Oklahoma and Kansas storm chases and landscape photography explorations:
May 17 - 22, 2005

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

May 17, 2005: South Dakota chase through construction zones

This was another long and frustrating chase. The previous evening, I chose North Platte as the best place to stay for Tuesday's storms. Upon review of the data in the morning, I had two possible target areas. One was slightly north of North Platte, the other was in central South Dakota. I liked the predicted more southeasterly winds in SD if the cap could be overcome. I chose the South Dakota target. The day was marginal and instability was a limiting factor everywhere. The drive north appeared easy. In the Thedford area, I ran into a whole group of chasers and news crews who were hanging out by the only gas station. I am sure that makes the locals nervous. I continued north through the Sandhill area (1V) of Nebraska. I drove through miles of gentle rolling grass-covered hills. Pheasants along the road were as common as crows in Virginia. I finally arrived in the town of Mission, South Dakota. The population is mostly Native American. In Richmond, one may see some teenagers hanging out with purple hair or tatoos. I saw one teenager in Mission with what I can only describe as Indian war pain over his face. Very strange. I was going to continue north on 83, but I saw a parked line of cars and trucks as far as I could see. There was a sign for road construction with one available lane. No problem, I headed east on 18/183. Soon, I encountered another one lane construction zone. After about a 20 minute wait, myself and some other cars were escorted for several miles of rutted, slippery dirt road (2V) often behind even slower moving construction equipment. I could have walked faster. I finally made it to the other side, blasted east then north on 183. Storms were already beginning to fire in my target area south of Pierre. As I got close to I-90, I hit another construction zone. Again, the wait was about 20 minutes and then a long escorted drive on rutted roads. Even more annoying, I was watching my storms "line out" on the XM radar while a nice tornado-warned supercell was developing near where I spent the night. Arrghhh!! I finally reached I-90 and played with a picturesque line of severe storms. Nothing special but pretty. I did submit some video to The Weather Channel but they were not interested. I ended the day in Omaha, Nebraska.

(1V) (2V) (3P)
(4V) (5P) (6V)

May 18, 2005: Mushy storms in Kansas

I started the day in Omaha, Nebraska. There were two equally marginal targets. One in northeastern Kansas, the other in south central Kansas. I chose the northerly target initally near Frankfort Kansas (north of Manhattan) I shifted slightly southward based on additional data. Towering Cu developed in my area but slowly died. More storms were forming near Topeka. Unfortunately, I suspected these would eventually form a line. I wanted to be on the tail end of this line and I drifted south to Eskridge, Kansas and waited. Storms developed but they were not very severe. I waited. The storm near Topeka started to become more organized and it was moving south-southeast. I blasted east, then north. There was some rotation (based on XM). The storm was picturesque but wouldn't become tornadic. The lighting was amazing. I dropped south to avoid the storm (now a derecho) after dark. I stopped in Wichita, Kansas for the night. The "death ridge" was arriving.

(7V) (8V)

May 19, 2005: Bust chase, Oklamoma scenary and Pawnee Bill

Today was a total bust. I started in Wichita, Kansas and targeted northeast Oklahoma. Chances were marginal even if the CAP broke. This warm layer of air can inhibit storm development. I leisurely drove south, then east enjoying the scenery. I toured the historic town of Pawnee (just east of Tulsa) and visited the home of Pawnee Bill. Like Buffalo Bill, Pawnee Bill had a wild west show in the early 1900's. Their shows were later merged for several years. Only in the United States could one have former foes (cowboys and Indians) join a show and get paid to reenact their battles. I was also looking forward to seeing buffalo on their ranch. The attendant at the museum stated they had about 80 buffalo but I never saw them. As with searching for tornadoes, I totally busted with the buffalo. The cap never broke and the scattered cumulus vanished. I drove back to Wichita, Kansas and am staying at the Super 8.

May 20, 2005: Kansas and Nebraska landscape photography

Today was a travel and landscape photography day. I shot some video in Wichita for The Weather Channel which was used that evening. I then drove from Wichita, Kansas to Beatrice, Nebraska exploring the back roads and taking pictures for my photo stock portfolio. There was no chance of storms.

Kansas Scenes

(9P) (10V) (11V) (12V)Storm shelter at a
mobile home park

May 21, 2005: South Dakota bust (Gotta love the cap!)

