Back on the Road…to Russell
2004 05 17
NE to KS


I woke up early enough to see Pat leave with Mark’s truck at around 7 pm. Janis made some blueberry muffins for breakfast. Did I mention Nebraska hospitality? Pat called at around 9 am to say that the truck needed a new CV boot AND a new axle and that it should be ready at around 9:30 am. We packed up and said our goodbyes to the family then Nick drove us into Ansley to pick up the truck and pick up the trip where we left off.


After paying Pat for the repairs (a sum that seemed quite low for the work done), we thanked him profusely then got back on the road at about 10:30 am. Wow, what an adventure that was! (After the trip, the three of us pitched in and bought a weather radio for them as a gesture of thanks. Hopefully, that’ll keep them safe from those Nebraska ‘Naders.)



Sunrise from Pat and Janis’ place in Mason City


Janis had let us use her computer earlier in the morning so we knew that we needed to get to central Kansas to see any weather on this day. On our way southeast, we stopped at a Pizza Hut in Phillipsburg at around 1 pm. Leaving the restaurant, we saw George and crew fly by heading south, so we ended up meeting up with them again and told them our story. We parted ways again and stopped at Hays, Kansas, for some data. We decided we needed to edge east closer to the low-level jet and better moisture. No storms had popped as of 3:50 pm.


We got gas in Russell, and tried to head north from there but the road was closed for construction. So, we headed east on I-70 while cumulus towers started to go up. We found a place to the northeast of Russell to watch, wait and take photos. There were some anvils visible now, but everything seemed to totally mush out after going up. Disappointment started to build.


Photograph of Sarah looking frustrated while we wait for convection to get organized,

east of Russell looking roughly west.


There was only one cell we could see with shafts of rain and that was to our west-southwest. So, we headed back to Russell and found a place with a good view just north of town. This cell rapidly intensified as we sat and watched and soon we heard a severe thunderstorm warning over the weather radio. Okay, this was much better!


Photograph of the lone cell getting our attention due west of Russell,

looking west on the northern edge of Russell.


The cell developed a sharp back edge on the precipitation, which seemed to now include hail. Then a beautiful rotating wall cloud began to form on the south side. Soon after, tornado sirens began to go off in Russell. We were in great position with the storm approaching from the west, and there were no other chasers in view. This was our storm!


Photograph of the sharp edge to the hail and rain, now forming a “foot” due to the RFD wrapping

precipitation behind the rotating wall cloud forming on the southern flank, still looking west.


Photograph of the nicely organized supercell now with rain/hail foot and rotating wall cloud, still looking west.


Next we heard a tornado warning over the weather radio for this storm and all eyes were trained on the wall cloud. The growing supercell began to right move, and we realized that the wall cloud was rapidly moving to the south of us over the town of Russell. As it did, a churning, ragged funnel cloud began to appear beneath the wall cloud (oddly enough, the sirens were turned off just as this beast was entering town). The moderate east winds suddenly became strong northerlies - air rushing into the region of rotation. That was the rear flank downdraft, accompanied by rain, and we quickly realized we were in a part of the storm called “The Bear’s Cage”. And we didn’t want to find out how it got its name.


Photograph of the rapidly rotating wall cloud moving over Russell, looking southwest.


We planned an escape route to our east that jogged south to I-70, so we sped along that road passing a policeman in a cruiser watching the action. As we rounded the bend to head south, it was obvious that the funnel cloud / wall cloud had picked up speed and would cross the road before we could get south of it. So, we backed off, let it pass, then swooped in south behind it and ahead of the rain and large hail in the hook. The funnel cloud was looking more ominous now, though still ragged. Forks of lightning occasionally danced around it.


Churning ragged funnel cloud, from just south of I-70 looking roughly northeast.


When we got to I-70, we were stunned to see a huge number of chase vehicles following what we thought was our little storm. We decided to take an easterly route that ran parallel and just to the south of I-70 so we could chase and pull off the road safely. A good number of chasers didn’t seem to care and were stopped all along I-70.


We followed the storm as it moved east-southeast and the funnel cloud appeared to become disorganized. Then a new rotating wall cloud developed to the right of the old one. It did this once more before the storm appeared to lose its punch. We let it head of east and dissipate. Once again, we saw no discernable tornado, but got a really good taste of classic supercell behaviour.





Various shots of the wall cloud and the frequent lightning around it.


Photograph of rotating bits of scud beneath the second wall cloud which was now well east of Russell,

looking roughly northwest.


A few new storms were developing to the west, but these appeared to be far less intense and any warnings had been dropped. Mark was still looking for a hail dent or two in his truck, so we entered the core of a compact little cell that was moving just to our north and “played in the hail”, as he says. We did manage to get into quarter sized hail before that storm lost its punch and moved east, but dents were hard to come by.



We found a few more roads of pudding before deciding to punch a very isolated hail/rain core.

We ended up going back to Russell for dinner. Of course, George and crew also ended up in Russell, along with a gaggle of other chasers. We stayed at the Super 8 there (they promised high speed internet, but we couldn’t get it to work). Another great chase day had come and gone.



All text and images by Dave Sills Copyright 2004.

Unauthorized use prohibited. All rights reserved.



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