Saw more tornadoes than on any other chase in my career. Got stuck in the mud and pounded by baseball size hail.
Tornadoes 14! (best estimate)
Hail: 2.75″ (Baseball)
Time getting stuck in chasing career: 3
Same trough in place, moisture on the increase. Dryline sharpening that would intersect an outflow boundary left by the previous nights storms over southwest Kansas. A jet max along with a shortwave rounding the trough was forecast to favorably track over the target area. Additionally, the intersecting boundaries would provide enhanced low level shear creating a small, but very potent environment for tornadoes. If a storm went up here, it would be a tornado machine. This was not lost on SPC either, as they highlighted the area perfect with a 10 – hatched.
We awoke in our hotel well rested. A quick look at the forecast and to me it was obvious. Today was going to be a memorable chase. Every now and then mother nature puts together a setup so good, you just can’t help be foolishly excited and today was one of those days. The target was obvious. Get on that boundary intersection and if/when a storm goes up – make sure you don’t forget to press record.
We made our way back up to Woodward in good time, and milled around there for a bit. Meeting up with lots chasers. Danny was back out with Ricky and Ben from the NWS in Chicago, in addition I ran into Alec and tours again. All of us were on the same page with where we needed to be. After a quick bite the tornado watch went up and we were off, eventually going our separate ways. Driving through the Oklahoma panhandle I went west after Laverne hoping to find gas, but there was none so I had to backtrack about half an hour east to Buffalo. While filling up Ben Holcomb, Jari, Chrystal and a friend from the UK managed to find me. It always amazes me how in the middle of nowhere you can bump into friends. After gassing up we charged north and it began happening.
We were still a little ways off, but not too bad. Still, it was time to step on it and get up there to make sure we didn’t miss anything. We could see the tower exploding to life the entire time. Crossing into Kansas and reaching Highway 283 near Minneola, the first wall cloud developed.
At this point I knew we at least wouldn’t miss anything, but I wanted to be closer. Traveling up 283 we passed a constant line of chasers pulled over, waiting for the show. For miles. Everyone was here, and for good reason. I wanted to get away from the crowds and found a side road to take us west, closer to the storm. Ben must’ve had the same plan cause he made the same turn as me. Charging down a bumpy dirt road, the wall cloud began to rotate faster, and teased us with a couple funnel clouds. One apparently touched down briefly, but I was unaware of it at the time as it was too brief.
We stopped at an intersection with a minimum maintenance road, jumped out and waited. A big horizontal funnel was present, spinning on its side. Waiting to be pulled upright, it just spun and spun like a dryer, teasing us.
After about 10 agonizing minutes of this, a dust plume finally whirled up, and we had our first (technically second) tornado. the tornado wasn’t condensing at first and spent the first couple minutes of its life as a dust whirl with a dancing funnel above it. We jogged north briefly on our minimum maintenance road, jumping out once the tornado began to mature.
On either side of the tornado, we noted what are called vortex sheathes, little areas of rotation that spin up within the tornadoes inflow. The last time I witnessed this was on June 17th, 2010, my top chase.
By now a new wall cloud was spinning hard next to this ongoing tornado. I thought this tornado would soon dissipate and the new wall cloud would take over, perhaps producing an even stronger tornado. I mean, thats what typically happens right? So we moved north and I prepared to head east to get into even closer position for the next cycle. While moving north we began to run into other chasers, moving slowly struggling on the slippery Kansas mud roads. I was starting to get irritated at their presence because it was slowing me down. I had a mission and I hate when other people hinder my progress, but there was little we could do.
Still thinking the next cycle would take over, I opted to not make a closer play on this one. I came to learn a mile west there was a paved road that pretty much went straight up to it, awarding those chasers with extreme up close shots (figures.) As hard as it was, I forked up our view to make a move on the new wall cloud. Which finally put down a rope tornado, we now had two on the ground at the same time.
A second skinny rope descended from the wall cloud. 3 on the ground now. Some may argue it was the same circulation and it was a multi-vortex tornado, but they moved independently of each other.
The first two rope tornadoes had dissipated and this was still the main show, but moving more in a northwest direction, which is typical of an occluding tornado. Another tornado emerged from the wall cloud, this time a fatter rope tornado. Two on the ground again.
