May 23, 2008 Tornado Outbreak near Quinter, Kansas

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


YouTube Video of May 23 tornadoes, widescreen, 5 minutes

YouTube Video (Short Version, 1 minute) of May 23 tornadoes


May 23, 2008 was an absolutely incredible chase day with multiple large and violent tornadoes. I started in Hays, Kansas. My initial target was in northwestern Kansas near Colby. Storms were already firing just to the north of the Oakley to Colby area along a boundary that was intersecting the dryline. This boundary paralleled I-70. My secondary target was down south by Dodge City along the dryline where there was better instability but less shear. After missing the previous day's tornadoes, I didn't want to screw up. I headed west on I-70 and met with Jason Persoff and Robert Balogh who were staying in Quinter. We caravanned west to Oakley (home of the world's largest prairie dog) to check more data and make a final decision on the target. There was a massive chaser convergence (image L-R: myself, Robert, Jason and Tony Laubach)(1) at a truck stop. I am sure that makes the locals nervous! We waited and watched while socializing. I enjoyed talking with Tim Samaras, Tony Laubach and Verne Carlson. It was also nice to meet other chasers that I only know through posts on message boards. Elevated storms continued to fire to the north. We expected better storms to fire slightly south along the dryline and move northward. We then noticed a storm developing to the southeast in Lane County. We left Oakley and drove east to intercept the northward moving storm. Additional storms were forming to the south of Lane County. We arrived in Collyer area and waited as the storm approached. The road network was poor. None of us wanted to attempt muddy dirt roads. The storm to our south became tornado-warned. We headed back west to Quinter, then briefly three miles south on Castle Rock Road. As the storm approached the town, we adjusted north and then about a mile west on I-70. My XM satellite radar was slightly off compared to what I could see visually and what Jason saw using GR Level 3. I waited about one mile west of the Quinter exit on I-70. At 4:32PM, a large cone tornado (2) was visible to my south. I got amazing video as it approached I-70. I shifted west about a half mile to allow the tornado to pass. The tornado lifted as the meso crossed the interstate (3). To the north, I could see rapidly rotating rain curtains and a brief spinup. At 4:36PM, there was a brief trunk (4) that was difficult to film due to rain and lightning danger. There was a report of a wedge to the north that I didn't see. I may have been filming under it. The storm moved northward and visibility ended. We resisted the temptation to chase the storm northward over wet dirt roads or to head east to a paved road and backtrack toward the storm. It was very hard to let a known tornadic storm pass northward and not go after it. Thanks to Jason for encouraging me to be patient.



Map of first tornado viewing points


(1)


(2)


(3)


(4)

More storms were forming directly to the south. Another possible option was to head south and follow the storm northward. Again, we didn't want to deal with muddy dirt roads. Getting stuck in the wrong place could be fatal with these storms. We did drive south of Quinter for about a mile, stopping at the end of a paved road. Soon, we saw rapid cloud motion (5) swirling to the southwest. Again, my Threatnet XM satellite was off and placed the meso directly overhead rather than slightly west. I knew better due to visual observations and GR Level 3 that Jason was running. I drove up a low hill and could see a distant tornado from a farmer's driveway. The cloud motion was incredible. At 6:12PM, there was a brief satellite tornado (6)(enhanced close-up (7).) The tornado, now a massive high-contrast wedge, approached my location and passed to the west. At times, I could see multiple vortices. (several images are below (8-18) The tornado was approaching I-70. I carefully made my way down gravel driveway, then north toward the interstate. The tornado, now becoming more of an “elephant-trunk”, was approaching the highway. I blasted west, stopping just before the tornado crossed the road at 6:30PM. Jason and Robert had stopped slightly east of my location. The tornado crossed the highway and briefly vanished. I headed west and could see a low-contrast tube to the north. Then a received a report from Robert that a car had been blown off the road. Both Robert Balogh and Jason Persoff, who are also physicians, stopped to render aid before EMS arrived. I called off the chase and circled around to see if they needed any help. By then, EMS had arrived. The car had been thrown way over into a ditch (19). The lone occupant had serious injuries and had to be extricated by EMS. I never saw the car as I passed the damage path. Jason said there were skid marks perpendicular to the road. Another storm was approaching from the south as the storms “trained.” This smaller storm also had a mesocyclone. I warned one of the fire officials. Jason, Robert and I headed back east and then watched a wall cloud (20) from another smaller storm pass near the interstate. I never saw a tornado. Another massive storm, much wider than the previous storms, was now approaching the area. This storm had an enormous hook echo and there were reports of a large tornado. We quickly drove east toward Hays to avoid the core. Tornado sirens were sounding in Hays as darkness arrived. We had our escape route ready. We first thought the town would take a direct hit. The meso shifted, and we took a slight jog west. We never saw anything due to rain and darkness. We didn't want to risk going farther west. Charles Edwards with Cloud 9 Tours was approaching from the west on I-70. He had a better view and saw a large tornado blow a truck off the road. He gave me some radar updates, and we definitely didn't want to go farther west. As it was dark, Jason, Robert and I ended the chase and drove to Russell, Kansas for the night. Robert was able to secure some of the last rooms at the Super 8.

This was the best storm chase that I have ever had with close views of multiple tornadoes. The town of Quinter escaped two close tornadic storms. My excitement was tempered by seeing that car and injured occupant due to the tornado. I was later contacted by Randy, the driver. He was briefly hospitalized with a collapsed lung, broken rib, ruptured eardrum and bruises. Luckily, Randy made a full recovery. He later made a very nice powerpoint presentation of his experience going through the tornado. Go to Randy Applegate's Home Page and click on "Randy and the Kansas Twister."

My video was shown on Fox and The Weather Channel. Dr. Greg Forbes that evening showed a still from the video and drew on it while explaining different parts of the storm. He reminded me of a sports commentator drawing lines and x's on a football line-up. The first Quinter area tornado seen earlier that day was an EF2 and the second Quinter tornado was later rated by the National Weather Service as an EF 4 for damage.



Map of second tornado viewing points


(5)

(6)

(7)

(8)

(9)

(10)

(11)

(12)

(13)

(14)

(15)

(16)

(17)

(18)

(19)

(20)


May 23, 2008 Archived Weather Data

Radar Reflectivity 6:17 PM Radar Storm Relative Motion 6:17 PM Radar Reflectivity 6:26 PM Radar Storm Relative Motion 6:26 PM

Day 1 Convective
Outlook 7:42AM CDT
Day 1 Convective
Outlook Map
Day 1 Tornado
Outlook
12Z 250 mb
12Z 500 mb 12Z 850 mb Surface 1443Z Satellite 1615Z
NAM Surface 12Z init
valid 18Z 5/23/08
NAM Surface 12Z init
valid 00Z 5/24/08
NAM Surface Temp 12Z init
valid 18Z 5/23/08
NAM Surface Temp 12Z init
valid 00Z 5/24/08
NAM Surface Dew 12Z init
valid 00Z 5/24/08
NAM 700mb temp 12Z init
valid 00Z 5/24/08
NAM CAPE/CIN 12Z init
valid 18Z 5/23/08
NAM CAPE/CIN 12Z init
valid 00Z 5/24/08
NAM Surface Theta-E 12Z init
valid 00Z 5/24/08
NAM Precip 12Z init
valid 00Z 5/24/08
SPC Storm Reports 5/23/08 Quinter area tornado tracts by NWS

 

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