April 14th 2012 Kansas High Risk Tornadoes

Apr 16, 2012


A frustrating daytime chase gives redemption at dusk. Intercepted multiple tornadic supercells nothing same scenario for everyone. Storms with rapid rotation producing brief touchdowns and having trouble fully planting. Finally stuck with one storm that went on to produce a couple good tornadoes at dusk and after dark, giving way to the best night time tornadoes I have witnessed.




Tornadoes: 5

Hail: 1.50″ (Ping pong ball)

Wind: < 58mph


Detailed Account:

The big day was here and we were excited. I awoke early at our hotel in Norman, Oklahoma to go over the data and settled on a target of Salina. We geared up, headed out and met at Ben Holcomb’s place to begin the day. There were some concerns about a late initiation but on the way there it became clear this would not be the case as storms started firing shortly after 1pm. One cell went up west of Greensburg and showed great characteristics on radar and that became our target storm.

We made good time catching the storm, but upon our arrival the storm began to rapidly fall apart and exhibit no real good visual clues we were going to get the awesome tornado we were hoping for. Little did we know this would be the theme for nearly the entire day. Our first look at the storm.

Not too impressed visually we kept up with the storm having some brief encounters with the RFD core bringing on some hail up to quarter size. We moved ahead of the storm and again watched it for several minutes as it quickly fell apart. A new storm to the south was tracking along roughly the same path so we simply retraced our steps back and forth o get on this new storm. It too looked good at first but once again as it arrived upon us, it rapidly fell apart. We pursued this one for a little while and at one point it had a rapidly rotating wall cloud we thought for sure would drop one for us.

It was never to be though. Storm motions were on the quick side, and the storm was hitting us with cold outflow as well as losing its  good visual appearance both in person and on radar. We decided to let it go [something we would come to regret a couple hours later.]

Onto the next storm in line. This storm brought more of the same thing. A good visual appearance on radar, surely this would be the one. We blasted south, clipping the core and got into position only to have the next radar scan begin to show rapid weakening. Again, I couldn’t believe it. Visually though the storm had some very rapid rotation under its scuddy base, it reminded me of how the Canton storm from May 24th looked when we first arrived on it.

The scud was swirling around so close to the ground we were unsure if we were watching a multi vortex type tornado, or just the scud. Eventually a small, nubby funnel formed. This time there was ground contact with a brief debris swirl, at the time I wrote it off as more scud though. I need to learn to be less skeptical about what I label a tornado. Video clearly shows the ground circulation. Finally, our first tornado of the day, albeit a pretty pathetic one.

We kept up with the storm for awhile, the entire time being tease with rapidly forming scud funnels under a broad area of rotation. A second brief tornado was noted in the form of some powerflashes as multiple funnels danced around under this circulation.

Remember that storm we dropped in order to drop to this one? Well, about 2 hours had gone by and we just began to learn it had gone completely crazy near our original target of Salina. That storm went on to produce the most amazing tornadoes of the year so far, and all we were getting on our storms were rapidly rotating scud and brief dust whirl tornadoes. It was quite frustrating and disheartening. I was beginning to get flustered, and my pursuit of the storm got a little sloppy in the form of a couple wrong turns, but overall we kept up with it while trying very hard to fight the urge to just quit the chase and find a hotel to have a few cold ones.

Good thing we kept at it though. Near the town of Hesston yet another pointy lowering emerged from our storm, only this time it got lower, and lower, and more pronounced. Finally it touched down to earth as a nice, fully condensed trunk tornado. A sense of redemption came over us, but it was still not ideal. We were stuck in a large slow moving caravan of chasers, and the storm was allot farther away than I would prefer. Still though, it was a nice tornado. Given my position in the drivers seat, and it being dusk my video did not turn out too spectacular as it was through the windshield, but Lorraine, Alec and Mike’s turned out a little better and were able to salvage some good stills.

Credit to Alec Scholten:

Mike Mullenhoff:

and of course my best chance at a still was ruined by a damn barn…

This tornado dissipated as we well behind it. The storm was rocketing away northeast and we were on a generally unfavorable road network that was clogged with slow moving chasers and few E-W options. Eventually I was able to get on one with the storm now way in the distance. I could, however see that a new large tornado had touched down in the days last light. Video still of this new tornado. If you look closely you can see it.

Good north options were few and far between, but eventually we did make to one and I decided it was time to blast north and get back into the hook of this storm. I passed just about every chaser on the storm and eventually was able to catch up at a desired pace. Night time was now in full swing and as we approached the town of Lost Springs we found ourselves back in the hook and in close, good position. In between flashes of lightning we watched a new, large tornado touch down down the road from us. This was the best night time tornado I have ever witnessed. It was actually close and was very intimidating to see emerging from pure darkness in between flashes of lightning. Unfortunately my video camera doesn’t do too well at night, but fortunately Mike has higher end equipment which made for good video stills of this amazing tornado.

I had to reassure him we were safe, especially after our nighttime chase the night before. We moved in closer as the tornado dissipated, again without a really good east option to keep up with the storms rapid northeast movement. We pulled over and I caught my bearings while the 3 of them went out to shoot lightning with their cameras. By now we learned a tornado was bearing down on Wichita. We debated dropping south to intercept, but decided it would put us a couple hours behind on the next days chase, and decided to call it there and begin the drive towards home, knowing we wanted to chase the setup on the way. We grabbed some dinner at a Perkins north of Kansas City, and roomed up in Cameron, MO for the night.



Overall I did not get what I wanted out of today, and it was quite frustrating to know the only reason is because our storms just couldn’t get it done. I really don’t understand why as the environment across the entire target area was the same. Storms to the north dropped amazing daytime tornadoes, as did storms to the south in Oklahoma while ours struggled. We played the storms well, got into great positions, and would have had great views if they would have done their part. Abandoning the original target was probably a mistake, but one that happens time and time again when there is a nice looking tornadic supercell elsewhere. Getting the redemption tornadoes at dusk and after dark saved the day, but as far as video goes did not give me much to work with, which leaves a feeling of unsatisfaction. Still, seeing at least 5 tornadoes is a good thing and goes well for the overall seasonal count. The awesome nighttime tornado was the best I have ever witnessed, and reaching a new milestone is always a success.

Map. Arrows show locations of 4 of the tornadoes documented. Green X shows where we abandoned the Salina storm with the dashed line showing its track and circle indicating where the most amazing tornadoes occurred.

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