This was to be nothing more than a trip northwest of Okarche to photograph lightning. I got a surprise with a landspout tornado event that occurred over far Southwest Kingfisher County. The weak tornado was on the ground for about 11 minutes.
I started the day in Dodge City and didn’t have to go far for the first action. I did have to wait about three hours for storms to get going, but once they did – they became impressive quick. My original target storm formed just west of Dodge City and tracked northeastward just passing the city to the north. It appeared that it was already capable of producing a tornado as it skirted along the Ford/Hodgeman County line. I saw a strongly rotating wall cloud that had several brief spinups under it for about 10 minutes. Surprisingly, the storm seemed less organized as it moved east toward Spearville. It was during this trip eastward that it seemed to take on more HP characteristics and also attract a LOT of chasers. Between the two, the storm became less interesting to me. I dropped the storm at Kinsley and headed south. It went on to produce a couple of large tornadoes closer to Belpre, but I’m not so sure that I could have seen these without putting myself in danger. My target changed to storms that were over the Northeast Texas Panhandle and I planned on picking them up in the Eastern Oklahoma Panhandle or extreme Northwest Oklahoma. I was approaching a storm near Logan, Oklahoma that visually looked organized enough to produce quarter size hail or bigger. Unfortunately, I miss-judged the potential and ended up getting a brief blast of much larger hail – over baseball size. The storm weakened as it passed to my east near Slapout, but still gave me some of the best structure of the day.
An interesting day that started with a 2+ hour wait in Lamar after I got out of the motel. I drifted south toward Springfield and started watching storms near Pritchett. These low topped showers/storms produced a few funnel clouds before a storm blew up between Springfield and Walsh. This was the first serious storm of the day. I followed it northeast through the northeast part of Baca County where it split. The left split moved quickly north, but the right split shrunk up before reaching the Kansas line. Shortly after, a storm exploded over the northwest corner of Morton County and tracked northeastward toward Johnson. It made a right turn and traveled down highway 160 across Grant County. There were several areas where the storm seemed to develop nice supercell structure and good rotation. However, the only tornado I saw with the storm was tucked in the back associated with a strongly rotating occluded mesocyclone just east of the Grant/Haskell County line. I came very close to missing this event, almost continuing east and having the tornado form behind me. About the time I was going to make my move, a small funnel began developing. In the time it took me to get my camera out, it was clear it had already formed into a tornado. The tornado approached me for about three minutes before weakening just west.
I left southbound out of Limon and expected storms to form off of the Raton Mesa. We did get storms, along with several others on the front range from south of Colorado Springs into Northeast New Mexico. I managed to pick one of the weaker storms of the bunch and followed it all the way to just west of Lamar. It was about this time that I decided to give up on my current activity and shoot for some severe storms further south that were approaching Springfield. Just after heading that way, an isolated supercell storm formed a few miles west of Wiley and started moving very slowly to the north and northeast. This storm had great structure for a period and then seemed to be impacted by a strong region of outflow that surged in from the west. As the storm intensified and the RFD wrapped up as best as it could, a weak tornado was produced just to the northeast of Wiley. This tornado was only on the ground for about 30 seconds. Soon after, the storm began heading downhill with limited structure and a fairly high base. After getting a room in Lamar, storms formed just west of the town that were excellent lightning producers. Viewing this only took a very short trip to the north edge of the city.
The day didn’t end up being as productive as I thought it would be, but I did see another supercell and a lot of the Colorado countryside. Heading north out of Pritchett, you will get a good feel for just how wide open things are. I did manage to keep a good data signal and monitored things as I slowly went north. I stopped several times and enjoyed the view, shooting what looked like thousands of butterflies working in the roadside wildflowers. Eventually, a storm did form to the southeast of Elbert. I picked up a good view of it as it moved southeast by Simla. This storm had some supercell structure for several hours making it all the way into Kansas. With a limited amount of cloud to ground lightning to offer, I called off the chase near Wild Horse and landed in Limon for the night.
