May 23 2008 Kansas Tornado Outbreak

Mar 05, 2012

Summary:

Drove all morning through Nebraska crapvection and flooding. Finally decided to play further south in Kansas where the warmer air was, a very smart decision. Met up with fellow Chicagoland chasers Chad Cowan and Skip Talbot along with their buddy Nick. Core punched our 1st storm of the day and got blasted with hail up to half dollar size, got stuck in the mud for an hour, got back on the chase and intercepted 3 more tornadic storms including a real monster of a supercell near Ness city. Caught what I do believe is a tornado on film. Followed this storm to Ellis KS where we experienced 60-65mph inflow winds. Then had a very close call with a tornado as it moved through Ellis. Called it a chase after that and had dinner at Applebees in Hays, KS along with every other storm chaser in the country it seemed.

Stats:

Tornadoes: 2 [this is a preliminary number that could go up or down]

Largest hail: 1.75″ [golf-ball.]
Highest wind: Estimated 60-65mph inflow!
Other features: massive wall clouds, tail clouds, mammatus clouds.

Mile: approx 1100, the entire trip was 3250.

Lesson learned: Don’t follow people onto muddy fields when you drive a Rear wheel drive van. You will miss the quinter wedgefest!

Detailed account:

Left Chicago with Matt and Debbie around 11pm, drove all night, getting a taste of what was to come with some night time storms in western IA and then driving through the mornings crapvection all over Nebraska. As you can see Matt and Deb were quite comfy the whole time:

No sleep for Adam though. I Drove all the way to McCook, NE where it was monsooning and the flooding was getting pretty bad. But since thats not what we came out there for and monitoring live conditions we knew we would have to adjust our target further south and get into the warm unstable air that KS had to offer. We met up with fellow chasers Chad, Skip, and their friend in Colby, KS. There we mulled around for about an hour checking data and eating food.

Teaser storms kept firing an a southward moving outflow boundary from the previous nights storms. They quickly went severe but kept hitting the stable air and dying. They were pretty to look at from behind, but not chase-worthy.

Well around 4pm convection started showing up on radar in the juicy unstable warm sector, these were the days play and off we went! We blasted down I-70 and then south through the storms hail core, which I always enjoy! Hail is my 2nd priority while im out there:

After this things took a nasty turn, Chad pulled into a muddy field to turn us around. I knew I shouldn’t have followed him knowing my van is rear wheel drive, but people following us also turned off the same road so I moved onto the field to let them by. Sure enough, all 3 of us became stuck in the mud. They were able to free themselves after about 10 minutes, but not me. So we fought and tried to free the van but to no avail. An angry farmer came, guilt tripped me for about 10 minutes and then said he would pull me out for 100 bucks.
All I wanted to do was continue the chase so I quickly wrote out a check and we were back on our way. I knew he was full of shit about me ruining his planted field. It was littered with twisted sheet metal, 2x4s, oil barrels and barbed wire. If it was indeed planted I sure as hell don’t want to eat whatever food comes out of it.

Shortly after that another chaser infront of us takes a nose dive into the road side ditch, those kansas muddy roads are brutal. We stop to see if we can help but there is nothing we can do. Then we notice these beauties laying all over the place:

These were about golf ball size. Since they had been sitting there melting for awhile they were probably baseballs at some point. It is probably a good thing I got stuck because If I hadnt we would have driven through these as they were falling and it would have been game over for my windshield. Large hail is an amazing sight though knowing it fell out of the sky.

Back on the chase we go playing catch up which is never a good way to chase but our only option. We caught up with some more storms as my van got muddier and muddier:

Skips van was getting muddy too.

You can actually see the hail falling [the white streak]

After we let this storm go we sort of wasted a couple hours trying to pick the right storm to be on and didn’t really experience any action. Then a real monster appeared on radar to our south. A flying eagle supercell!

This was our new target and the healthiest looking storm on radar so we gassed up, cleaned our windows and headlights and blasted south after it.

