Monthly Archives: April 2015

24 April 2015 / Supercells near Russell, Kansas

A strong storm system was swinging across the Plains and deep low pressure was organizing over western Kansas.  It was going to be a bit of a haul to the I-70 corridor, but supercells and a couple of tornadoes seemed like a good bet.  The chase was a total of 670 miles which was the most single day mileage that I have put down since 881.8 miles on 4 June, 2009.

Cumulus were beginning to tower to my west and northwest when I stopped for fuel in Hoisington around 3:45 pm.  First echoes appeared north and west of Hays when I was leaving the gas station, and I stepped it up getting to westbound I-70.  I wasn’t far east of Hays around 4:20 pm when the first tornado warning was issued.  Visually, the storm was fairly impressive with a nice wall cloud that was dipped and tapered toward the precipitation on the north side.

I found a viewing area a few miles northeast of Hays, but became disappointed with the storm as it seemed to become disorganized and a cool outflow breeze was hitting me in the face.  A check of radar showed that a new explosive updraft region was getting organized about 10 miles to the northeast.  As I repositioned northeast, a mean looking wall cloud quickly developed.  The road network here was poor.  I had a couple of paved road options that were oriented north/south, but both dead ended at the north end and there were only a few dirt/gravel roads that extended east/west.    There was an east/west dirt road that I decided to take, but the mesocyclone beat me to the intersection by less than a minute.  Not sure of the condition of the road, I decided to let the meso pass by and return back south to I-70.  While doing this, I missed a tornado that was on the ground for about a minute.

The road network didn’t get much better, thanks largely to Wilson Lake.  I finally decided to get east of the lake and try my luck again.  Unfortunately, the storm had transitioned to high precipitation by the time it got east of the lake, and any hope of seeing a tornado was just about gone.  The storm did have some nice structure at times and I continued to play with it to the east and south of Lincoln.

By the time I reached I-70 just west of Salina, numerous storms had evolved into a long line segment.  I started back south toward home, but did make a couple of stops along the way to watch lightning associated with developing storms – first near Pretty Prairie and again near Harper.

18 April 2015 / Western Oklahoma Supercells

A little bit of an odd chase.  Conditions were favorable for supercell storms across western Oklahoma, and I left not long after Noon for Woodward.  It appeared that storm development would occur fairly early in the afternoon, and that was indeed the case.

A little after 2:30 pm, I stopped a few miles west of Woodward and spent almost a full hour observing storm development along the dryline in Ellis County.  The storms themselves were not particularly strong, but it did give me a long duration segment of video for time lapse.

Around 4:30 pm, I drifted south into Roger Mills County as a couple of strong storms had evolved over the northwest part of the county.  These had small diameter updrafts and appeared to be struggling.  I changed my target once again and drove south into Sayre, Oklahoma.  A storm had become severe just southwest of the city and looked promising for a time.  Arriving in Sayre I found the updraft had split and both the right and left movers were quickly shrinking.

At this point, the dryline play was looking a little shaky.  There wasn’t much left except for a handful of left moving storms tracking north from northwest Texas.  These looked like they had the potential to produce some very large hail and I started east through Washita County.

Between 6:45 and 7:45 pm, I intercepted a couple of left moving supercells.  The first was the most impressive as it tracked north just to the east of Cloud Chief.  This storm had a very impressive updraft and lowered base on the north side of the storm.  The largest hail I ended up finding on the trip was 1.58 inches in Corn.


16 April 2015 / Texas Panhandle and Western Oklahoma Supercells and Tornadoes

We left Okarche during the early afternoon with a general target of the central and eastern Texas Panhandle.  When we crossed into Texas around 3:20 pm, storms had already developed from southwest of Amarillo northeastward to near Perryton.  There were already signs that the storms may have been having issues with undercutting outflow.  We continued west, stopping in Groom for fuel.

It was convenient that the best looking storms were just west of Groom after we fueled up around 4:20 pm.  We stopped a few miles northwest of Groom at 4:27 pm.  The updraft area of our storm extended from southwest to northwest of us.  It was a little high based, but did exhibit some areas of rotation.  Most importantly, it was not badly undercut.  While the outflow did extend to the east of the updraft region a bit, it wasn’t by much.

