Marginal Greatness

10 May 2016

We woke in Hays, Kansas. Today there were at least 4 areas where storms were expected. We had already discounted southern Texas and the east due to logistics but we did have a couple of other options - a marginal set up of storms firing off the cold front further to our north in Nebraska (about 5 hours to our north in fact so potentially quite a challenge seeing as though it was midday) or the Colorado / Kansas border where although moisture was limited, the upslope flow might be enough to kick start some afternoon storms. For once we didn't go for Colorado.

Instead we headed up Nebraska way in the hope that the cold front would dig in and make good from an area where both CAPE and shear looked reasonable. As we drove, we could see the front out to the west and some initial convection had started up in northeast Nebraska. We were still a fair way off though, just north of the I80 and hoped that as the front pushed through the convection would initiate closer to us. Indeed it did and we stopped to watch as a cell fired nearby. Whilst waiting for the approaching storm we were befriended by a charming Nebraskan kid who had run all the way from his house when he saw our car pull up about half a mile from it. Passers-by obviously don't pull up all that often out that way. He quizzed us on what we were doing and loved the fact we were chasing storms. When Tim explained to this 8 year old kid from backcountry Nebraska that the reason the storms glow green is due to the light refracting through the ice in the storm he responded with 'isn't it amazing to think of that process going on up there right now'! It wasn't the response expected and he seemed a smart kid. He then ran back home and before we knew it we had him, his dog, his brother and his Mum out talking to us. A lovely family who explained how they had started growing grapes to sell to the local winery. The kid was so excited to mention how they also had kittens. They had tons of land, and a horse and said they have a storm shelter too if we ever need one. A gem of a family. I confirmed they needn't worry as there wasn't going to be much in the way of harmful weather to their crop today. Relieved they returned back to their house, their Mum giving a piggy back to the youngest of the brothers. I think it was at this point, the storms decided to make me look a fool and got really big!

The storm we had been watching was moving into an area where moisture was even more abundant and it continued ingesting this as it went, developing quite the hail core (luckily downstream of our new friend's crop).

Hail core of cell

Tracking with it was tricky to start with due to a closed main road that didn't show up on the sat nav. Not entirely sure of the best way to go, our hesitant driving was enough to catch the eye of a lovely old local driving the opposite way who in no time had his window down asking us where we were wanting to go. With hearty demeanour his sound knowledge of all the back roads soon got us back on course and before we knew it we were on the storm and in a fantastic position to watch as it became surface based. We noticed some circulation beneath the storm and it was at this point that a tornado was reported. These are the photos we manged to take but it wasn't clear to us whether this was tornado or a gustnado at the time. Whatever it was, it was pretty awesome.

Reported tornado

Reported tornado close up

We took a road east to get out in front of it and what a sight it became. The structure was amazing as the storm became organised. The cows however seemed to be more interested in us rather than what was behind them.

Supercell structure & trees

Another quick decision to head south on what appeared to be a new paved road but wasn't marked on google maps helped maintain a good position on the storm and we were lucky in that it was extremely slow moving allowing us the chance to get out and get even more pics.

Timbo & the shelf cloud

The cold outflow had us return to the car where we watched, eating some delicious raspberries as it rolled past whilst appearing to lose it's intensity. But that wasn't to be the end and it picked up again. We were on a fantastic road to continue tracking with it and together with a handful of other chasers watched as more dust was kicked up and the storm itself started to take on quite the 'mothership' appearance.

Mothership supercell

We raced up and down the road a few times, splitting our focus between both this storm and a few other cells that were following behind this one and getting some cool shots of the lightning in the now fading light.

Whales mouth lightning

As the storms rolled off to the north we realised how famished we were so found ourselves a motel in the nearby town of York where free cookies on reception and a view of the storm fading off into the distance kept us entertained until the full course of beans and another approaching line of storms took us to day end. A great day on the Plains with people and storms alike.

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

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Tue May 2016

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Tue May 2016

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