Russell, Kansas Storm Chase Account: May 17, 2004

Wild rotating cone-shaped wall cloud

chase images and log by William T. Hark, M.D.


May 17 was a great storm chase day. The rapidly rotating wall cloud and lowering in Russell, Kansas was more amazing than many tornadoes. While preparing my vehicle in the morning at the hotel, I ran into Jeff Piotrowski. Jeff is a well-known storm chaser from Tulsa, Oklahoma. We checked data together and discussed the forecast. Possible targets included along a boundary in north central Kansas and in the Dodge City to Hays area in western Kansas. Jeff, who I chased with briefly last year, invited me to team up. We initially drove to Beloit, Kansas and checked data at a library. There was a SW to NE boundary and storms were expected to form a long it and build southward. Another area of concern was near Dodge City but we initially believed it would remain capped. We drove to an area just south of Concordia and watched towers form. There was evidence of shear as these towers displayed noticeable rotation. . Unfortunately, visibility was poor because of surrounding clouds. These clouds also blocked heating from the sun. Jeff had a new tool for chasing, a Wx Worx XM satellite receiver. It can download radar images, surface observations and wind fields via satellite. The system is much more reliable than slow cell phone connections. We waited and watched storms develop to the northeast. A tornado watch was issued for our area and mainly to the west. More concerning, there was evidence of development to the far southwest. That meant the cap was breaking and storms would form in a more favorable environment for tornadoes. If we waited too long, the storms to the southwest would be unreachable. By 4:15PM, it was obvious our current area was not going to develop storms. A storm was forming to the southwest near Hays, Kansas. We blasted south, then west on I-70. By 6PM, a developing supercell was visible to our west near Russell, Kansas. Although initially high-based (1V), the storm was intensifying and beginning to rotate. Inflow bands formed and electrical activity increased. We arrived in Russell at 6:12PM and stopped at a Sonic for a quick meal while watching the approaching storm develop. At 6:24PM, Jeff yelled "tornado warning!" for Russell, Kansas and a minute later, the town's tornado sirens blasted. We moved to an area of better visibility and easy escape option. Interestingly, my weather radio was delayed in sounding the warning when compared to the XM satellite system. To the west, we watched a developing wall cloud (2V)approach the town. At 6:28PM, the wall cloud thickened and we observed some rising scud. Despite the approaching wall cloud, the sirens stopped at 6:29PM. The wall cloud was rather disorganized as it passed over the town. Clouds swirled overhead. The wall cloud (3V) coalesced into a rapidly rotating cone-shaped lowering (4P pic#1),(5V pic #2),(6V pic #3), (7P pic#4) just to the east at 6:42PM. The lowering became pointed at 6:44PM though it is unclear if the lowering became an actual funnel. We followed the storm east on a side road. The lowering continued to rotate (8V) but just wouldn't produce a tornado. It cycled between more and less organization. The east road became muddy and I turned back and dropped south through Russell before turning east again on I-70. Jeff stayed behind to observe the storm. I soon caught up with the storm on the interstate. I came through the rain at 7:06PM and could observe the wall cloud. I saw a nice CG by the wall cloud (9V) at 7:07PM. The rotating wall cloud was slowly moving east, just north of the interstate. It became more defined and rotation intensified (10V)but no tornado. I followed it for several miles. I could see a nice inflow band (11V) to the east and the storm (12V) continued to rotate to the west. Groups of chasers lined an access road parallel to the interstate. Many chasers were standing along a low hill in the open watching the storm as the area was hit with CG's. This was very dangerous. By 7:19PM, the wall cloud elongated (13V). I drove through the town of Dorrance, Kansas and another wall cloud (14V) formed at 7:41PM. The tornado sirens sounded at 7:45PM. The last wall cloud (15V) formed at 7:47 PM and soon dissipated (16V) near Wilson, Kansas. The show was over. I drove back to Russell Kansas and met with Jeff Piotrowsky. We had dinner at a steak restaurant and ran into Charles Edwards and his tour group, Cloud 9 Tours. I learned about storm chasing from taking a tour with Charles in 1997. We also chatted with chasers Mark Robinson, Dave Sills and Sarah Scriver. This was a wild chase day. The storm almost produced a tornado. If the upper level winds had been only a bit stronger, there would have been a nice cone. Despite the lack of a tornado, this was a successful chase day. Thanks Jeff Piotrowski for help with forecasting and to Jason Politte for nowcasting information.


(1V) (2V) (3V) (4P)
(5V) (6V) (7P) (8V)
(9V) (10V) (11V) (12V)
(13V) (14V) (15V) (16V)

P --- Photo, Fuji Velvia 100
V --- Video Still

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Please E-mail me with questions, comments and complaints. Wthark@aol.com