Day 11 - Corning Tornado and a muddy escape - 28 May 2013

Today we were targeting storms initiating on a weak warm from that was pushing up to the north east of the surface low which had provided much of the impetus for the last couple of days of bad weather. This was due to be colliding with the outflow from storms that had continued overnight and into the morning, to create areas of converging winds, which act to lift the air where they meet. With plenty of moisture available it looked like a reasonably potent setup. The Storm Prediction Centre agreed, but the area covered by their forecast risks covered over 500,000 square miles, so today was a day we had to rely on our own forecasting to a greater extent than usual. Initially we wanted to chase a setup in far western Nebraska, but by the time we’d decided that, we didn’t really have time to get there. Instead we elected to target the north eastern part of the warm front in far Northern Kansas. There were next to no other chasers heading this way, but it’s always best to stick with your own decisions, but you can be left wondering why no-one else is making the same choices as you.

We made our way Marysville in northern Kansas and on the way passed the clear up operation was taking place from the damage caused by a tornado a couple of miles away from us yesterday. No-one had been hurt but a farm machinery yard and a house had been damaged, as well as some trees being taken down. The extent of the cleanup, just a few working hours later, was remarkable. The trees had all already been piled up, the house had about 6 people on the roof fixing tiles and glaziers putting windows in, and work was well under way trying to fix up the yard. The power of that tornado was easy to see as we saw parts of the yard’s corrugated iron roof strewn across fields for another mile or so of road.

In Marysville we found a park and settled down for a bit to catch up on a few down-time activities such as tinkering with camera’s or eating food that doesn’t come directly from a packet, meanwhile always keeping an eye on the sky and each new satellite imagery update for a sign of something to go after.

After a couple of hours we couldn’t see much happening but we knew the time must be close for the storms to fire up and the warm front appeared to be agitating the atmosphere a little more to our east, so we drove on a little, and after a very few minutes we saw a towering cumulus going up to our right. We dropped back a couple of miles and headed down south to try and get in underneath it. It was a good choice; the storm remained fairly stationary and was growing into quite a monster. The road network was good but was primarily farm tracks. We hacked along these as the storm grew in intensity and as we neared it a tornado warning was added to it, but this was academic; we knew the storm was clearly ready to put down a tornado any time. Our certainty of that grew as a clear and classic hook echo became visible on radar.


We carried on trying to get a clearer view and as we got closer we were able to see it forming, still a little way off, but it was clearly a fierce event.

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We jumped back in the car to try and get in closer (and ensure it had already been reported – though it was near enough to a town that local law enforcement were tracking it). After stopping to talk to a local family who had left town to watch from a distance we carried on in. It was starting to get occluded by rain, but was fairly stationary, and we were able to get a number of views of it while it as we tried to get to a better location, a short distance from Corning (KS), though as we got nearer it had lifted. We stopped to talk to a fire truck that was heading away from a viewpoint they’d been keeping an eye on the storm from. They were kind enough to offer us a warning that they had seen rotation overhead so we should be careful. We totally understood where they were coming from: it takes quite a few times of being under these storms to recognise the difference between the insanely tumultuous, yet harmless, clouds on the outer parts of the storm, and those which are genuinely dangerous.

The storm remained low and exhibiting signs of rotation as its more dangerous core approached the town of Corning. The locals were pitched around the outer roads to the south of the storm and a little ahead of them the police had blocked off the road. They all seemed quite well disposed to our presence and you get a real sense that the community pulls together in a positive way in the face of such events.

Just before the road was blocked off we found a farm track leading up a small hill which should give us an excellent view. We started down it but quickly realised that the surface of the road, a fine dirt rather than gravel, was wet, and we had very little grip. I brought the car to a stop as quickly as possible but there was next to no control as the tyres became slick with mud. We weren’t at risk from the storm as such, but it took a tense 10 minutes of manoeuvring to get the car back up the 50m we’d come down, but out we got, much to our relief and headed back into the storm. We headed a little north to continue following the storm but it seemed that the car wasn’t altogether happy with what had just taken place, and any time we exceeded 40 mph the car started shaking. We put up with it, optimistically hoping that it would somehow get better, and continued following the storm’s slow progress north east. But it was not to be, and as the storm became a little less organised, we had to head off, first to a car wash to try and reduce the evidence of how the issue had happened, then to Kansas to get a replacement car. Fortunately we were only 60 miles from Kansas, unfortunately at 40mph this was quite a tedious task!


After dropping off our poor dilapidated car, we set off west again to work out how the new car worked, and try to set ourselves up for another potent setup that was apparent for tomorrow.

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 2013

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Tue May 2013

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