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. 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.

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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.

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.

Chase Log: June 26th, 2018 Butler County, KS Tornadoes

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.IMG_0575.CR2.jpg

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.IMG_0580.CR2.jpg

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.IMG_0583.CR2.jpg

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.IMG_0587.CR2.jpg

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.IMG_0596.CR2.jpg

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.IMG_0600.CR2.jpg

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.IMG_0604.CR2.jpg

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.IMG_0606.CR2.jpg

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. IMG_0608.CR2edit.jpg

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

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.

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.

 

Chase Log: April 13th, 2018 Rossville, KS Brief Supercells

My first chase of 2018 came on a Slight risk day with low expectations, and resulted in some decent storm structure. This day had been talked about for around a week, with varying levels of hype. While I chased in the 5% tornado risk zone, there was a 15% significant tornado risk in Arkansas and a separate 10% tornado risk in southwest Iowa. These targets kept most chasers in those areas. My initial plan was to head northwards from Lawrence towards Atchison, Kansas, and maybe into Missouri. When I looked at short-range models and observations that morning, however, I decided chasing too far away was probably not worth it, as the tornado risk seemed fairly low. At 2 pm, I left Lawrence heading west towards Topeka, as thunderstorms had already initiated on the dryline running NE-SW through the Flint Hills. After some wrong turns, I ended up on US 24 near Rossville. I liked what I saw from the storms at this point so I turned north at Rossville to try to find a good vantage point. IMG_0433

3:21 pm, north of Rossville, looking southwest. At this point the storm had supercellular characteristics, and while not in any danger of producing a tornado, was nice to look at. The storms this day were moving very quickly, maybe 50-55 mph, so I figured I would sit tight and let the storms come to me. At this point, the thunderstorm was producing some hail around 1 inch in diameter.

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3:31 pm, same location. You can make out an RFD cut with a bit of a lowered cloud base here. A small inflow feature is also visible in the middle-right of the picture. The storm has supercellular characteristics but I didn’t expect a tornado at any time.

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3:52 pm, same location. This is the same thunderstorm as the above two pictures. After the second picture, the storm weakened and continued northeastward. Another updraft developed on the southwest flank of that storm and headed towards me, but the structure was quite unimpressive. Around 4:15 I called it a day and headed home. While there was nothing spectacular, all in all not a bad first chase.

Chase Log: April 19th, 2017 Lincoln, KS Supercells

On a Slight risk day with low expectations, I saw my first supercells of 2017 in the Smoky Hills of central Kansas. I had been keeping an eye on this day for a while; the SPC had a Day 4 outlook for much of NE and Central KS. On April 19th, there was a 10% tornado risk in Iowa, which thankfully kept most chasers there. I targeted the Salina, Kansas area and points north and west for my chase. I wasn’t expecting too much, just hoping to see a supercell, which I thought was a pretty good bet. Around 4 pm I ventured out from Topeka as a Severe Thunderstorm Watch was issued for my target area. I filled up the gas tank in Abilene and decided to head northwards once I got to Abilene. I headed north from Salina to the Minneapolis area where I found Rock City, where many large boulders are located. Checking radar (and the sky) I headed west towards Lincoln, Kansas. A long line of storms had formed along a cold front pushing southeast, but there were supercells embedded within the line.20170419_175939

5:59 pm: My first good view at the storms. You can see the mesocyclone in the middle of the view.

I passed through Tescott, Kansas and found a dirt road with a good view to park on.

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6:03 pm: west of Tescott along Kansas Highway 18, looking west. You can pick out the mesocyclone in the center left of the sky, and although there is a lot of scud, there might be an attempt at a wall cloud in the center. This feature did not last very long, however. Soon, the storm became outflow dominant, and produced some good shelf-type structure. There were some well-known chasers on this storm, and they had some pretty good pictures.

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6:06 pm looking southwest. It was looking like this storm would turn permanently linear, so I decided to leave it.

There was a new storm developing on the end of the line west of Ellsworth, Kansas that was looking pretty good, so I doubled back to Salina and headed west on Interstate 70 to get on that supercell. Unfortunately, as I came into Salina, the old storm that I was on intensified considerably and produced a rather impressive wall cloud. It would have been a great photo opportunity, but I was already heading west on the Interstate and had no place to stop. At least I didn’t miss a tornado. I went towards Kanopolis Lake and then westward to Geneseo, but by the time I got there, the supercell had been absorbed by the line. Most of the other chasers went to Great Bend and saw a pretty impressive supercell, but that was too far for me, so I went to Ellsworth to get something to eat. As I came into town, an odd fog covered the ground, and there were piles of hail everywhere.

