The Wedge

25 May 2016

Today there was a slight risk in eastern Kansas - little did we know one of the few supercells they predicted would be a 1/2 mile wide wedge, covering 26 miles and staying on the ground for 1.5 hours. 

We saw the cumulus towers developing just north of McPherson, Kansas. It was perfect timing as we had just finished lunch! We jumped in the car and headed north on the I35. The first cell didn't have the strength to maintain its updraft and rained itself out after a while but another quickly developed in its wake a little further north and we were right on target for it.

But try as we could, we couldn't find anywhere with a suitable view to time-lapse the storm's approach – sloping hillsides, silos or muddy fields just didn’t provide the foreground we were after. In fact, we took such a long time trying to find somewhere that we even banded around the idea of forgetting about appropriate positioning and instead just getting involved and driving straight toward for a closer look at the risk of losing position on it at a later stage – something we rarely do, but it sounded fun and we were up for a bit of ‘up close and personal’ with the storm. So, we gave that a go, but soon retreated after it started hurling huge hailstones at us. OK, time to get a bit of distance.

Start Of Cell

Whilst driving back along the road we had just come down, we saw it develop a funnel, so quickly got out to take a picture as it made contact with the ground, kicking up a load of dust. Tornado!

25Th May 2016 Tornado 1

It didn't last long though and it was soon clear the storm had changed course and was now heading east-southeast back towards us rather than taking its previous more north-easterly track. So we pushed on to keep ahead of it. We were in a great position and there was hardly anyone else about. It developed a second funnel but it didn't have enough in it to quite reach the ground.

Second Funnel

We took dirt roads to keep with it but a sudden progression from gravel dirt roads to sloshy muddy roads meant we annoyingly had to give up our current position and were forced to take paved roads further from the storm.

25Th May 2016 Boom And Cambo

Unfortunately it was at this point it strengthened and another tornado was sighted. We drove as fast as we could to find a road that would take us east with the storm.

It wasn't long before we were back on it. The tornado had developed into a wedge. This is where the width of the circulation on the ground is wider than the distance between the ground and the cloud base hence taking on the appearance of a wedge. We'd only seen one of these before and that was from quite a distance, whereas this one was probably about 3 miles away.

Tornado

What often amazes us in scenarios like this is that looking one way you can be watching a huge tornado and in the other direction, you can still see blue sky.

Pano

The tornado continued on its track for 1.5 hours in total. We sighted it at a number of different points on its journey, from a fairly safe distance. At our closest we were about 1.5 miles from it and could not believe the the upward motion that was clearly visible along the edges of the wedge. Debris was being hurled around, just around and around in the circulation never getting closer to the ground, appearing to almost move in slow motion, but you knew full well that it was in fact hurtling at an incredible speed. It was monstrous.

Wedge

We watched as it tracked north of a town called Abilene. The sirens were going off, which always adds to the apocalyptic feel of these situations and a number of locals had driven to the outskirts of their town to watch it roll past in the distance, seemingly agitated but filming with their phones, all nervously fired up and stating to anyone who would listen how long it had been on the ground for and what damage it had done. These are often dark moments, but extremely interesting to see how different people behave.

Stovepipe 2

What was most impressive in this situation was the progressive thinking of the police department in blocking the road but still letting storm chasers through in the hope that the information they held such as current strength and forecast track may be of some help in the situation.

However, it was in the town of Abilene that we had to end the chase as the tornado’s path was going to be blocking our only road east. 

Wedge At End

We drove south for a while, hoping we might get a view of the entire storm structure from a distance. However, the light was starting to fade and another storm that had fired up above us was obscuring our view. It wasn't long before this smaller storm was ingested by the larger one, but it still gave us the chance to grab some lightning shots at dusk.

Lightning 2

As we drove back to our motel, the huge storm was still visible in the distance so we stopped to take a few more photos as it rolled away.

25Th May 2016 Storm In The Stars

The following day, a report was issued on the track and strength. Unfortunately quite a lot of structural dmage had been reported but luckily no-one was seriously injured. http://www.weather.gov/top/LongTrackTornadoHitsNorthCentralKS. It was classed as an EF4 -the strongest tornado we've seen to date by far, and one that will be hard to forget.

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

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

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Wed May 2016

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