|Monday looked like the biggest day of Adam's and my three
days out on the plains. We had a dryline setup in western Kansas with
a warm front to the north and southwest flow. We targeted Hays, KS
where storms might be able to fire on the dryline and then tap the better
directional shear as they approached the warm front to the north.
After grabbing breakfast at the same
diner we had dinner at the night before, Adam and I left Medicine Lodge and
meandered up to Hays, passing through Greensburg along the way. Much
new construction had been done there since the F5 tornado leveled the town
two years earlier, but you could still large scars and several blocks of
|Heading north to Hays under blue skies:
We made it up to
Hays and stopped for fuel and a data check. Storms were starting to
pop 100 miles to the south near Dodge City. Adam and I decided these
were our storms, even after driving all the way north. We headed south
through Ellis for an intercept point west of Kinsley.
|Our storm went tornado warned. Coming in from the
north, we had to race south to get ahead of the storm before it crossed our
path leading to a dangerous core punch. We passed a couple of
horseback riders and I warned them there was a possible tornado in the storm
coming up from behind them. Soon afterwards a report of a brief
tornado came in from Spotter Network. We were missing it!
dodging some dirt roads and beating the storm's core to our intercept point,
a wall cloud emerged to our southwest.
|There was some dramatic rising motion on the left edge of
the wall cloud as it ingested rain cooled air from the precipitation core.
|We moved south to highway 50 to get out of the rain and get
a better view of the wall cloud. Scud was racing around the base of
the storm as it started to bow out, and there was a brilliant green core
behind it. The colors were amazing. Looking west:
|Looking south at the edge of the bowing out storm.
This structure typically indicates that the storm is gusting out, which
makes chasing more difficult as any tornadoes would be blocked behind a wall
of wind, hail, and rain.
|Looking west as the gust front moves overhead:
|Looking southwest towards the town of Offerle as the storm's
base moves overhead. There was lots of turbulent motion and what
looked like a wall cloud forming behind it (lower right).
|We would have continued to drive south if there was a good
road that paralleled the storm, but highway 50 was the best option we had
and it kept us right under the base in a rather precarious position.
As the storm passed overhead and fanned out, we could see large plumes of
dust being kicked up all over the place. Some were brief whirls known
as gustnadoes (non-tornadic circulations in a thunderstorm's outflow).
One large plume really grabbed our attention though. What looked
initially like a plume of dirt kicked up by a rear flanking downdraft,
turned into a large circulation with multiple internal vorticies.
At first site it looked like a large
gustnado, but we could also see rotation in the base of the storm overhead.
After reviewing the video, Adam and I, along with other chasers that were
nearby, concluded that this was a weak tornado. The dust connected
with the base of the storm, and there was a rotating lowering that persisted
over the circulation. This connection with the storm's base is what
differentiates a gustnado from a true tornado. You can see this
lowering in the photo above, centered over the dust plume, which looks like
a nub shaped funnel. This tornado looked fairly weak as far as
tornadoes go with winds probably in the range of 60-80 mph. This is
still more than enough to do damager, however. The tornado persisted
for several minutes before it dissipated just southwest of the town of
|While this tornado was still in progress we had another,
smaller circulation spin up to our southwest. This more tubular
circulation resembled a landspout and it looks like there might have been a
point funnel in the base just to the right of this debris cloud, which would
also make it a tornado. We couldn't confirm the connection, however,
so we counted it as a gustnado. There were lots of these spin-ups and
dust plumes forming all around us at the time.
|While trying to navigate through the town of Kinsley, we
made a wrong turn and the storm's precipitation core, which had been riding
our heels for the past half hour, hit us full on. We had to bail south
out of town to get out of it, which cost us our viewing position for any
future tornadoes that might develop. We paralleled the storm on dry,
dirt roads. The storm's downdraft was fanning out all around, creating
a huge dust storm. We passed some downed trees, a large grain bin that
been dented in, and before I could realize it, I drove over some downed
power lines. Luckily they weren't live!
Falling behind as the storm moved off
to the northeast, we decided to take a north road option to see if we could
core punch the storm and come back out in front of it on highway 50. I
wound up driving into blinding rains. Tree branches started coming
down around us as the winds approached severe levels, and I had to dodge a
big tree that was down in the middle of the road.
|I had enough and decided to turn around and bail south.
What a dumb idea it was to try and punch this core. I wasn't done
paying for it yet though. The hail picked up as I turned around and
the severe winds were blowing the stones sideways into the van. The
hail exceeded golfball size, which the van had survived in the past, but
with the driving winds they had enough force to do damage and my windshield
cracked when it got smacked in the upper right corner.
|The storm was turning into a mess as it continued to gust
out. I called the chase off and we drove to Pratt to get some dinner
and a room for the night. We picked the wrong spot for dinner.
The Chinese buffet we stopped at had no food left. We were treated to
a nice mammatus display from our hotel room though:
This was a fun and wild
chase. We caught a tornado although it was a weak one that we
initially considered to be a gustnado. Dick McGowan and Darin Brunin
did wind up intercepting a larger tornado east of Kinsley that was embedded
in the core of the storm. If we had not made that wrong turn in
Kinsley, I'm not sure if we would have emerged from the core and seen it
ourselves or if we would have been stuck in the core right next to it.
i also had a few firsts on this chase, although they aren't ones to be proud
of. This is the first time I drove over downed power lines on a chase
and the first time i cracked a windshield from large hail. Across
Kansas and Nebraska lots of storms had gone up with some of them producing
photogenic tornadoes. I was quite happy with our intercept though.
- Don't mess around in the core of an HP supercell.
- Take the time to navigate and verify your route while under a storm.