Scary Dust Swirls

11 June 2014

A slightly rough awakening in Sidney, due to aching limbs after endless hours in the car over the last few days, kept us from setting our sights too far today. The slight risk area stretched right up into Minnesota, where arguably the parameters were more favourable for a tornado risk but we decided to play the western side of the slight risk in Kansas which offered the potential for high based supercell structures in eastern Colorado and western Kansas before upscale growth into an MCS later in the evening. These storms were due to initiate off a cold front associated with a northern impulse moving southeast across the northern and central plains and hopefully even more uplift was possible where this was to intersect with the dryline which stretched down to Texas.

We headed straight south towards Colby in Kansas. We could see cells developing to the west on the border with Colorado, but we decided to leave these for later and headed to a more discrete looking cell that we could intercept at Scott City. Its top was visible from quite a distance and it looked a good target, out in front of the lined up storms on the border. As we neared, it became tornado warned but unfortunately it split and weakened well before we were near enough to make out any structure. This led us to backtrack a little, back up the same road we’d just driven down where we hoped to get on the strongest of the storms in the now forming line out to the west. If we were lucky, we may be able to catch it in a semi discrete phase before they all congealed.

By the time we’d got back north again, this plan didn’t seem plausible, so to avoid just being faced with a big rainy wall and lack of structure, we headed back down to the road, once again in the direction of Scott City where we could position on the end storm in the line. This is always a good bet and poses the chance of a tail end Charlie tornado. In hindsight we should probably have chosen to do this before heading back up north last time, but the draw of the stronger cells north at that time overruled!

By the time we got south, the cell on the end was ramping up nicely and gave us quite a view. We chose to drive straight at it, but as we did, this part of the line seriously picked up pace and we didn’t have long for photos before we were forced to jump back into the car and drive as fast as we could to avoid getting caught up in the numerous swirling dusty circulations at the surface.


There was nearly no one else on the roads out here and at each side, the dust was gaining on us, mostly being kicked up by the outflow. Some of the stronger circulations could easily have been misconstrued for being tornadic. We were going at quite a speed now to outrun the leading edge of the storm but the circulations were still gaining on us. To avoid getting caught in the dusty obscurity of one particularly strong circulation, we had to drive full pelt to get out the other side. It was one adrenaline fuelled moment.

The storm didn’t let up and it chased us all the way back to Scott City. Looking on radar it seemed the entire line was now starting to envelope us. The cells above us were heading south east and the cells to our west was heading straight east. There was nothing left to do, but grab a motel in Scott City and let the entire system pass overhead.

The change in light to an ominous dark green as the storm approached town really was so dramatic.


We attempted to get a few photos but the sudden gusts had us ditch the tripods for a beer! Rain lashed at the window and the lightning even temporarily blew the lights. And the storm just went on and on! The deepness partly attributed to it being in an early stage of MCS development. What fun, especially, being positioned perfectly this time - from the safety of a brick motel with gigantic windows! 

SPC Day 1 Weather Outlook as at 06:00UTC (01:00 Central Time the night before)

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Wed June 2014

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Wed June 2014

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