April 8, 2015


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Medicine Lodge, KS
Springfield, IL 8:30 PM 4/7/2015
Lawrence, KS 12:32 AM 4/9/2015
Medicine Lodge, KS
0 mph
Tornado, Wall Cloud, RFD Clear Slot, Rainbow


Triple point play in south central KS. Targeted southwest of Wichita for afternoon supercells coming off warmfront/dryline triple point in northwest Oklahoma. Awaited initiation in Wellington, KS before heading west to intercept east west line of severe warned storms. West most cell became dominant so headed west of Medicine Lodge, KS and found gravel road south to get into inflow notch of now tornado warned supercell. Noted large RFD gust front/wall cloud from 15 miles southwest and awaited storm’s approach due to lack of roads. Noted spiraling rain bands accelerating to tornadic speeds then condensation funnel and debris cloud of tornado lasting about one minute crossing road to our south. Moved in closer after storm passed to east, noting sunlit funnel cloud and rainbow. Headed back north to highway and east to hook slice storm noting dual areas of rotation on cyclic supercell and severe hail. Storm appeared gust out without photogenic sunset structure.

Crew and Equipment

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




Spring 2015 had finally arrived and with a bang after a near record tornado drought. Only four severe weather watches had been issued for the year through much of March, a record since the Storm Prediction Center has been issuing watches. We skipped the preseason setups in March in Oklahoma, waiting for a more classic play over easier terrain. April 8 looked to be our event with a warm front/dryline triple point play and deep trough forecast with strong southwesterly flow aloft over Kansas.
Some of the numerical forecast models were maxing out on the severe parameters days in advance, exciting the storm chasing crowds. The plan was to chase storms initiating off the dryline just south of the triple point, let them mature across the unstable warm sector, and then hopefully catch a tornado as the supercells approached the warm front. Areas to the east down the warm front through Kansas and Missouri and further south down the dryline in Oklahoma also looked quite favorable.
Brindley hopped a train from Milwaukee down to Springfield the day before the event. Her season opener train selfies were becoming a tradition.
Brindley, the family, and I went out to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner before we left for Kansas. A forecast hodograph for Wichita that someone texted me looked remarkably like one of my daughter’s toy whales. The curved shape meant extremely favorable shear for supercells and tornadoes.

Waiting in Wellington
Wellington, KS
1:50 PM
We were rolling the night before, stopping in Cameron, MO for the night before continuing on to Kansas and down the turnpike for Wichita. The models had changed quite a bit by the time the event had arrived, but we were still trying to play the triple point. It looked like the best bet for storm initiation, with more questionable initiation points east down the warm front. The 700 mb temperatures looked a little too warm to the south down the dryline so we decided not to gamble with the cap down in Oklahoma. Interference from morning convection was plaguing the OK warm sector and KS warm front too. We’d sit tight and wait for the western end of the setup to recover. We decided to stop in Wellington, KS south of Wichita right off 35 to prep for the chase and monitor the weather. We expected initiation northeast of Woodward, but wanted to be well downstream before moving in for the intercept. Tony Laubach and Blake Naftel were already waiting for us at the gas station. Blake got a shot of me through the camera dome as I set it up for the chase:
We were soon joined by a large group of other chasers including Rob Hurkes, James Seitz, Ben McMillan and company, Chris Collura, Todd Rector, and many more. I worked on getting the van ready for the chase while hanging out with everyone. It was a great time catching up and chatting about the season and setup.
Rob Hurkes and Blake Naftel:
Fair weather in Wellington right on the warm front:
I bolted the camera enclosure to a new roof rack setup for the season. The new rig required new waterproofing, which I had yet to address. There’s no time like a couple hours before chasing big supercells to try and plug gaping holes in the roof of the van with some duct tape, rubber matting, and towels.
Master documentarian Blake Naftel:
Brindley and Laubach:
Put more towels in the dome! The cumulus is growing!
Ben McMillan streaming the chaser convergence live to the internet:

Chaser Convergence
Wellington, KS
3:47 PM
Midwest chaser friends: me, Blake, Brindley, and Laubach.

