Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chase Log: May 4, 2007 Greensburg, KS Violent Tornadoes

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.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chase Log: April 22, 2010 W Kansas Tornadoes

As tornado season is rapidly approaching I thought I'd add a chase log here or there from the past. Today's is from April 22, 2010 a great chase day in far W Kansas where we bagged 5 tornadoes between Lakin and Shallow Water.

Forecast: A surface low was located in E Colorado with a warm front stretching from SE Colorado into SW Kansas and a dryline extending from SE Colorado into SW KS into the TX Panhandle. Upper 50/low 60 dews were setting up along the dryline with nice SE/E 850mb winds aloft and a moderate 500mb winds out of the SW. This created great directional shear over a large area of the Southern Plains. We were torn between 2 targets 1)E TX Panhandle 2)SE CO/SW KS. Both targets looked good but SW Kansas had winds howling straight out of the east with due east 850s and WSW 500s creating more than a 90 degree turning with height. This allowed helicity values along the warm front to be in the 400-600m2/s2 range and with low 60F dews projected to push as far west as the KS/CO border it was an easy choice for my dad and I. SW Kansas or bust. Not to mention little to no chasers targeting this area so we would have it nearly to ourselves.

Summary: We spent the nighe before in Wichita not knowing if we would target the TX Panhandle or SW Kansas so if we were in Wichita we would have quicker access to either target. The following morning it was clear SE CO/SW KS was the play more specifically the Holly, CO to Syracuse, KS corridor. We left Wichita after breakfast for Syracuse, KS hoping to arrive by 2-3pm. We were making good time so we stopped in Dodge City for a longer lunch than anticipated and came out only to see an MD was issued for SE CO/SW KS mentioning a tornado watch would be issued. As we approached Garden City I got a call from Michael Carlson who said a storm had already fired near La Junta, CO and had produced 2 tornadoes. We immediately were dissipointed but knew the day was young so we kept on west. Then near Syracuse we got into some quarter sized hail that boosted our spirits followed by an elevated tornado warned storm near Granada, CO. We decided to needed to be further east as more storms fired near Syracuse our original target. After blasting east through a few more storms cores we positioned ourselves south of Lakin where a tornado warned storm was approaching.As it crossed the Arkansas River we could make out this massive EF2 wedge that quickly became rain wrapped shortly after this was taken south of Lakin looking west.

Amazing structure on this storm as we position ourselves NE of the large tornado seen underneath near the center of the image. We are NE of Lakin here.

The next tornado was a nice fat cone that we saw quite a distance as the meso occluded to our SW. This was near Deerfield, KS.

The third tornado of the day was also the most photogenic it was a massive cone that slowly took its time roping out well SW of Friend, KS.

The next tornado developed very quickly and was a large wedge that quickly became rain wrapped near due west of Friend, KS.

The final tornado of the day was likely a satellite to the fourth tornado and was very brief lasting only seconds. Looking west from a mile north of Shallow Water, KS.

After the final tornado dissipated the storm had become a monster HP that we didn't want to continue chasing so we let the RFD slam us which it did with 60+MPH winds and driving rain and then we drove on south to Garden City for some dinner before driving to McPherson, KS for the night in anticipation of another chase in Nebraska the following day.