May 26, 2008 Chase

After just one day off following a threepeat tornado weekend, we were back in action for the fourth time in five days, and once again, we were headed to Kansas. Unfortunately, our target was Greensburg, the town that had been devastated the previous year by a monster tornado. We arrived in town and found a huge chaser convergence at the town's largest store. We stopped for a bathroom break and some drinks, and it was a very uncomfortable mood waiting in line to buy our stuff. You could sense the apprehension and tension from the locals, seeing a parking lot full of storm chasers...they knew why all of us were there.

We visited the world's largest hand-dug well, and checked out the local museum dedicated to the tornado and the rebuilding project. The lady behind the counter made no secret of the fact she wasn't happy to see us there, although she wasn't rude about it. After seeing everything there was to see, we headed back to the store, where we chilled out and waited.

Before long storms began to fire southwest of town, and we joined a large caravan of chasers who left town headed towards them. We went south on KS183 until we had the storm's base in view. We stopped and sat a while, watching to see how the storm would progress. Other storms were firing all around us as well, and we became concerned they would all compete with each other and nothing would dominate. The original storm we'd gone after loomed to the west, but wasn't developing as we'd hoped. Feeling it wasn't going to be the one, we started drifting south again on 183, towards a newer storm that had formed just to our southeast.

We turned east onto some back road, and spent the next half hour or so negotiating some questionable roads as we flirted with the northwestern edge of the developing storm. Lightning began to pick up as we continued north and east on back roads, trying to stay ahead of the storm and hoping it would intensify. Eventually we found ourselves heading north, as the storm just south of us continued to sputter. But the original storm to our west suddenly looked better. We came up to US54/400 near Haviland, and drove to the west side of town.

The storm's base looked well-organized and intense, although the overall storm itself still seemed rather linear and outflowish. However within minutes, the storm developed an inflow feeder on its southeast flank, which extended back for a few miles and continued to fuel the storm. We decided the best plan of action would be to drop south again, and then try and stay east of the storm, as it was high-precipitation (like most everything this year) and was moving fairly rapidly. The best part of the situation was the storm had developed while near Greensburg, but had now cleared the town to the east as it became intense and dangerous. We jumped on a back road and went about five miles south of Haviland, then turned east. The storm was really cranking by this time, and after a few miles I told Chad to stop.

The storm base was now rotating well at the low levels, and tornadogenesis looked imminent. Within seconds a small tornado suddenly appeared. It was brief, lasting only seconds and appearing as a wispy funnel. Even after the tornado disappeared, the lowering it came from continued to rotate violently, as a close CG strike hit. The rotation continued to intensify as the RFD notch began to cut in. We waited, expecting another tornado any second, but none ever formed. Deciding we needed to keep ahead of the storm, we continued east.

We eventually came to US281, where we turned south. We'd gotten far enough of ahead of the storm to where we tried to go south and get a better view of the updraft base. However, after a few miles trees started to block our view, so we turned around and headed back north. We found a nice open spot and stopped to watch. We spent the next several minutes pointing and shouting, thinking every lowering was a funnel or tornado. Eventually we realized we were being fooled by scud, and just let the storm roll up to us so we could get a better view. Once it got close again, we turned east and continued to stay ahead of it, but close enough to discern the details underneath. During one of the stops, we managed to get this breath-taking view of the storm from the rear flank, middle, and forward flank. It was one of the prettiest storms of 2008.

We turned north again, heading back towards US54/400. As we drove, the storm's forward flank developed a suspicious-looking lowering. We eventually came to US54/400, and then turned east. After a mile or two, we stopped. As we were watching another part of the storm, this rain-wrapped tornado developed to our west. It moved to the southeast, but vanished in less than a minute. Once it was over, we jumped back in the car and continued east. By this time the storm wasn't looking as good, so we decided to turn back south towards home, because other storms were expected to fire later in the evening.

We made our way east to I-35, then dropped south back into Oklahoma. We stopped in Blackwell at McDonald's; after a long chase, all I wanted was some cheap greasy food. I ordered and then went to the restroom. When I came back out, Mickey and Chad were watching the television in the corner, which was showing a mean-looking storm with a hook on it...just west of town. Just then, the tornado sirens started blaring. Though all I really wanted at that point was my double cheeseburgers, we told the employees to go get in the walk-in freezer as we started out the doors and back to the car. One of them said "why aren't you guys taking shelter?" to which I replied on my way out: "because we're chasing it."

We drove across the overpass to the west side of town, where we could see an ominous lowering with the lightning strikes. It looked like any tornado would form just south of us and move east, which would put us in a bad spot for hail and overall visibility. We blasted east through town, and then turned south in downtown. After a few blocks, buildings were blocking our view to the west. It was an eerie feeling being surrounded by structures, knowing a potentially-tornadic storm was just west of us, looming in the darkness. We turned around and headed back to the main east-west road through town, and then turned east. We drove out away from town a few miles, until the city lights went away and we could actually see into the night again. The storm started losing some of its punch, so we headed back west to town. Though there was never any tornado, it was still an eerie feeling to drive back towards the storm in the dark. We decided to just keep going home from that point. My McDonald's fix would have to wait for another day.