2004-05-12:Harper/Attica tornadoes


Nov 21, 2008
Shawnee, KS 66217
I liked these specific tornadoes because chasers filmed some of the most awesome video footage I ever saw. It was also unusual that day because there was not much risk for tornadoes. In addition, the Harper, Kansas tornado damage is some of the most amazing damage photos I ever saw. This tornado was rated as an F4 but Chance Haynes from NWS in Wichita, Kansas said he wished he would have rated this tornado an F5. I bet you chasers had a pretty good day during this event.
Apr 23, 2006
Flower Mound, TX
Another goodie

Another top ten chased day. But, Gene Rhoden and I overshot this target figuring that Pratt, KS would be the likely place for development. We watched a storm develop and quickly become severe to our southeast and backtracked to Harper-Attica. Saw, Tornado after tornado including some spectacular lightning illuminated night-time tornadoes near Anthony. tm

David Hoadley

Stormtrack founder
Apr 19, 2006
May 12, 2004 was my best chase ever! I left the Wichita Super 8 on East Kellogg and initially headed west on US54 to Liberal. My early forecast target was completely south of Harper County and covered west-central Oklahoma from Gage to Hobart, Ardmore, Cushing, Ponca and back to Gage. Seeing clear sky well to the south that morning, I continued to Liberal, then south to the OK panhandle, and back east to building towers near Woodward. From there on, visual clues took precedence and led me north through Alva to Hardtner and Kiowa. After that I was in the "Land of Oz" and just followed State Hwy2 as the cycling super cell drifted slowly east and just north of the highway.

I taped the Sharon tornado from start to finish, a few miles to the northwest, against excellent backlighting, then drove east to Anthony and north to US160, where I passed the DOW and turned west. I watched the Attica tornado initially form and stopped halfway there to catch another complete cycle, again with great backlighting. Zooming back, I caught most of the storm base spiraling in on that vortex, which was dramatic. After that, I saw what I still believe was a small **third** tornado east of there as a brief spinup in a field south of the highway. After it withdrew into the cloud base, I drove east and a few miles down State Hwy2 again to watch tornado number 4, as it initially formed. It became the big, dust-wrapped column that eventually filled the western sky for the next few minutes. After it withdrew, I accidentally caught the pre-tornado base to my north in one video scan of what would be the next one east of the Highway in the semi-dark after 8:30PM. However, by that time I was pretty well exhausted and wanted to reposition farther south for the next day. It never amounted to anything, so I returned home. The Attica day was a fortuitous combination of a slightly off forecast, early on-the-road observation, persuasive visual clues, perfect highway alignment, and a lot of luck. - - - Dave Hoadley
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This was just 2 days into our 2004 chase vacation. We hung around in Greensburg for a couple of hours in the afternoon getting Wifi from the library (even this very short stop made the 2007 tornado news even more sobering for me). When convection fired, we initially headed south, but then made the fatal error of going back north and then east on 54. We did see a brief tornado from a left split south of Pratt, but rolled into Attica about 1/2 hour after the tornado had gone, maybe more.
We got onto the next supercell and saw the tornado which formed after dark east of Attica, towards Anthony. It was still a great day, but one of those where you get back and see some better video which someone else has got!

Jeff House

Jun 1, 2008
Chattanooga, TN
I lost count of how many tornadoes we saw. It just does not get any better! Living in Wichita, I got out of the office just in time and we set off at about 4:30. We drove west on US-54 toward an ongoing cell in Kingman and/or Pratt Counties. I think we missed a brief tornado there. New towers were building to the south in Harper County so we pushed south on K-14. Then we went west on US-160 just a hair toward Attica. Oh how the southern end rule worked out!

Saw a couple brief ropes as the cell was still maturing. Cell had not quite crossed that outflow boundary that made it go nuts the rest of the evening. Several minutes passed without any action and we thought things had gone pretty well. We returned to K-14 as the cell very slowly moved east. After hanging around for what seemed like a long time, but probably was not, the show started again. A cone descended still near Attica. Dust whirled on the ground beneath it as the condensation gradually reached down to meet the dust. It became a nice photogenic tornado, especially with the farm tractor in my foreground. What a classic day on the Plains!

