May 8, 2013


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Dodge City, KS
Springfield, IL 8:16 PM 5/7/2013
Clinton, OK 12:29 AM 5/9/2013
Coldwater, KS Alva, OK
0 mph
Wall Cloud, Lightning


First day in multi-day plains run. Targeted southwest Kansas for supercell chase with modest chances for tornadoes. Left night before, stopping in Concordia, MO for the night. Intercepted developing updrafts near Bucklin, KS hoping for a spout under a rain free base. Dropped south toward Protection to developing supercells. Noted wall cloud and cloud to ground lightning before cells gusted out near Medicine Lodge. Headed for the Day 2 target, stopping for dinner in Alva with storm overhead. Shot prolific lightning on dryline squall line afterward before stopping in Clinton, OK for the night.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley Ubl. Equipment: Canon 60D, Canon t2i, Canon EFS 10-22, Canon EF 50mm, Sony HDR-xr500v..




Brindley and I decided that this season, as long as our schedules and funds permitted, we would chase as many of the lower end setups as we could. With lower probabilities of catching a tornado, these setups often don't pan out. When they do, however, you wind up with some real gems: beautiful tornado and storm shots that few others get. May opened quietly on the plains, but after the first week there looked like there would be a string of marginal chase setups as moisture flowed into the southern plains and a weak upper level system passed through. It looked to provide several days of supercell chases with the possibility of a tornado or two somewhere in there. With moderate instability, and marginal shear from modest midlevel flow, severe thunderstorms looked likely for a stretch of four days in the southern plains. Low level wind shear was lacking, but a favorable boundary interaction could yield a tornado if we were lucky enough to be there for it. I picked Brindley up from the train station and we left Springfield the night before our first chase, after looping Springfield a couple times as I kept forgetting stuff at the house and had to run a couple errands. We got a pretty sunset on I-72 and made it to Concordia before we decided to stop for the night. We were up and rolling early the next morning, driving around Kansas City and then down to Wichita, and west through Greensburg toward our initial target of southwest Kansas. A dryline bulge was forecast to setup south of Dodge City. The plan was to get afternoon storms initiating off the bulge that would hopefully stay discrete and surface based long enough to interact with the stronger low level jet and moisture that would advect later.

Turbulent skies near Bucklin
8 miles SE of Ford, KS
4:41 PM
We made it to Bucklin just as towers started to show returns on the radar to our west and southwest. We stopped a couple miles west of town in a field off the main highway to watch the updrafts around us. With fairly high temperature-dewpoint spreads, I wasn’t expecting much of a supercellular tornado threat right away, but with the steep low level lapse rates and robust updrafts, a landspout certainly seemed possible. We scanned the bases for any sign of spout activity as updrafts passed by to our west and south, but didn’t see anything.

Dancing scud
8 miles SE of Ford, KS
4:55 PM
The sky to our south was beautiful with turbulent clouds overhead and shades of orange on the horizon with a distant updraft base. I set the camera up for a time lapse and a chunk of cloud seemed to realize that it was being filmed and put on a little show for us, hovering by itself in the sky right in front of us as it twisted and turned before finally fading away.

Coldwater shelf
12 miles SW of Lake City, KS
7:04 PM
Updrafts to the south were becoming much more robust so we decided to move in closer to those. We stopped near Lexington within the forward flank of one of the organizing cells while a farmer who lived nearby stopped to chat with us for a little bit. He was excited to see us and had a lot of questions, and I felt bad having to cut our conversation short as the rain was getting in the van and we had to move east to keep up with the storm. East of Coldwater there were no good roads to go south and get super close to our storm, but we still had a decent view of the base and stopped to shoot what appeared to be a bell shaped shelf cloud fanning out from under the base.

Wall Cloud
12 miles SW of Lake City, KS
7:13 PM
We were joined by a couple of other chasers and we all stood and watched as the lowering became much more robust with a tail cloud condensing off the northern end of it. We had a wall cloud on our now severe warned storm, and a pretty one too! I shot another time lapse with the camera as the storm moved eastward just to our south. The rain was still hitting us pretty good and I tried my best to shield the camera, holding the acrylic dome enclosure half way open over the camera to block some of the rain drops.

Lightning picks up
5 miles S of Lake City, KS
7:31 PM
Moving east down the highway again, our storm was moving east northeast so it was gradually getting closer. The terrain got hillier but we found a few scenic places with overlooks from which we could get clear, and elevated views all around us. The wall cloud seemed to gust out and we had more of a shelf cloud type structure going on under the base now. The colors and contrast were mesmerizing though and the lightning activity really started to pick up. I was able to capture a few of the bolts as I shot another time lapse sequence.

Brilliant bolt of CG
5 miles S of Lake City, KS
7:35 PM
Just before we left this spot I snagged a brilliant purple bolt of cloud to ground lightning, twisting and branching as it arced out of the midlevels of the storm.

Gusting out with color
9 miles W of Medicine Lodge, KS
7:42 PM
I got one last time lapse sequence in before our storm completely fell apart, gusting out with outflow. The color, structure, and contrast were still quite photogenic and the lightning continued overhead. We watched from a scenic overlook in some hills with several others chasers.

Lightning overhead
9 miles W of Medicine Lodge, KS
7:45 PM
One last shot of lightning before we left our Kansas storms.

Oklahoma lightning show
13 miles S of Waynoka, OK
10:33 PM
Our storm fell to pieces, but the skies remained beautiful with sunset light beams and distant mammatus to our south. We bumped into Tony Laubach and a couple other chasers and stopped to chat for awhile before heading south into Oklahoma to get closer to the next day’s target. We stopped for dinner in Alva at a greasy little diner just as a storm hit, blasting us with a heavy downpour. The storm passed by the time we were done, but the dryline off to our west lit up with a big north-south squall line, and it was extremely electrical. We stopped a few miles south of town and setup our tripods to shoot lightning.

Continuous lightning bolts
13 miles S of Waynoka, OK
10:51 PM
With the squall line training slowly to the north, we were able to shoot it for over a half an hour in the same spot. The view was spectacular. Nearly continuous bolts lit up the storms, making the clouds glow in each of our long exposures, while the stars were out overhead.
Once Brindley and I got our fill of lightning stills we decided to call it a night and start heading south to get closer to the next day’s chase. We made it down to Clinton, OK on I-40 and got a room for the night where Tony Laubach, and Tim and Paul Samaras also happened to be spending the night.


No tornadoes on this chase, but Brindley and I had a great first day out on this plains trip with plenty of photogenic storm and lightning opportunities to shoot. The tornado threat didn’t pan out much anywhere in the plains with perhaps the large initial dewpoint spreads, modest low level flow, and return of the cap by evening being the main reasons why. The storms were incredibly electrical, however.

Lessons Learned

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