There comes a time in just about every storm chase where you’re faced with two choices, and must make a decision. This target or that target? North or south? East or west? One decision that will make or break the chase. You can only cover so much ground in so much time, so there really isn’t a lot of room for error in chasing.
For me that moment on Saturday happened when I was in Garden City, KS. I was faced between the decision of continuing west another 2 hours to Colorado to chase the meager looking storms that were ongoing, or wait for the dryline to hopefully spit out some more storms in southwest Kansas. The night before I had mentioned Lamar, CO as a good target. I hadn’t really had any intention of going that far west, however. I’ve found that often while chasing my decisions are based on how far away from home I am, or willing to go. I really didn’t want to be further west than Garden City. So I chose to stay put and hope that more storms would fire along the dryline.
As I waited, I watched that cell in Colorado. For the longest time, it continued to do nothing. There were a lot of chasers following it, but it didn’t have any warnings on it, and didn’t really look like much on radar. Then once it got just north of… ahem… Lamar, CO, it went tornado warned with a reported tornado on it. Dang it! From reports I’ve seen that storm went on to produce 5 or 6 tornadoes, as they kept lifting up and dropping back down.
Meanwhile in SW Kansas, I waited until late in the evening, but finally got some initiation along the dryline. I dropped south, and the storm was actually starting to get its act together. I approached from the northwest, and was greeted with a double rainbow.
From the town of Meade, I dropped south on 23 to sample the hail. As I made my way down there, however, I saw a vehicle coming the other direction with a smashed windshield. I wasn’t sure if that was there from a prior chase, or from this particular storm, but I wasn’t going to take the chance. This wasn’t a time where I could deal with a busted windshield!
As I headed back to the north for Highway 54, the northern split of this storm was starting to form a hook and rotate! Now I was anxious, as I was really out of position. Sure enough, the storm went tornado warned. I flew northeast on 54 and got in front of it. I thought maybe I could drop south out of Minneola on Highway 283. As I started south I saw everyone else coming north, and in that convoy were my buddies Blaize and Jared. We had all stayed together the night before in Kansas City, but left at different times, and hadn’t linked back up all day. Since I saw them, and I was growing unsure whether I could make it far enough south in time, I decided to turn around. From there we all raced northeast on 54. I followed them and surprised them by pulling up next to them on a little dirt road they pulled off onto.
The storm had a cone wall cloud/funnel on it that was spinning pretty good. Otherwise, the structure was a little ragged and odd. It looked as though the RFD extended past that rotating wall cloud. We sat there and watched it a while until the rain was about to hit us. When we went to move, I didn’t go anywhere. Was I in neutral? Nope, I was in drive. I was stuck in the mud! I honked my horn because I wasn’t sure if they saw me. They all ran over to give me a push, and luckily I was able to get out! Since it was a narrow road and either side was soft mud, I didn’t feel comfortable trying to turn around, so I had to go down the road a little to this building with a gravel lot to turn around. When I hit that muddy section again I made sure I had plenty of speed! I slid around a little when I got to it, but was able to get back on the pavement. Whew! That would have been a really bad place to be stuck if that storm would have dropped a tornado!
At the next stop, the storm was looking really good. There was a well-defined spiral spinning at the juncture of the inflow and RFD. I thought for sure it was about to produce at that point. But it never did.
By then it was dark, and getting late, and we had a long way to go to get back home. We decided to head out and get a hotel room in Topeka for the night.
This is only the second chase I can remember when I made the wrong decision that led to me missing a tornado I otherwise could have seen. Had I gone to Colorado, it would have been one of my best chases ever. Instead, it was pretty much a bust, although I am glad that I at least got onto a tornado warned storm with a rotating wall cloud. Knowing there were tornadoes I could have been on, however, is something that’ll eat away at me forever. I still remember the other day vividly… April 15, 2011. Luckily in that case, I got another chance a mere 4 days later, which was the day I saw my first tornado in Litchfield, IL. And looking at the long range models, it looks like I may get a chance to redeem myself back in Kansas next Saturday. Time will tell.
Below is my video of the rotating wall cloud.