May 1, 2018


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Russell, KS
Springfield, IL 11:30 PM 4/30/2018
Clay Center, KS 10:03 PM 5/1/2018
Tescott, KS; Longford, KS
0 mph
Tornado, Wall Cloud


Triple point play in north central Kansas, off the nose of elongated low and stationary boundary. Intercepted supercell near Hoisington encountering severe hail that cracked windshield. Tracked storm northeast noting large tornado in the distance near the town of Tescott. Caught another small tornado after dark north of Longford before calling it a chase and heading to Clay Center.

Crew and Equipment

Solo chase. Equipment: Sony AX100, Samsung Galaxy S7.




A three day string of chase days was setting up in the Plains and Midwest. I had initial reservations about storm mode and coverage, and so wasn’t too optimistic about a photogenic tornado. Congealed high precipitation supercells looked like they could be the dominant mode on the warm front while the dry line remained capped to the south. The shear and instability combos were there for tornadoes, however, and with multiple chances I decided to make a run for it. My go to tornado parameters had me eyeing I-70 just west of Salina. Lid strength index was open for business near the triple point with a pool of 0-3km CAPE and favorable helicity at and after 0z. My initial target was Russell.

Locust Creek Covered Bridge State Historic Site
3 miles ENE of Meadville, MO
6:31 AM
Rather than get up super early, I left the night before Tuesday’s first chase day, and car camped off 36 in northern Missouri. I was up at dawn, and had plenty of time to get to the target area, so I decided to see if there was anywhere to go hiking nearby. I was right next to a state park with a covered bridge, so I drove in and explored the place.

Morning Hike
3 miles ENE of Meadville, MO
6:36 AM
Smoke drifted through the trees from a nearby brush fire or controlled burn, making for some really pretty views in the dawn light.

Covered Bridge
Wheeling, MO
7:16 AM

Developing Storms
2 miles SSE of Russell, KS
3:49 PM
I made it to Russell by early afternoon, hours before the show would be ramping up. Chasers were already assembling in the truck stop parking lot. I chatted it up with Rick Slusin, Caleb Elliott and others. To the west, the dry line was percolating. By 3pm we had robust thunderstorms. Max Olson described the building storm activity to Marcus and Conor, who donned their blaze orange “super spotter” hats in anticipation:

6 miles N of Hoisington, KS
5:32 PM
I held my ground as long as I could in Russell, awaiting a viable chase target. A nearby cell sported a wall cloud for a while, but it fell apart, leaving behind a high and disorganizing updraft base. I dropped down the line to the next cell, this one quite a bit more robust near Hoisington. I tracked it northeast through several cycles when it looked like it might finally be ready to spin-up a tornado. I ran north and got into the inflow notch for a tight backlit shot as visibility to the southeast was being hampered by the rear flank precipitation.

Huge Hail Encounter
2 miles E of Beaver, KS
6:10 PM
My paved east road cut it too close to the forward flank core. I ran east to get ahead of the storm, but started to encounter hail stones approaching the size of baseballs. Driving head first into the falling bombs, my windshield paid the price, cracking in several places from the icy impacts. I got out of the hail just as the storm wrapped up dramatically behind me. A large bowl lowering with strong rotation spun away to my west. As it wrapped up, I thought, “This is it. Sacrificing the windshield is going to be worth it for this backlit shot.” But the storm didn’t do it. The bowl dissipated. The rear flank core shriveled up, and the base retreated. I botched my shot of the feature at its peak due to a focusing problem too.

15 miles NNE of Hoisington, KS
6:33 PM
The storm was really fizzling now as if it were fighting the cap and losing. Meanwhile, a couple of cells coming off the dry line dozens of miles to the south in central Kansas were really starting to get their act together. I thought about making a mad dash after them, but my original forecast parameters said the air mass down there had less favorable low level thermodynamics. If the storm I was watching couldn’t hack it against the cap, the cells to the south would probably suffer a similar fate. I sat on the side of the road for a while and then drifted east almost aimlessly, feeling a bit bummed about destroying the windshield without anything to really show for it. I scooped up a few hail stones I found on the side of the road as chasers whizzed past me, still hot on the hunt.

Developing Wall Cloud
15 miles NNE of Hoisington, KS
6:33 PM
A wannabe wall cloud was becoming more robust on the mediocre storms I was tracking. Lighting and contrast were nice as it drifted by to the north. It was slipping away, however, and I decided I better get my head back in the game and go after it. I ran north and east, stepping on to the grid north of 70 and Ellsworth. The small paved east road allowed me to get quite close and I had a nice view of a robust bowl lowering, but then the road degraded to compacted sand/clay. It looked ok condition wise, but the storm had just crossed and rained all over it, and I know road conditions can degrade further quite rapidly. My Subaru has all-wheel drive and AT/S tires, but it’s light and still likes to slide around on the slick, domed clay roads of Kansas. I thought to myself, “I’ll be damned if I get stuck out here for this piece of crap storm.” I took the paved south option several miles away from the storm, and then hopped on 70 east to catch the next paved north crossroad.

Large Tornado
7 miles SSE of Tescott, KS
6:51 PM
Of course the storm decided to finally do it while I was detouring. I exited and went north toward the small town of Tescott. I was in a line of chaser traffic mixed with some locals now, but it was moving at least. A huge cylindrical lowering came into view several miles off to the northeast. Initially I couldn’t tell if it was a ground scraping wall cloud or a wedge. My screen soon lit up with Spotter Network reports of a large tornado, however, and my suspicions were confirmed. I wanted to blast toward it, but the traffic kept my speed checked to a reasonable rate and we all lumbered along getting modestly closer to it.

Rain Wrapped Tornado
4 miles SSE of Tescott, KS
6:53 PM
The tornado was becoming more and more rain wrapped so that even as we got closer to it, contrast was fading. After a few minutes it vanished altogether into the rain, slipping away like a dream that fades the more you try to remember it. This shot is heavily contrast enhanced, but shows the ghostly cylindrical mass of what would later be rated an EF3.

Nocturnal Tornado
1 miles S of Longford, KS
7:53 PM
I was finally able to race east once I got to Tescott, but to the north, only nondescript rain remained. I tracked what was becoming a rather sloppy east to west line of cells until well after dark. Turning north toward Longford, lightning flashed and something pointy was silhouetted in the distance. I struggled to catch further glimpses of it through the hills and trees, but one good flash illuminated the slender tornado in the night. It looked like it was on the lead edge of a huge bowing gust front, rather than tucked in well behind it in the usual occluded position. I wanted to blast off to get closer to it, but was once again in a line of chaser traffic moving at modest speeds. A small tornado, and miles away, I knew I wasn’t going to get appreciably closer to it before it dissipated. We hit the damage path near Oak Hill, trees down in the road, and everyone had to turn around. I exchanged a few words with James Wilson and then routed for a detour. I went east out of Longford on a rather empty road. An animal stumbled out in front of me, something brown, small but with some mass to it still. It was probably a raccoon as I could just make out some markings on the face. I had no time to react and nailed it. The left part of my bumper popped out from the clips and I lost a plastic intake and fog light cover. Two tornadoes resulted in two instances of minor car damage.
There were still a bunch of active tornado warnings, but stuff was becoming messy so I decided to call it a chase. I headed into Clay Center and got dinner at a Pizza Hut that was questionably still open in the wake of the tornado warnings. I ejected the memory card from my camcorder, not realizing it was still recording. I leave it running on a dash mount for the whole duration of the chase so I don’t miss anything and had forgotten to turn the camera off when I went inside. The video from the day was corrupted as a result. I was able to salvage a few still frames from the video of the tornado, but couldn’t do much with the video itself. It wasn’t anything spectacular as my shots were quite distant, so not a huge loss. I found a quiet spot north of town to car camp, feeling pretty mixed about the day.


I was happy to be on the board for the season with a tornado catch, but whatever excitement and feeling of accomplishment that brought was cancelled out by the rather distant, rain wrapped views I had, the damage I sustained to the vehicle from hail and animal impacts, and then the corruption of my video files. I had at least picked and stayed with the correct target. The storms to the south coming off the dry line had indeed fizzled in capped air, while the Tescott storm produced the largest tornado of the day. Even though I didn’t get the close, super dramatic shot, I was thankful to have at least gotten any shot of it as I could have easily missed it altogether while detouring around muddy roads.

Lessons Learned

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