May 26, 2021


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Scott City, KS
Hays, KS 10:44 AM 5/26/2021
WaKeeney, KS 9:53 PM 5/26/2021
Oberlin, KS; Clayton, KS
0 mph
Shelf Cloud, Striated Updraft


Dryline play in northwest Kansas. Hedged between northwest and south target, opting for south target with ongoing tornado producing storms to the east and north. Southern target produced series of splitting cells that died. Retargeted for north target, arriving late to see shelf cloud north of Oberlin. Intercepted tornado warned cells to the south of Oberlin at sunset noting striated updrafts and laminar lowerings from likely elevated cells.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley Ubl, Anton Seimon, Tracie Seimon, Hank Schyma. Equipment: Sony AX100, Samsung S9, Photography courtesy Jennifer Brindley Ubl shooting on a Nikon D4s.




My morning email to the group:

"Rich moisture plume lifting into ne CO and broad spurts of southwest flow aloft should set the stage for tomorrow. Timing is a little uncertain with the cap open early, but forcing looks modest, so may be dealing with an afternoon initiation, but be ready for an early fire way to the west toward Limon, potentially throwing a wrench in our preferred target out to the east later on when instability is maximized. CAMs fire Kansas in the evening with big updraft helicity tracks in an environment with strong instability and effective storm relative helicity ramping up with the low level jet. This play makes me uneasy as I feel like I don't have a firm grasp on when stuff initiates way to the east of the more obvious targets, and downstream it will be much harder to go after if we commit west.

Primary target Akron to Wray, CO from say 20z to 23z. Instability peaks early in ne CO with the arrival of the moisture. However, not particularly backed southerly surface flow makes me think storms will need quite a bit of time to mature into big tornado producers.

Secondary target: Leoti, KS to Hays, KS 22z to 0z. Seems like a highly conditional gamble, but perhaps with a bigger payoff. Storm maybe coming off a dryline bulge in far w c KS, or the convergence ne of there se of GLD.

We're sitting pretty to look at morning guidance to pick between the two maybe scooting west to Colby for starters to give us some time to decide. I don't like the just in time moisture arrival and potential instability issues in e WY and NE panhandle. Could easily be something up there, but it's a bigger gamble with a lower payout I think."

Anton's response:

"SPC has introduced some very strong wording on the tornado threat but also an important caveat in their 13z Day 1 outlook. While long-track supercells yielding strong tornadoes are in the cards, conditions are so primed that early initiation could shut down the potential in the primary northwest Kansas target. The Dodge City sounding shows no effective cap — a rarity in my experience. It is therefore no surprise that Goodland is already under a warning….

Based on these conditions and a quick look at 12z models, I sustain my prior interest in the I-70 corridor, but more in Colorado than Kansas. A pre-18z eruption of numerous cells now seems likely for western Kansas, while some capping should delay the onset further west in CO. As such, I currently favor us avoiding the temptation to remain too far east and vote for a meet-up spot someplace like Burlington or Stratton. If the Kansas early eruption does occur, it should push a moist outflow boundary westward that could become an optimal tornado corridor when the Colorado storms arrive later in the afternoon, with a strong LLJ kicking in to boot. "

Striated Storm
11 miles NNW of Oakley, KS
12:26 PM
We left Hays westbound for a meet up point near Colby or Oakley. A storm was cruising along north of the highway and we stopped to shoot some photos of it, likely an elevated supercell. We knew it had no chance of producing in the cool, capped air so weren't going to closely pursue it, but it provided a gorgeous early structure show.

Striated Storm
11 miles E of Colby, KS
12:38 PM

Striated Storm
2 miles SSE of Gem, KS
12:44 PM
We rendezvoused with the group on a dirt road south of Oakley. Friend and fellow chaser Nick Nolte joined us a short while later. Indecisiveness had set it and there was debate on which target to pursue, an earlier yet further away play on the CO/KS/NE corner, or a later higher payout gamble to the south. Our position meant that we were going to hedge until we had more confidence. But hedging usually results in missing all the action. Worst of all, we had not picked a team decision maker for the day, what we call the “conch holder”.

What looked like a junky cluster of storms heading toward our starting point of Hays had organized into a supercell and picked up a tornado warning. Hank wanted to start moving toward it, at least to keep it in play, anticipating we’d double back for the main show. Anton and I, however, wanted to stay put. I considered it the sucker play, and that it would lead us away from the real chase, having us come in late or missing it altogether. A few tornado reports came in. For the second time, just two days later, we missed tornadoes mere miles from the hotel where we started the chase. The north target went next, with storms rapidly organizing on the KS/NE border. Tracie wanted to go after those. Anton still wanted to hold citing the forecast parameters. People were getting upset at this point, the conflict within the group palpable. People felt they were being overruled, or put down. It was the entire reason we had devised the “conch holder” position in the first place.