Today was a day of highs and lows. I began in Beatrice, Nebraska. This town brings back memories of 2004 when I was last in Beatrice. I had to drop south to avoid a mammoth supercell with a two and a half mile wide tornado that devastated the town of Hallam. The year anniversary is tomorrow, May 22. Before leaving my hotel, I analyzed the data. There was a good chance of supercells and possibly tornadoes if the cap would break. There was also a strong possibility of a bust. These days are “boom or bust days.” My initial target was Sioux City. I headed north through Nebraska watching the clear sky. I liked the strong southeasterly winds at the surface. In Sioux City, I visited with Jim Leonard of Cyclone Tours and Gene Moore who were by a hotel getting weather data. I've known Jim since 1997. He is one of the most experienced tornado and hurricane chasers. Check out their cool tour promo video:

Cyclone Promotional Video

Mike Theiss, also with the tour, had taken the tourists to a nearby casino while they waited for initiation of the storms. The tourists, like all the chasers, were bummed at the lack of severe weather. Jim, Gene and I looked at updated satellite and surface observations. The cap was very strong but could break. There were a couple of possible initiation areas, one near Norfolk, Nebraska, another near Mitchell South Dakota and a third near York in southern Nebraska. I decided to head northwest to an area north of Norfolk while Jim et al stayed in Sioux City. We called each other with observations. Cirrus was moving in from the south and this could suppress heating. There were no areas of cumulus development, the first signs of initiation. A tornado watch was issued for the area, but I was not impressed with the sky. It was looking like a bust. I waited near the small town of Laurel in northeast Nebraska and watched the mostly clear sky. Nothing except cirrus and a few midlevel clouds. I have seen many tornadic days and this sky was too stable. I took photos of abandoned houses (13V) and other scenes. I continued to wait for the cap to break. (14V) I finally drove into town for some Diet Pepsi and was about to give up when a small white spot appeared on the XM Mobile Threatnet indicating a satellite image of some developing towers. It was just to my north in South Dakota. The cap was breaking!! I had to hurry as storms in this environment could quicky become supercells. Often, the best show is early. I called Jim who also saw the development on the XM. I blasted north, and as I turned a corner, I found myself in the middle of a 10 car caravan of chasers. I hadn't seen any chasers for hours. Now, chasers from across northern Nebraska were headed toward the only storms in the area. The group crossed the Missouri River by a beautiful forest of birch trees. Overhead, the storms were rapidly developing. Near the town of Vermillion, South Dakota the whole group (15V) stopped to observe the development. I also stopped and chatted with a professor from Ball State who was taking a group of students storm chasing. I was concerned the storms would move across the river that separates Iowa from South Dakota and there are few bridges. I left the group and headed east to get ahead of the storms. There were three in a north to south line. Jim was further south. Jim and I traded reports on the storms from each of our view points. It is important to look at storm bases and anvils to assess the health of the storm. Unfortunately, these storms were not healthy. The cap “was winning” and the storms began to dissipate. The day was a bust. Even the tornado watch was cancelled early. I waited for a while but no additional storms were forming and darkness was approaching. After watching a beautiful sunset (16V), I headed back to the Sioux City, Iowa. Storms, possibly severe, were expected in eastern Kansas the next day on Sunday. Since they would be removed from the jet stream, they were unlikely to be supercells and not worth chasing. Instead, Sunday will be a travel day to get in position for upslope storms in Colorado. These storms can be photogenic. I don't understand the meteorology of these types of storms as much as those in the Plains.

(13V) (14V) (15V) (16V)

May 22, 2005: Goodland, Kansas (Positoning for possible May 23 storms)

Today was a long travel day to get in position for possible supercells in eastern Colorado late tomorrow afternoon. There was a slight chance today of severe storms along the Kansas, Oklahoma border including a 2% chance of tornadoes. Upon reviewing the data, I decided to blow off that slight chance and use the time for travel. It was a long drive from Sioux City, Iowa to Goodland, Kansas near the Colorado border. I didn't have anytime for sightseeing but I did have a few of random thoughts and observations along the way:

*There are many casinos across Iowa, Missouri and Kansas including riverboats and Indian reservations. I am amazed at how many people must gamble regularly to keep these places in business. Unlike Vegas, there are no shows or other attractions.

*There is a brand of pizza commonly sold in small markets and convenience stores called Buffet Pizza. In general a brand name should indicate a good style and quality. Examples could include "Italian" or "Roman" Pizza. One could also use some Italian name. When does the name Buffet symbolize quality in pizza or any food?

*I have dined at some very fancy places over the years and tried many foods from different nationalities yet I am a big fan of Cracker Barrel. Their food is reasonably priced, decent quality and they are one of the few places that serve a variety of vegetables. Their apple cobbler with ice cream is better than the same dessert served at the Plaza Hotel in New York or many other restaurants. I usually try and avoid chains while traveling but I was craving Cracker Barrel on this day.

I was hopeful of decent storms tomorrow. So far, this trip has been the storm chase equivalent of someone picking through the garbage for scraps of food. This has been the worst weather pattern for mid May in years (if one is looking for tornadoes.)


(V -- Video Still. P -- Scanned from slide, Fuji Velvia 50)

Next Page: May 23, 2005

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