This was a very eye opening chase for my dad and I and one of the most memorable of my life considering how young we were as chasers being only chasing for our second season.
Forecast: It was obvious days in advance that the May 4-5 timeframe was going to be HUGE over W/C Kansas and the target seemed to be fairly simple setup NE of the dryline bulge. May 4 was the so called "day before the day" were the upper level system was still lagging behind the Rockies but had just enough energy plowing into the C Plains to get storms to at least initiate and have sufficient shear to go tornadic. A warm front was draped from NW Kansas into SC Kansas with a dryline extending south from Colby, KS SE towards Dodge City and the TX/OK border. Dewpoints near 70F would allow extreme instability to develop over much of W/C Kansas as a strong LLJ out of the SE under a moderate SW 500mb jet created plenty of shear to get storms spinning...if the cap could break. A dryline bulge was looking to setup near Kinsley, KS and we wanted to be NE of that area so we targeted Great Bend, KS with quick access to go north to the warm front if we had to.
Summary: We left Olathe at 10am expecting to be in Great Bend by 3pm. Once we arrived in Great Bend we stopped and chatted with numerous chasers as we waited for the cap to break. A tornado watch was issued for the area but things weren't looking to promising as there was little cu activity occuring and it was getting to be past peak heating. A storm exploded down in NW Oklahoma near Woodward and dropped a tornado. With nothing else looking good we decided to at least head south in that direction to maybe intercept that storm eventually or pray a new storm fires further north. As we approached Medicine Lodge it was looking bleak and I went as far as to call it a bust. My dad however was more optimistic and noticed the left split of the Woodward storm strengthening to our SW near the KS/OK border south of Coldwater, KS. We quickly headed west hoping to get on the storm before dark. As we drove into Coldwater a tornado warning was issued for the storm and we could see a long inflow tail to our west. The chase was on!
It wasn't long before we could see the base and it was an incredible supercell with amazing structure and a tornado appeared imminent. We were just east of Protection, KS when it put down the first truncated cone.
We quickly turned north out of Protection as the last light of the day faded away. It wasn't long before we saw the next tornado of the day to our NW. It morphed from a cone to a stovepipe lasting nearly 10 minutes before roping out over the road.
The next tornado occured as the other tornado was roping out however it occured to our NE and was quite brief.
Minutes after the third tornado dissipated we had a new tornado quickly touch down to our NE and grow into a massive cone then stovepipe we would have to stop chasing this tornado however because of the road becoming too muddy. Little did we know this was the start of the Greensburg tornado.
After backtracking back into Protection and then east to Coldwater we finally began blasting north of US183 towards the storm again. The structure from a distance was incredible and I just wish it could have happened in the daytime. We finally got a glimpse of the MASSIVE wedge as it was crossing the road to our north.
We found a good place to pull off and watch the massive wedge move into Greensburg as numerous power flashes made us realize our worst fear that the town was taking a direct hit. As its widest the EF5 tornado was 1.7 miles wide and the inflow was incredible likely over 60MPH at times and were 4-5 miles from the tornado! The structure above was unlike anything I have ever seen as the size of the tornado was almost terrifying to see through the frequent lightning strikes. We finally moved closer as the tornado roped out back over the road.
We then spent the next few hours assisting in clearing the road and search effort in Greensburg before calling it a night and heading to Pratt exhausted and shocked at what we had just seen. The following day would also prove to be interesting.