May 17 - 20, 2011: Arrival and Busts in Oklahoma and Kansas

 

chase images and log by William T. Hark, M.D. Video (HD) and pictures available for licensing

 


May 17, 2011 Wichita, Kansas arrival, preparation and police encounter

 

May 17 started my usual storm chase expedition into Tornado Alley in search of supercells and tornadoes. I left Virginia on a 6AM flight and arrived in Wichita, KS after some minor delays. As today was very marginal, and I only had a few hours of sleep, I decided not chase and instead concentrate on setting up my equipment. I stopped by Walmart to purchase additional supplies (paper towels, sunscreen, water etc.) and then had lunch at a local Mexican restaurant. Over fajitas, I checked weather data. There will be increasing upper level flow and moisture over the next couple of days with the potential of severe storms. Wednesday and especially Thursday look good and another system arrives early next week. I couldn't forecast a definite target for tomorrow and decided just to get some rest and stay in Wichita. I stopped by favorite hotel in Wichita, The Wichita Inn by the airport. When I drove around back to unload, I saw the TIV2. This is the Tornado Intercept Vehicle as seen on the Discovery Channel. The modified truck is armor-plated and is designed to drive relatively safely into a tornado. I chatted with some of the chasers with Discovery Channel and they had amazing stories about their recent April 27 chase across Alabama where they encountered a few violent tornadoes. While we talked, a couple of police offers stopped. They said that they always get worried when the see storm chasers hanging out. A couple of the officers parked nearby and asked that we pretend they weren't there as they were doing undercover surveillance at the Super 8 next door. Someone was doing or selling crack in one of the rooms and was not there when they dropped by. I ignored the officers as per their wishes and went back to unloading and setting up my equipment. The TIV folks were also working on their truck next to me separated by one of the parked police cars. I leisurely unpacked and adjusted my dash cam, multiple antenna, power inverters and other devices. Suddenly, the SWAT team and other police appeared and converged on the hotel next door. They had guns and black body armor. The suspect, who had just arrived at the hotel, was taken down with no resistance. He was removed. After a while, several of the officers dropped by to look at the storm chasing gear and take photos. They were especially fascinated by the modified truck engine and hydraulic lowering plates on the TIV. No storms that day but plenty of excitement.


Chase equipment. Very
difficult to pack for a flight

Glory, view from my plane

Glory, view from my plane

The TIV at the hotel in Wichita


Arrest for crack at
nearby Super 8 in Wichita


After an arrest, the
police check out the TIV

 

May 18, 2011 Oklahoma bust

Wednesday May 18th was a bust. I started the day in Wichita, Kansas. There were two possible targets. One was in northwestern Oklahoma ahead the dryline. Another possible target was further west in Colorado. After much thought, I decided to choose the closer target that would also put me in better position for the better chance of severe weather on Thursday. I am also more experienced in forecasting storms across the Plains than the upslope storms that can form in cooler and drier environments of Colorado. I headed west under chilly overcast skies with occasional drizzle. Temperatures were in the upper 50's. I stopped for lunch in Pratt, Kansas at the Serva-Teria that has good fried chicken. This was my last chance to decide between the two targets. I reviewed more data reaffirmed my Oklahoma target. I headed south and as I neared the border with Oklahoma, the surface conditions quickly changed from overcast and low 60's to scattered cumulus and temperatures in the upper 70's. I picked an area just east of Woodward, Oklahoma. I continued south. Unfortunately, I lost cell phone service near Alva, Oklahoma and never got it again until I returned to Kansas tonight. I stopped near the 412 and 281 crossroads and waited. The scattered cumulus were vanishing, and the sky was being covered with a thickening layer of cirrus clouds. This would limit heating. Not a good sign. Still, a tornado watch was issued for my area. Hope. I was considering heading a bit more south when I noticed an area of agitated and growing cumulus just to my southwest. This area became a small tower but development was slow. I met up with Robert Balogh M.D, and we watched that sad looking clump of cumulus. I talked with several other friends who were chasing about 50 miles farther south and they weren't seeing much. Finally, a small shower was forming to our south and we decided to drift south toward Seiling, Oklahoma. The little tower to our southwest was narrow and high-based. We went south on 281, passing a number of chasers watching the tower. Along the way, we saw Chris Kridler and we stopped and watched the tower vanish. The shower to the south also died. We all went to Seiling and spent the rest of the afternoon checking data and considering options. There was no sign of development throughout Oklahoma. We decided to call it a day. After some difficulty finding a vacant hotel (too many storm chasers), we headed back north. Thanks to Robert who remembered an awesome barbecue place just east of Alva, we had a very nice dinner of ribs and beef brisket. Most of my other friends also busted in Oklahoma but Jason Persoff, an internist from the Mayo Clinic, started in Denver and managed to find a beautiful supercell and tornado in eastern Colorado. Robert, Chris and I stayed at an Econo Lodge in Pratt, KS. It didn't look like much but the rooms were clean and I could pull the car up to the room and unload. According to the hotel clerk, there were many Italian storm chasers and a couple chasing storms from Australia who were also staying in the hotel. International Storm Chasing! Although it was chilly with blowing mist in Pratt, we were basically in the forecast target area for the following day.


