May 27, 2013


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Belleville, KS
Springfield, IL 6:49 AM 5/27/2013
Platte City, MO 12:49 AM 5/28/2013
Smith Center, KS
0 mph
Tornado, Wall Cloud, RFD Clear Slot, HP Mesocyclone, Shelf Cloud


Triple point play in north central Kansas. Targeted Smith Center area along 36 for afternoon initiation of supercells. Intercepted cell near Smith Center, noting wall cloud with lowering and RFD clear slot. Pursued as supercell transitioned into HP state, noting suspected rain wrapped tornado. Stayed ahead of storm for structure shots before dropping off at dusk as storms gusted out, heading to KC for room.

Crew and Equipment

Solo chase. Equipment: Canon 60D, Canon t2i, Canon EFS 10-22, Canon EF 50mm, Sony HDR-xr500v..




After my last chase on May 19, I immediately left the plains and drove all the way to the east coast to attend my sister’s graduation. An EF5 tornado struck Moore, OK the next day. I have mixed emotions about these events. The Moore EF5 killed over 20 people, including children taking shelter in their school, and it devastated communities. However, it also looked like it was going to be one of the largest chase events and most significant tornado of the year. I don’t regret missing the devastation of course, the deaths break my heart, and the suburbs of a large metro area are some of the last places I’d want to chase. Still, I felt as if I had missed out on a huge chase event. I checked out of the chase community and weather news for my duration on the east coast, focusing on family, not wanting to dwell on what I was missing.

I was home by the 26th, and it appeared the plains were shaping up again for several chase days. I was eager to get out there and make up for all the events I had missed in the past couple weeks including Moore, Rozel, and Wichita. I packed the van, and left early on the morning of the 27th for a several day plains run. Brindley couldn’t join me right away, but she made plans to fly into KC on the 28th so we could do the second half of the chase trip together.

The day was looking great for a chase. A rather diffuse triple point type play was setting up in north central Kansas, with a warm front draped along the NE/KS border, and a trailing dryline down through central Kansas. Modest westerlies aloft, and convergence at the surface, looked to support storm initiation as the cap weakened by afternoon. Shear profiles were great for supercells and a couple supercells. I targeted north central KS, taking 72 to 36, due west to the target area from Springfield.

Cumulus and Sunbeams
2 miles NNE of Scandia, KS
5:39 PM
I stopped in Belleville, KS for data at a dusty motel. I watched the satellite loops as a nice cumulus field developed to my west and towers started to go up. Those would be my storms, so I continued west down 36 as the first radar returns appeared. Sunbeams filtering through the cumulus field:

Rain Free Base
3 miles NE of Smith Center, KS
6:29 PM
Storms rapidly developed, and a severe warned supercell was in progress as I approached from the east. Highway 36 took me directly to the storm’s base. It was one of the few times I can recall driving down one road for the entirety of the chase, over hundreds of miles, winding up directly in front of my target storm. A nice backlit rain free base came into view, with a dark forward flank to the north. The storm was still maturing, and I had arrived with perfect timing.

Scuddy Lowering
3 miles NE of Smith Center, KS
6:39 PM
The base rapidly organized as I approached it. I took a few gravel roads northeast of Smith Center to get into position, while a few other chasers showed up including Matt Phelps with Extreme Tornado Tours and Brandon Sullivan who stopped to say hi. The northern end of the base dipped into a scuddy cone shape, which might have been a real weak attempt at a funnel. It looked like the storm might have to cycle a couple more times before it would be ready to produce, however.

Classic Structure
3 miles NE of Smith Center, KS
6:40 PM
A wide angle shot of the storm’s base shows the lowering under the comma head shaped northern end of the rear flanking gust front, and the rear flanking downdraft clear slot behind it. It was classic supercell structure, and I hoped for a photogenic tornado within the next few minutes, as the lighting on the storm was amazing.

Spiraling Rain Bands
3 miles NE of Smith Center, KS
6:42 PM
Spiraling rain bands swirled underneath the rear flank of the supercell as precipitation started to fall in what was once a rain free base. This sight can precede tornadogenesis, and I was starting to get excited. The rear flanking downdraft was getting quite close, however, so I’d have to move shortly. Within the rain bands a few tendrils appeared to tighten up like suction vortices. Some chasers reported debris clouds at the ground under these, and a couple of tornado reports came in as a result. I couldn’t see debris from my location, so wasn’t counting anything just yet.