Van is fully covered in mud by now!

On the way we saw some beautiful mammatus clouds, which can look pretty intimidating if the light hits them the right way. They however, are harmless but are often associated with violent thunderstorms and generally form under the anvil region.

We start to see our storm, now near the town of Ness City. The time is around 730pm now and daylight is fading making my still camera useless.

The storm doesn’t look impressing yet but wait till you see this video. It shows how much of a monster it truly was. We sat just infront of it as even the Discovery Channel and many other chasers fled. I was staring into the heart of the rotation when I look to my left to see what I believe is a tornado. Within the rain shaft was a very well defined shadow that just appeared suddenly and then lifted off the ground about a minute later.
I debated about this for a long time, and asked the opinions of many others. It is questionable but I do believe it to be a tornado! Spotting in an HP environment is tricky, and the tornadoes these storms produce are never clear. Anyways, check out the video of this monster!

Staring into that thing was incredible. Here are a few stills:

This very same storm would almost roll us as we followed it into Ellis, KS. Here is a story which could make a blog of its own.

As we observed it from the east the inflow winds really cranked up reaching severe limits we knew this beast was going to continue on its way. As we neared the town of Ellis we realize something, the NOAA radio starts screaming, the sirens are going off. It is now dusk and our internet connection comes back. The tornado is heading into the west side of town and coming directly at us. It was time to get the hell out of there.

The whole thing played out like a movie. With sirens blaring as we enter town all the power goes out. We punch the pedals doing 70 in a 20 to get ouf there, cops and a few other cars are behind us, also fleeing. Then flying debris nearly slams into skips van [which they have on tape!] We make it to I-70 and blast east and breathe a sigh of relief when suddenly Matt shouts I CAN SEE IT! I signal to pull over and jump out of my seat to sure enough, see a drill bit tornado going through town with powerflashes occuring one after another. I run back to get my video camera and by the time I get back its gone. It was a very, VERY close call for us and reminder as to the danger involved in what we do. We phone in the reports to the NWS and continue to track and observe the storm.

 

My video shows only the sirens going off as we head into town, but the video Chad got is incredible and shows everything. He has it featured on a DVD available for purchase at www.chasethestorms.com

The whole experience was pretty intense, we all breathed a sigh of relief and were thankful we got out of there in time. As we sat on the side of I-70 emergency vehicles started pouring into the town. We knew it had been hit and that we had barely escaped. Here is a still from the side of the highway of a bowl shaped lowering, possibly a funnel. The town would be off to the left of the photo.

This radar image shows just how close we were. The area in the pink circle is the “hook region” of the storm, where a tornado likely would be. The little red circle is a meso marker indicating the storm has strong rotation. The arrow is pointing to Skips spotter network icon and our exact position. Mine was broke at the time.

Here on the velocity image you can see the strong rotation within this monster as it was near Ness City! The indicator icons are a bit behind. Hooray for no data-zones in Kansas where we can’t get updated info.

So we followed this storm for a bit, catching a few glimpses of what could be night time tornadoes and eventually call it a chase when it gets too far ahead of us. We head into the city of Hays and eat dinner at Applebees, it was the only resteraunt open and every chaser in the county flocked there for a meal and to show pics and videos from the day.

 

Day 1 was a wild day that included just about every element of chasing. The trip was already a success. We headed into Russel, KS to find a hotel since every room in Hays was booked. We still had at least 3 more days of chasing ahead of us!

Storm reports for the day including the detailed one about the Ellis, KS tornados.

0217 1 N ELLIS ELLIS KS 3895 9956 TORNADOES WERE REPORTED, ONE LARGE AND ONE SMALL. THE LARGER ONE WAS JUST NORTH OF THE I-70 AT THE ELLIS INTERCHANGE. (DDC)

0132 ELLIS ELLIS KS 3894 9956 TWO DAMAGING TORNADOES WERE REPORTED, WITH LOTS OF POWER FLASHES OBSERVED. (DDC)

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