The Big Event
2004 05 12
KS to OK
We got up late again and left
Colby around , heading south for the
The Dodge City NEXRAD Doppler radar. I guess
you don’t need a tall tower in these parts…
We continued south along 83 to
Sublette and took a break there to assess the situation. There should have been
a boundary to our east. We decided based on the clouds we could see that we
needed to move farther south and east and left at around . Shortly after leaving, we crossed the boundary. The air
became noticeably more humid and the wind backed to
At , we stopped again to assess the situation, this time in Meade. A few other chasers were there as well. We really didn’t want to get too far east of the boundary. We were at a little gas station so I couldn’t believe it when we detected a WI-FI signal. A short walk over to the station and BINGO! A quick analysis of the data showed that we were pretty much in the right spot. We just had to wait and watch for convection to begin. The excitement was beginning to build.
We decided to head a bit farther east and soon after, we began to see healthy looking cells to our east, with a few more to our north. In a short time, the cells to our east developed explosively and we knew where we had to be. After a short photo stop on 160, we sped east to intercept what appeared to be some gorgeous supercell storms.
Chris and Dave, Scott and Peter, and the first cell,
heading east on 160
Photograph of explosive convection, just north of 160 facing east.
Soon it was apparent that things were going to be a bit more complicated than the classic lone supercell. We could see a number of strong cells and it appeared that storm splitting might be occurring. That certainly would have fit with the data we had.
The first supercell begins to split, from 160 heading east.
Now two supercells, one north of 160 and one south (with hail).
Suddenly, there were chasers
everywhere. Even in the middle of the road! We had a near miss as a tour group
decided to pull part-way off the shoulder just the other side of a big hill,
Photograph of double rainbow and hail core, from scenic turnout just south of 160 facing northeast.
We thought we saw George and crew pulled off at a scenic turnout. There was certainly a healthy looking rain-free base to our north. We radioed the others that we might like to stop here and have a look, then headed a bit farther down 160 and found another scenic lookout. There was now a rotating wall cloud to our northwest, and a solid rain-free base to our southeast. Chris and Dave and Scott and Peter apparently pulled off to wait for us a couple of miles up the road, but we lost radio contact with them. This would prove to shape our destiny for the remainder of the day.
Views of the west side of the
Photograph of supercell with rotating wall cloud to our northwest.
Photograph of supercell with rotating wall cloud to our southeast.
We decided to stay at the scenic turnout for some video and pictures. The wall cloud to our northwest was rapidly rotating and we expected a tornado any minute. At around , while we were focusing on that cell, another chaser yelled that a tornado had formed on the cell to our southeast. Indeed, a pretty little elephant trunk was now present underneath an amazingly solid updraft core. Unfortunately, our position relative to the tornado meant that the contrast was quite low. In addition, there were other updrafts going up all around us with wall clouds in different degrees of development. We weren’t sure what to focus on!
Photograph of supercell to our southeast spawning a low-contrast “elephant trunk” tornado
Photograph of the
Photograph of the sun setting under yet another updraft base, facing west-northwest.
After the tornado dissipated, we headed east on 160 at about . At around Medicine Lodge, the situation was getting quite complicated. There were wall clouds everywhere! At about , we stopped the truck to assess the situation, only to find rapid rotation and a developing funnel cloud right overhead!
Assessing the situation, facing east along 160.
Area of rotation with faint funnel cloud on left.
We sped west to get out of the
area, and found another wall cloud to our northwest. We were deciding whether
to stay on this storm or head back east when we saw a Doppler On Wheels (
At about , we spotted a dusty tornado to our east-southeast. It looked awfully big and close, but it turns out it was 5-10 miles away. We got video but Mark was eager to move forward so we inched along the highway and never stopped for pictures. Little did we know that Chris, Dave, Scott and Peter were having the chase of their lives within a quarter mile of this beast!
The F2 Attica tornado, facing east along 160.
Reactions from Sarah and Mark.
Soon after, the tornado dissipated
and we headed a bit further east. We stopped to take a closer look at another
wall cloud to our north. It was then that we noticed small bits of paper drifting
down out of the sky. This was obviously tornado debris, and well upwind of the
Another wall cloud to our north, with lightning on right.
The intense supercell to our east near Harper produced a lot of very interesting features.
A pensive Mark and another supercell.
Wall cloud approaching from the south.
A new cell began moving toward us
from the south with yet another wall cloud developing - we had to move. We
headed east toward
Heading east with the Harper storm lit by lightning.
Jim’s group south of
We waited there for a while
watching the continuous lightning to our north. After it was clear the show
would be over, we talked a bit with a fireman sitting in his truck to our
south. He said there were no injuries that he knew of, but
Sarah checking out
Mark thought he could drive the
truck over the debris blocking the road and gave it a try. Success –
though quite a ride! We continued east to Harper to see if we could find any
damage there, but the police had the road blocked where the damage was worst,
so we headed south and finally were able to contact the rest of our group. It
was then that we learned how close they had come to not only the
The action the next day would be
All text and images by Dave Sills Copyright 2004.
Unauthorized use prohibited. All rights reserved.