May 28, 2019


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Beloit, KS
McCook, NE 11:28 AM 5/28/2019
Salina, KS 9:30 PM 5/28/2019
Tipton, KS
70 mph
Tornado, Funnel, Updraft Tube


Quasi-cold core/surface low/warm front play in north central KS. Targeted Beloit for afternoon tornadic supercells. Intercepted supercell with ongoing concurrent tornadoes near Tipton, KS. Noted significant tornado at close range with airborn debris. Tracked cell northeast before it was undercut by cold front/gusted out. Targeted dryline tornado warned storm heading toward Junction City and Manhattan, aborted at Chapman after cell weakened and stopped in Salina for the night.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley Ubl, Anton Seimon, Tracie Seimon, Hank Schyma. Equipment: Sony AX100, GoPro Hero 4, Brindley: Nikon d3s.




From my morning chase forecast email list:

"Day 1 Today: Morning storms fired off the Panhandles and continue to track across Kansas. Per model guidance, these are forecast to expand and become surface based as they track into the SPC highlighted moderate risk area from northeast Kansas, southeast NE, northern MO and southern IA. Precipitable water looks quite high and transition to MCS is forecast eventually. I'd think you'd want to be near the warm front to get your tornado, maybe on highway 136 in northern Missouri, Bethany is a preliminary target for mid to late afternoon. Try to get the most discrete storm you can as it approaches and crosses the front, but storm mode might be a problem on the front, messy and congealed in more of a line.

Secondary targets: Play down the dryline in eastern and south central Kansas. CAMs hinting at initiation of more discrete supercells by late afternoon. A bit of a crapshoot on the location here as the focal point for initiation is more subtle, but El Dorado or on the 35 corridor in se KS might be good starting points. Look for your tornado around 0z.

On the low in north central Kansas is possible too. Great shear up there and moderate instability, but a bit worried about undercutting from the cold front surging in to the southwest and/or wrapping in behind the low or storm crossing out of the warm sector into the cool Nebraska air.

On the stalled cold front itself across far western Kansas into Colorado could also be a supercell play. Cooler temps, north winds, might make for cold looking or even elevated supercells. Enough low level instability to maybe squeak out a tornado here though and CAMs consistent on tracking a supercell across 70 on the KS/CO border by 0z (7pm central/6 mountain)"
Tuesday, May 28 was our second day of the season with the team on a photogrammetry research mission led by Dr. Anton Seimon. It was also our second day chasing with “Pecos Hank” Schyma after asking him to join our group earlier in the year. The day before, we had shown that we worked well together as a team with a photogenic supercell intercept. Now we just needed the tornado.

We discussed the target options over breakfast in McCook. A trough with speedmax and surface low was forecast to setup across central Kansas, with a warm front/stationary front extending east along I-70 into northwest Missouri, a dryline extending south-southwest out of the Topeka area and an occluded stationary boundary extending west all the way back into Colorado.
A midlevel speedmax meant plenty of wind shear across the warm sector, lift on the dryline/cold front to the south, and warm front/stationary front extending to the east:
A nice surface low setting up near Salina, a focal point for the setup:
Rich, deep moisture was surging into the warm sector. Notice how robust the moisture is on, and even well behind the surface low, however. This is usually an area with cold air advection that’s been scoured by the cold front:
With the rich moisture and ample surface heating, strong to extreme instability extended down both the dryline and warm front ends of the setup, but there was even strong to moderate instability down the occluded part of the boundary all the way into western Kansas:
Deep layer shear looked quite favorable across the entire risk area, but tapering off further east into the warm sector as the trough lagged to the west:
The best low level shear looked like it was hanging out to the east along the Missouri River coupled to the stronger low level jet:
I initially wanted to play the storm relative helicity/low level shear maximum. I thought a discrete storm tracking from St. Joseph into Northwest Missouri would have the best shot at producing a strong to violent tornado with that kind of shear, and that was what we were after for our research mission. Anton had correctly suspected that would be my pick when he asked for my initial thoughts. I’m a sucker for the warm front.
Significant tornado parameter had highlighted the area immediately downstream of the triple point and along the warm front, with the largest area with a value greater than 3. But curiously, a bullseye of 4 was plotted on and immediately west of the surface low:
The dryline down to the south also looked compelling, with a more discrete, classic mode advertised yet further removed from some of the best tornado parameters. I suspected that target might produce more isolated tornadoes and closer to 0z when the low level jet ramped up.