That tornado lasted 10-20 minutes, fluctuating in strength, before lifting and the cell started a new cycle. Creeping north on K-14 we were now closer to Harper. The inflow was incredible by now. It was strong near Attica, but now I could barely stand. The large Harper tornado that everyone talks about was forming. It started as an elephant trunk and gradually grew into a thick stovepipe. I was absolutely mesmerized. Thankfully my friend was taking pictures so I could just stare in total awe. Tornado started to get a little close for my comfort at the time so we backed off a bit. It just kept going, with minor fluctuations, but keeping its strength for quite some time. Letting it get closer again, dust from the inflow whipped by us and an eerie ground haze of dust flowed toward the tornado. What a thrill!

Finally darkness was approaching. We stuck around a little longer for another cycle, and were treated to a lightning backlit tornado. It appeared pretty large but we were farther at night so I cannot confirm size. Others talk about a wedge at night, so perhaps this was it. Even on the way home, not really chasing by then, we saw another lighting backlit tornado. It was one of those chases you get to enjoy two to five times your whole life and I still savor the memories.


Nov 21, 2008
Shawnee, KS 66217
Those are some nice pictures. I envy you guys who chase and get nice photos like that:D. I am too broke to chase and I would hardly know how to target an area that is prime for tornadoes on any given day. Yeah there were some pretty nice tornadoes that day and I am awe-spired by the video of the tornado that picked up the house and sucked it into the vortex.
Aug 24, 2004
Long Grove IL
5-12-04 was absolutely one of my favorite chases of all times. Driving along the back edge of that incredible meso as it was producing the Harper wedge was an experience I will never forget.

I was with Bill Reid and Tempest Tours and I think we started the day in McCook NE after a bust the day before. I was pretty excited for the 12th, seeing some similarities to 5-7-02 which was another significant tornado day. We headed for Liberal KS to be in position for the triple point or to blast west into Colorado where easterly upslope winds were forecast to provide some marginal instability.

When it became evident that a mesolow near Woodward OK was pushing the dryline east, we also went east on 64 in the OK panhandle and caught up to the CU field forming along the bulging dryline. The building storm was incredible to watch from the west in the clear air, I don't think I have seen such explosive development before.

Saw the first tornado to the southeast (Sharon) then drove up to the back side of the Attica tornado, watching a beautiful dusty red rope out. The RFD winds on the back side of the meso were the warmest juiciest RFD winds I have experienced. Continued east out of Harper on 160 after a detour towards Attica and drove up to the largest, darkest, meanest, most amazingly beautifully large striated spinning meso I have ever seen. Did I say huge?? Along with the occasional golfballs and baseballs bouncing diagonally across the road in front of us, the occasional tornadoes that dropped here and there from this meso made the whole scene very surreal.
We stopped on 160 where the roads goes north into Attica and watched the wedge tornado move slowly north where it would do extreme damage to a home. I captured several pictures of this wedge using my digital rebel set at 1600 ISO and a fisheye. You could hardly see it in the fading light but my camera managed to pick it out fairly well.

Dropped south a couple miles north of Anthony and just sat on a side road watching lightning and talking excitedly in the darkness about the past several hours. We soon noticed the cool outflow winds became quite moist inflow winds and looking back to the northwest could clearly see a base with a developing clear slot forming thanks to the frequent lightning. We soon had a beautiful tornado that put on a show for the next 20 minutes as it slowly drifted east just to our north.

We went back to Harper a couple days later to take a look at the damage. We were able to walk the site of the F4 damage and I was amazed at the destruction. I thought the place had been an old junkyard but whole intact vehicles had been literally pulled in pieces and scattered about the countryside. The damage was extreme and I can see why it could have easily been rated an F5.

My pics here: