I had been wanting to take a tornado tour ever since they were first offered; the thought of not having to drive and get to see how hard-core storm chasers travel everywhere sounded great; and this company had the “Master Class Tour” which was a severe storm forecasting class at the same time as a tour! Perfect!
Here is the original journal I posted with pictures while on the tour to communicate back to loved ones and friends! What a great trip and opportunity!
This was a down day for most chasers, but our guides strutted their stuff
today by forecasting west central Kansas as a target. The mid level had a
lot of moisture coming up from Amarillo into West Central Kansas and there was a
lot of dry desert air coming up over Colorado forming a dry line with nice
instability once you got into Kansas. We drove from Kearney Nebraska and
arrived at Colby Kansas at noon. We hung out there until 5:00 when we saw
the first storm of the day blow up, and boy did it in a hurry.
We had to drive east to catch up with the storm and experienced some minor
hail on I-70 along the way. After going south right where the Trego Center
tornado was on Day 3 (June 9th) we knew that area was in for another intense
storm. We actually drove by where the tornado was and saw much destruction
to trees and even flipped over flatbed trucks. We parked along a small
country road and watched this beautiful mothership supercell evolve. I
have always wanted to see a mothership and was blessed with a super high quality
storm structure today. We hung out with two farmers who were really cool
and calm as this beast passed over their homes.
Eventually this put down a very weak tornado right before it was overwhelmed
with a squall line that had developed over eastern Colorado–very similar to the
supercell from Day 1 in South Dakota. Then all hell broke loose and we had
to run for our lives (well, not really, but there was large hail and intense
winds that would have wrecked havoc on our van). The storm quickly
swallowed us up and we narrowly escaped it after almost 2 hours of being very
closely chased. I’m positive this storm complex had to produce large
tornadoes and devastating hail storms; we’ll wait to see what the NWS report
This storm was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and produced the most wicked
lightening storm I’ve ever seen too. For over 2 hours it was black as
night (but it was daylight still) with zero visibility due to blowing rain
(gusts were around 50-60 mph). The lightening was intense in every
direction, probably 4-5 times per second. I tried to video it but I don’t
think it came out. You could see scary lowerings in the clouds through the
lightening at times. What a treat from our mother nature!
There are a lot of pictures here because I am in awe of the beauty of this
storm…I couldn’t decide on which to show so I chose many.
This is the Rear Flank Downdraft blowing dust in the distance. This is
an intense wind!
Lots and lots of rotation!
and finally a tornado. This is called a truncated cone because the
condensation funnel didn’t ever go from the cloud to the ground, but as you can
see there is a definite tornado as seen by the debris on the ground.
You can see the tip of the funnel in the center, it actually isn’t the funnel
looking thing on the left, but that was rotating too!
Because of the intensity of this storm complex, there actually could be a
chase day tomorrow as well do to the outflow boundary generated by this MCS.
We thought we’d be sitting around on day 10 but that may not be true anymore.
Gotta love how dynamic the weather is!
Here was our escape route. After leaving the tornado, we were right in
front of the golden box in the yellow. The tornado is the where the letter
F is in pink near the center of the radar. We had to navigate down the to
the right and down the green notch.
Today was predicted to be a serious outbreak by everyone, including the Storm Prediction Center. They actually had most of east Kansas, all of Iowa, all of Missouri, most of Illinois and part of South Dakota and Minnesota in Tornado Watch boxes for the day. I’ve never seen such widespread of a warning and neither has our experienced guides!
We headed up to Iowa and hung out about 45 miles south of Des Moines for the action to start. The problem appeared to be that a squall line of storms in mid-Missouri stole all the good moisture giving anything north where the intense jet was no instability. There were two tornadoes reported for the day. One in the storm just north of us which we are doubting happened (we were watching the storm at the time of the report and there was scud rising from the ground but we did not see any organized rotation or funnel). The other was in central Minnesota and the description in the SPC storm log was “Large Tornado getting Bigger” which is very funny! We watched this storm ride off into the sunset which was pretty and prepared for a down day with some log needed rejuvenation.
We’ve traveled over 4000 miles so far and visited South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
Video (first half is a few days later in Kansas; second half is the Texas Twisters from 6/12):
Today was suggested to be a big day due to the instability and jet digging
in. We headed east and south from Plainview. There blew up two large
storms and we were positioned well between the two. The northern storm was
by far the largers storm and so we targeted it. It ended up dying and the
southern storm was exploding so we went south. This storm ended up being
on a squall line so we focused on the southern storm. Bill’s friends at
the Lubbock office called and told us the sheriff had reported a tornado with
the second to last storm and so we headed fast and furious to that storm.
We had to punch the tip of the core to get there and when the base of the storm
came into view we knew we’d be in for a treat. We watched as a large wedge
was formed and touch the ground. This beast became rain wrapped and we
moved to beat the hail wrapped core. We proceeded to see multiple vortex
and another cone and ended up with a roping out elephant trunk. In total,
we counted 5 tornados from this supercell.
There is a 1/2 mile wide tornado that is rain and dirt wrapped in there, don’t
be fooled…it was rotating VERY fast!
My still shots of this multiple vortex tornado (yes, one tornado with two-three
littler tornados in it…these tornados were rotating around each other).
This came out of a new mesocyclone base after the wedge dissapated (at least we
think, the wedge could still be rain wrapped behind and to the left…we got the
hell out of there so we’re not sure). I concentrated on video at this
point and don’t have captured images from that yet.
At this time we saw that the last storm in the squall line (one storm south)
was growing enormous and was swallowing this already huge storm. We drove
fast and furious and upon diving out from the forward flank downdraft we saw a
huge horseshoe shaped wall base with a wall cloud. This never really
shaped up to much so we ended up driving away and viewing this storm from a
distance. This was a HUGE storm that took up several counties. We
saw amazing anvil crawling lightening and beautiful striated mammatus.
The above two pictures are of a wall cloud under this monster. You can
see from the two pictures the downward motion of the wall cloud, we really
thought it was going to tornado. Behind it is the rear flank downdraft
(RFD) hole…you would not want to be right under this hole as you’d probably
experience 100 mph winds and softball hail. And yes, there was rapid
rotation in these clouds at this time.
Rapidly rotating funnel with tail cloud that was very active, but didn’t put
down any tornado. This beast was so huge and so efficient it didn’t have a
chance to make a tornado…there was just too much rain cooled air falling down
through the RFD and cooling the inflow too much.
This is a typical shot from the trip. The above radar shows this super
cell. It probably took up at least one whole county and a 1/3 of all the
counties surrounding it. Maybe 50 miles at the base?
These are called Puscular Rays. You are looking at blue sky with a
little bit of the anvil at the top of the photo. I haven’t quite learned
exactly what causes this, but it is like a rainbow effect, there is refraction
of light around the supercell forming a “inverted shadow” of sorts on the
horizon. That is the while triangle.
Picture from our ride away from this storm after sunset. Incredible
storm structure, but it would require a fish-eye lens to do the storm justice.
Notice the shelf cloud sucking in moisture from the lower level of the
atmosphere (950 mb). Then the inflow right above it sucking in mid-level
moisture (700 mb), then the anvil way above that. This middle inflow band
demonstrates the amount of rotation in this storm as it is bent around from
behind the storm. This was a very healthy storm that died about a couple
hours after sunset due to the loss of heating.
The first tornado was the largest of the trip, we figure 1/2 mile wide at the
base. We saw several trees fly up and also several power transformer
explosions. A couple of towns were in the wake of some serious hail
problems associated with this storm.
Day #5. 6/11/2005. Texas Panhandle Supercells and Tornado
We targeted the Texas panhandle today as there were several boundaries
forming with lots of moisture (even though it was somewhat cool for Texas in
June). We drove from Dodge City to just south of Amarillo and sat around
and watched the clouds waiting for one to blossom. It took storms a little
while to get going, but once they did we had a choice of one by Hereford and
another outside of Amarillo. We took the Amarillo storm because it was the
first and most impressive. As we drove close we found another classic
supercell, but this was fairly small in nature. We watched a big wall
cloud approach NW Amarillo and it kept trying persistently forming wall clouds,
but there was just not enough juice for it to take off. We heard that the
southern storm was taking off and so we left the Amarillo storm as it was
putting on a nice lowering, but the rotation had pretty much ended. Again,
like every day, we heard the sirens go off and everyone came rushing out of
restaurants, stores and their cars to see the large dark cloud coming their way.
The city was a zoo, so that finalized our decision to get the hell out of town
as it would be hard to chase in a city.
We picked off a southern storm that had a history of a tornado and it was a
monster. Absolutely huge storm. This storm was trying to get with it
and kept forming new wall clouds that were impressive. Finally, once we
thought the storm was going to give up, once wall cloud formed with a funnel.
The funnel eventually dropped for a small cone tornado. We think it may
have put down two tornadoes, but until we review the video we can’t be sure.
We moved to get a closer view but we ended up in a mess with lots of rain.
We immediately went south as the rain was not linear (meaning it was curving
around) and we watched a huge funnel from less than 1/4 mile away while in the
bear’s cage. After having enough and knowing that the funnel was going to
come down, we moved another mile to the south and watched the rain wrapped
circulation head off in the distance. The national weather service issued
a tornado for this rain wrapped whatever, but we only saw the huge funnel and
didn’t ever see a tornado. At this time baseball sized hail was falling
just north of where we were. I unfortunately didn’t get any stills but I
should have some video.
The national weather service got a report on this storm that there was a
tornado on the ground, but it only looked like rain-filled downdraft (with no
rotation) so we are not counting this as a tornado. The tornado I only
have on video and don’t have a way to capture it for viewing just yet.
We then watched a new storm form right behind it and it got quite organized
putting quite a show. We were directly under the clouds with all sorts of
eddys and rotation and scud building everywhere from the strong inflow.
I’ve never seen cloud motion like this, hopefully the video comes out. We
watched this storm go off into the distance while getting eaten alive by
mosquitoesas it got dark. We were going to sleep in Amarillo but two
monster hail storms got between us and flooded the interstate with tons of water
and very large hail and we were stuck going south to Plainview for the night.
The target area is the eastern Texas Panhandle or western Oklahoma or Kansas.
We’ll see what the outflow boundaries look like from today’s monstrous hail
Today was foretasted by everyone to be a great tornado day in the Texas
Panhandle. There was a very strong upper level trough coming through that
would for sure initiate convection, and there was a dryline and frontal boundary
to make a second day of a classic triple-point. The triple-point was
looking to be down outside of Clovis New Mexico and into the west central Texas
Panhandle. We started off the day in Dodge City Kansas and headed south.
After analyzing data we were really confused because the trough was out of
phase, meaning it was too early in the day and there wasn’t enough heating for
the really deep convection. Therefore everything started going bananas
around 1:00 and since there was little cap everything was free to explode.
This is not what you want because every storm will fight for the deep energy and
instability in the lower atmosphere. We decided to stay north and targeted
the first supercell in the rich atmosphere in SW Kansas.
We watched the storm as it kept producing wall clouds but they were really
not that impressive. This storm could not get organized enough before the
early morning big sloppy storms from the central panhandle started to seed the
northern storms. We know we would only have a small window (maybe 2 hours)
of time before this would happen and ruin any chance of the northern target area
taking off, and it just didn’t get organized in time. We then targeted
another good looking storm in the extreme western Oklahoma panhandle and by the
time we got there the storm was just a squall line with a nice looking shelf
cloud (another whale’s mouth type of formation) but nothing severe. At
least we weren’t the only people that busted today, everyone did as there were
no tornadoes that any chaser saw anywhere…shows how the Storm Prediction
Center’s models can be way off based on a single, early morning storm complex
ruining the environment, and the upper level disturbance coming in way too
After dark we can see a nice supercell on radar and great lightening show
around Amarillo, but none of us were in the mood to drive 1.5 hours to chase a
storm in the damaged atmosphere after dark.
These pictures are examples of the wall clouds we saw today. There was
definite rotation and they kept trying to re-organize with strong inflow, but
the southern storm complex kept feeding outflow aloft into this storm ruining
its chances for tonadogenesis. You can see in this picture two wall
clouds, one is dying and the other is accepting all the inflow.
Tomorrow is looking like a good day on the Raton ridge in either southern
Colorado or northern New Mexico, and Sunday could be the last good day of the
tour. I think we’ve maxed out on our outbreaks
We woke up today with some good news. The outflow boundary from the Wichita storms was pushing into central Oklahoma but there was a 4 county wide corridor of unobstructed area in central to western Kansas that was pushing warm moisture up into north western Kansas. In Russell where we stayed the night we woke up to northerly winds that were 25-35 mph and were very muggy.
There was a dry line in western Kansas, a low pressure in north eastern Colorado, a synoptic warm front in north western Kansas all coming together for a classic triple-point in North western Kansas. We headed west and as we knew one or more storms would go up and dominate. We found our storm on radar that exploded (went from a column to huge anvil in 20 minutes) just west of Hayes.
This storm took a while to get organized but if finally did around Hill City. Boy did it. As I was talking to the local Sheriff the very active wall cloud popped down a large stovepipe tornado. We followed this storm into Hill City and by that time it was about 2 miles south of town heading north east.
We headed south into its path and after we passed the river we had to quickly turn around as this monster wedge was less than 1/4 mile away and
coming straight at us. This was a very violent tornado and we hoped that it didn’t cross the river as there was a group of about 6 houses that would have been quickly demolished. This storm formed a 1/4 mile wide wedge and became rain wrapped so we couldn’t see it. We knew it was in there by the flashing of power transformers within the rain wrapped core. The storm started building a new wall cloud in front of the rain wrapped mess and quickly put down another tornado.
Note there are two big tornadoes in the above picture taken while we were in the van…
We quickly moved to stay in front of it and saw may wall clouds, funnels and tornados form and reform. Luckily this storm spared 4 towns that were
almost in its path (missing by less than 2 miles per town). We heard lots of sirens today. We then parked and saw the inflow scud form right on the
road around us as another tornado formed 1/2 mile to our south. Here the storm again reformed and close to Damar a nice elephant trunk formed, with another large cone just behind it (both at the same time). This is probably what you saw on the weather channel as the contrast was amazing and it was running parallel to us about 1/8 mile north of our road. The north tornado dissipated and the beautiful elephant trunk eventually roped out.
This storm was now being seeded by another monster supercell to its southwest and so we headed back to Hayes to start the chase over.
Heading east on I-70 out of Hayes we quickly saw a huge cone tornado.
There was also reformation of another agressively rotating wall cloud directly over I-70. I can’t believe the truckers were barrelling right under this
wall cloud while another tornado was just south of the interstate. We learned later that 44 trucks were overturned on the interstate. This thing
was quickly on top of us and we had no choice but to turn around and head east on I-70 back towards Hayes. We followed this storm towards Stockton and saw yet another short lived cigar tornado. This storm appeared to be turning into a HP and so we decided to go get some dinner, and reports have it just a few minutes after we left its beautiful wall cloud it put down a large rain wrapped tornado. These are hard to see and thus quite dangerous so it was good we left this storm when we did.
We’re thinking this RFD winds (probably close to 100 mph) is what blew over the 44 trucks on I-70. You can see the dust being picked up and also the structure of this supercell!
Another picture of the Zurich double tornado as it roped out. The second tornado is dissipating directly behind.
We all lost count of how many tornadoes, funnels and wall clouds that we saw today. We are counting 7 tornadoes based on our recollection of the mesos, although many of these mesos put down multiple tornados, pulled back up, and put back down again. We counted these as just one tornado. Otherwise I suspect the count would be near 15.
Tomorrow will be another intense day as similar conditions are going to be present in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle. Once again we saw quite a
lightening display on our way to the hotel in Dodge City.
Day 2 (Wednesday 6/8/2005) – Northeastern Kansas – Northwestern Missouri.
We got a late start leaving Mitchell SD but our target area was extreme north
eastern Kansas. The outflow boundary of last nights complex (which is
still going strong in Arkansas/Tennessee now, its 3:00 AM central) put a huge
dent in the ability for moisture to flow up north where the “death jet” was, so
we had to go south. The dewpoints in Kansas were really amazing (I can’t
imagine how muggy and hot it was there today, yuk!) and the energy in the lower
atmosphere was really scary. There was a sweet spot in extreme South
eastern Nebraska and we expected storms to be the most probable for tornadic
activity here because of the upper level winds providing much shear, but we
couldn’t rule out north eastern Kansas as well because of the amount of energy
in the atmosphere.
We had a tough choice between a nice looking cell in extreme south eastern
Nebraska or a pair of towering columns in north eastern Kansas. There had
been 3 very nice looking anvils form around the Topeka area but they all died a
miserable death. The 18Z charts out of Topeka showed that there was a
substantial cap on the southern storms (hence why they abruptly died) so we
decided on the Nebraska storm. After turning around and heading back north
along I-29 we got a call from another Colorado chaser (Roger Hill, my favorite
storm chasing hero and the reason I chose this chase company) called us on the
southern storm saying there was an 11 minute tornado that he was just miles
from. Oh well, we actually would have missed this I feel anyway because we
were out of position. We decided to change storms (I’m still questioning
this move, but I understand the reasons why) and head back to the Kansas storms
but the damage had been done for the day. These storms ended up only
producing the one tornado early in the day.