Anvil Time
2 miles W of Sharon, KS
5:15 PM
Storms fired on the thermal axis behind the dryline, southwest of the triple point in northwest Oklahoma right on cue. Chasers filed out one by one as the tornado watch went up. We headed west down highway 160 through Harper for the intercept. A sloppy line of severe warned storms was coming up from the south toward Medicine Lodge. We moved in on the lead cell and waited for something to happen. Looking south at the anvil stretching overhead:
A dirt road in Kansas and a storm. A moment in heaven. All was right in the world.
An inflow band of cumulus running north under the anvil looked remarkably like a swan:

Laminar Base
7 miles E of Medicine Lodge, KS
5:44 PM
A laminar updraft base was approaching from the southwest, something elevated underneath the anvil trying to form north of the main updraft as the precipitation core was still well to our south. The lead cells were starting to congeal and look junky. The rear cell in the line south of Coldwater, KS was looking much more robust but still pretty linear.

Meanwhile, 90 miles to the south in Oklahoma, an isolated storm had popped on the dryline and was rapidly developing into a supercell. It was so tempting to bail on our line of junky crap for the discrete dryline beaut, and we seriously thought about it. The cap was supposed to return with a vengeance in the wake of the stable air behind the earlier convection, however. And I’ve seen linear crap rapidly organize as it approaches the warm front especially if the updraft is robust. We were going to hold to our Kansas triple point target. We moved in toward the rear cell just as the fledgling dryline supercell picked up a tornado warning, anxiety building as we wondered about our decision.
The terrain between Coldwater and Medicine Lodge, KS is terrible. There’s a single east-west highway, no road grid, and tall scrubby hills. The target storm always seems to track right through the center of the road hole. The one saving grace of the area are the several scenic overlook pull offs along the highway which make great chaser parking spots. We figured the main highway and the overlooks would be a complete cluster of chasers though.

Sure enough, our storm rapidly organized with a hook echo and went tornado warned as it approached the warm front.

I spotted an unpaved road that ran for miles south off the main highway. Its length and the adjoining drives off of it suggested it was probably a fairly well maintained road. It was our only chance to get a view before the storm approached the highway, but if it didn’t produce before it crossed the gravel road we’d probably be left behind while everyone on the highway scored. It was a gamble, but we decided to roll the dice and take it.

RFD Gust Front
10 miles SSW of Lake City, KS
6:19 PM
South we went on wet dirt and gravel as the forward flank was already dumping rain on the road. The base emerged out of the rain after a few miles and we got our first look at a big shelfy rear flank gust front. There was no tornado. Not yet.
We parked on the side of the road in the rain of the forward flank, immediately downstream of the approaching tornado warned supercell. I got out watch the movement of a robust looking wall cloud as it approached. The horizon was so flat and perfect, I had no reference points to see if we were in the path. I finally realized I could just use the fence post right in front of me. I squatted down and watched the lowering. It was moving to the left and would pass to our south.
The lowering was approaching the road with little activity underneath. More anxiety as we decided whether or not to head north to the highway to get east of the storm, or hold our position and risk falling behind. We held our ground.
A local in a pickup pulled up: cowboy hat, handlebar mustache, weathered and lined face. I chatted with him about which way the storm was heading and where to look for tornadoes.
A point under the base that was probably just scud, lured us into holding our ground.
Some sort of county emergency vehicle the sheriff probably, pulled up. The man and woman inside looked concerned and were calling nearby neighbors. A large horseshoe cut appeared in the base of the storm, a curl at the north end. The supercell was wrapping up and things were looking much more interesting now. It was a critical moment though as the storm was about to cross the road.

Developing Tornado
10 miles SSW of Lake City, KS
6:53 PM
Streaky bands of rain started to dance around the curling north end of the horseshoe, a telltale precursor to tornadogenesis. The bands accelerated, moving faster and faster from left to right as they rotated around the lowering. Horizontal tendrils surged outward from the feature. We watched their movement transfixed. We had no condensation funnel yet, but the rain bands’ rotation became so rapid I was convinced we now had a tornado in progress. I scrambled to clean the rain drops off the camera dome.
While I fumbled with towels and the dome, Brindley expertly nailed the shots. The elusive tornado put on a brief but striking show for us. For only a minute the condensation funnel condensed down as a debris cloud spun up. Hearts raced. It was a surreal moment of time, the climax after a long winter and building anticipation for the chase and what it would yield. Everything had perfectly clicked in that moment: a forecast, careful positioning at the right place and right time, and a master with her camera.

