April 24th 2015 Hays-Fairport Kansas HP Supercell

Apr 30, 2015

Summary:

Picked the right target on a difficult choice day, intercepting HP supercell north of Hays, KS. Punched RFD of storm encountering hazy view of lifting tornado before getting blasted with 80mph wind driven tennis ball size hail, taking out windshield. Kept ahead of storm until dusk as it began to gust out, catching dramatic shelf cloud near Salina before calling chase.

 

 

Stats:

Tornadoes: 1
Hail: 2.50″ (Tennis Ball)
Wind: 80mph RFD

The Forecast:

Tough call with split target choice. Deepening low pressure was forecast to slowly move east across Kansas. A Dryline was trailing south through Texas with ample directional shear and near record dewpoints values. Instability forecast to be extreme with some models showing 5000 j/kg. Triple point/surface low in KS looked to be the best shot for tornadoes with shear/cape combination, but a pre frontal wave fired off large area of convection across Oklahoma that could hinder return flow. SPC also recognized this and highlighted two areas of enhanced potential, focusing more on the southern play in TX due to better CAPE values and unimpeded return flow.

Detailed Account:

This was supposed to be the main day in this string of chase days. We awoke to a difficult forecast, and poured over more data than I usually do the morning of a chase day. My gut was telling me Kansas, always bank on the surface low. Other chasers were really hyping up the potential in Texas. Several chasers started driving north out of Norman but turned around to switch targets. It was certainly hard to ignore all the hype, and the higher probabilities by SPC. A look at forecast lapse rates in TX showed they were awful down there, and would be much better in Kansas. Over time I spent pouring over data I noticed the dewpoints were steadily increasing in Kansas. I chose to stick with Kansas based on much better lapse rates overrunning a moisture tongue near the surface low/triple point. It seemed like a safe bet VS poor lapse rates in TX despite record moisture levels.

On the way though, we let the hype get to us, and we pulled over in Perry, OK to mull over what to do. We sat there for a good 20 minutes. Alec was receiving a constant stream of messages from people exclaiming why Texas would be the place to be, and it was getting to us. My gut told me to stick with Kansas, but I left the final decision to him and he agreed, we continued north.

As always, initiation occurred a little further west than we were hoping, near Hays. We were roughly 40 minutes away from an isolated storm as it went tornado warned, and I started kicking myself knowing our pause in Perry cost us precious time. No reports came in though, and we caught up with the storm. Coming in from the backside we caught a glimpse of a low contrast funnel cloud amidst an army of chasers diving south. I couldn’t figure out why, the roads were gridded. Sure an RFD punch is risky, but we could easily identify features. I kept us moving north. We punched through a blinding core and is someone flipped a switch it cleared out. A dissipating tornado greeted us, but was really hazy and low contrast. I began filming, and barely caught its last gasp.
20150424160950(1)

If you can’t tell thats a tornado don’t feel bad. A couple other chasers on the other side confirmed this as well, though we had little doubt given the rotation. Soon after golfball size hail began bouncing on the road and over the car. Winds dramatically increased as a new RFD surge wrapped around, the hail grew to tennis ball size and we soon lost the windshield. I wasn’t expecting such an intense RFD core, perhaps thats why everyone was diving south? Shortly after this, another chaser reported measuring an 80mph wind gust near our location.

Naturally, in wonderfully flat, gridded western Kansas, we were entering one of those brief spots where a lake resides and plays havoc with the terrain and roads for a 5 mile stretch. We could not pursue the storm east like we wanted. We hit a T and our options were to skirt the intense RFD core or dive south and blast east on the next best road to get ahead of the storm. Alec chose option #2 which was probably the smarter move to not risk losing the windshield more.

We managed to get ahead of the storm near Sylvan Grove. By the now the storm was full HP mode. We got into the noth and inflow felt chilly, my confidence in a new tornado was low, but we could at least see rotation in the wall cloud.
HP1

We were back on the grid and it was easy to stay ahead of the storm. Still leery of the core, we kept just ahead of the storm for the next couple hours but it slowly began to transition into a linear mode.
HP2

HP3

I took a 2 pano shot image of the storm and am really happy with the way it turned out.
Windmill Storm 2
We did note at least 1 interesting looking gustnado, the kind that get reported as tornadoes, but it appeared everyone was behaving today and I never saw it reported as one.
20150424181827(1)

Other storms began to catch up to our storm and it appeared a linear evolution was underway. We decided to make our way back towards Norman, stopping in Salina for gas/food and to check new data to see what was up with the next day’s setup. The shelf cloud of the approaching linear complex was quite dramatic and we walked over to a spot to snap some pics. I almost got what I would consider an amazing panorama, but the last photo in the bunch became corrupt. So close, still, Im a fan of how this turned out as I find myself slowly getting better with a DSLR.
Salina Kansas Shelf

We weren’t to thrilled with what models were showing the next days setup, and made our way back to Norman where we arrived and went to bed, opting for a down day, with more chasing looking likely Sunday.

Conclusion:

The Texas target turned out to be mostly a flop, with one grungy tornado warned supercell that quickly lined out, disappointing the many chasers who chose that target. Ignoring the hype of others and sticking with the original forecast was a win. Though we didn’t come out with a photogenic tornado, our target verified nicely with a longer sustained supercell that displayed more classic structured for a time before transitioning to HP. The RFD core punch that cost us our windshield made the day intense, and coming out in that clearing area to see a tornadoes final moments puts another one on the board for me, but it sucks it couldn’t have been something better. I don’t like counting tornadoes you have to squint to see, but a tornado is a tornado.

Map. Arrow shows location of where we saw the tornado and lost the windshield.
Map

SPC Reports:

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