March 23 2009 Kansas Storm Chase

Mar 05, 2012

What a chase this turned out to be. The setup was noticed by myself and chasers across the country as far as 10 days out. Initially, as is typical, there was much hype, and hope. As the setup got closer though, dreams were crushed as it was becoming apparent this would be yet another mega shear low instability setup. Basically with these you get all your wind ingredients coming together, but not much energy to spark the storms. I remained on the fence for awhile, forecast CAPE values promoted severe weather, but barely. I decided to put the brakes on the chase on Friday the 21st….but SPC decided to bait me and many other chasers down there by issuing a moderate risk on the day 2 outlook. I have a hard time passing up a Kansas moderate risk.

I knew there would be severe weather, I wasnt expecting a big tornado day. I, however am a STORM chaser, not just a tornado chaser [there is a difference] so given the decent shot for severe weather, went for it.
Danny Neal and I set out for Wichita, KS where my chaser pal whom I call “Weatherman Mile” lives. He would be joining us for the chase and provide a nice local, free base from which we could rest and plan our day. We all were thinking along the same lines, there was some concern that storms would go up late, with the best chance for daylight storms up north. The best moisture, which was the main ingredient lacking in this setup, was located south. Not knowing which one we wanted to bank on we chose to stay in the middle, relatively close to Wichita.
To everyones surprise, storms began firing around 1pm. I thought they would just be the typical early day teaser crap storms that sometimes form…but that wasnt the case. One little cell remained consistent and started to show hail markers on GR3, since it was close…we figured we might as well go for some hail fun before the main show and off we went with a plan to intercept around Kingman.

We stopped a couple miles east of Kingman, where we felt the core would pass over us. We were spot on! I wasnt expecting much, maybe a few dinks of pea size hail, but to our enjoyment I was wrong and the hail came down in quite a fury for about 3 minutes! A nice little way to start the day!

As you may have heard in the video, the storm started looking good visually, so we decided to follow it. Our suspicions were right, as it began strengthening and later became severe warned. We followed it on some Kansas back roads for about an hour. Unfortunately it was moving over 55mph and eventually we fell behind it, but it provided some nice pretty photo ops.

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Was low topped, but the convection was solid.Image Hosted by
As it slips away and becomes warned, some ragged lowerings emerge, borderline wall cloud-ish.Image Hosted by
Overall a nice little storm, I was happy at this point.Image Hosted by
Well it wouldnt be a storm chase without some kind of problem, as I look in my side mirror I see my tail-light dangling down, something must have happened with the connectors that is causing my taillight along with the guard to not stay in place. solution!
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Duct tape…the handiest tool ever invented. Anyways, so what next? We start to notice some Tcu [towering cumulus] to our south so we begin heading in that general direction waiting for something to pop. After about an hour and a few random encounters with rain we began noticing some beutiful LP type structured storms popping up to our west so we pulled over for more pictures.
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Me taking a vertical picture is pretty rare!
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So that was another treat, in the 08 season I didnt get any decent structure pictures until May 23rd, so Im happy at this point Ive got a handful of pictures to show. At this point our very weak data connection is showing some explosive development to the south. My Cingular air card is performing like crap so we call in the aid of a few nowcasters to make sure we’re not crazy. They confirm what were seeing and we keep heading south. We head for Wellington [my original forecast target city] but we dont stay long. Once we get a decent data signal a massive supercell near the KS/OK border pops up. Classic shape on radar and 2.5″ Hail marker. Time to get really excited. The plan is to head south out of Wellington and core punch through it to get into the hook region. We start to get closer and we can see nice inflow feeding into the storm:
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Danny keeping me up to speed on whats happening on radar.Image Hosted by
We clip the edge of the hail core which had some blinding rains and some penny size hail, we debated on weather or not we wanted to wait for bigger hail, but we all agreed we should proceed towards the hook region for anything tornadic. Afterall, a tornado is the ultimate goal, hail comes second. We dip into Oklahoma briefly but turned back around to view the storm, we can see the base, precip shaft and some mean looking scud tags.
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The storm begins to pull away so back north we go, I make the call to slice through the hook precip from the west as we turn onto rt 166. Radar shot of us and other chasers attempting this somewhat foolish maneuver.Image Hosted by

After a few minutes of blinding rain [but no hail
boooo] someone flips the precip switch to off…and we are in the bears
cage. There is violent motions above us and back to our SW…and sure
enough, chasers all around us. Then, a big beefy wall cloud comes into
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The wall cloud passes right over us, and the wicked turbulent motions also pass overheard. Once off to our NE by about a mile, we notice some rapid rising motions, then suddenly violent rotation as 3 finger/scud like appendages drop down, We cannot see the ground because of the trees but I mention to Mike and Danny I would not be surprised if something had reached the ground…something being a tornado. Here is Dannys video of this, it begins around :58

I was not convinced, but several other chasers viewed this from different angles, including Reed Timmer, and theyve got evidence to support this was a tornado, a brief, weak, rain wrapped tornado. Not the ideal tornado catch but its better than nothing!

