April 15, 2006 Chase

Mickey and I took aim on northeast Kansas this day, anticipating a low pressure area along the Kansas/Nebraska border would shift eastward during the day. However storm motions were going to be largely northward, so we wanted to get a jump start since we'd be effectively chasing "away from home". With Chad following behind us carrying Julie and her youngest daughter Joette, we found ourselves on the outskirts of Topeka by early afternoon.

We sat around in a hotel parking lot for over an hour, analyzing the latest surface data and waiting. Storms fired north of us eventually, but these didn't have the look of the main show. Still, after a bit more analysis, we decided we needed to be further north. We jumped back in the car and headed north on US75. We passed through Holton and Sabetha, KS, then passed across the border into Nebraska. We stopped in Auburn for a final pit stop before getting into chase mode. After a leisurely gas up and bathroom break, we returned to the car and saw new storms firing up west of us. We were in great position to drive west and meet them head on, so we jumped on US136 westbound and raced towards the developing storms.

We continued west, noting that a "string of pearls" area of supercells seemed to be developing, with multiple storms in close proximity, but separated along a north/south axis. At first I wanted to focus on the southern-most storm, but as we got closer, it looked as if the storm just southwest of Beatrice would be the main player. This was working out perfectly for us, because our next south option went through Beatrice. Once we reached town, it was obvious the storm just southwest of us was the one. We turned south onto US77, and after what felt like an eternity, we finally negotiated the town. Once we broke into open highway south of town, the storm's base finally came into view. We drove a few more miles then stopped.

A wall cloud started to develop shortly after, and we watched as it continued to evolve. A few minutes later we decided to move east, because the storm was moving around 50mph. We took a back road east a mile or two, then turned north. We drove about another mile, then stopped and set up. By now, the wall cloud was well-developed, west-southwest of us. A rear-flank downdraft was developing on the back side, and tornadogenesis seemed imminent.

Just a few minutes later, the first sign of a tornado began, with dust being kicked up below the rapidly churning wall cloud. The tornado continued to intensify as the RFD kicked in, and moments later a condensation funnel began to form. It rapidly began to intensify and grow larger, as the tornado raced along. Within minutes it was a fully-blown strong tornado, streaking by at 50mph. As it raced along, a tremendous RFD notch had developed and continued to cut as the tornado lofted a huge debris cloud. The tornado became completely obscured by dust as it churned across open countryside, whirling the ground into a frenzy as it went. As fast as the tornado was, it was by us in minutes, and we jumped back into the car to give chase.

We drove about a mile up the road, and caught our last glimpse of the tornado as it moved off to the northwest, buried in dust and rain. We knew we couldn't keep up with it, so we abandoned the storm and moved east. The next storm south of us in the "string" had moved closer during our tornado encounter with the previous storm, and was now on our heels as we drove east on rural roads. As we neared the town of Burchard, things didn't seem quite right as we were getting pelted from the southeast with rain and small hail, from what appeared to be clear sky. We continued east until we reached clear air, then looked back at what we'd just driven through.

The storm to our south was much closer than we thought, and its circulation center had moved directly over us (which explained the southeast flow of rain and hail from what seemed to be clear air). We had been caught in the eastern edge of the "bear's cage", and had been seeing through the rain bands into the sun as we neared the outside. Once we'd cleared it, we looked back to see this. We never did observe ground circulation or debris from this feature, but the funnel persisted for a few minutes before dissipating. After it did, we continued east.

We ended up in extreme northwest Missouri, watching another rotating storm. We were fairly sure it was producing a tornado, but the wrap-around precipitation was blocking our view as it moved left to right across the base of the storm. Because I couldn't be sure there was something on the ground, I decided to not log it as a tornado observation. (Later reports and images from other storm chasers who had a different angle on the storm showed there in fact was a large tornado). As darkness loomed, we decided to call it a day. We stopped in Atchison for gas and snacks, and then began the long journey home.