Chase Accounts

May 31, 1999
Pictures from this day.

This was quite a hectic day yet succesful in one aspect and disappointing in another. Scott Blair, Kevin Scharfenberg and I decided to target the Plains, Kans. area, as did a number of ther chasers.

We spotted towers going up around 4:45 p.m. developing to the east of Meade, Kans., but due to the lack of road options, we decided to set up about 10 miles south of Meade off Hwy. 23. The storm had already developed a well organized beaver's tail and was really beginning to crank. Just before pulling off at 5:55, Kevin noticed a brief spin-up that appeared to be a weak landspout. Several other chasers also saw this and photographed the vortex.

While observing what appeared to be the main updraft base of the cell, Scott spotted a funnel spin up at 5:57 from a seperate updraft base near Meade. A small thin vortex then descended from the main funnel and became a tornado as it touched down behind a grove of trees. While watching the Weather Channel early the next morning, we were able to confirm that this was indeed a tornado. Somebody else (don't know who) filmed this tornado from a much closer vantage point, and in the video, the vortex danced gracefully across the ground while plowing up large amounts of dirt. Needless to say, it was quite an impressive sight that made me wish we had been closer. Such is life though. After reveiwing a radar loop and video, it appears that, during the beginning LP stage of the Meade storm, three seperate updraft bases may have fed the storm before eventually conglomerating into a single updraft. However, this assumption may be incorrect. If it is correct, though, it was the northernmost base that produced this tornado. After the tornado dissipated, we decided to get closer and continued north on Hwy. 23.

Stopping once again near Meade State Park at about 6:15, the first organized wall cloud of the day began to form, and in order to keep contrast, we were going to have to begin moving east. However, this presented a problem as the road network is particularly bad in this area, but Kevin's laptop/GPS setup once again came in handy. We were forced to take several meandering backroads while pursuing the supercell. While heading east, the RFD began to noticeably wrap around the meso, which was to our north, and produced a clear slot. A large amount of dust began getting pulled into the updraft, and two well-defined areas of circulation became evident under the wall cloud. This was the second tornado of the day, but it dissipated after a couple of minutes.

A few minutes later, we met up with Howard Bluestein's group just after 6:30 and discussed the situation while watching a cyclonic swirl to the east of the RFD and an anticyclonic swirl to the west of the RFD. The rapid rotation associated with both swirls was nothing short of amazing.

After leaving Bluestein's group about five minutes later, we continued tracking the storm on the "wonderful" (yeah, right) dirt roads, and at this point, we ended up meeting up with about 10 other chasers and were the last car in line. It seems all the other chasers had the exact same route chosen. What can be expected without much of a road network though. The entire scene of several chase vehicles, all with antennae farms and kicking up a rooster tail of dirt, reminded me of my past racing experience, and the caravan took on the appearance of some sort of road rally. Eventually, we ended up on a different route and left the caravan. While on that route, however, we ended up getting passed by another chaser driving 90 m.p.h. or better.

We ended up in Englewood at 7:10, but unfortunately, we no longer had a good view of the meso since it was about ten miles to our north. We began taking Hwy. 283 north but were forced to turn around since the farther north we went, the greater the risk of running into large hail became. We backtracked and ended up catching the next east option that was about 12 miles to our south and just south of the OK/KS border. This east option was better than the previous dirt roads but contained numerous large potholes which made driving just a bit rough.

Eventually, we ended up near Lookout, OK. on Hwy. 34 at about 8:30 and joined a few other chasers in trying to get one last look. However, within a few minutes the area became clogged with chasers. As the congestion worsened, traffic began having problems even getting past the chaser convergence. It appeared that at least 100 chasers made up the convergence, and this was probably the largest chance-meeting of chasers that has ever happened. Adding to the mess, one lost soul decided that a good place to set up his tripod and camera would be right in the middle of the road. It didn't even appear that he was filming anything at the time; he was just blocking the road despite our suggestions that he might want to move out of the road. Eventually, he decided that getting out of the way would be a wise idea to move after Eric Nguyen had to blast his horn at him and tell him to move.

Soon after, a tremendous amount of dust began getting kicked up by the strong outflow from the supercell. At this point, Kevin wanted to go west to observe what was going to happen when the outflow interacted with another supercell that had developed to our west. We suceeded in getting to the cell before the outflow did, but although the storm showed signs of rotation, it didn't appear to present much of a tornado threat.

With the coming darkness, we decided to end the chase. After leaving, however, we ended up getting pounded by some intense outflow and drove through a tremendous amount of dust. Eventually, we stopped for dinner at the Pizza Hut in Woodward, OK. and met up with some other chasers, including Charles Edwards and R.J. Evans of Cloud 9 Tours and Eric Nguyen, who had his window smashed by an encounter with a large hailstone. Overall, this day had its ups and downs. Getting road screwed allowed us to end up missing the most significant tornado of the day in Sitka, KS., but at least we did witness a couple of other tornadoes.


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