A wall cloud is beginning to develop on the updraft base. Rotation was also evident at this time. As the cells from the south merged with this storm, the storm became outflow dominant. If the storms hadn’t merged when they did, it’s possible a tornado would have eventually formed considering the storm was right on the boundary. I repositioned south and east so I could stay ahead of the storms which were moving more quickly now.IMG_0841 (2).jpg

5:23 pm, a few miles south of Lyndon and just east of US 75, looking west. The wall cloud feature looks nice, but didn’t seem like it was going to produce anything. After a few minutes of watching this, the south end of the cluster of storms looked to be developing better close to I-35. I abandoned this area of storms and headed south quickly. I drove through Melvern, then crossed I-35 close to Waverly.IMG_0842 (2).jpg

5:45 pm, a couple miles NW of Waverly. A huge shelf/wall cloud hybrid was apparent to my west. The storm had a very strong mesocyclone aloft, and I thought I might see something, but there wasn’t a tornado. It was fairly outflow dominant at this time (and for most of its life). The storm turned right hard and moved fairly quickly southeast. I drove south and west to keep ahead of it. IMG_0845 (2).jpg

6:04 pm, six or seven miles south of Waverly, looking northwest. The storm would go through a couple cycles of inflow and outflow dominance. Here it began an inflow cycle. I drove east and north hoping to get a better look at the innards of the storm. About ten minutes after this photo, it looked like a sizable RFD cut and lowering formed, but it dissipated quickly. After that point, the storm became permanently outflow dominant, and I headed for home.

Although I didn’t see a tornado, it was a fairly successful chase, and helped wash some of the bad taste from a disappointing spring away. Can’t ask for too much in late July anyway.

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.

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.

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.