We guessed the popular target was going to be the shear/instability combo just downstream of the triple point (x). That’s when Anton casually suggested we play west of the surface low out in the 2% (o):
After checking out a few plots and reassessing the target, I was completely sold. Rich, deep moisture and cooler temps along the warm front made for really low LCL heights across eastern Kansas. We were worried that the triple point/warm front target would feature low contrast and low to the ground bases, combined with the hilly terrain and increasing tree coverage approaching the Missouri River, getting views could be quite difficult. But to the west, a dry slot was nosing into the surface low, cleaning out the clouds and bumping the LCLs up to a storm chasing sweet spot value of 1000 meters.
Precipitable water was much higher to the east as well. With so much water in the column, storms over this part of the target area would likely be very rainy. To the west, by the surface low, a much more respectable value of 1 inch:
Upper level winds were displaced well to the west. This meant that storms over the warm front end of the target wouldn’t have the anvil level venting needed to separate the updraft base from the precipitation loading aloft. All of this suggested that warm sector/warm front storms would likely be in a high precipitation mode, making them difficult and dangerous to chase. To the west, however, with stronger speed shear, higher bases, and less water loading, storms would likely maintain a classic mode.
This plot was the kicker for me. 0-3km CAPE is one of my “secret weapon” tornado parameters. With the moisture wrapping around the west side of the low, amid cooler temps aloft associated with the trough, the low level instability was maximized on and even behind the low to the west. Here, the surface winds were also backing all the way to the northeast making for strong surface vorticity. The combination screamed tornadoes to me. Every time I’ve seen a surface based supercell track up the west side of a deep low, it’s been a cyclical tornado machine. Yet there was still some uncertainty with this target. Some of the convection allowing models showed the cold front surging early, potentially undercutting the storms and choking them off from the rich surface parcels needed for tornadogenesis. The HRRR in particular showed storms firing on the top of the low and boundary to the north, and then quickly crossing into cooler, stable air in Nebraska. They might produce brief tornadoes as they crossed the boundary, or might not even have enough time to organize before transitioning to an elevated state. A storm that could fire south of the low, before the boundary surged, would have a window of opportunity in a very favorable environment. I didn’t want to advertise the target too much due its bust potential, but also because it could have drawn a large amount of traffic to what would likely be a small, focused area. The overall setup looked like it would nicely distribute the chaser masses between those looking for the largest yet potentially rain wrapped tornadoes to the east, those seeking a discrete sunset classic down the dryline to the south, and those looking for a high risk high reward gamble behind the low.

Awaiting Initiation
Beloit, KS
4:03 PM
We departed McCook, dropped into Kansas, and tracked eastward across the northern part of the state, driving through Cawker City with its shiny metal water tower and giant ball of twine. Our initial target was Beloit, Kansas. We arrived by early afternoon and stopped at the local grocery store to get supplies. I remember stepping out of the car and immediately being taken aback by the airmass. The temperature was somewhere in the upper 70s, and the dewpoint was at or just above 70 F with a northeast wind telling us we were on the cool side of the warm front. An area that should be stable, was clearly and robustly unstable, and with all of the favorable warm front directional shear. The air was balmy and soupy with humidity. Low cumulus seemed to emanate off the ground. I was incredibly excited. The setup was brimming with potential.

We relocated to a park on the south side of town to await initiation. By midafternoon our target remained on the edge of the 2/5% tornado outlook and outside the tornado watches issued to the east along the warm front and south down the dryline.

