May 28, 2013


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Hiawatha, KS
Platte City, MO 3:56 PM 5/28/2013
Platte City, MO 7:00 PM 5/28/2013
Hiawatha, KS
0 mph
Updraft Base, Shelf Cloud


Impromptu warm front/warm sector chase in north central KS. Targeted developing tornadic supercell heading toward Hiawatha, KS leaving Kansas City area by late afternoon. Intercepted storm after it produced tornado noting whale's mouth updraft base and bowing shelf cloud. Left chase to pick up Brindley from airport while storm bowed out and went linear.

Crew and Equipment

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




May 28 looked like a couple dozen other days you get in the spring in the plains. There’s ample moisture, moderate instability, modest westerly flow, and a hodge podge of surface boundaries scattered about the plains. There’s isn’t a huge trough or deep surface low to pinpoint a particular target or warrant a forecast of an outbreak. On these days you wind up with relatively low probabilities of tornadoes across large regions of the plains. Tornadoes are possible anywhere where supercells can develop on these days, and there were lots of places where supercells could spring up on May 28.

The bulk of the chase community was targeting a dryline bulge in central/southwest Kansas, which is where I probably would have setup as well. I had to get some work done on my laptop, however, and my chase partner, Jennifer Brindley Ubl, was also flying into Kansas City to join me on the rest of the chase trip. I had already chased a bunch of 5% days and not seen much this year. What would be the harm in missing another? I had no idea it would be one of the biggest tornado days of the year, but I had obligations and no one can be blamed for that. It meant a lot having Brindley with me for the rest of the trip.

Shelf Cloud
8 miles SE of Hiawatha, KS
6:23 PM
From the hotel room north of Kansas City, I could see on radar a line of supercells was going up in northeast Kansas. I wrapped up my work, and decided that I had time to intercept these storms before picking Brindley up from the airport. They were close, and looked like they could put out a decent shot. I grabbed my gear and headed up 29, before cutting west on 36 into Kansas.

The going was slow with traffic and driving through towns. My storm went tornado warned and tornado reports started to come in before I could even get to it. I was missing the show. Meanwhile, Bennington, Kansas was lighting up on Spotter Network where the rest of the chase community was. It looked like I was really missing a big event now.

Approaching Hiawatha, it looked like my storm might approach my position while, I was in town. Not wanting to get caught in the path while in town, I dropped south before I got a view of the updraft. I slowly inched my way forward trying to find the updraft. There didn’t appear to be one, however. It took me awhile to realize that I had to keep going west to get a view of the base. The rain in the forward flank was just hiding it. I got right into the inflow notch and jumped out to look around at the storm. The air was oppressively warm and humid, my glasses fogging up, but there didn’t appear to be any tight areas of rotation, just a large amount of whale’s mouth structure. Damn, it looked like I had missed the show.

I moved east a bit to keep up with the mediocre base that was not starting to gust out. Some local firefighters and storm spotters stopped to chat, and I was able to describe to them what we were looking at, while conveying that chances for a tornado were probably quite low at this point. Moving east again I stopped to get a few pictures of the expanding shelf cloud:

Gust Front Close Up
1 miles WNW of Dearborn, MO
7:19 PM
I stopped for a few more pictures, before I decided that the storm was bowing out and going to stay primarily linear. Brindley would be landing soon, and I’d have be leaving to get her anyway. I abandoned the storm and headed east back toward KC.

2 miles SE of Platte City, MO
9:20 PM
I only kept Brindley waiting for a few minutes at the airport by the time I got her. We went out to eat at a little pub and grill in Platte City. One of the more interesting aspects of the day was a car parked in the restaurant lot. Some bees had decided that this was going to be their new hive, and there was a massive swarm on the front end of the car.


May 28 was a huge chase day for many chasers, with one of the most photogenic tornadoes of the year occurring near Bennington, Kansas. It was a disappointing bust for me, however. I was sidelined with work, and needed to hang around the KC area to pick up Brindley, so there wasn’t much I could do about that. It was disappointing missing a big chase event, but it was worth it to have my chase partner for the remainder of the trip, especially on the momentous and tragic upcoming El Reno event. The Hiawatha storm did produce a tornado, but I haven’t found any storm chaser accounts of it. This just goes to show that local spotters are critical as storm chasers are often all lumped on one storm, while other storms produce tornadoes too.

Lessons Learned

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