June 15 2009 Wild Kansas Storm Chase

Mar 05, 2012

What a wild chase!

Got it all on this one! Left Medicine Lodge for Hays but ended up dropping back south towards Dodge City. Intercepted massive HP storm near Kinsley. This storm gave us everything. A weak tornado, strong gustnadoes. Awesome wall cloud with wicked green core. Powerful damaging RFD winds, windshield breaking hail, sirens in a town about to get hit, aftermath damage. I cant think of a way a chase can get better other than being very close to a big tornado.. Called the chase once storm was bowing out and booked up in Pratt for the night with a bonus display of the most amazing mammatus I have ever seen. A GREAT chase from no matter what way you look at it [well Skip might not say that in regards to his windshield.]
Tornadoes: 1
Largest Hail: 2.00″ estimate – big enough to break windshield.
Highest wind: est 70mph damaging RFD [rear flank downdraft.]
Lessons learned: Pay attention to roads more carefully when fleeing. Hail is more destructure when being driven by 60+ mph winds.
Detailed account:
Well Im going to try and let most of the pictures and videos do the talking with this one. Woke up and looking over data it appeared a jog north towards Hays would be the ideal target for the day. So off we went after a very tasty breakfast at the same diner we ate dinner. I will definitely be a return customer of both places in the future.
Skies were crystal clear on the way, but soon would give way to baby cumulus…destabilization had begun.
Remember what a blue sky looks like, this was probably around noon, a couple of hours later the sky will take on very different colors!
We make it to Hays and have a brief rendezvous with Jesse Risley and crew before deciding we need to dart back south. En route storms began to fire, we were worried we would end up missing the early show but its always easier to catch up when your north of the storms as they move your direction.
We soon catch up to what looks to be the most appealing storm on radar, by the time we got there it was already tornadic. A nice wall cloud comes into view.
Which was next to a very green, pretty, and mean core. The storm was another HP monster.
HP storms are the most dangerous and difficult to chase, they are a powerhouse producer of severe weather in all forms. I tried to get a shot that showed the green core and the wall cloud nicely, I think this one came out the best.
HPs are tricky tornado producers as their features or often wrapped up in rain and they are harder to see, this one was no exception and the core would quickly begin to overtake us every time we stopped for photos and video. The wall cloud became elongated and we thought the storm had begun to gust out…but dramatically so. It was as colorful as a storm gets.
There was wicked upward motion within these gray clouds in front of the core…I thought another big white shelf similar to one I saw in South Dakota two years ago was about to form.
It starts getting closer, rain and small hail is falling and I can feel a cool outflow wind. I thought the storm was done.
We drive south ahead of it and stop just outside of the tiny town of Offerle with the storm knocking on its door.
And at this time the video can take over. We turn east towards Kinsley and begin to notice spinups in the field. One very large one started and originally we thought it was a gustnado, after observing and noticing rotation we began to think it was a tornado. There was a brief moment where it looked like there was full condensation which I was able to pull a video still of.
Then a nub funnel lowers and was clearly rotating. There were many other chasers that witnessed this. They, along with the NWS in Dodge City also verified this was a tornado. It was a weak one, but it was so cool to be pretty close and have awesome visibility. Supposedly this tornado strengthened and became the massive Macksville, KS tornado of this day.
Here is video of the above tornado, some gustnadoes and a weird spinup that happens practically on top of us!

After this we had to keep up with the storm. Skip decided the best way would be to go south out of Kinsley, only routes 50/56 do a weird split in town which neither of saw coming and missed. Now we were in the town with the core of the tornado warned storm about to swallow us. A quick u-turn and some white knuckle driving through the core and we were back out, only now a bit behind and in the storms damaging RFD. Which downed trees and powerlines right infront us.
Video tells the story from here on. It starts from the beginning with the wall cloud, takes us through Kinsely and through the damage path that follows.

Its tricky enough to navigate around an HP storm as it is. It becomes even harder when the roads get cut off from damage. Also we have to consider many of these dirt roads turning into mud once the rain starts falling. We were very limited on options at this point and there were only 2 we had.
A) Go north through the core and come back out ahead of it on paved, well networked roads.
B) Drop way south, avoid the core but fall far behind storm till next decent road, potentially missing more tornadoes. At this point large violent tornado reports were coming in which we did miss unfortunately.
We chose A, and it didnt work out in our favor. Blinding rains and small hail are no problem. This core however downed large tree limbs infront of us and began pelting Skips van with hail larger than golf balls flying sideways in 70mph winds. It was pretty exciting and I enjoy being in the storm and experiencing the power…but that feeling was lost once one of the stones cracked the windshield. I knew Skip was not happy about this and I felt horrible about it. You can see all of this happen in the video.

So the loss of the windshield put a damper on an otherwise amazing chase. Seeing as how we were now well behind the storm, with daylight fading and no new storms in close range. We called the chase and headed for Pratt, a nice city I hope to move to one day. We picked a rather lousy Chinese buffet which was almost completely out of food, but did have these amazing fried corn nuggets that I absolutely love so it was a nice treat for 8 bucks regardless.
We booked up at a nearby motel, but nature wasn’t done treating us for the day. An amazing display of dramatic, bubbly mammatus rolled directly overhead. The best I have ever been able to photograph, unfortunately with a crappy camera.
Im not big on photo enhancing photos because in my opinion it adds a certain fake-ness to them but I tried to give it a shot here.
This one came out better and more realistic.
More storms going up to our west.
A great end to an awesome chase day.
As I mentioned earlier, to me a chase doesnt get any better than this. The only thing that could have made it better was to witness one of the big violent tornadoes the storm eventually went on to produce. We did catch a tornado though, and every other possible element a storm chase has to offer. This chase will likely rank as number 1 of the year and so far is a top 3 for sure.
Skips log: Click here [Skip has logs for most of the chases I have been on. His site is linked in the menu.]
SPC Storm Reports for the day.

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