May 22, 2007 Chase

Chad and I were in his car this day, which wasn't looking like a spectacular severe weather type of event. However, it was in the heart of the season and we were eager for some action after a couple weeks of down time. We drove north and west into Kansas, targeting the area around WaKeeney. We arrived there as a storm was developing to our distant southwest, near Scott City. We decided to drift west along I-70 towards Voda, to get a better view of the approaching storm.

As the storm first came into view, it was already showing promise as a supercell ,which boosted our confidence in this marginal setup. We watched as it evolved, but then seemed to hit a wall. A second storm formed just north of it after a while, and this only served to increase the downward trend of activity. With two storms competing in a marginal setup, neither could intensify and dominate. We held our position for a while longer, then decided we needed to start working our way north. We used a series of back roads to maneuver north and east, staying ahead of the two storms as they continued to try and develop. As we were nearing US183 from the west, east of St Peter and north of WaKeeney, the north storm ingested the southern one, and started to intensify. By the time we reached 183 and positioned ourselves just east of the highway looking west, the storm had gone from garden variety to a true supercell.

The storm now looked impressive, as a mesocyclone was now obvious and the inflow began to intensify on the southern flank of the storm. We watched over the next several minutes as the storm continued to intensify, producing a weak funnel. Not long after it dissipated, the storm produced a larger, more intense funnel that lasted a bit longer than the first, but also did nothing. We were getting frustrated by the storm, which had been showing great rotation at the low levels, but couldn't seem to produce a tornado. Eventually the reason why became clear: the overall storm was starting to decay, because a new one was developing just behind it to the southwest. At first this made me very angry, because the new storm didn't seem to have as much tornadic potential, while wrecking the original storm ahead of it that did. In my mind we were watching our one chance at a tornado get destroyed by a junk storm. But after several more minutes, it became clear this new storm meant business.

We decided to move, as we'd been sitting in the same spot for over half an hour, and things didn't seem to be getting much closer. We dropped south a few miles, then turned west onto a back road. We drove about half a mile, and then stopped to view the storm, which by now was a classic looking supercell. We continued west another mile or two, then turned north at the next intersection we came upon. We got out and watched the storm a while, which was obviously rotating but very high-based. I began to be concerned once again about our tornado chances. However, it was a supercell and we were all over it, so we stayed optimistic. After a few minutes, we decided to drive south, and check out the rear portion of the storm. It didn't take long to realize this storm was leaning to the HP side of the spectrum, and we'd want to be on the leading edge of it, to catch any possible tornadoes from the forward flank region. After a quick drive south a few miles, we turned around and headed back the way we'd come.

By now, the storm's structure had gone insanely beautiful, as multiple colors, layers, striations, and textures were spinning wildly in the sky, putting on an incredible visual display. Despite this, being the true tornado chaser I am, I was still disappointed in the storm. We kept moving north, watching as it continued to be magnificently structured but ragged at the base. After a few minutes however, a ragged funnel developed. As we moved further north, the funnel intensified, and we started looking for a place to stop. There were a ton of chasers all around, and traffic was getting bad. We were trying to find a spot to shoot video, without adding to the traffic jam. We were finally able to stop at a T intersection and set up. By this time, the original funnel was gone, but the lowering continued to rotate rapidly.

We watched for a few more minutes as the lowering kept spinning and churning. Finally, another funnel began to rapidly develop on the right side of it, and within seconds reached the ground and became a tornado. We decided to jump back in the car and drive north along with the tornado, as it brought up a large debris cloud underneath the funnel. Trees and hills were wreaking havoc on our ability to see the tornado, so we kept driving north, getting a glimpse of it here and there. Eventually we found a nice open area, stopped, and rolled video. The tornado was a classic beauty, spinning away over open country. We held our position over the next several minutes, as the tornado continued to glide east, with the bottom portion of the funnel twisting and condensing briefly, nearly to the ground. It began to narrow as it neared the road, and shortly afterwards began the rope-out phase. It slowly vanished away with snake-like grace, appearing almost ribbon-like as it disappeared for good. Once it was gone, we started to focus on the next possible area, and headed back east to US183.

Once we reached the highway again, the traffic picked up again as well. There were tons of chasers, authorities, spotters, and locals milling about, as the storm was between cycles, and several people who had been viewing the tornado from different locations were now trying to assess and make their next move. Rain started to fall on us, making the roads hazardous. The storm itself was becoming difficult to deal with, as it was towards Hill City and was cutting off the main highway to the north. With the heavy rain, all our east options on back roads were rendered useless, becoming mud. We decided to drop south back into WaKeeney, and try to pick up a new storm that had formed to the southwest.

We found ourselves indecisive as we tried to choose between the storm just south of town, and one further west that looked even better. For the rest of the day we chased our own tails, never fully committing to any one storm fast enough or long enough to get a good intercept. We found ourselves running back and forth between storms that were twenty-five miles apart, and before long it was getting dark. We finally gave up west of Hays at nightfall, and were just trying to start back home. A new tornado-warned storm had developed southwest of us, and was now moving right over our location. We found an exit, and drove underneath the interstate to the north side, and rode out heavy rains and high winds, with zero visibility. After things calmed down, we continued east into hays, where we stopped at the local IHOP for a celebration dinner. Once we were full, we started home.