May 23, 2008 Chase

After our overnight stay in Hays, we woke up re-charged and optimisitc, feeling we'd have another great day. It was obvious the warm front was south of us, as we awoke to find cool, foggy conditions. At first this worried me a bit, as I wasn't sure just how far south the front had gotten overnight, but these fears were quickly extinguished as we drove south and west to our target town of Dighton, as the sun broke through, the temps went up, and the humidity skyrocketed.

We rolled into Dighton as turkey towers began to develop all around us. We stopped at a local convenient store to gas up and grab some snacks, and as I got out of the car, a local deputy drove up. He asked me what to expect that day, and I told him basically a repeat of the day before. He was not pleased, but was very cool, and gave me a phone number to the local EM office, to report anything I saw in their county directly to him. After he took his leave, I ran into fellow chaser Damon Scott Hynes, whom I shared a pleasant conversation with while the gas pumped. By the time I was done chewing the fat, all the others had finished their business inside the store, and were now waiting on me so we could continue our day. I grabbed what I needed from inside, and then we drove to the west side of town to sit and wait.

After only a few minutes, the first storm of the day quickly developed just southeast of town. We took off eastbound, and used a nice network of back roads to methodically work our way north and east of the storm as it continued to intensify. With storm motions again today expected to be quite fast, we decided to just stay ahead of it while it developed. This plan was working wonderfully, and on one of our random stops to view how the storm was coming along, a young chaser named Brendon Lindsey pulled up beside us. His girlfriend was along with him, and couldn't have looked any less-interested to be there. He said he had no data, and asked if he could follow us. I thought it was kinda odd that he needed data with the storm right in front of us, but we obliged. So we took off again, with this kid in tow, off to the north and west.

The roads were getting progressively worse, as we were encountering more and more areas that had seen precip, as we got closer to the storm. As we topped a hill, suddenly there were numerous cows, and four men who were trying to wrangle them up, standing in the middle of the road. We saw it in time, and although it scared us for a split-second, we were able to come to a stop without issue. During the chase, I'd forgotten about Brendon Lindsay, until I looked behind us to see him flying over the hill, and swerving almost into the ditch to avoid rear-ending us. My attention then turned ahead, to the men and the cows, trying to clear a path so we could continue. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally managed to get through, and the chase was on again. The storm had put some distance between us and it, so we were hurrying on ever-slickening roads to try and make up for lost time. Finally, we came to an intersection that was so bad, we were afraid to chance it. The storm had been tornado-warned and we knew it was gonna go crazy as it crossed the boundary, but there was no way our road was passable...we were about ten miles south of Quinter. We swallowed a bitter pill and let the storm go, plotted a route back south and west to pick up the next group of storms, and headed that way. It wasn't until then I realized Brendon Lindsey wasn't behind us anymore.

After a few verbal disagreements and minor hissy fits about what our new plan was going to do to our chances of success that day, we finally rolled into Dighton once again, from the north side this time. We found a spot to set up just west of KS23, and watched as the next tornado-warned storm rolled up from the southwest. The storm speeds were still racing, so we just hoped it would do something in the five or ten-minute window we expected to have. At first the storm didn't look very impressive at all, but it got its act together quickly. Before we knew it, a large merry-go-round mesocyclone/tornado cyclone had formed, and began churning just west of town. Somehow, the storm seemed to slow, as this cloud carousel continued to just sit west of Dighton.

After a few more minutes, the wall cloud seemed to become less-organized, as the storm began to cycle down. However, this was just a temporary phase, as once the RFD precip wrap began to clear out, a nicely-cut notch was leftover, still with vigorous rotation. Suddenly what looked like a benign wall cloud was on the brink of tornadogenesis. Within seconds a tornado formed, beginning as a cone funnel buried within the spinning rain. The tornado funnel began to twist and writhe, as a condensation finger appeared on the ground. The condensation snake began to rise, being pulled to cloud base. Moments later, the RFD and associated wrap around precip began to intrude on our viewing spot. The tornado had apparently been brief, as we saw no other condensation fingers or any debris being kicked up after the initial vortex had appeared. Thinking the tornado was over, we moved north.

The parent rotation that had spawned the tornado continued to churn a few miles west of us, as we rolled north on KS23. After a mile or so, we pulled over again to watch this rotation. The clear slot that had initially developed just prior to the previous tornadogenesis was now completely cutting off the southern end of the rotation, and developing a broad v-shaped funnel. We shot video as this funnel spun rapidly, and eventually produced wisps of condensation to the ground, becoming tornado number two. Many chasers and the NWS counted this event as one long-track tornado, but from my own observations first-hand, I observed a sizable gap in between ground circulations, which prompted me to log this as two separate tornadoes. After a few minutes, this tornado developed into a single vortex elephant trunk, but I somehow managed to hit 'pause' instead of record so I missed getting it on video. After a few minutes, rain began to obscure our view, and we continued north on KS23.

We continued north with the storm until we reached the intersection of KS23/4, then turned east when we decided we'd lost position on the storm. We continued east for a bit, then decided to start working our way south and east to get into position for the next supercell, which was southwest of Ness City. We used various back roads, and finally came upon the storm, as it cycled up and tried to produce a tornado. After a few promising funnels, it became rain-wrapped. We moved north and tried to stay in position, but the storm was moving too fast and becoming too wrapped for us to do anything with safely. We reached US283 a few miles south of Ness City, and decided to abandon the storm.

The last storm in the line was well-south of us, southwest of Greensburg...and moving in a beeline right for the stricken community. We hoped nothing would happen for the town's sake while at the same time hoping we'd see a tornado, a very oxymoronic mindset as we negotiated various roads south and east to try and beat the storm to town. We came in just behind it just before dark, with zero visibility and a possible tornado looming in the rain just east of us. As usual, Chad and Mickey were ready to throw caution to the wind and just barrel right into the circulation, while I was very apprehensive. My cooler head prevailed, and we held back, sampling some quarter to golfball hail as we let the circulation center move across the road and east of us. Later reports would reveal a couple of large tornadoes did in fact occur after dark, just east of Greensburg and west of Pratt, where a Colorado couple were killed when their vehicle was swept off the road. While we might have avoided these tornadoes had we just careened into the storm initially, I still don't regret persuading the others to hold back.

With Chad having a prior personal commitment in Oklahoma City the next day, we began the long journey home, after a two-day run of tornadic success. But the best was yet to come.