Landspout in Colorado and brief Tornado in OK Panhandle

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Storm Chase Details

Chase Date: June 11, 2011
Chase Partners:
JR Hehnly

Chasers Encountered:
Brandon Sullivan, Verne Carlson, Michael Carlson, Darin Brunin, Jesse Risley

Miles Logged: 1162
States Chased: CO, KS, OK, TX
Tornadoes Witnessed: 2
Severe Risks: SPC Outlooks

Chase Recap:

JR Hehnly and I decided on Friday that Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado was looking good for tornadoes on Saturday, so around lunchtime, we booked hotel rooms and decided to head out in search of tornadoes after work Friday.

JR booked the Hampton Inn in Garden City, KS, so we set off after work to Garden City, arriving in time to catch Applebees supper and get settled into our hotel room around midnight.

We woke up the next morning, and grabbed breakfast. Texas Tech was having their morning briefing on their storm chase – Their main objective, however, was studying thunderstorm outflow winds. We decided to head west into Colorado, as we thought the best chance of anything tornadic was in Eastern Colorado.

We made our way west and ended up going to La Junta where we met up with Verne Carlson. We went southwest out of La Junta, and watched a storm vaguely get it’s act together. We decided to head back to La Junta and grab some gas, then to stay in front of the storm the rest of the day. As we’re heading up to get gas, we hear Brandon Sullivan shouting ‘Tornado!’ on the radio. We were both skeptical, but I quickly spotted what he was talking about – a landspout tornado had formed back to our southwest.

While not overly impressive or photogenic, it wasn’t a bad catch, and it was still early in the day.

We made a quick pitstop for gas before heading south out of La Junta. We ended up stopping way up on a fire lookout hill, and pulled off the road to just watch the storm. It created a very nice wall cloud and even dropped some funnels. Supposedly there was some ground circulation, but we never really saw it and our video is inconclusive.

Eventually a whole bunch of dust kicked up next to us as winds blew right into the storm, which proved to be pretty exciting.

We moved further south for a bit to watch the storm, and it seemingly fell apart visually and on radar, so we ditched it to the south. We literally drove through a dozen cow pastures, getting a couple good still photos and some video of storm structure clouds.

Somewhere east of Kim, we decided the storm was completely falling apart, and decided to bail on them for the storms blowing up in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. It was quite a long shot, but the updrafts were visible from our position, and the storms were looking very healthy.

We headed probably 30-40 miles in all on dirt roads before reaching the Oklahoma Panhandle just south of Liberal.

To be honest, the storm kind of still looked like garbage, but had dropped a healthy amount of hail. We stuck with it, and it seemed to cycle further to the south. A meso wrapped up, and a nice wall cloud formed and was rotating pretty well. By this point we had made it into Beaver County, and we observed a very brief ground circulation underneath a rotating wall cloud which I would call tornadic.

We continued to follow this storm east to Elmwood, OK. Due to lack of road options, and the fact radar presentation was looking less than stellar the last few scans, we decided to once again bail on the storm and drop south to the next storm which was moving out of the Texas panhandle and into western Oklahoma. The couplet was looking organized, but it was quite a number of miles ahead of us. We never did catch up with the storm, or get in front of it as planned. We got stuck behind a bunch of cars which were going under 20 mph in the core of the storm.

We finally got ahead of the group of cars but ran into another obstacle – A tornado had dropped a group of trees across US283. There was no getting by the trees, and our hopes of intercept quickly faded.

JR had a chainsaw he had bought for precisely that purpose, and within minutes he had it out and people were helping chainsaw away all of the trees down in the road. Eventually a truck driver with a bobcat he was pulling behind him got the Bobcat out and cleared the rest of the road we hadn’t already done with the chainsaw.

We continued on, finding more places where trees had fallen into the road, although none as severe as the first batch. We cleared limbs up to 7 inches in diameter from the road before getting supper in Woodward at Pizza Hut.

At the pizza hut, we ran into the TIV crew including Darin Brunin and Sean Casey. We returned back to Moore that night. Thankfully JR was driving, as I was completely exhausted, and fell asleep multiple times on the way home no matter how hard I tried not to.