Day 2 - Storm Chasing 2013 - Tornadoes. Boom!

19 May 2013

Considering we had problems actually keeping our eyes open before bed last night, I was surprised we both awoke so bright eyed and early this morning. We checked the updated forecast straight away and were blown away to see the same forecasted moderate risk for today, but also for tomorrow too. We had never seen a moderate risk 3 days in a row!

The risk covered a large area in southern Kansas, a couple of hours drive away. Before heading south, we first stopped at Walmart to pick up food for the next few days and other essentials for the trip such as a duvet for the car sleeps. We stayed at Walmart and downed some brown water (the US coffee equivalent) and decided heading straight down the I35 would take us to a suitable staging post. A few hours later, a little past Wichita, and amidst some quite overcast skies we saw the first telltale signs of some exciting convection. In particular a cell to our west was growing with rapid speed. We left the main highway and took some smaller back roads to where the storm was firing. We were happy to see some chasers behind us. This is always a reassuring sight, and to better that, we were in front this time! The road was perfect and lead us directly to the base of the storm where the cloud was starting to lower and rotate. Being a Sunday, there were chasers everywhere. As we got nearer, the tornado sirens started sounding. We quickly got out to take some photos, and as we did, we saw dust being kicked up on the ground, right underneath a funnel that had formed at the base of the cloud. Boom! Tornado number one of the day nailed!

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As the hail started to fall we had to move off. We tried to keep track with the storm as it tracked north east. It was difficult to know exactly which way was best because the radar was showing movement quite different to what seemed to be happening on the ground. The road that appeared a good navigational choice based on the radar was definitely not the road that seemed good by sight, seeing as though the previously seen tornado was passing straight across it! We therefore ditched any attempt to navigate via our GPS and instead embarked on a game of cat and mouse alongside all the other mice. Most photos had to be taken out of the car as the tornado was on our tails.

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The tornado roped out and it wasn’t long before we were caught on the outskirts of the hail core of the storm, where visibility is low and it’s rather like being in a washing machine. We managed to escape the worst of it and found a road south down some smaller farm roads where we could get a few more photos of the structure and the beautiful colours of the storm.

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At this point we decided the storm had become a bit too outflow dominant, meaning if it was to produce any more tornadoes they would probably end up being too rainwrapped to see, so we decided to head south to where the storms were at an earlier stage in their cycle, prior to becoming tornadic, more discrete and hopefully a little more photogenic. The cluster of storms, however, were starting to form a line and join together. This often results in more damaging and gusty winds and less chance of a single cell putting down a tornado. Although still beautiful, it left us wondering strategically what the next best move was to make.

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It looked like we weren’t the only ones with this dilemma. The area was full of chasers going one way, then the other; people hanging around, chatting, leaning on cars, pointing at the sky and shrugging their shoulders!

So we waited where we were for a while, took a few more photos and had a sandwich. Looking at the radar, it seemed that as the storms travelled further north, they were showing more signs of rotation, so after an hour or so, we too headed a bit further north too although by this time the light was starting to fade and there was still no dominant storm in the area to focus on. So after all attempts to track anything else were exhausted we decided to stay put and wait for everything to pass us by and maybe take a few lightning shots. It was at this point, the last storm in the line started to grow as it travelled north east towards us. We could see some lowerings on it and got a few photos.

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The immediate decision was to take photos and leg it south on a road before the storm crossed it, but we underestimated the speed of the storm and within seconds we soon realised south was no longer an option. The sky was growing ever darker and we realised we had to retrace our track north to get away as the storm was not only heading straight at us, but it was propagating too. Heading north was no longer a great option either, but it was the only one. As we drove fast back north, the rain grew harder and we heard the familiar donks of hail on the car roof. We had 3 miles to get back on this road before we could head east and away from the approaching storm. I was counting down the 10th of miles as Tim concentrated hard to stay on the road. It’s at these times, we have to thank the US for its endless straight roads. We found the road east. Treacherous driving doesn’t describe it. It was like being caught in a wave and instead of surfing it, you are about 5 ft under and occasionally get to the surface to take a breath. Visibility was zero, and we were constantly aquaplaning. I was trying to describe every inch of the road ahead whilst also trying to work out if were making any headway on the storm. It was hell and my stomach was so tense the entire time. At one point I thought we were going to have to give in and let it pass over us whilst we hid in the footwell! But somehow, and after what seemed like hours, we managed to get out. As the rain grew lighter and some visibility returned, I started breathing again. It was probably the worst bit of driving we’d ever gone through and in hindsight we should not have looked upon this storm so lightly!

We kept heading south and looked for a Walmart car park to crash the night in. After about an hour’s drive south I thought we should be out of the firing line of any further storms. However, no sooner had we arranged the car into suitable shape for sleeping in and opened a beer, the lightning we’d hoped to go to sleep with in the distance started becoming ever closer. And when it did strike, the foreboding clouds it lit up were a little too close for sleeping comfort! We fired up our radar again and heading straight for us was the line of storms we thought we’d slipped away from. They had taken on a more easterly direction and the track of one cell, marked with a tornado vortex signature was pointing directly to the town we were based in, and was about 10 minutes away if that. Rather than risking it, we decided to head further south, but about 3 minutes into our journey we realised we’d left the leaking cool bag that contained all our food, in the car park. So we returned to where we’d previously parked to get our food and after a second look at the radar and realising just how tired we were, decided we’d probably be OK and instead fell asleep in the car to rumbling thunder and lightning. Apart from the 2 occasions where the hail was so loud it woke us up, it was a pretty good night’s sleep!

 

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

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Sun May 2013

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Sun May 2013

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