4:08 PM

4:14 PM

4:15 PM
All the targets were lighting up except ours, even the stationary boundary extending westward toward Colorado was firing with high based hailers. We relocated a couple miles to the south to get a better view of the sky and a crossroads position, expecting to be on the chase at any moment. Anton was closely watching the METARs and feeling the winds, watching for the wind shift line and where the dews were hanging out. Chris Gullikson from Tempest Tours stopped by to say hi. Storms unzipped on the stationary boundary eastward toward us and Chris left to hop on them. The eastern most cell picked up a tornado warning quickly followed by reports of landspout tornadoes. I wanted to immediately run after the storm, but Anton told us to hold the line and wait for the next cell in our forecasted sweet spot, the one that would track right up the wind shift line over Beloit. So we baked in the sun on the dirt road while tornado warned storms drifted on the western and eastern horizons. Reports continued to stream in from the storm, and after a while it was obvious that the storm was dominating the local environment and would suppress further initiation. We had to move on it.

I was designated “conch holder” and put in the lead position for the intercept and soon had the whole team rolling west. Meanwhile, additional storms fired to the northeast, ahead of the producing storm. They sported pendent shapes on reflectivity and couplets on velocity: rapidly organizing supercells. An updraft base soon came into view. It was robust, and I wanted to stay and chase it. The eternal pessimist, I’m always trying to anticipate how the universe is most going to screw me over. On this chase, I foresaw us chasing reports, perpetually arriving late. With northeast surface winds, I thought the lead cells had the most unobstructed inflow and might choke off the Tail End Charlie storm. We’d blow off this beautiful developing supercell and hop on the Tail End Charlie cell after it was done, only to see the cell we just left start to crank out tornado reports as we watched helplessly from afar. We’d either never catch back up, or the storm would be done by the time we did. Indecisive, I pulled off the road to mull it over. Anton stepped in, promptly urging that we move on the producing Tail End storm. The updraft base overhead was moving over Waconda Lake and associated waterways, and we wouldn’t be able to keep up with it in the short term anyway. The decision to go for the Tail End Charlie storm saved the entire chase. Several other chasers wound up playing the northeast cells, striking out.

Distant Rope Tornado
3 miles WSW of Tipton, KS
5:38 PM
Eagle Eyes Hank spotted a tornado in the far, far distance on Tail End Charlie. I had no idea how he could see it. We had no visual from our vehicle. I turned us south, passing through the town of Tipton, driving the reduced speed limit, and anxious that we were missing the whole show. Brindley spotted the tornado once we cleared town and got a telephoto lens on it.

Now it was Hank’s turn to save the entire chase. I was hemming and hawing at the map on our intercept route, preferring the paved options. Hank got on the radio and said we needed to turn here and here, identifying intersections on the grid for a tight intercept. The move would give us front row seats to all the action that was about to unfold.

Concurrent Tornadoes
3 miles WSW of Tipton, KS
5:39 PM
We ran west a couple miles and then turned south on the unpaved grid for the intercept. Two tornadoes jutted out from the southern rim of the supercell. As amazing as the sight was, I watched with apprehension. I didn’t have my usual fix on the supercell structure I use to get my bearings. Things like the “horseshoe” or wall cloud were not visible from this angle, just a dark base that spanned the western horizon and a couple of tubes that poked down from the far side.
Tempest Tours clients lined up and filming a rope tornado:

Distant Rope with Updraft Tube
4 miles SW of Tipton, KS
5:41 PM
We continued heading south for miles down the gravel road to get directly in line with the approaching storm. We’d have to be much closer to the tornadoes in order to get multiperspective video that was usable for particle tracking. With the tornadoes still miles away, and limited road options, the plan was to let the storm come to us and catch the next tornado cycle.

The long, tilted updraft tube of the rope tornado can be seen above the farm buildings:
We stopped atop a low rise that gave us a great view of the southwestern sky. We counted three concurrent circulations, each sporting a funnel cloud and horizontally tilted updraft tube.

