4/11/05 REPORTS: Miss. Valley/Gulf Coast/Central Plains

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My first chase!

Total miles driven: ~90
Total cost: $22 to fill up before I left, and a map I didn't use.
Time of departure: ~3:15 PM.
Time of return: ~5:00 PM
Tornadoes seen: 0
Hail: OMFG!!
Rain: Jesus wept.

Got off work at 3:00 and headed home noticing the crazy convection going on all over. Checked the SPC and NWS to see what was up. Tornado warned cell in Lancaster County that was racing away from me, so there was no way I was going to intercept that one. I decided to take my chances on a cell coming into Nebraska from Washington County Kansas.

I headed west with Fairbury as my initial target. After getting to Fairbuy I decided to drop south a bit to see what I could see. Drove about fifteen miles or so when I decided I'd head back to Fairbury and play a little east of there as the NWS continually assured me that Jefferson County was a likely spot for severe weather and/or tornadoes.

A few miles outside of Fairbury I was pleasantly informed that Jefferson and Gage Counties were under severe thunderstorm warnings. Continued east out of Fairbury to try and intercept around the Gage and Jefferson line.

Boy did I ever intercept. At around 4:45 the route home suddenly went from a few sprinkles to a torrential downpour with hail like you wouldn't believe. Visibility went from miles to feet in an instant. Boneheads were still trying to drive 60mph through the downpour as I was passed by at least two vehicles. I slowed down to about 20 - 30 mph as pulling off the side of the road wasn't exactly an option. This lasted for about four minutes, and then all of a sudden it was just a good ol' rain shower again. Hail coated the ground like snow in places. I didn't get a chance to measure any stones, but I'd believe claims of nickel sized hail.

Saw one car that appeared to have hydroplaned off the road and into the ditch.

I'd say that in a matter of minutes that storm dumped at least an inch of rain.

All in all I can't say I was disappointed. I think I did pretty good for flying blind (no nowcaster, no data other than what the NWS was telling me over NOAA radio).

Now for the pictures. They aren't Mike H. quality, but it's the best I could do because I just hopped out of my car, took a few snapshots (panning south to north), and hopped back in before the storm rolled me. I don't know exactly what I took pictures of. It almost looked like a meso, but it was too large. Anyone that would kindly properly identify the structure for my own future edumacation has my eternal gratitude.

The images are quite large (sorry, but at the moment I can't resize them):

http://www.thespiralingshape.org/img/wx/1.jpg (looking south)

http://www.thespiralingshape.org/img/wx/2.jpg (looking east)

http://www.thespiralingshape.org/img/wx/3.jpg (looking north)
I was minding my own business on the way home to Indiana when all of a sudden.... No, not really. I had all the gear running and ready and was happy to see a field of vertical three o’clock cu in east central Kansas along Interstate 70 by 17z. Today’s setup looked like a slimmed-down and trimmed-back version of yesterday, a little less instability, a little less shear, weaker and backed midlevel flow, but with the same steep lapse rates and enough low-level shear and sufficient LCLs to make it another interesting day. I found a great long-lived storm, the Washington County supercell, which produced an ominous, vacuum-cleaner style rotating updraft base and later unleashed the single most bizarre and unexpected thing that has ever happened to me while chasing.

I’ve included some rough images processed in fifteen minutes—some of the best stuff, including the carousel meso, will have to wait for video capture and grabs.

East of Washington, Kansas April 11, 2005

Early in the day, I spotted an area of persistent towers northwest of Manhattan, and this became the Washington County storm. It produced several sustained wall clouds with varying degrees of rotation and finally organized itself dramatically between Greenleaf and Washington, Kansas, just south of state highway 36. Mike Hollingshead and I observed this storm as it snagged a boundary—either outflow or what I analyzed as a pseudo warm front in this approximate area—and anchored itself stubbornly, with an aborted split (with precip blowing northwest onto the newborn updraft, it didn’t have much of a chance), and propagation both to the south and the southeast. The southeast updraft grew dominant and Mike and I flanked it east, and observed the very low, carousel style updraft. The feature was composed of white condensation with tendrils that articulated the circulation. We were convinced it would tornado immediately. We perched on a hill and watched the storm wrap up again—the circulation tightened to an extremely rapid motion. I was stunned that there was nothing beneath. I haven’t seen that kind of rotation from such a low feature without a tornado beneath it. This was almost due east of Washington, but I’m uncertain about the time and will have to verify with my video. Perhaps around 21z.


