Large Hail and Supercell Near Americus, Kansas March 28 2012

Mar 30, 2012

Summary:

Drove all morning to target area fearing early initiation. Ended up sitting for awhile waiting for storms to form a couple hours before dark. Dropped south to intercept slow moving supercell with plenty of large hail. Storm tried to wrap up and exhibited weak rotation for a time but could never produce a tornado.

 

 

 

Stats:

Tornadoes: 0

Largest Hail: 2.00″ [Hen Egg]

Wind: < 58mph

 

Detailed Account:

I had been eyeing the setup for a couple days as a potential local sleeper day but never considered chasing it due to logistics. The night before though my usual chase partner Danny Neal tossed out the ridiculous idea of a marathon run. I never turn down a chase no matter how marginal the setup if I can make the logistics work. I made a last minute call online for anyone wanting to join in and was able to recruit Alex Hall to tag along with us for the first time. It was a go. We set sail for north central Kansas around 4am. Fearing early storm initiation on a setup that was supposed to have a weak cap I wanted to make sure we were on the road as early as possible.

We arrived in our target area west of Topeka around 3pm, found some pretty desolate Kansas roads and waited…and waited…and waited. It appeared the early initiation was not going to happen and instead we watched struggling cumulus go up and die one after another along a boundary we had parked ourselves on.

We began to fear a cap bust as it was holding on stronger than predicted. There was also lack of good forcing but plenty of cape. Eventually we noted a thicker cumulus field to our south so we decided to re-position.  On our way down storms began to form and finally the chase was on. Luckily for us storm motions were very slow for an early season setup, roughly 15mph which made getting on them easy. We got into position on our first storm and began to view the base.

The storm had other plans though, and quickly began to weaken. As it approached it was nothing more than a light rain shower. There was some better looking storm development to the south so we decided to drop down. As we did this storms began to strengthen again with one in particular showing large hail. Since the tornado threat was always pretty low, with large hail being the main threat we went into more of a hail mode than tornado mode. We punched through the edge of the core and noted some interesting structure that briefly had a convincing funnel lookalike, but seemed a bit high based to hold any real tornado potential.

It was still neat to look at, and was the first real structure of the season for me. We managed to get into the inflow area of this storm where plenty of large hail up to 2 inches in size was falling. There was never much organization under the base though.

Still, the large hail was quite fun as it fell for a good 10 minutes. We kept up with the storm for awhile and it began to slowly organize. We re-positioned near the town of Americus, and noted some pretty dramatic RFD structure with some weak rotation.

The storm seemed to be going through cycles pretty quick and was having trouble completely wrapping up. Shear was on the weaker side today so the RFD was likely just surging out ahead. High cape was probably enough to help the storm begin a new updraft cycle as opposed to be being completely undercut and going outflow dominant. Darkness fell, but we stayed with the storm as the typical night time low level jet was forecast to strengthen a bit. Indeed once this occurred the storm was able to better organize its rotation and even went tornado warned. We parked ourselves in the notch, a little further away than I would have preferred, but we still had a view.

We stayed in this one spot for probably an hour as we ran into the familiar faces of other chasers also on this storm. A skeptical tornado report came in, but we never saw anything that jumped out at us as a tornado. There were a few suspicious “dark areas” inside a really thick rain shaft, but that is all she wrote. Danny was able to get some neat structure shots with his new camera, and once the storm began to weaken we called the chase and headed to nearby Emporia for dinner and a hotel. I had been up for well over 24 hours and was ready to crash.

Video:

Map. Arrow is the area of large hail, green circle is where we observed the weak rotation in the video.

Conclusion:

This turned out to be a pretty good chase given the potential the day had. Storms went up a little later than expected but we were still able to get into some large hail, and made good positioning on a storm that had the potential to produce but never quite could. The tornado reports still have to be verified, and evidence I have seen online still makes me question the validity of such reports. Either way, we got all out of our storm that it had to offer, and that makes it a success. The day definitely lived up to expectations.

SPC Storm Reports:

 

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