The Barnacle
4 miles SW of Tipton, KS
5:43 PM
The eastern most circulation condensed a thin rope funnel to the surface. The translucent, landspout-esque tube bent to and fro beneath the truncated updraft tube like the darting tongue from a snake’s head. The structure was alien to me, with the tiny updraft tube, and the tornado positioned on the far eastern edge of the updraft base, so more fittingly it also reminded me of a Half-Life barnacle alien, thin tongue hanging from below a waiting mouth affixed to the ceiling.

Concurrent Tornadoes
4 miles SW of Tipton, KS
5:43 PM
One of the other circulations fully condensed once more and we again had concurrent tornadoes. A long, horizontal tube seemed to bow outward and connect them. At first I thought it was a horizontal ring vortex, connecting a cyclonic and anticyclonic pair of circulations, but it was instead more likely the updraft tube of the barnacle tornado, grotesquely distended away from the supercell’s main updraft and mesocyclone. The tornado on the right had a similarly distended updraft that was more hidden within the clouds. Perhaps both circulations were being pushed out from the main supercell’s updraft by a bowing downdraft.

Ultra-Wide View
4 miles SW of Tipton, KS
5:43 PM
An ultra-wide view of the entire storm:

I was still quite intimidated by this storm. A fat inflow tail extended into the huge updraft base of the supercell, and beneath that a bizarre alien mass of writhing tubes. I felt as if I didn’t understand the structure in relation to the tornadoes. Why were multiple circulations coming out of the very southern edge?
A third circulation went tornadic. I didn’t even notice it in the moment, but a tight debris cloud spun up to the right of the fully condensed tornado, intermittently lofting pieces of debris into the air as well.
Looking southwest at a classic, backlit tornado tracking eastward across the Kansas landscape:
One condensed tornado remained after a couple minutes. It tightened and contorted as it began to rope out and dissipate. It also appeared to be accelerating in forward speed. The motion, rapid to the east on the southern rim of the storm, reminded me of a satellite circulation, and not that of a mesocyclone’s main tornado.

Just before the tornado completely faded, Anton began discussing our next move: southward to put us on a direct intercept course for the next cycle. I agreed. We had to get closer to get our multi-perspective shot for the research mission. Yet it still felt wrong to be driving into this monstrous storm with the uncertainty I still had.
We were rolling south. A dusty circulation persisted beneath the base, meaning a tornado was still in progress. I could no longer tell if it was a new tornado or an ongoing circulation we were previously watching. The storm was too complicated to fully comprehend. A cone snaked down to the ground. We had our next cycle before we were even in position.

Positioning for Intercept
5 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:48 PM
We discussed our intercept positioning over the radio using our call signs. “Turtle” (Brindley and me) would stop atop a rise near a farmstead. “Woodchuck” (Anton and Tracie) would continue past us to the south. “Tumbleweed” (Hank) would stop short to our north.
We slowed as we approached the farmstead, Woodchuck blasting past us heading south. We cleared the buildings to get a view of the western sky, and the tornado was revealed: a truncated cone with tiny point subvortices orbiting inside the larger funnel. The view of the large, approaching tornado was awe inspiring.

Approaching Tornado Wide Shot
6 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:50 PM
A much larger tornado than the previous ones, it now appeared to be rooted to the main updraft of the supercell surrounded by textbook structure. For the first time, I had my bearings and was confident in our positioning. The occluded updraft above the tornado was carved out within a huge rear flank downdraft clear slot. The rear flank downdraft looked like it was also creating an interesting horizontal roll off the end of the updraft, which reminded me of an aircraft’s wingtip vortex.
Reorganizing tornado beneath barber pole updraft:

Tornado in the Hills
6 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:51 PM
Rolling green hills extended to the west. We watched the mists and inflow jets of the tornado advancing through the valleys.

