May 19, 2013


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Wichita, KS
Olathe, KS 2:06 PM 5/19/2013
Springfield, IL 11:59 AM 5/20/2013
Newkirk, OK
0 mph
Wall Cloud


Second day on two day plains run, was scheduled to be aerial chase, but flight scrubbed so pursued storms on ground. Initial target was Wichita, but got off to late start and intercepted HP outflow dominant storm near El Dorado instead. Stair stepped into OK after tail end charlie noting wall cloud on anemic supercell and loosely rotating swirl under base. Misread map and lost storm trying to cross Arkansas River. Played catch up following tornado warned storm through southeast KS until dark noting little structure.

Crew and Equipment

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




May 19 looked to be the bigger event of a two day severe weather outbreak across the plains. A deep and powerful trough was forecast to overtake a moderately unstable airmass with a cold front draped from northeast Iowa to Wichita and a dryline extending south from there. Caleb Elliott and I were originally planning on chasing both the 18th and 19th in an airplane. After our (literally) sickening bust the day before, it seemed we were reluctant to undertake another costly bust and on event that was forecast to feature widespread, grungy storms instead of isolated supercells which are more favorable for aerial chasing.

I had slept in the van in the airport parking lot where we had ended the previous day’s chase. My stomach was still churning even after a full night’s sleep, but I was able to eat a few handfuls of dry cheerios. The previous day’s aerial chase was a disaster for me, but I was still planning on attempting it again on this day. I stopped at the Walgreen’s and picked up some Dramamine and motion sickness bracelets, figuring I’d be better prepared this time around. After that I hung around the airport waiting for a “go no go” decision from Caleb about whether or not we were flying. I didn’t get the “no go” until after 1 pm. With our flight scrubbed, I decided to pursue the event on the ground, chasing in the van. I was seriously out of position in the KC suburbs as my target was the triple point near Wichita. With the cap weak and strong lift already in place an early initiation was forecast, meaning I’d be way late to the show. I decided to go for it, anyway, hoping I’d catch something decent during the latter half of the event. Feeling less than great, I started making my way southwest down 35 toward Wichita under grey, overcast skies.

Tornado Warned Toll
4 miles N of El Dorado, KS
4:22 PM
The triple point lit up soon afterwards and I was still hundreds of miles out of position. I watched a string of tornado reports come in over Spotter Network and knew I was missing the show. The storms quickly congealed into a solid line with embedded supercells. The line came into view as I approached El Dorado. I got off the turnpike and pulled into the toll booth, while the sirens wailed and a mean looking green core rapidly approached from the west. I was surprised they were still collecting tolls, being in the path of the warned storm. The toll booth operator asked me about the storm. He told me he had shelter when I asked, but otherwise seemed unconcerned about the current situation.

RFD Kink
2 miles N of El Dorado, KS
4:24 PM
I was pretty close to center of the inflow notch on the warned supercell so I decided to head south into El Dorado and make for an east highway out of town that would get me out of the path. While heading south into town I could see a pretty distinct kink in the rear flanking gust front just to my west. If the storm were going to produce a tornado, this is the feature from which it would have done it.

Whale's Mouth
6 miles E of El Dorado, KS
4:35 PM
Sirens wailing, and police scattered about the town, I made it to my east highway and was out of town, just clipping the edge of the RFD core with a little wind and rain. I was out of it in a couple minutes and cruising east to the south of the storm. A whale’s mouth soon fanned from the storm and I had no view into the inflow notch. This storm was toast I decided so I made plans to stair step down the line toward Tail-End-Charlie coming out of Oklahoma.

Stair Stepping
8 miles E of Leon, KS
4:55 PM
Stair stepping southeast toward the Oklahoma border, I clipped the precipitation on the line before clearing it again heading south:
I approached the tail end storm east of Arkansas City, KS. I got on the unpaved grid in order to stay ahead of the storm complex. My road turned into the stereotypical “Bob’s Road”: a winding one land dirt road, lined with trees on each side preventing me a view of the storm. The road paralleled the Arkansas River for several miles before it finally came to a highway with a crossing east of Newkirk, OK.

Scruffy Wall Cloud
8 miles E of Arkansas City, KS
5:57 PM
Heading west across the Arkansas, the base of my storm finally came into view and it was sporting a scruffy looking wall cloud. The chase was finally looking promising.
The wall cloud organized briefly with a decent looking RFD clear slot. I took an unpaved road north on the west side of the Arkansas and met up with the storm near the KS border as it traveled northeast and our paths converged.

Anemic Wall Cloud
9 miles NE of Newkirk, OK
6:04 PM
I let the base travel overhead once I hit a T without a way to keep stair stepping northeast without crossing the river again. The wall cloud seemed to shrivel up a bit and the storm itself seemed rather anemic.

Scuddy swirl
9 miles NE of Newkirk, OK
6:05 PM
I started heading east for what I thought was a river crossing just as the tail end of the wall cloud was passing overhead. Above me, a lazy swirl in the shape of a comma could be seen. If the storm had a more robust updraft this feature would have probably resulted in a tornado. Instead the scuddy circulation turned slowly, probably unnoticeable to the untrained eye. The feature lasted for about a minute before falling along with the rest of the storm.

Stuck at the River
5 miles ENE of Newkirk, OK
6:15 PM
I was back on “Bob’s Road” making for my river crossing when I discovered that there was no river crossing at all. I had misread my map. I came to a dead end at the river bank and then turned around, making for Arkansas City, going the long way around to the west. The delay cost me my position on the storm and I spent the next couple hours catching up with the storm. Meanwhile, the storm regained a tornado warning, but no reports came in on it that I could tell. I was able to get a few low contrast views of the base from a few miles to the south near sunset, but there wasn’t much in the way of discernible structure that I could make out.

After nightfall I was spotting a couple of scuddy lowerings under the storm near Iota, but the storm appeared to be weakening and going completely linear so I decided to call off the chase and stop and get some gas before heading home. While gassing up, a truck filled with people stopped nearby, probably spotting the roof mounted camera. “Which one are you?” somebody in the truck asked. “What?” I didn’t know what to make of that question. “We’re following all the dots, which one are you?” They were referring to Spotter Network, and were blindly driving around trying to chase by following the positions other storm chasers were reporting. They clearly had no experience chasing, and not a clue what they were looking at, only hoping that they would see something exciting trying by following others. They either didn’t care or realize that they could inadvertently put themselves into an extremely dangerous position. I was dismayed to see such blatantly reckless chasing. It would be less than two weeks before another amateur with little experience would be killed by a tornado.
I continued on my way home overnight taking 36 across northern Missouri, getting a few hours of sleep in the van, and then making it home to Springfield by noon the next day.


Despite catching a briefly interesting wall cloud and a little swirl underneath, this chase was ultimately a bust as the event produced numerous large tornadoes that I failed to capture. The chase was doomed from the start, being out of position and getting on the road too late waiting for the aerial chase to materialize. I did the best I could with the intercepting Tail End Charlie coming out of Oklahoma early on, but then blundered with my navigation and lost the storm when it regained a tornado warning and played catch up the rest of the chase. It was a long and frustrating chase with little to show for.

Lessons Learned

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