At 4:45 pm, we were on the move back to the east of Groom to stay ahead of our target storm.  Radar at this time suggested increasing rotation with the updraft region just to our northwest.  It also appeared that the updraft had made it to at least the edge of outflow and was likely ingesting warm sector air.  We observed a tall column of dirt that at the time we considered “suspicious”.  We have since seen video evidence from stationary observers which has confirmed this was a tornado.

By 5:45 pm, a significant amount of core had wrapped around the circulation, and the storm had transitioned to high precipitation.  Meanwhile, we were observing hard convection with more isolated storms that were forming to our northeast.  We decided to target the new storms forming in Wheeler County and drove northbound on FM1443.  There were two parts of our plan at this point.  First, we would use the east/west FM2473 to take a look into the notch of the HP storm, then use the highway to flee eastward which would take us to our new storms.  The plan worked exactly as we wanted it to, but unfortunately the extra time spent looking at the HP storm likely caused us to miss a photogenic tornado near Allison, Texas.  We crossed a hail swath a few miles northeast of Allison around 7 pm.  An impressive amount of very large hail was on the ground and we measured our largest stone at 3.33 inches.

The cluster of storms that extended from Ellis County in Oklahoma to Wheeler County in Texas had become quite a mess, but we were still left with a play in Oklahoma.  Scattered storms started forming over Greer and Beckham counties, and these were moving north.  The atmosphere they were moving through seemed favorable for a tornado threat.  By 7:45 pm, our new target storm had become one moving north from the northwest part of Greer County.  After clearing some rain, a rain free, lowered base appeared to the southwest, which was southwest of Sayre, Oklahoma.  Before we had a chance to get close to this feature, it started to produce a tornado.  Most of our light was gone, and we were farther away than we wanted to be, but we did observe two tornadoes over about a 13 minute period.  We followed the weakening storm for a few miles northwest of Sayre, then used the easy access to I-40 for the trip home.

11 April 2015 / Fritch, Texas Supercell

Evidence of this kind of day occurring had actually been advertised in model data for a couple of days.  I’ve seen it dozens of time, yet rarely get in on the action.  Strong southeast winds, steep lapse rates and 40+ knots of westerly mid-level flow spreading over the area.  Dew points were only in the upper 40s and low 50s, normally not sufficient to put in a long drive.  But I don’t know how many times I’ve seen similar situations and then pounded my head against the desk looking at an amazing supercell on radar.  This day ended up producing, but threw a few curve balls at the same time.  The first model data after 7 am suggested only a few storms, and didn’t get really excited about those.  At 9 am I was convinced that I wouldn’t be going.  Between Noon and 2 pm, short range, high resolution models had locked on to a couple of decent looking storms.  One was expected to track east across the Oklahoma Panhandle, and the other very close to Amarillo.  On short notice, I pulled the trigger at 2 pm.

My first thought was to play the northern storm and I started toward the Panhandle.  At 3:20 pm, I had made it to Seiling, Oklahoma.  Two storms were showing up on Amarillo radar, one near the OK/NM/CO border, and the other near I-40 along the TX/NM border.  I decided to split the difference and head straight west.

Just before 5 pm, radar showed a cluster of storms between Dalhart and Amarillo.  These were becoming stronger, but still somewhat of a mess.  One thing was for certain, the expected Oklahoma Panhandle storm wasn’t showing itself.  There were a couple of strong storms over far southeast Colorado, but farther away than I previously expected.  It was time to commit to the southern play.

By 5:30 pm, a supercell storm had evolved out of the mess near the far northwest corner of Potter County.  I stepped it up a little dropping through Stinnett and Fritch, stopping about 9 miles south southwest of Fritch.  The supercell to the west was becoming visually very nice.

After grabbing a few images, I was ready to make a position move to cover the area south of Fritch that was void of usable roads.  This plan was scrapped quickly when I noticed that we were going to have the area impacted by a weaker storm approaching from the southwest.  Sure enough, as this storm began interacting with the primary supercell, a wall cloud formed and quickly began to rotate strongly.

At 6:36 pm, I had seen enough evidence close to the surface to believe that a tornado had formed about 7 miles southwest of Fritch.  Unfortunately, before this tornado matured, a dense area of rain and hail rotated around the southern side of the mesocyclone and obscured it.