Rain Wrapped Tornado
3 miles ENE of Lebanon, KS
7:02 PM
Before the RFD hit, I started moving east to stay ahead of the storm. I hit a decent sized chaser convergence near Lebanon, KS, and side stepped it and the town, heading east on a gravel road just south of town, before stair stepping northeast again. After a few minutes and miles of travel, the storm was off to my northwest, and I started moving in north to get closer. To my dismay, the storm had transitioned into a high precipitation state. I didn’t want to push north into the inflow notch since I only had gravel and dirt roads to work with so I maintained a position east and south of the storm.

A couple miles northeast of Lebanon I could just make out something underneath the base. A shape was moving within the rear flanking core. I suspected it might be a tornado, but visibility was too low at the time to confirm. A severe contrast enhancement of the video does indeed bring out the cone condensation funnel of a large tornado. It was my first shot of a tornado for the season, and one I couldn’t even enjoy at the time, not being certain of what I was looking at.

Our friends in the Tornado Intercept Vehicle, Sean Casey and Brandon Ivey, had front row seats to the tornado, however. They deployed inside of the tornado, the largest tornado they had ever done so on, measuring winds above the EF4 threshold. The turret on the TIV collapsed and Sean wound up riding out the tornado lying in the back of the TIV, while Brandon captured video through the windshield on his camcorder. It was dramatically dark inside of the tornado, but the video was amazing regardless. A large piece of wood managed to fly inside through one of the hatches, and it remains in the vehicle as a trophy for the intercept.

Beefy Wall Cloud
3 miles WSW of Burr Oak, KS
7:22 PM
I kept moving to stay ahead of the storm, but the view under the HP base never improved and I was never able to get a clean shot of the tornado. The supercell did display some very robust wall cloud structure though, with a very thick inflow band feeding into a kink in the RFD gust front and a nasty green core behind it. I didn’t see any other signs of tornadoes though.

HP Supercell
4 miles ESE of Burr Oak, KS
7:41 PM
Continuing east down my gravel road, the gravel abruptly gave way to dirt, but it wasn’t just dirt. It was as if there was no road at all and I was simply driving cross country through a field of dirt clods. Luckily it hadn’t yet rained at this location or I would have surely nose dived into mud and gotten stuck. The road was brutally rough, the van bouncing up and down like I was on a safari. I wasn’t even sure if I was on the road, if it could be called one, and followed the cloud of dust from a chaser ahead of me, doing my best to head generally east.

I eventually made it to more proper roads, and the storm exhibited some dramatic HP structure for a while, before finally gusting out and falling to pieces. I decided to leave the storm and catch more discrete activity on the southern end of a developing storm complex.

Shelf Cloud
2 miles WSW of Belleville, KS
8:57 PM
A tiny cell was going up along highway 36 with a rain free base that looked like it had some rotation, and even dumped a smattering of hail on me. It was too small and caught in the wake of the other activity, however, so it never amounted to much. I bumped into fellow Illinois chaser Mark Lingl before I decided that the chase was starting to wind down and I better start heading east toward Kansas City so I could pick up Brindley the next day. I dropped south to get out into clear air and away from the storm complex. The complex had shed a gust front which was fanning out in the form of a dramatic shelf/roll cloud.

Twilight Colors
10 miles N of Concordia, KS
9:11 PM
With the last bit of twilight there were some really neat colors in the sky. The shelf cloud was looking sloppier, but it was a beautiful sight still between the deep shades of blue, pink to the east, and lightning illumination. It was a really photogenic end to a successful chase, even if the tornado show wasn’t the best.


I was finally on the board for the season with a shot of a tornado, although a poor one. The tornado show left much to be desired on this chase, but it was otherwise a great chase day with dramatic supercell structure, and photogenic skies. The tornado wound up being quite significant with a path width of just under a mile and inflicting EF3 damage on some homes. Sean Casey’s measurements from the TIV suggest the tornado may have been stronger than the damage rating indicated, however. Overall, it felt great to be back out on the plains, and it was a good day to kick off the trip.

Lessons Learned

Follow On The Web!
Storm Chasers Giving Back!

Webpage, graphics, photos, and videos © Skip Talbot or respective owner 2018. Skip's Webzone