Approaching Tornado
6 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:51 PM
The tornado loomed over the landscape appearing to hover in place, but really we could tell it was just large and steadily advancing toward us. We didn’t know it at the time, but the farmstead just behind us was a couple minutes out from being impacted. Motion on the tornado seemed to be slightly to the right, meaning the tornado would pass just to our north if it held its current course, so I picked out a southbound escape route. We would absolutely have to take it at some point, but given the clear air in the rear flank and compact size of the tornado cyclone aloft, we felt confident loitering in our position for the intercept shot.

The Heptapod
6 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:51 PM
Subvortices spiraled around the stocky funnel of the alien tornado like Heptapod tentacles.

Calm before the Tornado
6 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:52 PM
There was an eerie calm outside as the tornado approached, but inside the car tension was building as we held our ground.

South Escape
6 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:52 PM
The tornado cyclone was moving overhead and that was our cue. I put the car in gear and started moving south just as Hank came in on the radio, “almost time to roll.” We blasted south a half mile or so. It wouldn’t take long to clear the compact tornado cyclone. Once we were sure we were out of the path, I quickly executed a three point turn to face north and watch the tornado cross the road. Severe winds, probably approaching 70 mph, rocked the car. I assured Brindley it was only rear flank downdraft and that we were well clear of the vortex. Beneath the RFD clear slot, it was almost sunny, while the westerly wind roared with brief bursts of rain that lasted no more than a second.

Ghostly White Tornado
6 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:54 PM
We turned to face the tornado, now front lit in a ghostly white, with Hank just up the road from us. The tornado seemed to consolidate from a truncated funnel into a much more intense, fully condensed cone. Unfortunately, it did so just as the vortex approached the farmstead. An inflow jet surged in from the east, raking the buildings. One of the structures came apart and we could see large pieces lofted into the air.

Tipton Tornado
6 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:54 PM
The condensation funnel appeared to envelop the farm. We had been parked there not much more than a minute earlier.
The air filled with debris and we feared the worst: that the farmstead would be destroyed and with people inside. Anton and Tracie watched from an elevated position a quarter to a half mile behind us, calling out what the tornado appeared to be impacting, and warning us of approaching traffic. A pickup raced past us toward the farmstead as it was still in the midst of the tornado.

Tornado Close Encounter
6 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:54 PM
There was nothing we could do but watch in disbelief as we worked our cameras. At this range we could practically feel the tornado's power. It would be one of my most intense intercepts to date.

Huge Cone Tornado
6 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:55 PM
The huge white cone crossed the road with a parade of suction vortices whipping around western and southern rim where it contacted the ground. It then moved off into the trees and the next field to the east.
Hank and I cautiously rolled our vehicles north after the tornado crossed the road, mindful that we were about to cross the damage path. As the giant horseshoe updraft base was now moving overhead, we also had to watch out for satellite tornadoes, which the storm had a history of producing. The cone tornado loomed behind the tree line with epic proportions, dwarfing our vehicles and other objects on the ground.

Cone Moving Away
6 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:56 PM
The cone tornado seemed to accelerate off to the northeast after it intensified.
Hank got on the radio and said he was going to run into the farmstead to see if anyone needed help, and we offered our assistance and supplies. He sprang from his vehicle at a sprint while the massive tornado continued to the northeast yet with sunshine also peeking through behind the storm.

Checking on the Neighbors
6 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:56 PM
We updated “Woodchuck” of the situation over the radio. Hank returned a short time later. The farmhouse itself had been spared by the tornado, and was in good shape, and no one appeared to be home anyway. It was outbuildings on the periphery of the farm that had been hit

Tornado Getting Away
6 miles SSW of Tipton, KS
5:57 PM
The tornado was getting away to the northeast, and with our assistance not needed at the farmstead, we hurried to go after it. A couple of locals in pickups that were also maneuvering around us at the farmstead stopped to inform us that powerlines were down in the road ahead. That would prevent us from continuing our chase the way we had come. With all three teams assembled, we turned south and started scouting for unpaved east options to get back to the paved north into Tipton.
I led as we tracked south, taking the first option to the east, a sandy, minimum maintenance road. It was dry, however, and we only had to go a couple miles so we went for it. The scene immediately south of the storm and tornado was surreal. It was a balmy, beautiful afternoon with fluffy white clouds, sunshine, and a rainbow even. The cows looked on indifferent to the atmospheric violence underway to the northeast.