I left Okarche late and drove up into Southwest Kansas. I didn’t expect to see significant storms, but kept my eye on several supercells that were moving east across Southeast Colorado. One of the storms was quite impressive and I made arrangements to overnight somewhere that both the storm and myself would get to about the same time. I decided on Ulysses and this didn’t turn out to be a bad decision. Around midnight, the storm rolled into Grant County and I found a place to observe it north of Hickok. Given the intense amount of lightning, it was easy to see the supercell structure with the storm even though it was well after dark. I watched it as long as I could, then slid out of the way letting the monster ice producer go by. Falling in behind it, I was able to find a several mile wide stretch of hail on the ground with the largest stone measured at 2.07 inches. Later at the motel, another supercell storm blew up west of me and moved across Ulysses. I watched golfball size hail pound the parking lot from the comfort of the room and called it a night.
This turned out to be a great day. I rolled the dice and came up lucky. My initial target was across South Central Kansas and I started that way late in the morning. However, for the previous 24 hours I had been keeping an eye on Southwest Kansas for supercell potential. I might have stayed with my initial plan, but the thought of chasing through the Wichita area with hundreds of other chasers made me start drifting westward. There was an axis of fairly high instability that extended through the Dodge City and Garden City areas and I just hoped that a storm or two would be able to pop. I went all the way to Bucklin and sat for only about 15 minutes when a storm did indeed begin forming just southwest of Dodge City. It showed me enough on radar that I continued west, watching it organize from the west and south sides of Dodge City. The storm split and then rapidly organized into an impressive supercell as it tracked across the city. I maintained a good viewing position for the next hour as the storm moved ESE toward Greensburg. Rapid rotation was evident in the updraft, and there may have been more than a couple of times that the storm came close to producing a tornado. I didn’t see evidence that suggested a tornadic circulation, but I didn’t need one. The storm itself was reward enough.
Knowing this was our last chase day together in 2009, we sold out for a long drive to get whatever we could. Mid level flow over West Texas and Eastern New Mexico was better than it had been in several weeks. There were solid model signals that severe storms would form across Northeast New Mexico and move southeastward. We headed out I-40 and first echoes on radar were forming west of Dalhart, TX by the time we reached Amarillo. The storms were high based – as expected – but did quickly become severe. One storm produced a land spout tornado near Dalhart that we think we saw from a distance, but were too far away to tell. Our trip took us into New Mexico and then as far south as Plainview, TX where we saw a great sunset and some nice lightning after dark. It was a fitting end to the chase season for us as a group. The weather pattern never did get active for us. We had a lot of fun with great company, saw a lot of places we had not seen before, just came up short on a lot of our weather goals. To add insult to injury, several tornadoes were occurring in the plains the following day – while Lorraine, Gareth and Peter were on a plane back to England.
A marginal day for supercells with a broad target range from Kansas to southwest Texas. We drove southwest from Topeka and decided to play the Kansas side of things where supercells under a tight mid-level vort max formed. We stayed generally northeast of Pratt and found ourselves on a tornado warned storm near the town of Sylvia. This storm actually had some of the better structure we had seen in weeks and for a time had us believing that a tornado might very well occur. We watched very low cloud bases in the inflow region that were highly sheared, it was just having trouble tightening up. Our interesting period lasted about 10 minutes before a strong surge of outflow began racing southward. We did get a decent core dump of 1.25 inch hail about four miles west of Sylvia.
As has been the case for much of this season, conditions were far from perfect for supercells. Still – we thought there might be enough of a chance to get us to play around across Northwest Missouri/Southwest Iowa and Southeast Nebraska. We left Topeka and drove north to Falls City, Nebraska where we spent a good part of the afternoon. When storms started forming, they formed everywhere – quickly. In short, we had a mess on our hands and it was over almost as quick as it got started. We picked out some of the more intense cores in hope that one might be able to take over and become a supercell, landing on one that did for just a brief time. This was near the town of Oregon, Missouri. The storm was high precipitation and obscured when we were playing it, and it didn’t take long for it to become just another part of the big mess. After working our way southwest, we landed near Holton, Kansas to shoot some lightning. One of the more interesting items here was taking our pictures from the farm of Russ Riederer, a retired strength and conditioning coach who was with the Chicago Bears for 13 years. It was fun talking to him about some of the OU greats that he had coached through the years and yet another example of some of the things/people you run into while chasing.