We chased this storm and its various moving parts across the Nebraska border toward Odell, where we met up with Jonathan Garner and his chase partner. For some time, our storm had served as the intersection for a line of convection stretching to the northeast along the cold front, and to the southeast along the not-so-dryline advancing from the southwest. As this angle closed, convection approached from all sides. Our storm had no hope of uncontaminated inflow and we determined as well that we were nearly in the center of the surface low. XM streamlines confirmed this.

We stood outside our vehicles on a muddy dirt road, heads moving in all directions as the cloud motions were turbulent and quick areas of rotation appeared and disappeared. Our winds were light and northerly, then they calmed. Then they swung around out of the east, and then from the south, a little warmer than before. The next moment, in field of tall and bright green vegetation about thirty yards away, a flattened circle appeared that reminded me instantly of the crop circle hoax in the UK. The only difference was that this circle was rotating vigorously and racing toward us. I pointed and yelled “What the hell is that?†But it was on us before anybody could take a guess.

Mike turned and held his open car door, both to keep it from ripping off and to keep his feet on the ground. I crouched and turned away, gripping the side of my 4Runner with one hand and shielding my face with the other, as the winds blasted us with gravel and sand and tried to take us off our feet. It was amazing! When the circulation passed, a hard driving burst of precipitation came straight down on us for about fifteen seconds. We estimated the wind speeds in the circulation at between seventy and eighty knots. Mike reported a sense of weightlessness during the event. I’m convinced that if the vegetation in the field had been dead, it would have remained flattened.

Nobody mentioned having seen circulation in the cloud base overhead preceding the event. However, I don’t know that I was looking up there anymore than I was looking elsewhere—it was a ragged, cold air storm base the likes of which we’ve all seen. It was so benign in appearance that none of us even had our cameras out, let alone recording at the time. However, the sequence of the wind shift and the immediate precip is fascinating to consider. Was this a very weak tornado? I don’t know; I’m not trying to begin a debate. It was a vigorous circulation on the ground, that much I can say with confidence.

Soon the storms congealed into a large mess and we broke off the chase. It was great to see Mike again and I was glad to meet Jon and his chase partner. I thought I was in Nebraska too early last year—wow. It’s April and there I was again. A fun and unusual chase to cap off a happy three-day plains trip, starting with the cool get-together at the Vista in Norman, followed by one of the best chases of my life in Kansas on Sunday, and ending with a close encounter of the rotational kind in a south Nebraska field. 2005 is off to a great start.

South of St. Joseph, MO on my way home

EDIT 4-12 7pm:
Shane describes the bizarre nature of the 'Washington County' storm's anatomy perfectly. I didn't try in my report because I didn't really understand it. I had never seen anything like it, and eventually settled for waiting until the next updraft and recognizable features--in whatever weird direction they might appear.

It made for some funny 'sensible weather' stops, since chasers usually step out of the vehicles and concentrate in one direction. Monday we were all spinning around like tops, trying to see everything at once.

Someone asked about the size of the circulation that hit us. I estimate it was was between twenty and twenty-five feet in diameter.
After arriving back in Norman half past midnight last night (following yet another bust), knowing I had to be up at 6:30am for work, all I wanted to do was fall into bed. I made the mistake of reading the reports thread, and, seething over the delicious tornadoes we'd missed by a half hour, I tossed and turned until almost 3:30am. I awoke drearely three hours later to head to work...or so I thought. As it was, last night's heavy rains flooded our jobsite, and suddenly we found ourselves free to return home and catch up on some much-needed sleep. Or we could drive to north Kansas and try to redeem ourselves. We chose the latter...

Targeted Concordia based solely on the position of the LOW at 18-21Z plus a quick galnce of 18-21Z UVV fields. Arrived just in time for initiation, but everything around the immediate Concordia area went up all at once, and was junk. With cold north winds, we knew it was time to get east and try to find some instability and backed flow. We moved east on US36 towards KS15, west of Washington. As we neared the turn north, Jo and Chad spotted a nice funnel, dangling from the front flank in what looked to be the wrong part of the storm (of course with NNW SRM I guess 'normal' would be slightly skewed). It persisted for over three minutes, and remained solid. We never had a view of the ground (tons of rolling hills), but judging by the height it was, we assumed it wasn't a tornado. Of course if anyone can disprove this we're certainly open to persuasion. Time and location of the funnel was 2:52-2:55pm CDT, appx 1 SE of Morrowville, KS.