Spin The Bottle
3 miles SSE of Oakley, KS
4:00 PM
I had an idea to try to cut the tension in the group, and get us back in the game. “Spin the bottle” for the “conch holder” position. We had a bottle of Storm Chaser IPA in our cooler, which we laid down in the road. A representative from each team stood around the bottle in a triangle. Nick Nolte, as an unbiased third party, then spun the bottle. It landed on Anton.

Conch Ceremony
3 miles SSE of Oakley, KS
4:00 PM
Hank presiding as minister, we had a brief ceremony as I handed off the conch.

The Conch Holder
3 miles SSE of Oakley, KS
4:00 PM
The holder of the conch said we would make for the south target.
Lo and behold, the south target fired right on cue with towering cumulus and radar returns near Scott City. We sat just downstream to the north, watching as the developing storm moved into what looked to be a primed environment.

But the storm didn’t do it. It split, and then split again. We ran north hoping one of the splits would finally root and become the dominant supercell, but every time the right split died as if there were still a strong cap in place. Then the left split would split again and repeat the cycle. We finally found ourselves chasing what looked like nice pendent shaped 50 dbz returns on the radar, but in reality were orphaned anvils. Meanwhile, tornado reports were streaming in from the north target. I slumped down in my seat realizing we had probably totally blown the chase again. At this point, we had to make a run for the north target. The show would probably be long over by the time we arrived hours later, but I got on the radio and pleaded that we blast for Nebraska. We went for it, but midway there Anton suggested that we break off our intercept of the massive, hook echo sporting TORR warned supercell for some tiny fledgling storms that were springing up nearby. It seemed absurd to me, but I think he was still trying to not admit defeat by salvaging the original target. Hank got on the radio with the quote of the year, “I think you guys are nuttier than squirrel shit.” While trying to ease tensions, I also pleaded that we continue for the Nebraska storm.
We pressed on. Our route took us right through Selden, Kansas, which had been struck by a tornado days earlier. The piles of debris were a sober reminder of the human impact of this force of nature we so desire to witness, and it was a reminder of what we had missed having botched our May 24 chase as well.

5 miles NNW of Oberlin, KS
6:56 PM

Shelf Cloud
9 miles NNW of Oberlin, KS
7:00 PM
We didn’t even make it to Nebraska before we saw the demise of the north target. A huge, menacing shelf cloud filled the sky, but it meant the storm had gusted out and the tornado show was over. We stopped briefly to watch it and consider our options. Then we turned around and headed right back to the developing cells to which Anton wanted to divert. As Anton had anticipated, they were blossoming into chaseable supercells.
We arrived from the north, the setting sun starting to paint the clouds in gorgeous colors, and I was hopeful we might yet save the chase with a purple tube. The structure told another story, however. Striated, laminar updrafts, and wall clouds that looked like detached lenticulars, meant the low levels were cool and stable and these cells were working against a mounting capping inversion.

Tornado Warned
10 miles S of Clayton, KS
8:11 PM
Using slippery unpaved roads, we navigated to the south side of the cell as it picked up a tornado warning. The structure was pretty with a sculpted base, but we didn’t have high hopes it would produce.

Sunset Base
7 miles SW of Densmore, KS
8:34 PM

Twilight Storm
8 miles S of Hill City, KS
8:57 PM
We started working our way south, hoping we’d find some buoyant surface based inflow parcels. South of Hill City we came out underneath a dramatic updraft base. Steely blue in the twilight, it was churning, roiling, and swirling. We drove underneath and watched the fragments of cloud contort all around us.

Inflow Surge
12 miles S of Hill City, KS
9:06 PM
We turned north to face it. Scud paraded around the base in the fading light. Then howling winds surged past from the south feeding into the roiling mass to the north. Anton noted the inflow surge felt quite warm, and I wondered aloud to Hank if the storm was attempting to cycle, and might yet pull off something tornadic. The activity sure got our attention, and the chase was exceeding once again.

Pink Mammatus
12 miles S of Hill City, KS
9:07 PM
Meanwhile, off to the west, a hole in the dark low level cloud deck offered a peek at a pink mammatus studded anvil.
We scrambled back north in intercept mode as what looked ilke a huge wall cloud loomed on the northern horizon. It didn't last long, however, and appeared to be falling to pieces as we got close. We stayed with the storm until the last of the light was gone, just in case.


This was our worst bust of the season. The northern target, which was strongly considered by us during the morning, produced some of the most photogenic tornadoes of the year near Benkleman, Nebraska. Hedging and holding out for the “big one” at our wishcast target to the south cost us any chance at a tornado. On future team chases, the lead decision maker will be predetermined before the event begins so we’re not hedging into the afternoon due to indecisiveness. We’ve also opted to take on a more aggressive chase strategy, where we trade forecast precision and ideal target positioning, for more time under storms, even if they’re not at our specific target. Sticking hard to a location without playing nearby storms has been costing us multiple tornado intercept opportunities.

Lessons Learned

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