Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An Ozsome Experience in Kansas

DAY 2 MAY 26, 2008

Today we were going to play the triple point and dryline bulge in central Kansas south of I70 and west of I35. Ron favored this area due to convergence and an outflow boundary tracking southwest from the night's storms in Missouri, with good low level shear, instibility and moisture.

We left St. Louis in the morning and headed west on I70 towards the Salina-Wichita, Kansas area. The SPC had issued a moderate risk with a 10% chance of tornadoes. On our way west, we saw signs of horizontal vorticity - transverse rolls. Accas could also be seen in some spots, noting signs of instability. Finally at around 2:03 pm CDT, a tornado watch had gone up for south central Kansas into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles.

We pulled into a service station somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Kansas and met up with a film crew, Jeff and Drew, doing a documentary on lightning. Ron knew the guys from previous filming in the past, and we were going to help them get into position for a good filming shoot. It was still overcast in this area due to the storms in Missouri and the winds were a bit on the cool side as well, with wind gusts clocking at about 15 knots. Temperate and dewpoint were about mid 70s over mid 60s so that wasn't too bad of a sign.

We all continued west on I70. Fellow chaser Fred Plowman waved at us as he passed by. A storm began to develop south of Wichita, but we decided to not play it because it was still a bit early and east for the real action. We were hoping that the storm would create an outflow boundary/feeder band for the storm we would plan to intercept later on. We stopped at a Subway in Wichita and watched the storm to our south. It did exactly what we thought it would do, create an outflow boundary and feeder band for our storm later on. It was all pointing in a good direction, so we had our sign of good inflow.

At around 4 pm, Ron wanted to head slightly west of Wichita towards the Pratt/Greensburg area. Ron went on mobile internet to get a satellite feed. It showed two boundaries going to collide into each other in our target area. A storm was also going up to our southwest, and around 5:15, a tornado warning was issued. As was got closer to this new storm, the one south of Wichita was finally dying and the flanking line on our supercell was getting bigger... the outflow from the Wichita storm was feeding into this new supercell. We filled up with gas and went on our way. The film crew wanted to get a shot of the beginning of the storm through a line of trees, so we eventually found a spot on a dirt off the interstate. Jeff and Drew got their video, so we continued on our way towards the storm.

As we neared the storm, we got into a rain and hail mix around 6:09. The hail was about 1 to 1.5 inches in size. It looked like our storm was going to become of the high precipation type. On our way west on hwy 54/400 we saw a long armada of the DOW truck, mobile mesonet vehicles, chasers and possibly local folk driving away from the storm. We were wondering why, but that didn't stop us from going inside. If we wanted tornadoes, we had to get closer than that to see them in this HP mess. A bit dangerous? Yeah, but with all the rain, any tornadoes that would form would likely be weak and brief. Ron knew what he was doing.

We pulled off the hwy onto a dirt road. Jack seemed to have a little bit of trouble handling the wheels at first due to the slipperyness of the "road" but soon managed to gain better control. It was a rental van afterall, so he was still learning the ropes. Hmmm, a rental van you say? I wonder how much we can get away with before the insurance nails us? Off to our right, I saw a large hail/rain core in the distance with a slight greenish tinge. Realizing we were not seeing much in this area, we went north again back to hwy 54. By now we were just southwest of Pratt. Ron decided to stop on another dirt road to get some photo opportunities of the giant core. What strong inflow this thing was sucking in! We watched it for a bit before I yelled for everyone to get into the van - I could literally watch as the core rapidly approached us down the road! Pam sure has interesting ways to get inside a vehicle quickly, practically falling backwards into her seat in the back of the van, while dragging her feet across one of the middle seats. Well, whatever works I guess, LOL.

Jack drove onto hwy 281, where we quickly got into very torrential rain and hail, with almost zero visibility. For a few seconds I thought to myself that a tornado would be on the other side of the precip, and then the precip actually did clear. Then what happens? Well, a small tornado touched down in a field to our left, crossed the road in front of us and went into the grassy field on our right all in a matter of several seconds. It was approximately 50 to 100 feet away! I saw it spin in the grass field, so I quickly rolled down the window to get a better view since it wasn't raining anymore. A howling/hissing noise could be heard! I was actually hearing my first tornado! I managed to grab one good shot of it. The tornado was semi transparent but it was very evident tornadic circulation was there as we could see it partially. Everything was moving so fast. Normally, we don't recommend to intercept tornadoes this way most of the time because you really don't know how big it could get.

After that exciting but brief encounter, Ron logged the tornado into Spotter Network. We went on another dirt road to get off the interstate to watch another area of the storm. About 10 mintes later, I saw a lowering just to our north that looked like it was trying to form a wall cloud and rotate. A piece of scud curled like a wave quickly. I watched the area for several minutes before deciding that it didn't seem to be doing much. We continued up the road, and pulled over again. At around 7:18, Jack noted a funnel cloud right above us, but I couldn't see it from my vantage point. Basically right after that, a circulation of dirt and tumbleeds among other things came wooshing at us - and quickly! Winds went in one direction before suddenly changing directions! Then it stopped. At first I thought we were getting hit with RFD but RFD winds do not behave like that. Ron has always told me on our chases to keep an eye on any sudden change in wind direction... well this was definitely one of those times! Pam and Rita saw this circulation continue briefly behind us into a field before dissipating. Ummm, did a tornado just form on top of us? It sure looked like that given how the debris looked when we were in it and Jack's funnel cloud proved it afterall. After gaining my senses back, I realized it was indeed a tornado. Well. That was the first time I've ever been directly hit by a tornado! I've heard of other chaser stories of similar encounters in the past... again not something you really want to mess with. It was sure a big surprise for us, and it just goes to show you anything can happen on chases. The tornado actually did sandblast the windshield and headlights. It also left small chips and a small crack in the windshield from the debris. Ron estimated it had winds close to a F1 rating. He also reported this tornado into Spotter Network.

Well, we just got down to the alley and already have two tornadoes to account for. We decided to call it a day and book rooms at a Motel 6 in Wichita for the night. We ate dinner at an Ihop but the service was very slow. Rita, Pam and I were getting giddy. I rolled a drinking straw wrapper up into a tiny ball and flung it with my fingers. It hit a waiter as he walked by and we bursted out laughing. I was laughing so hard that apparently I didn't notice that I somehow managed to get my drinking straw from my drink stuck in my hair dripping chocolate milk on my shoulder! When I saw it at first I wondered what the heck was this? And soon we bursted out laughing again. Why do these things happen to me? Sigh. All in all, a great day. Tomorrow we are headed south.

No comments:

Post a Comment