May 25, 2008

Statistics:

Initial Target: Dodge City, KS
Departure: Salina, KS 12:00 pm
Arrival: Leawood, KS 2:00 am
Intercepts: LaCrosse, KS
Tornadoes: 2
Hail: None
Wind: Non-Severe (45 mph measured by Tony Laubuch)
Features: Tornado, Wall Cloud, RFB, Shelf Cloud
Miles: 521

Summary:

Final day of plains chase trip offered high instability, decent shear, and initiation on an outflow boundary.  Targeted Dodge City, KS but intercepted near LaCrosse, KS noting a brief tornado under a ragged wall cloud.  Moved in closer to wall cloud noting beautiful structure.  Pursued wall cloud where it produced a funnel later identified as a tornado before storm gusted out.  Dropped to second storm noting another wall cloud.  Dropped back to another cell noting huge shelf cloud and dropped down the line where all storms were gusting out on a large front.  Met up with Tony Laubuch where we encountered 45 mph outflow.  Called it a chase and grabbed grub in Great Bend with Mark Sefried and Darin Kaiser.

Crew and Equipment:

Chase team included Chad Cowan.  Equipment: TH-F6A Tribander, and GPS/Cell Phone equipped laptop.  Photography by Skip Talbot.

Details:

Our last day in the plains for our Memorial Day chase trip promised strong instability but was a little light on the shear.  Initiation was expected on an outflow boundary from storms the night before and we targeted the Dodge City area where instability was maximized, hoping to get on the storms at initiation before they became high precipitation supercells (HP) or multicellular due to the light shear.
Storms fired early while we were still enroute, with one cell going tornado warned well to our northwest somewhere near Wakeeney.  That storm was out of our reach so we went after new development to our immediate east.  A supercell maturing to our north while enroute to another cell south of it:
We stopped just outside the town of La Crosse to let a severe warned supercell come to us as it matured.  When we got out to shoot pictures I noticed red streaks on the roof of the van.  "Chad what did you hit!" I exclaimed.  He left his french fries on the roof of the van when we left after lunch and forgot they were up there, the ketchup smearing as they flew off.
Just north of the massive supercell's precipitation core, a turkey tower type towering cumulus went up.  It looked like a mini low precipitation supercell.  We shot a few pics of it as it passed us to the north.
Looking southwest at the inbound supercell:
The storm went tornado warned and visibility through the precipitation core was not great so we dropped a few miles to the south to get a better view.  Rain free base coming into view:
We let the storm come to us noting a ragged lowering underneath:
As the ragged wall cloud approached we saw spiraling dust starting to kick up underneath it.  I got on Spotter Network and reported the developing tornado.
The circulation's peak:
The weak tornado dissipated after a couple of minutes, having never condensed a funnel down to the ground.
After the brief tornado we moved in closer for better contrast.  We a had a truly impressive view of the wall cloud from the vantage.
The wall cloud started to bend towards the ground with a spiraling tip as it sucked in rain cooled air.
The wall cloud's appearance was truly dramatic.  It resembled a ship's hull and keel.  A large striated meso stretched overhead.
The lighting under this storm's base was exquisite.  Note a second wall cloud and area of rotation on the right side of this image in the background.  That lowering never organized nearly as well as the one in front of us.
The wall cloud started to bow out like the storm was gusting out, but the end tightened up like a barrel.
We let the wall cloud pass overhead.  Looking north at the barrel shaped feature in the last photograph crossing the road in front of us.
Following the storm northeast looking at a concave shaped wall cloud.
We got out of Rush Center, sirens blaring, and turned towards La Crosse.  The wall cloud tightened up into a spiraling cinnabun type shape.  It was truly impressive structure, and so low to the ground.  We worried for La Crosse as the rotating feature was passing dangerously close to town.
We drove up right behind the wall cloud to get better contrast on what was going on underneath.  Just as we approached a funnel started to descend from the base.
The funnel had a very transparent tip that extended almost half way to the ground.
The funnel never fully condensed and we reported it on Spotter Network as only a funnel, but several other chasers called it in as a tornado noting a debris cloud underneath that was obstructed from our view.  The base of the funnel bending nearly horizontally into the wall cloud:
The wall cloud started to degrade as a flanking line cell took dominance.  We let it come to us noting a rather ragged wall cloud moving over the same area as the previous one.
It gusted out rather quickly and we let it pass overhead.  Looking southwest:
High contrast shot as it passed overhead, looking south at the town of Bison:
Second wall cloud passing to the northeast:
We pursued this storm as it maintained a tornado warning and got out ahead of it, noting a massive, very dramatic shelf cloud as the strom began to gust out as a high precipitation supercell.  Looking west:
Looking southwest:
Looking northwest:
 
Very nice foreground contrast as the shelf cloud approached with a very ominous core behind it:
We bailed and fled east and then south so as not to get mowed down by the massive core and washed away on the little gravel road on which we stopped for pictures:  High contrast shot looking south as the storm almost catches us:
Cells started fireing in a line well to our southwest and we had our third wall cloud come into view.  This one gusted out even more rapidly and soon became part of the huge gust front we just fled from.
The whole line was now gusting out and we dropped south to get ahead of it for some more pictures.
Note how the windmill changes directions as the outflow hits it:
We met up with Tony Laubuch while stopped for photos.  The gust front blasted us and Tony measured 45 mph on his mobile mesonet.
The storms were very linear at this point so we called it a chase and headed to Great Bend for some dinner.  Mark and Darin joined us and Tony Laubuch and his crew eventually showed up too  Outflow kicking up large amounts of dust ahead of the line:
 
Conclusion:

This was a great chase.  We were perfectly positioned for most of it, and despite not seeing large or fully condensed tornadoes, it was one of the most photogenic chases I have had.  The storm structure and lighting was amazing, and the brief tornadoes were nice additions.  A great ending to four action packed days on the plains.

 

Lessons Learned:

  • Don't forget food on the roof of your chase vehicle.