Rozel Kansas Tornado May 18th 2013

May 23, 2013

Summary:

Sat around in Greensburg most of the day fearing a bust when storm exploded to life. Caught 2 very photogenic tornadoes including the Rozel, KS EF-4 which I was able to document the entire life cycle of. Called chase as storms congealed and had steak dinner in Great Bend, KS to celebrate.

 

 

Stats:

Tornadoes: 2

Hail: .25″ (pea)

Wind: N/A

The Forecast:

A deep trough moving into the plains with ample shear and instability in place for supercells and tornadoes. Everything was in place, but the big concern for tornado potential was high LCLs due to strong surface heating forecast to be into the mid 90s with dewpoints generally in the upper 60s/low 70s. Extreme cape around 4500 could potentially offset this, but the main threats today appeared to be very large hail. Still, with such strong cape in place, strong tornadoes would be possible if storms could root closer to the surface. The SPC put out a Moderate risk for hail, with my favorite 10 hatched tornado probabilities across Kansas and into Oklahoma.

 

Detailed Account:

2013 had been off to a record low tornado season at this point. Good news for every0ne except bored storm chasers. This system began to appear on the models 10 days out, and it began to peak my interest. The initial pieces of energy produced strong tornadoes during the week, leading me to believe that once the real system arrived, we would be dealing with a string of active chase days. In an usual twist of fate, I had a hard time filling seats in the chase truck. Some of my usual partners had already departed to chase the day before which ended up busting, and many others could not tag along since I planned to chase Monday in the plains and would not be back for work obligations Tuesday. A chaser from the area named Joe Pudlik, who had been trying to meet up to chase with me for awhile was able to jump on board. Danny Neal, my past partner in crime wanted to wait an extra day, but I finally convinced him to leave a day early and the 3 of us set sail from Chicago around 1am.

This would be the first run to the plains with my vehicle of the year, which I had spent thousands of dollars on during previous months doing extensive maintenance so I was curious to see how it would perform. I managed to grind through all the driving and we arrived in Greensburg, KS a little after noon to greet all the other chasers in the area. The forecast was looking pretty good. A deck of stratus clouds kept the surface temperatures lower through most of the day but managed to clear out in time to allow heating, which would help with the LCL heights since temps would not be approaching the 100s like they were in Oklahoma. Still, temps did reach the low 90s and it was a bit of a concern. To the north though temps were holding in the mid 80s which was a positive sign.

Another positive sign were the development of beefy cumulus towers off the dryline as we sat in Greensburg waiting.

A few tried to get going into storms, but struggled against the strong cap, which looked breakable, but it was still early and experience told me not to get suckered after them and to hold tight. A strom blew up well to the north that began dropping reported tornadoes and the temptation was tough to fight off. It was now 6pm and we were starting to fear a bust. A cluster of storms was ongoing to the south but looked like a linear mess despite a weird MD from the SPC saying tornado threat was highest in that area even though the surface obs were showing 100/60 (ideally for tornadoes you want a less than 20 difference between those numbers.)  A storm blew up just to our east that had a nice base and caught Danny’s attention. We argued and debated which storm to go after for awhile, Joe wanting to go south, Danny wanting to stick with the middle storm, and me wanting to go to the north storm with reported tornadoes and perhaps check out the middle storm on the way.

We started going for the middle storm, but then it weakened on radar and we bailed south for the south storms, but then a vice versa happened and we turned around again for the north storms. I began to favor the middle storm as a cell merger was about to take place which made me think of a similar scenario back on June 10th 2010 that worked out well. Sure enough as we approached the base began to look really good. Lightning was picking up and Danny wanted to get stills but I insisted we keep north a few more miles to put us northeast of any rotation that could develop and also be in a spot to watch the storm for a good deal of time instead of cat and mousing it every 5 minutes. I found a spot and we pulled off. Not long afterwards the first signs of rotation really began to pick up.

The rotation began to tighten up and I couldn’t believe a big tornado was about to develop. I set up my camera on the tripod, aimed the live stream, and posted to social media to tune in. Not long after, a funnel slowly started to form.

The funnel teased us for a couple minutes by only half way condensing. Finally the first little poof of fust whirled up from the ground and it was an official tornado.

Even after being on the ground for only a second it was already the best tornado I had witnessed since November 7th 2011 and I was ecstatic.  The tornado took awhile to fully plant and condense, but when it did it grew rapidly into a really fat trunk.

I was shooting video and streaming the entire time. The tornado lasted an incredible 26 minutes and we caught the whole thing from birth to death. I pulled this still shot from the video of an amazing lightning strike.

The tornado occluded to the north underneath a beautiful RFD cut. After being gone visually for a few minutes a new tornado  touched down under the same circulation. We were a little far away from this and I decided it was time to move north to get into position for the next one.

As we moved north we ran into a growing problem I hate dealing with, police road blocks. This interfered with where I wanted to go but I was able to keep us moving north as a new tornado touched down to our east. This was another beautiful tornado backlit a grey/white against a green core with lots of lightning. We were closer to it than the previous ones which made for really good shots, though light was fading so I stuck with video. This tornado lasted a good 10 minutes and displayed lots of wild motions. It began to wrap around the parent meso and actually movwed back west closer to us instead of continuing off to the east. Luckily it was not stronger because the cops had us all blocked on our road. Eventually they and everyone else began to slowly move but we held out position a little while longer, as we moved we drove under the occluding circulation and experienced a pretty fast wind shift.

We pulled over shortly down the road and the tornado, still in its rope stage was now on the other side of us underneath a brilliant display of mammatus. I was wowed by the sight and continued filming/video taping. The following are a combination of video shots and pictures from this tornado.

The storms had begun lining out by now so rather than pursue them we decided to let the storm slip away and watching lightning on the back side as well as regain our thoughts. This was the chase I had been longing for since the end of 2011 and there was allot of emotion to take in. Also, while filming this tornado I took a nasty fall when I slipped on the wet embankment so I was in quite a bit of pain and needed to take a break from trying to move so fast. We began to run into some of our familiar chasing pals and we decided to meet up in Great Bend, KS for a celebratory steak dinner, where it was all smiles all around. Alec and Jon, 2 of my regular partners as well as other good friends Nick Nolte and Jeremy Degenhart were also there.

Video clips of the tornadoes can be seen on the facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151452548743807&set=vb.167447826684097&type=3&theater
Conlcusion:

As mentioned above, this was the chase I desperately needed. 2013 flipped the switch in a positive direction and I felt reborn. The tornadoes were beautiful, long lived and photogenic. This may very well round out my top 5 chases of my career.  There really isn’t anything more to say, this was an amazing chase, plain and simple. The Rozel, KS was rated EF-4 based off doppler measurements taken nearby. It did strike a farm house, but luckily noone was hurt. It was the perfect way to start a multi day trip on the plains.

Map. Red track is Rozel tornado. Green track is my best guess at tornado #3. Black circles are where we documented them from.

SPC Reports:

Rozel Tornado Facts:

MAXIMUM EF-SCALE RATING: EF4

FATALITIES:  NONE
INJURIES:    NONE

BEGIN TIME/LOCATION:  7:18 PM CDT SIX MILES SOUTHWEST OF ROZEL.
END TIME/LOCATION:    7:47 PM CDT THREE MILES NORTHWEST OF ROZEL. 

MAXIMUM ESTIMATED WIND SPEED:  165 TO 185 MPH
PATH LENGTH:                   7 MILES
MAXIMUM PATH WIDTH:            1100 YARDS

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