A great place to eat
in Pratt, KS

Developing towers

Developing towers

Weird flattening of developing
tower

Chris Kridler

Smok-Shak, very good
barbecue east of Alva

Yum!

 

May 19, 2011: Kansas Bust

Short version: Blech!!

Long Version:

The day started with anticipation of severe weather. Conditions were coming together for a very good chance of tornadic thunderstorms across Kansas. I was chasing with Chris Kridler and Robert Balogh. Jason was to join us later. We started in Pratt, and we were already very close to the target area. There was an approaching dry punch from the west and just to the northeast would be an area increased chances of tornadic storms. I was very impressed with the upper level support moving in and southeasterly winds across much of Kansas along with high dewpoints. The sky was clearing and there was already scattered cumulus in the Pratt Area. We had lunch at the same place that I had eaten the previous day. While eating, we chatted with a group of farmers who were complaining about the drought. One guy had his own list of prognostic factors that could predict rain including the presence of dew in the morning and whether ants build higher or lower anthills. We were excited and hopeful about the chase prospects for the day. After lunch, everything went downhill.

As we were about to leave Pratt to shift slightly north, I switched on my equipment and the GPS wouldn't function. I split the signal for several forecasting programs including WXWorx Mobile Threat Net, GRLevel 3, Spotter Network and a DeLorme map. I have used this set up for years and never had this problem. I had no difficulty the previous day and nothing had changed on my computer. I spent over an hour without luck as the usual GPS port would recognize the GPS antenna but not load data whether it was for ThreatNet , GrLevel 3 or the other programs. Finally, I swapped the GPS to the other USB port and used the GPS port to run the Threatnet antenna. The limited system was functioning though I had not yet tried the splitter to add other GPS-based programs. The whole ordeal lasted over one hour.

We headed north and stopped in St John to assess the situation. The air was very “juicy” and the cumulus was more developed. Soon, Jason Persoff, M.D. arrived and then we saw our other friends including Dave Lewison and Scott McPartland, Mark Robinson and Mark's whole group of Canadian chasers (Dayna Vettese, Brad Rousseau, Heather Reynolds, and Meghan Yeo). We sat around the parking checking data and watching the cumulus nearby develop. Unfortunately, multiple storms were firing at once and forming a line. There were also storms near Great Bend to our north that were moving away from us. We waited and watched but nothing worth targeting. The storms were a disorganized mess. Some of the cumulus near us had nice vertical development but no further development. We finally headed in east to target some isolated storms near Hutchinson. They died as we approached. The storms to our west were still not impressive. Unfortunately, some of the storms to our north approached I-70 and became tornado-warned. So far, I haven't seen any decent tornado reports. While we waited, a small tail-end storm had formed near Great Bend and was shifting northward. Chris and I and later Robert and Jason decided to blast north to intercept it. The more isolated cell croaked as we approached it. Chris and I drifted north. The remnants of our cell exploded again on top of us and moved slowly northeasterly. We watched it for a while but no tornado. As darkness was approaching, we headed south to Wichita, Kansas for the evening


Chris and Robert north
of Pratt, Kansas

Silver Lining Tours and other chasers

Waiting for initiation 309PM CDT
St John, KS

Dave Lewison and Brad Rousseau
checking data

Meghan Yeo answering weather
questions by some curious kids

Scott McPartland and Jason Persoff
watching development at 3:41 PM CDT

Development, 3:41 PM CDT

part of the St. John, KS bust club


Go to May 20, 2011 Storm Chase

All images Copyright 2011 William T. Hark