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7:44 pm on the north side of Ellsworth. Dime and penny sized hail was everywhere. I later saw a report that there had been 1.25 inch hail in Ellsworth, but it had melted by the time I got there. I got a sandwich at Subway and headed home.

Even though there were no tornadoes, I had a pretty satisfying chase. I saw some good storms, so I’m pretty happy. My next chase will probably be sometime next week, as a very favorable pattern for tornadic activity may be in the cards.

 

 

Chase Log: Central Arkansas, March 13, 2016

Sunday, March 13, 2016 was my first planned chase and second overall. The day before, I drove from Topeka to a hotel in North Little Rock, Arkansas. I drove into the hail core of a strengthening supercell south of Malvern, Arkansas and lost both windshields. While overall a failure, a good story came out of it, along with some lessons for the future.

For months, I had planned on chasing during spring break from March 12-20, 2016 if a good setup emerged. The week before, I was looking at the possibility of a significant severe threat for much of the country the next week, but it looked like it wouldn’t pan out. However, a compact shortwave was progged to quickly move across the country on Sunday the 13th. A few days out, I had decided I would target this event. Storms would fire in Western and Central Arkansas during the afternoon of the 13th and move eastward into more favorable terrain in Eastern and Southeastern Arkansas during the early evening. Initially, my target was Lonoke, Arkansas and I therefore booked a room in Little Rock.

The day of the event, it looked as if initiation would take further west in the rugged terrain of Eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas. I would thus move to Malvern, Arkansas in early afternoon. This would be the first of many mistakes I made on the chase.

After sitting in a gas station parking lot in Malvern for a few hours, storms to my southwest began to get organized. There were already tornado warned storms in Western Arkansas, but that was too far for me. The storms became severe as they approached Arkadelphia, and I made my move southwest. I got on I-30 westbound to Social Hill, Arkansas and drove south along County Road 15. Between the trees and hills, I could get some glimpses of storm structure, and briefly saw a wall cloud in the distance. I looked for an eastbound road in vain. My brand-new phone with Verizon service had lost data, and I no longer could rely on radar. I contemplated turning around before foolishly continuing into the small town of Midway, Arkansas. This was when things started to get interesting.

As I got into town, I thought I would be able to get a better view of the storm. Unfortunately, as soon as I drove into Midway, nickel to quarter sized hail began falling in torrents along with heavy rain. Unable to see well, I parked my car underneath a tree on the side of the road. I had unknowingly put my front right tire into a ditch. I sat in my car for several minutes as the hail (within severe criteria, but not overly large) continued to fall. The hail then stopped, and some light rain was all that was left.

By this point I had realized that I was stuck. I tried putting the car in reverse, then drive, then reverse again, but to no avail. I began to think about calling a tow truck. Several cars drove by me unawares of my predicament. Data returned to my phone, but it was too late.

Looking at RadarScope, I read the Severe T-Storm warning for the storm I was in. The hazard statement read: “Baseball size hail and 70 mph winds. This is a very dangerous storm.” Somehow I knew I was in for a beating. Frantically I tried to get the car out of the ditch, but it was no good. The first stones hit the roof, then one bounced off the hood. I was still looking at my phone when a tennis or baseball hit my roof and knocked the plastic cover off the driver’s side roof light. It was at this point I began to worry. Then a few hit the back windshield, cracking it, while another couple cracked the front. I grabbed my small suitcase I was using to travel with to cover my face and eyes from glass shards. As soon as I did so, the back windshield shattered into a thousand pieces as hail continued to pound my car. More stones hit the front windshield, with several visible impact marks.

After the hail receded, I got out of the car to check the damage. The back windshield was gone, and the front was cracked beyond repair. The roof was covered in dents. At this point, I was just thankful a tornado didn’t spawn on top of me. Soon after the storm ended, most of the people in the town came to help me. I got bottles of water, cookies, Mountain Dew, and some people helped me cover my back windshield in a tarp. Triple A took about two and a half hours to get to me because of a big accident on the interstate. The ride home was safe and sound, despite having a tarp for a back windshield and several cracks on the front.

Lessons learned:

  1. Most of the time, you should stick with your initial target. On this day, several tornadoes touched down where I thought they would a day before. I got too excited and headed southwest when I should have been east.
  2. If you don’t have situational awareness, it’s OK to turn around. I lost radar data and couldn’t see through the trees. I should have known better and backed out of the area while I still could have.

While I made some rookie mistakes, I learned from the experience, and hopefully next chase will be better.

Large hail after about half an hour of melting. Hail was likely as large as tennis ball size, possibly larger.

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The Midway, Arkansas Town Hall. The tree where I parked my car under is on the far left.

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Front windshield, which had to be replaced

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Back windshield, completely destroyed