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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.