May 5, 2007 Chase

Mick and I awoke after maybe an hour's sleep in Pratt, following our wild nocturnal wedgefest the night before. The sirens never stopped all night, and we could still hear them as we got ready to head out. As far as the weather, it looked like a repeat of the day before, except with daytime initiation much earlier than the previous day's event. We checked out, then grabbed some breakfast at local restaurant. A couple of EMTs who'd been working the Greensburg tornado were there, and they said the situation was a lot worse than previously reported on the local news. After a quick chat with them, we finished our food, paid, and left.

We decided to head north, because the route west was blocked off do to the emergency situation in Greensburg. So we cruised north on US281 to the north side of town, where we sat and watched the sky. It was obvious today would be major, but we were antsy and didn't want to just sit and wait several hours for storms. So, we crafted a three-part plan. There was early convection beginning in western Kansas, so we decided to take off for those storms, to try and snag an early tornado. As we drove west to intercept those storms, we planned to drop south into northwest Oklahoma after an hour or so, if the western Kansas stuff didn't produce. From northwest Oklahoma, we'd work our way back up towards the Greensburg area if nothing was popping down there. So with plans A, B, and C, we continued west.

The early storms looked good for about half an hour, until we were on them. We jumped on the closest one and stayed with it for almost an hour, before realizing plan A was a bust. We left the decaying storm and started working our way south towards Oklahoma. We came across the state line on US183, and made it down to Buffalo, where we stopped at the local Love's. I ran inside to hit the restroom, and saw Matt Biddle sitting in a van parked by the front doors. I hadn't seen him in a few years, and hadn't seen him in the field for several years. I went over to say hello for a few minutes, then went inside to take care of business. I saw Chuck Doswell inside, and quickly figured out he was the one Matt was waiting for. By the time I was done and headed back out to the car, Matt and company were gone. Mick and I decided to drop south to US64, then cruise west a few miles, to watch a storm that had developed in the past ten or so minutes.

We found a spot and watched as the storm slowly evolved, gradually gaining strength. It was moving fairly quickly, so we decided to head back east to 183, and get through Buffalo so we wouldn't have to fight the town later on to catch up. We found ourselves on an open stretch of 183, north of Buffalo and south of the Kansas border. The storm looked better now, and was trying to produce a wall cloud. After a few more minutes, a large wall cloud finally did develop, along with organized storm rotation. A semi stopped next to us and asked if we thought he should continue on or not. We told him to stay put, so he shut off his engine, and just sat there, in the northbound lane of the highway. After several more minutes, the wall cloud finally moved over the road, and we told the trucker it would be safe to continue on. Not long after he left, so did we.

Our storm continued to intensify, but just didn't want to produce a tornado. We were now exiting Plan B and moving into Plan C, as we had crossed back into Kansas, and were now at the mercy of any storm between us and Greensburg; with the emergency rescue operations ongoing, the entire road network through and surrounding the town was blocked off. Once we reached town, we would have no way to go east. We stayed on our original storm until we reached Protection, where it finally got away from us to the north. We weren't too concerned because a new storm had formed to the southwest and already had a solid wall cloud with rapid rising motion. We picked up this new storm as we continued east to KS1/US183, then turned north towards Clearwater (where I would later be stopped again for a burned out headlight, making me a perfect 2-for-2 that weekend). We followed the storm north out of town, watching as it produced a consistent funnel but still no tornado. By now we were starting to get squeezed, because we were approaching Greensburg. The rotation center had crossed the highway north of Clearwater and was now well east of the road. We needed the storm to do it now, or the day was done.

As we neared Greensburg, a suspicious lowering began to drop. We continued to drive north as we watched it become a funnel, and then started looking for a place to stop. The funnel continued to descend, becoming a tornado. We finally got stopped, just as the tornado fully-condensed to the ground. We sat there and watched as it became elongated and stretched, taking on a serpentine appearance briefly. Moments later, the bottom of the funnel began to curve wildly, as the tornado moved rapidly north. Not long afterwards, it roped out, and was gone. The rotation stayed intense, but since the tornado had vanished I decided to make a quick tape change. Right in the middle of it, a second tornado formed quickly. I missed about half of it while I scrambled to get my new tape in and recording, but did manage to get a shot of it before it dissipated. After this one, I decide to move north, which was a bad idea. Not long after the second one ended, a third tornado formed, but we only caught glimpses of it, because I had driven us into an area with trees and hills. We had observed all three tornadoes while being parked inside the Greensburg tornado's damage path.

We tried to negotiate the southern outskirts of Greensburg on rural roads, but this nearly proved disastrous as I almost hit a downed power pole that had been shoved off to the side of the road, barely visible in the growing twilight. After that near miss, we decided to head back south and pick up the next storm coming up from Oklahoma. We jumped back south onto US183, and intercepted the new storm between Greensburg and Clearwater. It had great overall rotation, but just didn't want to put down a tornado. After about twenty minutes, we let this one go as well, as it too was headed just south of Greensburg, and we had no route to follow without being a possible hindrance to rescue efforts. We dropped south to Clearwater, got pulled over for the second time in as many chases, then continued east on US160 to Medicine Lodge. From there we went south on US281, where, just like the night before, we found ourselves arriving in Alva at the local Pizza Hut, just before dark.

We brought the laptop inside with us, just like the night before, and ran a velocity loop while we ate. In a continuation of the night before, about halfway through our meal, another colossal velocity couplet showed up southwest of us. We figured we'd done it the night before, why not do it again, so we grabbed our stuff, paid, and took off to the south side of town. Unlike the night before, we needed to stop for gas, which delayed us by about five minutes. Once the tank was full again, we busted south on 281 past Hopeton, then west to Waynoka. A large tornado was being reported in association with the giant couplet, so we were both eager and apprehensive as we flung ourselves towards this monster storm in the night.

We were approaching the storm from the worst possible angle, even for a daytime intercept, so I was very nervous. Mick on the other hand, who was watching the velocity loop and new exactly where we were, was far more relaxed. I didn't like not knowing where this thing was relative to us, but I kept pushing forward. We finally came into Seiling, and then turned back northwest onto US270. We drove a mile or so, then found a flat spot to pull over. The tornado's projected path was taking it well west of our position (near Mutual), but after witnessing the insane large-span hand offs on last night's storm, I was worried we'd be too close and be hit by the new tornado if the storm cycled again. So, we held up where we were, and nothing ever came of it. We found a room in Seiling for the night, and prepared for our third straight chase the next day.