May 18, 2013 – Earlier in the week, I had been asked if I wanted to accompany my friend Michael Gavan on a storm chasing trip for the weekend. The computer models were in good agreement that there would be severe weather on the weekend of May 18-19. The SPC had put out convective outlooks during the 4-8 day period also. They were talking about the potential for severe weather, including large hail, damaging wind gusts, and of course, tornadoes. After much thought and planning, I accepted Michael’s invitation, and on Friday afternoon, we left Michigan en route to Kansas. We stopped in Springfield, Illinois and stayed overnight for some shuteye, knowing we’d have a marathon drive the next morning to get to our target area.
On Saturday morning we made our way through the remainder of Illinois, and into Missouri. We experienced some dense fog on the way there. Less than 1/4 mile visibility in western Illinois. Once we crossed the Mississippi River the fog decreased significantly, and with daytime heating, the remaining fog burned off. Video and photos can be found below.
We made our way into Kansas and found some high based convection. It was really struggling to get it’s act together. Most of the updrafts would go up relatively fast, anvil out and die shortly thereafter. But one cell in particular looked good to me, and that was the cell in the back that was pulling in scud clouds. We were tempted by storms to the north and south of us, and almost left the smaller cell to intercept one of those, but ultimately decided to stick with our small cell to see if it could get it’s act together. Below are some images from the field while we were getting baked by the sun waiting for the convection to get it’s act together. We were treated to some nice orphan anvils. A photogenic scene for sure. The second photo shows the small, yet vigorous updraft in the back of the dying cells.
We later met up with my good friend Michael Phelps, and stuck around with him for a while watching the storm get organized. Justin Hoyt and Bill Kirkpatrick showed up as well as a couple of others and we started having a bit of fun. Snapping pictures of each other, entertaining people on Mike Phelps’ live stream etc. All the while, our storm was gaining strength. It was definitely taking it’s time though.
Finally, our storm really started looking good, the storm top was hitting 50,000ft, a nice rain and hail core developed and it began to rotate. We followed it all the way to an open field with a very nice view, and I captured some amazing shots of our classic supercell, with plenty of Mammatus clouds now underneath the anvil.
We moved to a new location and watched as an additional cell formed, moved in from the south. The LLJ (Low Level Jet) would be nosing in soon as well. It was only a matter of time before our storm produced a tornado. I know what these cell mergers usually do, and it looked great on radar. As the new cell merged with the old cell, the updrafts became one, massive updraft. Then a broken inflow tail began to develop, and some striations began to take shape.
Soon after, I heard a dull roar, something unlike the wind we were already experiencing. I looked up and saw some low/mid level broken clouds, and knew that this was the low level jet’s leading edge, and that things would get cranking very soon. Within about 15mins, all the ingredients came together, the storm rapidly intensified, and produced the first funnel of the day, and there were more too follow.
Rozel, KS: Then, the best tornado, and first tornado of my entire chasing career developed with a beautiful view. This would be tornado #1 of the day, which began as a beautiful cone tornado, and eventually formed into a beastly stovepipe which seemed to be on the ground forever. It was a slow mover too, so we had all kinds of time to get footage of it. We watched it from birth to death. It was an amazingly photogenic process. Below is a video, and a photo series of this gorgeous tornado.
We watched it until it roped out and died. It was quite photogenic.
After the development of the new meso, which gave us some rather tense moments as it developed basically right on top of us, it began to produce numerous funnel clouds as it quickly wrapped up. We drove north up near Sanford, and soon were treated to tornado #2 of the day! This one was another nice cone tornado, a classic tornado, the kind you see on all the skywarn decals etc. This would go on to be one of the most photogenic of the whole entire day. I snapped dozens of photos, and got some video as well.
We were treated to a beautiful deck of Mammatus clouds, and the sun would soon be emerging below the clouds on the horizon, which meant we had a beautiful sunset just waiting to happen. We were just about to head east to shoot some lightning and rainbows, then we turned around and noticed that the Sanford, KS had not fully dissipated yet, and a partial rope still existed to our north.
Finally we began heading back to where we booked our hotel, and met up with had another small chaser gathering with Michael Phelps, Ben McMillan, Randy Walton, and their tour guest Angela Nicol and had a very nice chat about the day. Showed each other photos, videos etc. All of a sudden after sunset, we were hit with a blast of hot air. It was very windy was well, then a blast of cold air! Michael Gavan spotted what appeared to be a dust devil in the field less than 100 yards away from us. As we observed it, it wrapped up tighter and really started whipping around faster and faster. Then a couple of small vorticies started circulating around the base of the main one. Lightning flashed in the distance and illuminated a landspout tornado, right on top of us!! Phelps quickly turned his Vibe around to stream it as we all scrambled for our cameras. The lighting was very low, and I only got a short grainy clip of it, but this would be tornado #3 of the day!
This was an amazing, amazing, chase day. Michael Gavan and I had a blast out there! Saw so many awesome storms and tornadoes. Below is a map of storm reports for the day. Click it for details. Also, click here to view Michael’s YouTube channel!