Tipton Tornado Dissipating
5 miles W of Hunter, KS
6:05 PM
The road came to a tee, and “Turtle” went north while “Tumbleweed” and “Woodchuck” went south to catch the next east. The tornado was still in progress. We had lost sight of it for a while, but turning north, could see it jutting out the backside of the storm as a partially condensed cigar.
A few muddy spots were dry enough to drive on, and the road held up all the way back to pavement. A gorgeous green landscape and blue skies stretched out ahead as Brindley and I finally had a moment to catch our breaths.

Dissipating Supercell
5 miles S of Tipton, KS
6:09 PM
We made it to pavement, all three teams now separated by some distance as we negotiated the unpaved roads at different speeds. Turning north we had a good view of the back side of the storm. It simultaneously looked like it was collapsing, but with convection exploding straight out of the ground.

Reuniting with Woodchuck
4 miles ENE of Glasco, KS
7:03 PM
We maneuvered through the towns of Tipton and Beloit, and made a vain effort to get out ahead of the accelerating storm, but it soon became obvious that the storm was indeed dying. Either the frontal boundary had surged or the storm was caught behind its own gust front, but the storm was undercut by cold air and collapsing. That was our only play left in the immediate area. We met up with Anton and Tracie and briefly traded stories before Brindley and I decided to call the chase.

Developing Dryline Supercells
3 miles S of Salina, KS
8:00 PM
Brindley found us a room in Salina. We headed south down the highway under pretty evening skies with thunderstorms in the distance.
As we checked into the room and dropped off bags, I watched several cells coming off the dryline to our east and southeast take off and really start to organize.
I knew we were going to miss the second show if we just sat at the hotel, so Brindley and I jumped back in the car and the chase was on once more. We rolled east out of Salina down 70 just as the dominant storm picked up a tornado warning. It looked great in the evening light with a mammatus studded anvil and overshooting top.
Our stop in Salina put us way behind on this intercept, and I feared we’d miss the show. "Woodchuck" and "Tumbleweed" were already under the base sending back reports to us.

Sunset Stormscapes
1 miles NNW of Chapman, KS
8:49 PM
We made it to the Chapman exit, about forty miles from Salina, as the storm began to weaken. The sun setting, the cap was coming in strong and killing off surface based storms from south to north up the dryline. Having never made it under the apparently lackluster updraft base, we called the chase again and headed back to Salina, enjoying gorgeous sunset stormscapes.
All three teams converged at the Old Chicago in Salina for celebratory beers. After an incredibly intense close encounter with a tornado that looked like it had spared the locals, and a potentially usable dataset for our photogrammetry project, it was an amazing end to an amazing chase.


The Tipton tornado wound up being rated EF2, tracking 22 miles over mostly open terrain and impacting mainly outbuildings. There were zero injuries or fatalities associated with the tornado. I wasn’t quite sure of where one tornado ended and where the next began, but we had documented at least three tornadoes. We worked incredibly well together on this chase. At some point, each team stepped up and saved the chase, whether it was identifying and sticking to targets, picking the correct storm to intercept, or plotting the route that would put us in front of the tornadoes for the intercept. We proved that our setup worked, and we could accomplish the goals of our research mission.

Sadly, it wasn’t all good news. A deadly EF4 on another supercell to the east struck the Lawrence and Linwood, KS areas. Silver Lining Tours, a commercial storm chasing tour group, was impacted by an EF2 tornado near Lone Star Lake that preceded the larger EF4, resulting in two rolled tour vans and a dozen injuries, at least one of them serious. The event sparked a massive investigative effort into what had gone wrong on that tour, and what could be done differently to prevent future storm chasing accidents (see presentations at top).

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