A one day chase to Kansas would prove to be the best chase of the year for us thus far. Leaving Illinois around 6:30 AM, we departed for north-central Kansas where conditions looked quite favorable for tornadic supercells. As the evening progressed, we were able to intercept two tornado-warned storms that produced 4 tornadoes for us resulting in a very rewarding chase.
Date: May 1st, 2018
Miles Driven: 1,175
Chase Partners: Ethan Schisler, Cory Marshall, James Tompkins
Photogenic Tornadoes: 2
Largest Hail: Quarter
Top Wind: ~70 MPH
States Chased In: Kansas
After a slow and very frustrating start to 2018, we finally saw our first decent Plains setup worth venturing west for. Departing Illinois in the early morning hours of May 1st, Ethan, Cory, James & I were making the 8 hour drive west on what looked to be a very exciting chase day. A dry line was forecast to setup over West Central Kansas with a warm frontal boundary extending eastward along the I-70 corridor. This was putting the triple point near Russell, Kansas during the late afternoon hours. We left Galesburg, IL around sunrise and were heading west after grabbing some breakfast in Macomb. We made great time getting into Salina, Kansas around early afternoon for a grease-filled lunch at the local Spangles fast food restaurant.
The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma had went with a moderate risk for the days severe weather threat.
They were expecting several tornadic supercells capable of extremely large hail (over baseball size), damaging wind gusts, and perhaps a strong tornado or two for our target area. By afternoon we were quite excited as we drifted toward the Russell area with towers going up, CAPE values exceeding 3000 J/KG and low level shear starting to increase toward late afternoon. Winds were cranking out of the southeast at over 20 mph at times and with the moisture in the air (dew points into the mid 60’s), it was the first day all season that felt like it was going to be quite good.
Our original storm north of Russell, KS quickly organized into a supercell with a wall cloud. We traveled northward to pursue it given its close proximity to us and the alignment of the supercells to the southwest would give us easy access at dropping south if our storm decided to fizzle out. As we got north of Russell, the storm started to wrap up with a substantial lowering, however rain wrapping around the area of interest cut us off and we eventually let the cell go to the east as it was looking less than less organized. Another storm was hot on its tail though! We went back to the north side of Russell where we viewed the second storm’s updraft base and associated rotation. This storm was looking MUCH healthier and much more organized with what appeared like a large wall cloud. However was we traveled north of Russell again on the same highway, the lowering started to get more disorganized, we thought this storm was going to undergo the same demise as the previous one. It would just be cycling however. We noted a small high based funnel cloud as we were driving north that tried to develop into a tornado but failed. We pursued this cell eastward on, at times, quite sketchy roads. The road network in this part of Kansas is not that great and not easy for chasing storms. The storm would continue to cycle over and over again, at times shuffling between outflow domination and inflow.
This was somewhat of an unusual thing to see on a supercell, however with inflow still present for a majority of the life cycle and the low level jet ramping up, we had to stay with it. Storm structure started ramping up near Lucas, Kansas around 5:30pm with several inflow bands feeding into the storm’s mesocyclone due to our northwest. Structure became very impressive, however it was a classic HP supercell with the area of interest socked in heavy rain and likely very large hail.
Our team continued to track this supercell east where a brief tornado touched down near Barnard, KS (south of the town of Beloit) shortly after 6pm. At first I wasn’t sure if this was a tornado or not, however upon later review of video, the funnel indeed touched down, and NWS Hastings confirmed an EF-0 tornado with minor damages.
As we traveled northeast with this storm, things really started to ramp up. We drove through the town of Glasco right around 6:45PM navigating very difficult roads. Outside of town as we were heading east and positioning to go northward, a brief tornado crossed the road around a mile or so in front of us with wrapping rain curtains rotating all around us. We got north of town and had the storm quickly wrap up again and produce a large, broad, multiple vortex tornado within 200 yards of our vehicle. We got blasted by 60-70 mph inflow winds and small pieces of gravel that knocked part of our back window out. The tornado condensed several times appearing quite large before becoming rainwrapped from our point of view.
We had to drop south out of the precipitation to assess our situation with the window. We thought at this point the chase was over after seeing 3 tornadoes and more than satisfied with what we got, but that would be far from the truth.We dropped south toward the small town of Bennington, Kansas where we got into the inflow of another powerful supercell. This time the storm would produce a large EF3 tornado that passed near Culver and Tescott. As we were heading south on highway 81 our team noticed a cone to the southwest before turning westward toward the storm. The tornado several miles to our west had grown quite large in size, at times appearing as a wedge. We drove toward the tornado for several minutes before we had to stop for a police roadblock, luckily they let us through and we were able to go forth a couple more miles before stopping. This large tornado was wrapping in heavy sheets of precipitation and likely extremely large hail. With our window being compromised, we decided to end our pursuit here and go celebrate a GREAT chase day. Luckily nobody was hurt by this large tornado, NWS Topeka has rated it an EF-3 with a width up to 1/2 mile.
Overall, this chase was well worth it and ended up being so far the best chase of the season for us (as of early June). We were able to position to see several tornadoes and get great video and photographs. Best of all most of the tornadoes stayed over open areas and nobody was killed and only minor injuries tops. This is the type of event all storm chasers dream of when we go out there. We are grateful to be on the board for 2018 already with a lot of the year still left!
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