May 24, 2021


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Colby, KS
Colby, KS 11:59 AM 5/24/2021
Dodge City, KS 10:36 PM 5/24/2021
Leoti, KS; Lakin, KS
0 mph
Dust Whirl Tornado, Supercell Updraft


Dryline/warm front triple point play in northwest Kansas. Targeted Colby for afternoon tornadic supercells. Intercepted supercell south of warm front, which failed to reach front, stalled and died. Retargeted Tail End Charlie storms to the south while northern warm front cells produced. Noted brief dust whirl tornado northwest of Lakin followed by dramatic supercell structure southeast of Lakin.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley Ubl, Anton Seimon, Tracie Seimon, Hank Schyma. Equipment: Sony AX100, Canon 60D, Photography courtesy Jennifer Brindley Ubl shooting on a Nikon D4s.




From my morning email to the group:

"Day 1 looks like a slam dunk, x marks the spot. Large model agreement on a dryline bulge s of GLD by mid to late afternoon. Expect thunderstorms to form off the nose of strong surface heating, low level lapse rate finger poking into w c KS and track ene. Moisture convergence at the quasi dl triple point has low 60s dews with moderate instability of about 2000 J/kg. Secret sauce params for tubes are all thumbs up with LSI wide open all day, so expect initiation as soon as we get heating and that push, say 20z to 21z. Convergence at the TP yields very strong 3Cape values. Glancing blow from southwesterlies aloft will limit effective shear, but it still looks adequate at 30-40 knots. Turtle recommends being on the play at initiation. There may be an initial landspout play, but slower moving cells in pancake terrain should be easier to work with so there's less fear of being left behind. Given wide open LSI and 3Cape, it's possible for more of a "pop and drop" situation too, despite the synoptic setup not being a high risk tornado play with strong directional shear at the onset. But storm mode is a concern going into the evening, perhaps transitioning into a squidge like we had at the end of yesterday's chase, so prefer hopping on the line sooner rather than later. Expect massive chaser convergence given x marks the spot, but hopefully there is ample room on the nearby grid. Just keep in mind that it'll probably be a muddy mess out there so do not recommend using it for large positioning moves, just crowd spacing and intercept placement.

Secondary targets all look like a compromise in some form. Either further removed from upper level support or with weaker thermodynamics. A good reason to play one is if the primary target gets hosed for some reason by a freak MCS or cold front, or if there is a magical east to west boundary drifting along in the panhandles/sw CO that somebody can find.

Initial target is 15 mi ssw of Colby, KS at 20-21z. Mature supercell by 22-0z. Recommend chasing lead north cell/initial cell coming off the dl bulge. Subsequent cells may be once again caught behind ofb or more of a squidge mode. "
We gassed up and got lunch to go at the Colby palm trees oasis before snagging a selfie with local attraction “Wheat Jesus”. A steady stream of storm chasers was doing the same.
We headed south out of Colby under thick fog that reminded me of May 23, 2008 and May 24, 2010. On both days, tornadic supercells produced immediately south of a warm front blanketed in thick fog. I realized that the warm front was going to be the main player on this chase. Yet our team was miles to the southwest in Sharon Springs, hanging out at the then location of the triple point in the balmy warm sector air, not at where the front was going to be during show time. Just a few miles away from our afternoon target, the distance shouldn’t have been a factor really, but our initial positioning was what I would later recognize as the first misstep in this chase.

We met the group at a park in Sharon Springs. Storms were already firing to our southeast meaning we’d be behind the ball if we didn’t move soon. We designated a team lead and were rolling. A cell had become dominant and was already taking on supercellular characteristics. The plan was to head back up the northeast highway, get ahead of it, and drop south for the intercept.
We tracked northeast back up highway 40 in the direction of Oakley. The lead cell to our southeast was intensifying rapidly and was clearly the dominant player. In most chasing situations, this would be your play, that one cell that takes off and goes dominant first, so of course we went after it. Along the way, however, I noted some intense updrafts just to our north. The convection was crisp and the bases looked solid. If I didn’t have live radar in the car, I probably would have chased these storms just based on their visual appearance. Yet they were just little fledglings. I thought to myself that they’d probably cross the warm front before they could mature, or be choked off by the south storm. So we continued onward, attempting an unpaved south before turning around and making for highway 25.

Our intercept route had us meandering around in a box, and then clipping the forward flank of the storm. We came out in front of the updraft base. There was already an RFD notch and low level rotation in the base. Yet the storm looked like it wasn’t ready to produce, scruffy and high based. It would probably need a couple more cycles and the enhanced directional shear on the warm front for a real shot at a tornado.
The storm wouldn’t track to the warm front, however. Its forward motion stalled, and then it started to dump rain and kick out a rather linear looking forward flank gust front. Meanwhile, the northern cells we passed by were producing tornadoes on the warm front, mere miles from my original target. I knew then that we had dropped the ball and blown the chase, starting slightly out of position, and then lured away from our target play. We sat in moderate rain deciding what to do next as what was supposed to be the dominant supercell of the day fell to pieces. Even if the cell had continued northeast to the warm front, we were also sitting in a large road hole and would have had to have gone miles out the way to catch back up with it near Oakley. The group was scattered due to a large amount of chaser traffic in the area. We figured we wouldn’t make it back north in time for any of the ongoing tornado activity, which would also involved a slog back through the forward flank, so we instead planned to pick up a Tail End Charlie to the south. Away from the needed warm front helicity, perhaps it would produce when the low level jet picked up by evening.