We watched as the funnel finally disippated while continuing north on 15. We saw a second funnel form and last about a minute, but this one seemed more of a true shear-type vortex. Continued north across the border to Fairbury, then, after hearing a new t-storm warning on a storm to our SSE, southeast on NE8. We stopped west of Odell, where the storm finally came into view. Had nice inflow feeders on both the WNW and ENE flanks, and rotation was evident at mid-levels. Cold surface "inflow" from the north was bone-chilling, and no-doubt undercutting any chance of TG, as no t-warning was ever issued, despite insane flow and broadscale rotation. After twenty or so minutes, we moved east to Odell then north (I believe) NE148.

We drove to the first major paved road intersection, and stopped. The storm was cycling or reorganizing, as it had gone through a period of not-so-impressiveness, but was now recovering nicely with a newly-formed bell-shaped lowering on the eastern flank. As this was happening, a new storm went severe east of Beatrice. I'm guessing these two storms merged, becaue what happened next I'd never seen before.

We had moved a few miles east to get a better view of the newly-formed inflow band/lowering on the east flank of the original storm now northeast of Odell. It had a very rapidly-entraining inflow beaver tail, feeding into the bell lowering. But the northern edge of the beaver tail didn't just end (like normal). Instead, it was being wrapped around the north storm anticyclonicly (to the east) and forming that storm's gustfront. This sounds crazy, but I have it on video. Might be better to explain it from the north side to the south...

The north side had a classic 5-27-01 gustfront-from-hell appearance, but as you looked south, instead of mirroring the north side and wrapping back around to the SE/E and forming the classic "ring", it turned WEST and fed the inflow of the southern storm's rotation. I've never seen anything like it, and for about 2-3 minutes, I thought we were going to get a tornado. Alas, the cold surface air killed any chance of that, but those few minutes were the most incredible structure I've ever seen. This was a structure freak's F5 wedge.

The craziest part of all this was, the north end "gustfront" portion was chasing us WEST. I guess the storms' general N/NNW movement caused a due west push once it became purely-outflow dominant. Craziest thing I've ever seen. We tried to get back out ahead of it to enjoy the surreal view again, but it was over - it became a wal of rain and crap. Chase over.

Just rolled back into town on the strength of two 16oz "No Fear" energy drinks, and man are they a wicked rush. Now it's 1am, I have to be up for work at 6:30am, and I'm totally wired. But at least we made it home in one piece. Looking forward to a little break in the crazy weather (need a few days to recover).

856 miles
3 funnels (two shear, one true "mighta been a tornady")
2 16oz cans "NO Fear" energy drink
1 very amped out chaser
LOL, we got nailed by something. Amos explains it well in his account. It really really sucks none of us had a video cam in our hands when this happened. It also sucks no one had an anemometer on their vehicle. Oh well, it was really fun and will be something to look back on and chat about down the road. We chased the Washington Co. KS supercell from near Greenleaf KS to just into NE on 148. It should have tornadoed near Hanover. I will likely post video of that part later.

[Broken External Image]:http://www.extremeinstability.com/stormpics/05-4-11-3117.jpg

[Broken External Image]:http://www.extremeinstability.com/stormpics/05-4-11-3121.jpg

[Broken External Image]:http://www.extremeinstability.com/stormpics/05-4-11-3128.jpg

More pics and words below......
Left Lawrence at 12:30p.m. with an initial target of Manhattan. Got to Manhattan and decided to move northwest but decided against going to Washington Co. because I figured that storm up there would not hold up and the time that I would have needed to get there would not have been efficent due to the cold front moving through. A storm went up around Olsburg and I watched it patiently for the rest of the afternoon with no luck. It looked like it was pulsating to me and would occasionally get weak wall clouds on it but could never get serious. Ended up almost getting ran over storm that was severe warned that was moving due west that possibly could have had 1.5 inch hail associated with it. After this everything went linear and I decided to call it a day.

Thank you to Mike Deason for the great nowcasting again!!

A few more pics can be found at


I will have the full report and picture page done tomorrow.

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6e037d2cd1b826c63c397756a3a2b80f.jpg b160b0834bc2c9e04363b8ea9b7f05b2.jpg
An interesting day to say the least... I had chased central KS on Sunday and was briefly looking at a few things on my way back to Columbia Missouri and almost stayed in the Kansas City area, but decided to go back for my morning class. I had decided that I probably was not going to go that morning until I saw the MD and watch...and the beautiful clearing on satellite, I could not resist a chase a couple hours away. My chase account with pictures and a video clip can be found here:


Dan Hinch
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