Once this had taken place and it became evident that a transition back to being able to see something was unlikely, I started shifting east trying to get the entire storm in my field of view.

I let the storm pass by to my north while sitting about 10 miles north northeast of Groom, Texas.  After it passed, I drove north on FM-2300 and searched for hail.  The largest stone I measured was 1.92 inches about 5 miles south of Kingsmill.

My last stop was well after sunset to grab an image of the storm to my east.  There was some decent structure with the storm, but it was difficult to get a good look with a considerable amount of low clouds.

8 April 2015 / Medicine Lodge, Kansas Supercell

We left Okarche and stopped around 3:23 pm a few miles west of Enid.  Elevated showers and thunderstorms that had been over the area were shifting east, and we were monitoring a front and dryline to our northwest for signs of development.  We didn’t have to wait long.

We felt strongly about our target area – the front near the Kansas/Oklahoma border – and stopped again near Nash about 4:30 pm.  Storms had organized across Woods County and were lifting north with the boundary.  We didn’t stop again until we had made our way to Kiowa, Kansas by 5:30 pm.  We became a little disappointed with the evolution of storms to our northwest as splitting cells and deviant movers had created a general east to west mess along and north of the state line.  At the same time, we were beginning to become interested in the more isolated nature of storms that had formed near the dryline from Woodward County to Roger Mills County.  We started making a half hearted move toward the southern storms, stopping every few miles to evaluate.

We were sitting at the Highway 8/Highway 11 intersection at 6:15 pm when a couple of things happened.  First, while still somewhat messy, an organized supercell began showing strong signs of rotation on radar over southern Comanche County, Kansas.  Also, there was only one storm farther south that looked interesting, so the decision was made to not leave multiple storms and a boundary, for what was only a single storm play farther south.

The Comanche County storm became our target, and we stepped it up getting to a spot with a view on a county road about midway between Medicine Lodge and Hardtner, Kansas.  Unfortunately, of all places that a supercell could be producing a tornado across southern Kansas, this one picked the place with the worst road network.  While it was a very long way off, we were able to see evidence that a tornado was occurring around 6:45 pm.  The tornado would have been very close to the Comanche/Barber county line, or about 25 miles west southwest of Medicine Lodge, Kansas.  This put the tornado about 20 miles due west of us.

With the idea that the tornado threat would continue with this storm until it reached Highway 160, we moved to a few miles west of Medicine Lodge, stopping at 7:04 pm.  We had a decent view of what was a very pretty supercell as it approached our location.  After about 10 minutes of viewing and photography, we started east and stopped a couple of miles east of Medicine Lodge.  While the storm at this time continued to look pretty good visually, radar showed that rotation throughout the storm was fairly weak.

We stopped a few miles northeast of Medicine Lodge at 7:48 pm where a couple of things occurred.  First, there was what appeared to be an occluded mesocyclone just west of us.  This feature was showing strong enough rotation that we believed a tornado was possible.  It lasted for a few minutes, and then dissipated.  Meanwhile, a hail stone fell a few feet from where I was standing.  When I bent over to pick up the stone, another one larger than golfball size hit me on my right knee.  I try to be respectful around people that don’t curse and mind my tongue, but this one had me inventing words.  I would end up carrying the bruise for several days.  Oddly, those were the only two stones that we saw fall at that location.

The storm was far from done producing hail.  As we drove north toward Nashville, Kansas between 8:10 and 8:20 pm, we drove through one of the more impressive hail swaths that we have seen in a long time.  The southern side of the swath had a considerable amount of stones between golfball and baseball size.  We measured one at 3.06 inches in diameter (a baseball is 2.75).  The northern side of the swath – which impacted the town of Nashville – had hail generally between the size of a quarter and a golfball, but an incredibly large amount of it.

Our storm began weakening not long after passing by Nashville, and we started quickly south into Oklahoma, hoping to intercept a storm that was tornado warned over western Oklahoma.  It was well after dark as we worked our way south through Lahoma and Loyal, calling the chase done as the approaching storm we were targeting began weakening.  We saw some impressive lightning during this part of the trip.