Hank and Anton
15 miles NNW of Lakin, KS
4:30 PM
We drove south through Leoti and then onto the dusty unpaved grid to approach a couple of developing supercells.

Anton's Anemometer
15 miles NNW of Lakin, KS
4:31 PM
Nothing much was happening at first, and we hung out a few miles downstream as Anton checked the winds.

Wind Check
15 miles NNW of Lakin, KS
4:32 PM

The Storm Chaser in his Element
16 miles NW of Lakin, KS
4:48 PM
As the storm approached, it wrapped up in dramatic fashion with impressive structure.

16 miles NW of Lakin, KS
4:52 PM

16 miles NW of Lakin, KS
4:53 PM

Skip and Anton
16 miles NW of Lakin, KS
4:53 PM

Gnarly Supercell
16 miles NW of Lakin, KS
4:55 PM
Despite reports of large hail from up the road, we lingered until the storm enveloped us deep within its inflow notch.

8 miles NW of Lakin, KS
5:43 PM
We stair stepped on the unpaved grid, avoiding the hail and getting only narrowly clipped by RFD. By this time, reports we’re streaming in from the dominant warm front supercell, which was producing what looked like a significant and photogenic tornado near Selden, Kansas. The reports totally soured the chase for me. What made it all the more painful to me was that I thought we could have been there had we just stuck to our original target.

Brief Tornado
8 miles NW of Lakin, KS
6:19 PM
An energetic David Mayhew stopped to say hi before blasting west down the road into the notch. I wasn’t in the mood, however. I felt like we had totally blown the chase, and so I sat in the car feeling dejected and checked out from the chase, watching a ho-hum gust front stream past for what seemed like an hour.

And then the storm started to do something really cool right in front of us. A kink developed in the long straight line gust front. An inflow surge followed, the kink wrapped up and pinched off an occluded updraft. The low level rotation ramped up and then dust appeared at the surface. It lasted mere seconds, but the dust corkscrewed up to meet the rotating base aloft, and then it was blasted to pieces by a strong surge of outflow. It was the briefest, weakest of tornadoes, and yet we had front row seats to the entire tornadogenesis process without even having to move. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself to really enjoy most of the wind up process, and then it was over just like that.

Brief Tornado
8 miles NW of Lakin, KS
6:19 PM

Skip and Storm
15 miles SW of Garden City, KS
7:24 PM
The storm turned hard right and we dove south to get out of the way as it lunged for us. We were momentarily held up by traffic at the main intersection in Lakin just as our phones ominously sounded for a TORR warning issued for the chaser reported dust whirl tornado. The gust front caught us, blasting dust through the streets, but we were able to escape and get ahead of the storm to the southeast.

HP Structure
15 miles SW of Garden City, KS
7:29 PM
The storm looked like it was permanently transitioning into a big gnarly HP, so we put some more ground on it to get some wider structure shots. I set the DSLR up for some long sequences and then noticed there was an airplane flying overhead, a Cessna at about 3,000 feet. I’m not sure who it was, but they were flying circuits in front of the updraft just as Caleb Elliott and I had done back in 2012 and 2013 on our aerial storm chasing venture.

Time Lapsing Structure
5 miles SSW of Pierceville, KS
8:42 PM
We stayed until the rear flank gust front was once again on us. Prospects and sufficient lighting for a coordinated tornado intercept had faded, so we decided to disband as a group and do our own thing.

Dusk Supercell
10 miles S of Pierceville, KS
9:19 PM
Hank went off to shoot lightning. Brindley and I were making for Dodge City, but stopped to shoot structure one more time as the supercell turned into a striated sculpture at dusk. Anton and Tracie caught up with us and we stayed until nightfall before calling the chase.

Bullsnake in the Moonlight
10 miles S of Pierceville, KS
9:19 PM
Anton: "Where's Hank when you need him?" Brindley: "Oh, I guess it's snake time."


I’d tally a tornado for this chase and got some great structure shots, and yet it still felt like a bust. I had picked a great target that morning and let it get away from me, missing the tornado show of the day, and a potential dataset for our tornado photogrammetry research project. The Selden tornado was rated only EF1, but tracked along and across a highway in dramatic fashion. There were tornado reports only a few miles from my target of 15 ssw of Colby at 21z, and more reports near where we started the day in Colby. Had we simply driven to the target and waited, or even stayed in Colby, we probably would have gotten a tornado shot and continued on to get the Selden tornado. Instead we let ourselves start just ever so slightly out of position, which cascaded into getting lured away from the target warm front play by a sucker storm, and then it was downhill from there.

Lessons Learned

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