Storm Chase Details

Chase Date: May 24, 2015
Chase Partners:
Jari Ylioja, Jena McShane

Chasers Encountered:

Miles Logged: 768
States Chased: CO, KS
Tornadoes Witnessed: 4
Largest Hail Encountered: 1.75"
Severe Risks: SPC Outlooks

Chase Recap:

A marginal day when looking at this, it was decided early in the morning that we’d head out. We had to pick up Jena McShane at the airport at 11:30, as her 2012 chase went poorly and we still needed to capture her the elusive first tornado. I wasn’t thinking the prospects were very high this day that’d happen, but you never know.

Campo, CO tornado of 5-31-2010 had similarities to this day including a subtle 500mb jet and shortwave trough coming through eastern Colorado. Ample moisture was in place and lapse rates were pretty steep. Jena and Jari were in town, so I thought what the heck? Our original target was Guymon, OK but we watched storms fire off the dryline further west of Boise City and up into Colorado west of 287. South of the OK Panhandle, there was other isolated development, but it never looked as robust visually or on visible satellite, so we decided to head into Southeast Colorado ahead of an advancing line/cluster/segment of storms.

The structure and landscape was pretty, as to be expected, and Jena was able to get a lot of good photographs of that. The line grew upscale as it neared the Kansas border, becoming a visually outflow dominant storm with shelf cloud. We stayed ahead of it as it wasn’t hardly moving – perhaps 25-30 mph to the east.

Meanwhile, more storms were firing ahead of this line, especially down towards our original target of Guymon. We eventually decided to start meandering that way as it seemed like the best option, plus we’d have to head that way to go home anyway.

The storms seemed to mature into more of a supercell near Liberal as it moved off to the NE and even NNE. Reports of baseball hail in Liberal came in, and we decided if anything we’d check out the hail.

As we neared the storm near Kismet, we approached from the north and looked back to the southwest. A tornado was reported by Chad Cowan, so we immediately became aware that there was a possibility of brief tornadoes. Not surprising with a decently sheared environment and low LCL’s with high moisture content.

In fact, cloud ceilings at this point were probably 300-500m if that. We hung around on US 54 near Kismet for quite a while, trying to use the city lights and long exposures to see what was going on under the base of the storm. It seemed at that point to be almost stationary or barely moving, so our hardest thing was to stay out of the rain. We repositioned 3 or 4 times to stay out of the rain and keep a visual on the storm.

Eventually we’d move further up the road near Plains, KS. The storm was showing better organization and rotation on radar, and visually was becoming a little better organized. I thought we had seen a wall cloud, but wasn’t sure due to the darkness and low LCL’s. It almost seemed like it was foggy if we got out of the inflow notch, something we’d encounter the rest of the evening.

As I was standing outside trying to get some video of what I thought was a wall cloud, we had a good lightning strike that lit up the sky to my direct southwest. A massive wedge tornado had developed and wasn’t more than a 1/2 mile from us in the field next to us. It was Jena’s first tornado and you can hear me go “HOLY CRAP THAT’S A HUGE TORNADO!”. Subsequent flashes confirmed what we saw – a large tornado moving parallel or so with the road.

I dropped a SN icon then continued through Plains which was shrouded in fog. We lost the tornado and I believe it roped out at this point judging by radar. The next circulation was forming, and we ended up north of plains next to a very large tornado on Road #4, likely 1/4 mile. The tornado was easily 1 mile in width if not wider.

We continued north on Road 4 until the tornado seemed to rope out. There seemed to be a secondary tornado to the west of it/us, but that could have been the rope out. It seemed the wedge dissipated and then this other tornado formed, but that doesn’t seem to make sense, so it may have been an optical illusion with the fog, LCL’s and night.

The next circulation was forming way off to our east, but most of the roads were now wet and muddy as can be. Without 4 wheel drive, we’d need to head south on the pavement and back to US 54 to intercept.

We would head way east to Mead and then north on highway 23, most of the time in a soupy thick fog. Luckily data was pretty good, and we were keeping up to date radar scans. With this we knew we had enough time to pass in front of the circulation on 23 and wait for it to come to us.

Unfortunately or fortunately, it seemed to occlude before getting to 23, moving off to the northwest. It was obviously occluding on a radar scan that came in and was quickly obvious to me that to the east, I was in a very bad spot. A new tornado could/would form at any time, and i needed to get out of there. Being limited by roads, I quickly bailed north into the core. The hail wasn’t so bad, and I was able to get up US56 and over to Ensign before dropping south again.

We sat there for awhile and then watched a tornado in the fog move across the horizon towards the city of Ensign. I was thinking a horrible mass casualty incident could very well happen, but luckily it seems the tornado moved just south of town and roped out. We theorize there may have been cold air from the earlier line undercutting just enough to push the tornado on a more easterly path. Either way, it smelled like someone had mowed the lawn when we drove north into the south side of ensign.

This was the point where we called it a night as it was close to midnight and things seemed to be lining out. Velocities would suggest another tornao formed after that, but we were ready to call it a night and needed to get to Abilene to chase the next day.

We went to the Hampton Inn in Dodge City and found out they no longer had any rooms, so we started heading south, arriving in Woodward around 3am. It would be a horrible stay, but a nice place to sleep for the night.