Kansas and Iowa storm chases: May 18 - 20, 2004

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

May 18, 2004: Rain shower near Emporia, Kansas (essentially a bust)

Today was a complete bust. Severe storms were predicted for eastern Kansas as a boundary lifted northward. I left Russell, Kansas in a caravan with Jeff Piotrowski. We initially targeted the Emporia to Chanute region of eastern Kansas. The weather was cool, overcast with intermittent drizzle. We stopped near Salina , El Dorado and finally the library at Yates Center, Kansas to check weather data (1V). The boundary was to the south and east. We were still in clouds and fog. We drove eastward and passed through an area of heavy fog and drizzle. On the other side, the skies became partly cloudy and the temperature abruptly increased to the upper 70's. We hoped storms would fire in this unstable air to the south and east of the boundary. We continued to check radar and satellite images and drove in a circle trying to decide where the better storms would fire. We came within 40 mile of the Missouri border. While trying to decide on a target area, we ran into Ron Gravelle and Jack Kertzie who are also out chasing. I have known them for two years and they stayed at my house last fall on the way back from chasing hurricane Isabel. They chose a more southerly target area. We kept in contact via cell phone about local conditions and possible storm development. Storms tried to form but the cap prevented development of severe storms. We finally converged on a small rain shower just south of Emporia, Kansas. The rain shower even formed a non-rotating wall cloud! (2V) Yawn! Other showers were developing along the Kansas Turnpike. As darkness approached, we decided to end the chase. Jeff, Jack, Ron and I drove to Kansas City for a late dinner

(1V) (2V)

May 19, 2004: Bust in Iowa

We had high expectations for the with the possibility of explosive thunderstorm development in southwestern Iowa. Ron Gravelle, Jack Kertzie, Jeff Piotrowski and I started in Kansas City and targeted the Omaha area. We hoped storms would develop along a warm front. We had a quick breakfast at Cracker Barrel (1V) and drove north to about 70 miles south of Omaha. We checked data at a truck stop and chatted with several other storm chasers. (Image #1 (2P): Mark Robinson, Dave Sills, Jack kertzie and Image #2: (3V) Sarah Scriver, Jeff Piotrowski and Ron Gravelle) We also met with a television crew who would follow us on our adventures that day. The front was moving north and there was an area of clearing to our east. There would be maximal heating in that region. Jeff, Ron, Jack and I drove east and then northward. We stopped at 1:30PM to wait for storm development and to discuss strategy. (Images: Ron is observing the sky while Jack is discussing the forecast (4V) with Jeff Piotroswki (5V)) The overcast skies cleared and puffy cumulus clouds were visible. While driving, we passed assorted farm equipment (6V) nearly blocking the roads and trucks carrying strange substances (7V). We drove as far north as Denison, Iowa and briefly considered targeting some storms farther to the north. The storms were moving away from us and would move into colder air. Finally, there were several towers (8V) that formed in southwestern Iowa by 5:35PM. Jeff and I watched them from near Manning, Iowa while Jack and Ron observed from a location farther south. Unfortunately, our great viewing location was next to a pig farm that was rather ripe. The television crew had already left for other assignments. I was in contact with Jason Persoff, a physician with the Mayo Clinic who was chasing closer to Omaha along Jack, Ron and other chasers. We all compared local weather conditions and cloud structure and waited as the showers formed and died. There was still a cap in place that blocked storm development. The showers that formed were sheared and showed signs of rotation. Any storm that broke the cap would have probably formed a violent tornado. As evening approached, these showers moved northward and dissipated. The cap was increasing in strength. The only tornadoes formed far to the north in the Dakotas. Today was another bust. Ron and Jack spent the night in Omaha and Jeff and I went to Des Moines. I have never been to Iowa and the area just north of I-80 between Des Moines and Omaha is beautiful with gently rolling hills and either green or patterned brown plowed fields. There are scattered trees, mainly in low areas or by farm houses.

(1V) (2P)
(3V) (4V)
(5V) (6V)
(7V) (8V)

May 20, 2004: Severe storms, funnel and wall cloud in Southcentral Iowa

Today was a frustrating day. After spending the night in Des Moines, Iowa I checked data early in the morning. There were two possible target areas. One was across southern Iowa along a front while a new target area appeared in northeastern Colorado. There was better moisture and slightly less cap to the south but the surface winds were more favorable for supercells to develop in Colorado. Being in Des Moines, a decision would have to be made before all the morning weather data could be processed since the drive to Colorado would be very long. I didn't think the cap would break in Colorado. I talked with Jeff who agreed. We targeted an area 40 miles south of Des Moines along a boundary. Jack and Ron targeted an area slightly to the west along with Charles Edwards and Cloud 9 Tours. Jason Persoff called and stated he was blasting west toward Colorado.

Jeff and I headed south on Interstate 35 after breakfast and checking out the local wildlife (1V). Showers began to develop in a west to east line mid afternoon. Visibility was poor. We stopped in the town of Osceola and followed a developing storm eastward and to the north. At 4:45PM, the storm exploded (2V) and a tornado watch was issued for the surrounding area. Other storms were also forming to the east and later the west of our position. We followed the initial storm northeast to near Lacona. We passed by several other storm chasers. The storm was initially linear but briefly became supercellular. We did observe a brief funnel (3V). We also encountered small hail, frequent lightning and heavy rain. A wall cloud (4V) formed at 5:30PM while we were near Liberty Center but no tornado. The storm then split and slowly died. Another storm formed to the southwest near Woodburn and started to make a right turn. We dropped south but as we neared the southern storm, it died. We kept in contact with other chasers in the area and were also given data by Jason Politte who was nowcasting from home. Thanks Jason! By 7:30PM, we decided the chase day was over and headed to Des Moines. Much to my dismay, one beast of a supercell did form northeast of Denver. It was tornado-warned and had large hail. Jason was on a great storm. The cap finally broke but very late.

(1V) (2V) (3V) (4V)

(V -- Video Still. P -- Scanned from negative. Kodak ASA 200.)

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