Tracked multiple supercells near Wichita, KS. One of them eventually ramped up and almost produced a tornado but could not quite get it done.
Hail: .75″ (Penny)
Wind: est 70mph RFD
Autumn system moving into the Central/Southern plains bringing seasonably strong speed/directional shear. Nature of moisture return looked to be ‘just-in-time’ and there was also a crashing cold front that looked like it would rapidly overtake a dryline as the system quickly ejected. Still, moisture and available instability would support severe thunderstorm development, with potential supercells in early lifecycles before flow veered out with the approach of the front. Given the likelyhood of numerous storms and favorable severe parameters, SPC felt confident enough to at least go with ENHANCED tornado probabilities.
Like always, it had been a long summer and early fall without any storm chasing. The fall season always brings a sense of renewed hope nature can throw us a bone, but its never a guarantee in any year. This day happened to fall on the anniversary of one of my most significant fall chases, the Wayne, NE EF-4 that took out my back window after getting too close. I went back and forth about biting on this setup…there was a chance, but I had enough concerns to not make it an easy decision.
Chelsea Burnett made herself available and down to chase, which helped sway my decision to chase and we agreed to meet in Wichita. I was trying to play the area where better moisture would overlap the tail end of the best shear. It was a typical “best-dynamics-north-best-thermos-south” type scenario, so I usually try to hit where they overlap. Forecast models also consistently initiated in this area as well.
On the way down things started to favor the dryline further south near Oklahoma City lighting up, with an isolated supercell forming in that area. Consistent runs of the HRRR started showing this, which of course got everyone excited and the talk of big tornadoes began taking over social media. I was sweating. I could make it, but in the days last night. I still wasn’t convinced it would happen, but its hard to ignore the hype. I decided to just stick with the original target since nothing about it changed. Chelsea met me up at the hotel I had booked and we were quickly off, just as the days first storms began initiating.
What an easy plan of attack this would be. Some towering convection on the way. I’ve missed this.
Indeed too many storms were going up at once. Not only was it hard to pick one, but it meant they would be competing for environment, which usually makes for difficult chases. We stopped to take a look at the first storm, which quickly began weakening. A storm to the north was strengthening, and so was one to the south. Since it was a now or never deal on the north storm I decided to tail it, just in case. Its easier to drop south if we need to afterall.
I bailed on this storm for the southern-most storm, which now appeared like it would take over. Core punching near the town of Cheney we got into position inside the notch and noted some scuddy lowerings being pushed out by outflow.
Unfortunately for us, by now we’re approaching the outskirts of the Wichita area. The storm was also going very HP and the sun was slowly fading. Roads forced us into a hook slice option from the south. Emerging into the notch once again we were blasted by very intense RFD and noted swirling rain bands underneath a wall cloud. The storm looked very close to producing here and I got excited. The storm was wrapping up quick with a nice hook on radar and we were in really good position.
As we pursued it the best we could, large pieces of plywood and other debris from a construction site began being hurled across the road. I finally pulled out the camera to start filming as Chelsea exclaimed she was seeing rotating debris…they turned out to be birds. Dumb birds.
Keeping pace with the storm was tough due to locals and increasing red lights. I got us a little bit ahead of it to give it more time as the structure picked up dramatically in the setting sun. I tried to find a decent view to pull over but we were now in a more populated area with trees and buildings.
The storm was rotating hard but could not quite tighten up. Light was almost fading now and I decided to try and blast east for lightning shots as the storm was becoming more elongated and I felt less confident in tornado production. It was in doing this that we were treated to amazing tiered meso-cyclone structure. Unforuntaley my crappy i-phone could not pick it up, but Chelseas was able to somewhat. Also, I had broken my DSLR during a trip to Moab, UT in July and it was not in an operable state.
We observed the structure and lightning for a bit before calling the chase and heading back to Wichita for some delicious dinner at BJ’s (lol) before returning to our hotel for a relaxing evening. Oh, and only an LP supercell went up near Oklahoma City that produced hail and updraft structure.
A marginally difficult, but enjoyable chase. I feel we made all the right calls with targeting and positioning, the storm just could not wrap up all the way. The concerns verified with shear veering out as the front approached, but it did come really close and it was nice to be out again. In the fall, you take what you can get!
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