Chase Accounts

May 29, 2004
Pictures from this day.

The day began in Salina, KS after making the drive from Conway, AR the night before. I already knew it was a “high-risk” day per SPC when I woke up and began perusing data. This was to be my day of redemption after missing the tornadoes last Saturday, May 22.

My target was the triple-point, which was progged to set up in an area from Smith Center to Phillipsburg, KS. I was a bit concerned with the weaker mid and upper level winds over our target compared to areas farther south, but with the extreme instability and good directional turning with height, I was confident that supercells and tornadoes would occur.

Meeting up with Scott Blair and Marcie Martin and departing Salina around noon, we made our way west on I-70, then north out of Bunker Hill to Hwy. 281. A cumulus field was already noticeable by 1:40 p.m. I fully expected supercells to begin developing by 3 p.m.

By 3:12 p.m., significant convection had yet to develop but a PDS tornado watch had been issued for the area, and we were on the western extent between Phillipsburg, KS and Alma, NE going north on Hwy. 183. Decent towers were noted to our east. By 4:05 p.m, we were heading east out of Red Cloud, NE as the first significant convection began about 20 miles to our east. I was a bit concerned that we were behind the area of development but knew we should be able to catch it in time. Also of concern was the fact that towers noted south of the developing storm to our east. A severe warning was soon issued for the southern most cell in Mitchell County, KS.

Reaching the intersection of Hwys. 136 and 14, I downloaded a radar image. The cell’s updraft to our east, while explosive convectively, appeared a bit anemic. However, the southernmost cell in Mitchell Co., KS was taking on supercellular characteristics. There was no choice but to drop south on Hwy. 14 and intercept the southernmost cell since it was this one that would have an unhindered source of inflow. Passing through the edges of a few cores and experiencing a few pieces of golfball-size hail, we entered the forward edge of the now tornado-warned supercell’s core just before 5:00. We experienced a few pieces of large hail before emerging from the core and intercepting the updraft base north of Beloit, KS.

The elongated base, nearly overhead, displayed a few areas of small-scale rotation, but for the most part, the storm appeared a bit disorganized. We decided to blast back north on Hwy. 14 and take Hwy. 148 east in order to stay in position with the cell. However, as we were doing so, a significant wall cloud developed well to our southeast. Continuing north to Hwy. 148 would put us in the core for a time being, and I was concerned with losing visibility of this now significant meso. I made the decision to turn around and dove back south and used Hwy. 9 out of Beloit as my east option instead. Scott and Marcie continued north, and I began chasing solo.

Now blasting east on Hwy. 9, the first tornado of the day developed at 5:51 p.m. 6-7 miles to my northeast near Scottsville. It was a well-developed white cone, contrasted against the cell’s dark precip. core. The tornado persisted for a couple of minutes before entering the rope phase and dissipating. Continuing east, the cell now displayed an incredible striated structure as a new meso formed. A large, dusty area was also noticeable to the northeast near Jamestown. Although low-contrast and partially obscured by precip. from my position, this was a large wedge tornado and was producing F2 damage three miles northwest of Jamestown. Other chasers had better position on this tornado, but I would soon witness a rare show as I moved into positioned south of Jamestown.

At 6:04, a new funnel formed to my north. The laminar, white funnel reached just more than halfway to the ground, becoming a tornado briefly. As the funnel entered its dissipation stage, it struggled to reach the ground one last time as a broken area of condensation formed about two-thirds of the way down. The funnel soon met its demise at 6:07.

The wedge tornado was still partially obscured, and I focused on a closer area just to my north as another large funnel began taking shape at 6:09. A swirl of debris was soon noted, making the now laminar funnel a tornado as it continued developing with the low-contrast wedge still apparent to the northeast. Although the debris swirl dissipated within a minute, the funnel continued to be well-formed, but there was something just not right about it. Upon closer inspection of the funnel’s rotation, it became obvious that it was anticyclonic, and that I had just witnessed perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime tornado. With these being such a rarity (probably only about 10-15 occur each year), I had always wanted to witness one. It was truly an incredible sight to see this funnel, which looked normal in almost every respect, rotating in the wrong direction – spectacular! The funnel persisted about halfway down, as it once again created a swirl of debris under it. It was short lived again though, as the ground debris became diffuse and the funnel began retreating to cloud base, finally dissipating at 6:14. The dusty wedge had now become more apparent in the distance, but it also soon dissipated.

I continued east on a gravel road, as a white, slender rope tornado began snaking its way toward the ground in front of the dark shaft of rain and hail at 6:20. The tornado was in contact with the ground intermittently before finally condensing fully while entering the rope stage. At this point, I should’ve stopped and tripoded my video camera. However, I was concerned with keeping up with the storm’s next cycle, so I filmed while driving. The tornado elongated into an “S-shape” while remaining fully condensed, creating an incredibly beautiful scene of the white tornado contrasted against the dark, menacing hail core to its north. However, this tornado was also short-lived as it thinned into nothing, leaving only a dissipating horizontal funnel dangling beneath the cloud base.

With the spectacular rope now all but gone, a new meso took shape to my north while another funnel formed from the cloud base to the west. The funnel only reached about one-quarter of the way to ground, and I could never confirm whether the rotation actually extended to ground as no debris was noted. With the funnel now dissipating at 6:23, a large area of dust was being pulled into the large bowl-shaped meso, which was east of Jamestown and probably near Hwy. 28. This wall of dust soon took on the shape of a wedge tornado, but I couldn’t discern whether or not it was truly a tornado as violent motion with it was never observed. This feature may very well have been just vast amounts of dust being pulled into the base of the meso by intense inflow.

Making my way north and east to Hwy. 28 on the gravel roads, the cell continued to display an intense meso as it was now transitioning into a forward-flank meso HP beast. However, I was now running on fumes, and I briefly broke off the cell to fill up with gas in Concordia. Out of Concordia, I blasted north on Hwy. 81 to reintercept. The cell was now displaying gorgeous striated structure typical of well-organized HP’s as I took Hwy. 36 east out of Belleville, once again meeting up with Scott and Marcie.

At 7:17, a new meso formed and displayed fairly intense low-level rotation. Soon tags of scud began rising and rotating under the meso as the hook began encircling the meso. As the circulation intensified, it appeared to condense to the ground and morphed into the shape of a large tornado. However, it was impossible to tell whether or not the feature was actually a tornado or just a thick area of precip. As the hook continued wrapping, golfball-size hail began pelting us while the meso to our west became totally engulfed. Just to our south, scud began updrafting as a new meso formed, and I blasted east out its way. This new circulation soon wrapped in rain as well as it moved northeast across the highway. I briefly flirted with following the meso north toward Narka on 139, but I soon called it a day and focused on time-lapse and structure shots. The storm was absolutely breath-taking. The striated updraft was awe-inspiring, and the immense beaver tail feeding into it was just incredible. This was the only way to end the day, basking in the glory of an incredible supercell under a canopy of mammatus turned orange by the setting sun. Yes, this was indeed redemption.

Also, I must extend my appreciation to Dave Lewison for his excellent nowcasting. Be sure to check out these incredible radar loops (reflectivity; velocity) he saved and stitched together.

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