Funnel and Rainbow
10 miles SSW of Lake City, KS
7:00 PM
The tornado crossed the road and the storm started to move off to the east. The sun immediately came out in full force, lighting up the back end of the storm in brilliant white. Brindley quickly realized the stunning view that was unfolding. “Go forward!” The tornado’s funnel lifted but also tightened up into a rounded cone. Our view moved the funnel closer to the rainbow and dark storm core as we moved south and I could see the shot Brindley was after. The funnel and rainbow combination was one of the most stunning, beautiful stormscapes I’ve ever witnessed while storm chasing. A strip of cloud wrapped around the funnel and extended off to the north, like a sheathed tether being wound up. We hoped it would condense again and put on a show like the 2004 Mulvane, KS tornado, but the funnel withered away as it spun down.
The pointy remnants of the dying circulation persisted for a while later with a beautiful rainbow spanning the sky.
We turned around to head back north to the highway and get back on the storm. A double rainbow framed the back end of the white convection. The road was vacant of storm chasers during the tornado, but a string of them suddenly appeared on the gravel road after the tornado. We fell into line. The road went white as we crossed the storm’s hail swath. The van slid in the ruts slightly but did well on the road otherwise. Our speed was too slow for the chaser behind us, who passed us on the sloppy unpaved road, only to wait behind the three or four chasers that were in front of us. The red car had significant body damage, the trunk or rear bumper looked like it was tied on, a vehicle that looked like the driver routinely passed on wet gravel roads or didn’t care if the maneuver didn’t work out.

Huge Turbulent Mass
11 miles W of Medicine Lodge, KS
7:24 PM
Back on 160 heading east we were coming into the back end of the supercell, a maneuver known as hook slicing. We crossed the precipitation in the hook getting into some golf ball sized hail before stopping short of the back end of the mesocyclone. Scud whipped around a huge boiling and turbulent mass. It looked like the kind of structure that could contain a wedge tornado, weak spinups, or nothing. We weren’t going to get too close to it though. Brindley spotted another rotating lowering coming up from the southwest and starting to move directly overhead. We backtracked west to get out of the way of it and realized it was the remnants of the old mesocyclone that produced our tornado. The scary mass to the east was the new mesocyclone. Both circulations showed up well on the velocity scan.

Gusting Out
1 miles W of Sharon, KS
7:50 PM
We waited for both circulations to cross the highway and then scooted east. A huge horseshoe fanned out under the base. The storm looked like it was gusting out. Sunlight was hitting the convection in the updraft tower. We pulled over to get what I thought was going to be a spectacular time lapse, but low clouds kept plaguing my shot.
The wide angle view was simply stunning though. Sunbeams and shadows streaked bands of light and dark across the storm. Brindley’s panoramic captured the sunset beauty.
Meeting up with old and new friends, a tornado, amazing sights we had never seen before and a gorgeous sunset stormscape. We couldn’t ask for a better first chase of the year. It was a perfect day.
We were even able to snag dinner at Subway minutes before all the tiny Kansas towns closed up for the night. The foot long veggie was never so welcome. We made it up to Lawrence, KS for the night to get closer to the next day's play.


Not only was it a perfect start to the season for us, but Brindley got some of the best shots of the day. The media even picked up my rain drop filled tornado video. Our storm and some adjacents ones along the warm front later on were some of the few that produced in the region. The Oklahoma dryline storm hit cold stable air in the wake of the earlier convection and abruptly died, resulting in a bust for all playing down the dryline and those who bailed south off the triple point. The moderate risk area largely busted for tornadoes again probably due to interference from the earlier elevated storms. Fortunately the tornadoes were relatively weak and stayed over open terrain. The perfect tornado intercept is one that only a handful of storm chasers and prairie dogs witness as it churns over an empty corner of the plains.

Lessons Learned

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