March 30, 2006

Statistics:

Initial Target: Manhattan, KS
Departure: Bolingbrook, IL 2:00 am CDT March 30
Arrival: Bolingbrook, IL 2:00 am CDT March 31
Intercepts: Salina, KS
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: None
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: RFD Clear Slot, Wall Cloud
Miles: 1439

Summary:

Rendezvoused with Scott Kampas in Morton, IL.  Targeted Salina, KS for early afternoon initiation.  Intercepted Tail-End-Charlie of a line near Salina, KS.  Observed brief wall cloud before line consolidated and went linear.  Blasted ahead of line to catch tornado warned discrete cell to southwest.  Intercepted near Council Grove observing RFD clear slot from an occluded base.  Headed east to Topeka observing elevated activity before calling it quits at around 6.  Arrived in Bolingbrook at 2 am the next day.

Crew and Equipment:

Chase team included Scott Kampas. Equipment consisted of a TH-F6A Tribander, and GPS/Cell Phone equipped laptop.  Photography by Skip Talbot.

Details:

Invigorated by earlier successes, I was up for an early season marathon chase.  A nice triple point/dryline setup was forecasted in Kansas, and Scott and I decided to team up for it.  I had class Wednesday, the night before, so I stayed up without sleep, checking the day 1 and making final plans.  I left Bolingbrook at 2 am and was in Morton a little after 4.  I could barely stay awake, dozing off at the wheel before snapping myself back awake.  I remember watching the mileage before my exit tick down on Street Atlas: 0.5 miles remaining, I'd momentarily lose consciousness, and then snap awake to see 0.3 miles.  I slapped myself and shouted, "3 TENTHS REMAINING! STAY AWAKE SKIP!!!"  I dozed off.  "0.1" was on the screen when I came around a moment later.  I signaled and made the exit.
 

I met Scott at Mark Sefried's.  It was after four but both had been up all night analyzing the weather data.  I related my reckless driving tale to Scott, who, without hesitating, said, "I'm driving."  We targeted Manhattan KS, just southeast of the forecasted triple point.  Scott drove the Shibster while I slept in the passenger seat, waking every now and then to see where we were.  At left, the sun rising in west central Illinois.

Crossing the Missouri River in St. Joseph at around 9 am if memory serves me correctly.
Ah, Kansas.  We watched golden, flat plains go by as we passed Hiawatha on Rt. 36.  Dull, boring, and monotonous to most people, the plains scenery is one of the most beautiful sites to a chaser besides the storm.
Around noon we had initiation on the radar.  Scattered storms were popping up all over the region to the west and south.  A north/south orientated line of discrete cells to our west presented the best intercept option.  We headed southwest to catch Tail-End-Charlie. Near Salina the storm came into view, anvil stretching far overhead and the updraft tower to our right.  The excitement built as we approached.  You never know what you are going to find under the base before it comes into view.
We intercepted our storm nearly perfectly.  A rain free base with no lowerings, yet much turbulence came into view.  The boundary between the RFB and the precip core was very tight.
We paused for a few pictures before moving to keep up with the storm.  The precip core was a midnight blue, yet the sun was still shining at our location, providing for some stunning contrast with the foreground scenery.
We drove north slowly, intersecting the rain free base as the storm moved northeast.  A wall cloud with definite rotation and a chunky tail cloud formed just ahead of us, but didn't last for long.
The line was starting to consolidate as cells to the south filled in and rain started coming through our RFB.  Another high contrast shot looking north along the road.
We continued moving north between two precip cores and what was left of the RFB.  The gust front hit, buffeting us with wind and rain.  Scott sped ahead trying to catch an east option away from the line, while I craned my head around all the windows making sure nothing was going to drop on us.
We were able to get out a ways ahead of the line.  A shelf cloud was forming to our north, yet there was strong inflow at our location with winds at 30-40 mph into the storm.  We watched the storm catch up, enjoying the inflow, and the photogenic Kansas sky.
Completely filled in, our line was now linear and we headed off east away from it in search of a new target.  There was a cell to our southeast moving almost due north.  It was already tornado warned, and we were ways off, but it was our best option.  Looking southeast in this shot, the anvil from the storm we were just on still overhead, with the anvil of our new target in the background.
We managed to find the one twisting, hilly road in Kansas on our way to the intercept.  We wound up core punching through the back end of the storm, but didn't encounter any hail.  We broke through the low visibility to see a clear slot and occluded base moving away to the east.  Our road didn't give us an option to keep up, and this storm died too as the line gobbled it up.
We got back onto the interstate and headed toward Topeka.  We stopped for grub at a fast food joint not found in Illinois, but the name of it escapes me.  Scattered storms were going up in the area so we went north out of town to catch one.  The storm had a bowing type shape with a flanking line behind and an intense core in the center.  The next three shots compromise a broken panoramic view looking west and rotating to the north.
 
The storm was elevated and linear in nature.  We left it for more discrete activity southwest of Topeka.
Some new convection going up to our north.
Sunbeams radiating off the top of the small anvil as we approached from the south.
It was around 6 pm now, storms were continuing to fire on almost the same spot so we parked it on a country road, watching them build.  Elevated and LPish, we finally concurred that the day was winding down and it was time to start our long haul back home.
I drove us most of the way home while Scott slept.  Somewhere in northern Missouri there was a roadblock of some sort.  Immediately behind me was a fast moving squall line with prolific lightning and an ominous shelf cloud.  Instead of waiting in the traffic and getting eaten by the squall, I pulled a U turn and found a gravel road detour.  Scott was jarred awake as I sped and pulled tight turns on gravel roads trying to beat the monster squall bearing down on us.  I managed to get ahead of the roadblock and back onto 36 before the line hit, and we were smooth sailing all the way back to Illinois, arriving home just before 2.
Conclusion:

Well, no tornadoes yet this was a much more photogenic chase than March 12.  The wall cloud action, and the beautifully contrasted storms against the Kansas plains made this chase well worth the trip.  I couldn't have pulled this chase off without taking driving shifts with Scott, and his many years of additional experience were invaluable as well.

Lessons Learned:

  • Marathon chases can be quite enjoyable as long as you have a trustworthy chase partner.
  • Kansas has great weather and great scenery.