I snapped a couple pictures of this as well.

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Time to jump in and follow. We should have went east a bit sooner, but with violent rotation and movement all around us it was hard to tell just which area to focus on. The storm began going through cycles at this point. Occluding its old area of rotation and forming new ones, we pursued it for awhile and kept pace with it…till we got to Arkansas City, which was much much larger than I had thought. Otherwise I would have went around it. Downtown stop lights at every block really got us behind the storm. Some pictures to tell the sequence:

As we began pursuit:

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Keeping pace as rotation area begins to look sloppy:Image Hosted by
Almost gone:
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Gone…but still wicked looking:
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After Arkansas City, way behind now…no visible wall cloud or rotation.Image Hosted by
As we started to gain ground on highway roads again we were treated to a nice bright rainbow:Image Hosted by

We made it to highway 160 and the storm just fell apart completely. There were allot of chasers in this area too. Those who managed to get out of AR city before us got treated to another dusty, multi vortex tornado, my hat goes off to them.

So now thats done and were left with the decision of what to do next. There were nice cells in Oklahoma…too far. The dryline was still on the move so our plan was to head to the nearest down and gobble up some data to plan the next move. We still had a few hours of daylight left. On the way there I noticed some precip shafts to our SW, and some pretty nice looking ones, so I detoured us south to see what would come of it. Another good call. These new storms were now strengthening and began showing more hail on radar as well as warnings. We would let them come to us.

The first storm passed over us with some dime size hail. The next storm looked a little bit better so once it got close we decided to wait for the core and then bolt east ahead of it so we could be east of any potential hook region once it crossed the road.Here is Dannys video of the storm with some hail, wind and rain. I have video too but its nearly identical.

Radar shot of us riding out the core of the first storm.Image Hosted by

Once we emerged from the core I pulled over and as the area of interest passed to our west and then off to the NE I snapped a couple pictures:

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It began to weaken and the latest MD [mesoscale discussion] called for more intense storms to develop along the dryline as the cold front intersected it. The dryline itself had begun to retreat back west, and it was a very Impressive dryline, Infront of it readings were about 72/58 whereas behind it the readings coming in were around 65/16!! We decided to head back west down 166 to Arkansas City again. Stopping a couple times to snap pictures of some distant storms being lit up by the setting sun:
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A very nice storm that was north of OKC, lots of chasers were on this but it was out of range for us.Image Hosted by
The storm we had just viewed from up close…about 15 minutes later as it speed away into the night.Image Hosted by
Trying a different camera setting, worked well.Image Hosted by

So now we were in Arkansas City…again. This time we stopped at Sonics and had some dinner. We sat there for a little over an hour as we kept an eye on what was going on with the weather, The cold front began intersecting the dryline and convection was erupting but it was way off to the north. We decided to start heading back to I-35 thinking that as we drove the convection would begin to fire further to the south. This never happened, but we were able to watch allot of lightning from within the distant towers, its so dark out there that you were able to see. We arrived back in Wichita with no new convection still so we just went back to Mikes house. I was exhausted by this point so I didnt really mind. While there we reviewed footage, I had a few beers. Then…lightning and thunder…convection exploded rapidly to the west…but was moving nearly stationary and never really made it. I finally couldnt hang on anymore and crashed to the sound of distant thunder.

What made this chase so awesome was the non stop action. Most chases a good chunk of the day is spent waiting, and driving, 6 hours of nothing for maybe 1 hour of storms. Today we were on some kind of storm from 2pm all the way till the end at 10pm. Intercepting, sampling, photographing and video taping all sorts of weather, and just about every kind there is! While we didnt score the ideal tornado, the rotation above was violent, and awesome to watch. All the hail and structure just added to the flavor of the chase. I definitely dont regret making the trip.
Chase Stats:
Tornadoes: 1
Hail: Penny [.75″]
Highest wind: Est 6omph
Miles: Approx 1940
Noob mistake: I forgot to press the record button on the camera for the first few minutes of us being in the bears cage, luckily Dan was on top of it!
Google map of the chase…this might be changed slightly in the coming days, we were all over the place.
My target area verified nicely. SPC storm reports:

There we have chase #3. A great chase filled with many elements. Im happy the year is already a success tornado wise, and Ive got some nice pictures. Im already watching the next system move in! Until next time…

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