The good news is that we continued driving south and intercepted the storm on
the southern side just outside of Leavenworth. We heard numerous tornado
sirens (the second in two days I’ve heard) but didn’t see any funnels or
tornadoeswhere we were. The eddys in the updraft base of this storm were
beautiful, and the emerald green color of the clouds could not mistake what was
going on in them! This storm had 3 distinct inflow feeder bands that were
right overhead but it was SO dark that my pictures didn’t really do justice.
I’ll look at the video soon to see if it looks any good. At this time the
radar showed that this storm was very quickly intensifying and we maneuvered
around its updraft base as best as we could. There was a very distinct
wall cloud but we didn’t get any rotation out of it so we decided to leave so
not to get pounded by golf ball sized hail which came down in abundance with
this storm just moments after we left. There was SERIOUS cloud to ground
lightening with this storm!
This is when the show for the day started in my opinion. The
inflow cloud was awesome, I can’t complain (only me and another guy got out of
the van to witness this for 15 minutes…everyone else stayed in which I think
was a shame as it was a beautiful storm…they weren’t impressed because there
was no tornado I guess…their loss!). We ran out from under this monster
and then the anvil crawlers started right after sunset. These were
lightening bolts pitchforking from horizon to horizon directly above us taking
up the whole sky. I’ve only seen one other storm in NE Oklahoma at my
grandma’s house that was comparable in my life. We then headed to Russell
Kansas to set ourselves in good position for tomorrow and on the way watched
more amazing lightening shows from the massive complex of storms around Witchita.
Note that these storms were nearly stationary and were forming in a line behind
each other so there is going to be major flooding. Mother nature put out a
fireworks show for us *ALL* night long. I just got in (3:25 am) from a
quick trip outside and the show is still amazing. Horizon to horizon anvil
crawlers off in the distance.
So, no storm photos for today, but trust me, it was quite a day. These
storms had so much energy! By the way, the Missouri river is
absolutely full of debris (whole trees!) from the mass amount of run-off from
these storms. Also, the storms from last night are still going strong…I
think it is going to take the Atlantic Ocean to stop them!
Our PhD guide said tomorrow looks grim (remember, this guy doesn’t think cool
storms are anything (he calls them crap) and he only is interested in Tornadoes,
and even though I don’t want to argue with him I do see potential for central
Kansas and Oklahoma as the abundant moisture and dryline, plus I like to see
other weather than just Tornadoes, but we’ll see what the group wants to do.
The National Weather Service experts are predicting an extreme weekend (major
outbreak) in the Texas panhandle and plains–the best of the year and perhaps
the best of the century so far–so we’ll see and keep our fingers crossed.
We’ll see how the outflow boundary of today’s storms plays out as it could
easily kill the moisture feed and without deep moisture there is little chance
for tornadoes. Otherwise, tomorrow is 100% class time and studying models
of historic storms. In the last two days I’m certainly glad I took
engineering courses for over two years because learning this Meteorology stuff
is heavy on math and physics.
Just south of Omaha on I-29 there is the most amazing display of trucks I’ve
ever seen. I’m not joking, there has to be over 10,000 trucks, I’ve never
seen anything like it. Imagine the cost of this hoard new…the pictures
do not do it justice, these are taken from the north and south sides of the
massive farm. Imagine if they started up every truck at the same
time…now that would be an awesome sound, but probably produce a smog cloud
that would put Denver’s most inverted day to shame!
Thought of the day. We saw the Texas Tech team again today, all lined
up with their silly cars with weather stations on top in a neat caravan.
Okay, so I’ve seen these guys two days in a row and have some serious issues
with their approach. These guys are obviously scientists trying to gather
data (maybe not, but I didn’t see the chicks flocking to them either because of
their goddy setups) but why would this team stay caravaned with the exact same
instruments. If each car collects data you would think it scientifically
prudent to have them scattered around the storm to collect data at different
vantage points. From what I saw they stay together so I’m questioning
their scientific methodology. I wonder if the University knows this and if
their funding would approve of such a methodology…….