May 27, 2012


Initial Target: Hays, KS
Departure: Olathe, KS 12:00 pm
Arrival: Olathe, KS 12:00 am
Intercepts: Plainville, KS
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: Non-Severe (not measured)
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: Updraft, Anvil, Lightning
Miles: 516


Grounded from aerial chasing, so chased in van with Phil Bates targeting north central Kansas for modest triple point play. Got on the road fairly late and intercepted various severe warned storms in northern Kansas including left and right splits without much structure, but pretty skies. Stopped for photogenic sunset storms and nocturnal lightning before calling it a chase and concluding aerial chasing trip.

Crew and Equipment:

Chase partners: Phil Bates.  Equipment:  Kenwood TH-F6A Tribander, Dell Inspiron Laptop.  Millenicom 760 USB datacard and cradlepoint router, Holux 236 GPS, Canon 60D and EF-S 10-22mm



Sunday was to be our last day of the aerial storm chasing trip with Phil Bates and Caleb Elliott. It looked like we'd have a decent shot at some supercells and maybe a tornado near the cold front/dryline triple point in north central KS and south central NE. Phil and I did our morning briefing at the hotel and then headed to the airport, had the line crew pull our Cessna 182 out, gas it up, and we started loading in our gear. Mid way through the setup, however, we found that Caleb had ongoing obligations he couldn't get out of and we were grounded as we had been the day before.

Phil and I were disappointed we weren't getting another shot at an aerial chase, but decided to make the most of the day. We unloaded the plane and started wiring the van for a ground based chase. I got my setup going about half way and Phil volunteered to start driving so we could get to our target sooner while I continued wiring up the van. We were late to the game now, since we thought we'd be flying we anticipated starting in the early afternoon but having to drive to our target would take several more hours. The best tornado probabilities that the Storm Prediction Center had highlighted were down a northeast to southwest cold front from Minnesota through Nebraska. There would be a lot more storms and it was this coverage that I suspected lead to the higher probabilities. I'm not a big fan of cold front setups because the cold front often undercuts the storms or most of the cells wind up being more linear than supercellular. With so many storms, if a handful of them produce tornadoes, however, the SPC tornado probabilities verify. It's like finding a needle in the haystack for a storm chaser, however. The Nebraska cold front was out of our reach now. We were left with playing the more isolated storms forecast to go up along the trailing dryline in central Kansas. I was hoping we'd have a decent play with these storms as they approached the triple point near the Nebraska border. Upper level support for supercells was lacking in this area, however. We started heading west on 70 out of Olathe, heading for the first storm we could get.

The warm sector lit up with several updrafts. I picked a strong looking one on the radar and we cut north out of Hays for theintercept. We approached the storm which looked photogenic but wasn't showing much in the way of structure. I knew it had a ways to go before it was a robust supercell. It quickly fizzled, however, so we jumped on the next cell ahead of that one.

Surface winds were absolutely howling. I remember there being quite a bit of wind noise on the camera dome when driving, but heading with the wind at 40 mph down a dirt road, there was no wind noise at all as we matched the surface wind speed. It was a weird feeling driving at the speed with the van so quiet.

Getting ahead of the storm so we'd be downstream for it to mature, I noticed that we were chasing a left split. There was no updraft base on the southern flank like I had expected there to be and I assumed the cell had already gusted out or was turning into an orphan anvil. We found the updraft base on the northern side, however, giving it away as a left split. These storms, when they do rotate, rotate clockwise instead of the typical counterclockwise and rarely produce tornadoes. This one did not appear to be supercellular. We were chasing a variety of pop up storms that weren't doing much. Meanwhile, Nebraska was lighting up with several tornado warnings.
We bounced around trying to get on something that would organize, but none of the storms were amounting to much. Near sunset a linear looking line of cells went up to our northwest. We stopped near a pretty wheat field to grab some shots of the line. It wasn't much of a catch chase wise, but it was photogenic and Phil was happy to get some shots with his Red camera.
Gust front moving over wheat field looking north:
The anvil of a pop up storm many miles to our south:

Phil shoots the southern storm with his Red camera. Note the crescent moon at the top of the picture.

This picture embodies what chasing is to me. The supercells and tornadoes are great, but it's the experience of being out in the Great Plains under that huge sky that really does it for me.

The waving wheat and blue storm clouds:
The sun dropped below the base of our line of storms, appearing like a smudged spot of orange light through the rain:
After we got our fill of wheat and linear convection we started making our way back south toward 70 again. A severe warned storm flared up to our south and we decided to go for some lightning shots at dusk. I setup my camera on the tripod for some long exposures. This one captured a subtle bolt of cloud to cloud lightning and the moon shining through the wispy anvil in the last of the twilight.
Some lightning:

Our storm drifted off to the east with a plethora of cloud to cloud lightning. A long exposure of the bolts lighting up the updraft tower with stars shining above it:

It was a balmy night out in Kansas, warm and breezy, perfect weather to be shooting distant storms.

When the storm drifted off we headed back to Olathe for the night and concluded our week long aerial storm chasing trip. It had been a real adventure.


Nebraska did indeed light up with several tornado reports, but there wasn't anything too photogenic to be jealous of so we didn't feel at a complete loss that we were grounded or out of range from chasing Nebraska on the ground. In fact, much of the warm sector had lit up with storms and they weren't confined to the initiating boundaries, which would have made an aerial storm chase more challenging or dangerous. We'd have to be very careful not to get boxed in or we'd find ourselves in a very dangerous position having to fly through a storm. Phil and I were happy with many of the photos and video we got from the chase, but ultimately the lack of anything supercellular or tornadic made this chase a bust. It was still a fun day out in Kansas though. Caleb and I still haven't gotten our coveted tornado from the plane, and I'd love to take Phil out again on a chase, so hopefully we'll be out there again next season.


Lessons Learned: 

  • Make the best of your chase day when your original plans fall through.