This tornado surprisingly did not last too long, as we kept north and closing in I looked out my window. The original tornado STILL had a ground circulation, and it was in the field next to us approaching. As it got to our road it FINALLY (for real this time) got sucked into the new wall cloud’s inflow as it was almost overhead.
Suddenly I noticed debris being lofted into the air. Another tornado was in progress, in or very near the town. By now my camera battery was running low, with about 15 minutes left and I had to save recording for better moments. We saw glimpses of the now large tornado in between the buildings, and I could see debris. We made it through the city and back on to open roads, where the beast was more visible. I filmed a short minute, then turned the camera back off.
The large tornado dissipated, and we turned north on a very muddy road as a new trunk (or maybe the same tornado – I can’t keep track anymore at this point) emerged from the rain.
Driving down the muddy road was getting increasingly challenging and I should have taken that as a clue to stop, huge gobs of mud being flung into the air landing on my windshield and getting smeared by the wipers made it hard to see.
Then, suddenly after crossing intersections with just an awful of a road, ours sloped down sharply on both sides. Into the ditch I slid. We were pretty deep into the mud, I could drive forwards and in reverse, but I could not crawl up the slopes of the ditch on either side. Going forward too far was a large puddle and I had no idea how deep it was so that was not an option either. Going in reverse had another incline. So for the moment we were stuck. Suddenly, a tornado quickly developed to our north and impacted a large structure, sending debris flying into the air.
The storm was still planting tornadoes, but we couldn’t do anything. This tornado dissipated and I began focusing on trying to get out, not paying anymore attention to the storm. It doesn’t look like it in the photo, but we are in a ditch.
Then, as if nature wasn’t done, a new storm quickly blew up right overhead and began dumping large hail on us. Not being able to position strategically I was worried about losing a back window as they increased to baseball size.
Additionally given the environment, the thought about a tornado dropping down on us crossed my mind too. Its a bit unnerving being completely at the mercy of the storm, but it reminds you truly who is boss out there. Thankfully I didn’t lose the back window, but the windshield did take a crack, and so did my drivers side mirror.
I put a post out on facebook for help, stating I was ok but if someone was in the area who could assist us it would be appreciated. Brandon Sullivan and Brett Wright agreed to come to our aid, as Brandon drives a rigged up 4-runner that should be able to easily yank us out of the ditch. The storm had slipped away out of view, but was finally weakening on radar. The show wasn’t over though and the eastern sky lit up with a brilliant display of C-rays and mammatus. At least we could take photos while we waited for help.
I heard a diesel engine slowly approaching, and a local farmer driving a flatbed showed up. Asking if we were stuck, he offered his assistance. We hooked up a chain to the back of the truck and with a quick, easy pull we were free. He unchained the truck and I slowly drove back the way we came, reaching the pavement with no issues just as Brandon and Brett showed up. I offered everyone a drink or dinner but they all refused and went on their way. Locals, in addition to other chasers always seem friendly and willing to help and I cannot thank them enough for it. The sun continued to slowly set. As dinner plans were being made we stopped to take some photos of the beautiful scenery of the departing storms.
I made plans to meet up with way too many chasers to name at a local favorite restaurant. There, we all celebrated the days amazing catches, swapping stories and videos and just being total weather geeks that were all as high as could possibly be. An extremely generous gentlemen picked up the tab too, which was well over 500 dollars given we all ordered steak dinners, a chaser tradition on days tornadoes were witnessed.
We trekked back to Woodward for the night, high on the day, but fully exhausted after it.
You can chase your whole life and only be dealt a few days and a storm like this. This day really wants to bump out June 17th, 2010 as my best chase ever, and I go back and forth in my mind about it. Definitely at least #2. Does it really matter though? There’s not much else to say. This is the kind of day that makes your year, I got all the shots I’ve been wanting all year long, and Mike got even greater stuff for our project. After going over things with numerous chasers I rest my count at 14, it was hard to tally, and not all tornadoes we saw were documented by me due to low camera batteries. It is the most tornadoes I have ever witnessed on any chase and the most occurrences of multiple tornadoes on the ground (sometimes 3) as well. This day will not be topped for awhile….but tomorrow is another chase day in this insane pattern. We’ll see.