June 4, 2005 Chase

Chad, Mick, and myself rode in Chad's car with Angie Norris and Jo following in Ang's car. This looked to be one of the last big days of the season that we'd be able to chase, and the High Risk associated with the SPC outlook only added a bit of urgency to the situation. We'd seen some spectacular stuff, but all of it had come on just two days. It had been a while since we'd seen a tornado, and with the calendar now showing we only had days left before our season would end due to lack of money, I wanted to make the most of this chase.

We started in Emporia, where we mingled amongst a large chaser convergence. After a few hours, a storm developed to our west and we, along with a string of others, took off after it. We took US50 west through Saffordville and Strong City, where we turned north onto KS177. South of Council Grove, a wild turkey came out of nowhere and impacted the windshield on the passenger's side, right in front of me. I got a bird's eye view (pardon the pun) of the turkey's ass as it rolled up the window and into Chad's wx-station. What happened next was nothing short of unbelievable. The turkey impacted the station with enough force to rip it off the roof, sending it sliding back down the rear windshield, ripping the roof like a can opener as it did. Chad managed to get us pulled over and stopped without further incident. Fortunately for us, chasers Marc Grant and Fred Plowman pulled over with us to assist in any way they could. Back at the beginning of the season, it had taken Chad and I over two hours to properly place and attach the wx-station to his roof. In a real-time chase situation with our fate resting on our ability to recover quickly, Chad, Mick, and I got it replaced and re-attached in three minutes. I guess incentive makes the difference.

We got back on the road, not having lost much time on the storm. We were gaining on it once more as we neared Alta Vista, and by the time we'd turned east on KS4 and then back north onto KS99, we had a good view of the storm's base. It was linear, outflowish and benign-looking. We'd been so preoccupied with our fowl adventure, we hadn't realized that storms were going up everywhere. With so many different cells competing for the energy, none of them were winning, which left us with a gaggle of messy, uninteresting storms. The day seemed lost, but it was still early. We stopped and analyzed the situation, then decided that going south into the area that was better-capped would be our only shot for a tornado. The thinking was that we'd get better spacing on any storms that fired there. Once we had our contingency plan, we plotted a course and set sail for an area that had no storms.

We rolled back south to KS4, then east to Eskridge. From there we busted south on KS99 past the intersection of US56, the town of Admire, and eventually into Emporia. By the time we had made it there, storms had begun to develop in our target area, which was basically the area south of the farthest-south storm. We crept through town, getting the grand tour as usual, and finally made it through back onto open highway. We drove through the town of Olpe, and south of there stopped to watch a few of the newer storms that had fired much farther south than the original ones. Though we definitely had better isolation with this second round of storms, they weren't intensifying and looked weak. We stayed with a pair of them and hoped in vain they could get their act together, but neither did. By this time I was starting to lose hope, so we decided to just keep dropping south and staying with the plan.

We moved through Hamilton, as more storms started to fire further south. However, like the ones we'd watched near Olpe, they didn't seem to be particularly intense. We came to the intersection of US54, where we jogged west a few miles before picking up KS99 south again. During this time, Dwain called to alert us to a new storm southwest of us that was tornado-warned. The only problem was, it was embedded with several others. For whatever reason, my scanner wasn't receiving the warning; all we'd heard were severe thunderstorm warnings and flash flood warnings, as a large complex of severe storms was now ongoing to our south and west. We drove through the town of Climax, and eventually came to the intersection of US400, just north of the community of Severy. We went west a mile or so, then south again on KS99. By this time we could see the top of the storm, as well as the mid-levels. It was obviously rotating, with an almost octopus-like display as several mid-level inflow bands were being cyclonically curved into the storm like a giant pinwheel in the sky. The only problem was, we couldn't see the base for rain. We held up just west of KS99 on a farm road, hoping the base would come into view. When it failed to after five or so minutes, we decided to head back north to the intersection of KS99/US400. We'd seen a travel center there, and wanted to gas up and grab some snacks before we started planning our trip back home.

We made it back to the travel center, as the rain kept falling heavier and heavier. We pulled into the southwest corner of the lot and faced west towards the oncoming storm. Then, as we were planning our route home, the base finally started to come into view. We kept watch as it gradually became better-defined, and developed a lowering on the right side. Moments later, it was somewhat backlit by a cg strike, as it continued to rapidly evolve and change shape, all the while rainfall rates of about one inch per hour kept drenching us. The lowering quickly developed into a large funnel, that was very close to the ground. In retrospect this was likely a tornado by that time, but I was so skeptical between the earlier storms and all the rain, that I still wasn't convinced it was even rotating. The funnel began to narrow and lose definition, and I continued to scoff at it, calling it scud. Even as it started to get its shape back, I continued to be pessimistic, not believing a tornado could form with that much rain cooling the inflow and RFD regions. Even as it took on this slender rope form, I said aloud: "that's the best tornado look-a-like I've ever seen." After another thirty seconds however, I was suddenly convinced.

A Wizard Of Oz tornado was now just a few miles in front of us, despite the continuous, intense heavy precipitation. Cars kept driving towards it, either oblivious to its presence or simply unconcerned, as it continued to arch and move across the highway. Eventually it began to stretch horizontally, as it began to weaken. Over the next several minutes, the tornado lazily roped out, as gradually as it had developed. Once it did, we decided to stay with the storm as a new area of scud was developing just behind us to the northeast. Despite the fact darkness was fast-closing in, we continued the chase eastbound on US400. We took a road north towards Fall River lake, where we wound our way around the west side. However, with even more storms now developing to our south, near darkness, and a ton of rain, we decided to call it day. We drove west on US400 to Piedmont, where we made our final stop before heading home.