Washington County, Kansas Tornado and Lyndon (Topeka area) Tornado: May 24, 2004

Tornado, funnels, rotating wall cloud and beautiful supercell

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

Jeff Piotrowksi and I left Omaha early and drove to the town of Pawnee City in southeastern Nebraska. This was a high-risk day for possible strong and damaging tornadoes. Explosive storm development was expected with a dryline push, low level jet crossing the area and southeasterly winds up to 25 mph. As we headed south, we could see low ragged clouds (1V) streaming northward by 9:00PM indicating that deep moisture was increasing. The extreme shear was amazing. I could see clouds moving in different directions at different levels. Towers were already forming by 10:50PM while we were just west of Pawnee City on 99. There was a dramatic increase in surface temperature. Any storm that developed would quickly rotate. Since we couldn't get data in Pawnee City, we headed to Beatrice and checked weather data in the library. Many other chasers including Dr. Chuck Doswell were also checking data. There were two possible target areas. One area was in southeastern Nebraska and northeastern Kansas. The other area was west of Beatrice. When a storm developed in southeastern Nebraska, Jeff and I headed southeast to Humboldt rather than waiting for development to the west. The Humboldt area storm was churning and rotating. A rapidly rotating wall cloud developed by 2:12PM. At 2:20PM, the area of rotation (2V) was above us. The shear and cloud motion was amazing though the storm was quite weak. The rotating area was sheared off the storm, and the storm became less organized. Another wall cloud (3V) was visible at 2:24PM just east of Humboldt. A tornado warning was issued at 2:30PM for the storm, now 5 miles west of Stella. The storm fell apart. At this point, I had to make a very difficult decision. I could follow the storm development eastward or blast west toward areas west of Beatrice where potentially stronger storms would form. I had already spent too much time with these eastern storms but it was hard to ignore such rapid rotation. After some thinking, rechecking the data, and some advice from Tim Vasquez, I decided to head back to the area west of Beatrice. Jeff decided to follow the current storm into Missouri.

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

There were already storms forming west of Beatrice. I had to hurry since the best tornadoes often occur early in a storm's lifecycle. Jason Persoff was closer to the storms and reported rapid storm development and rotation. (He later saw several photogenic tornadoes.) I blasted west on 4, then on 136 through Beatrice to Fairbury, Nebraska. I was already hearing tornado warnings for those storms in Thayer County when I was still far away. I was worried since I could be caught between the storms and miss all the tornadoes. I plotted an intercept to the most southern tornadic supercell. At 4:23PM, I left Fairbury and continued west on 136 toward a storm near Hebron. I planned to turn south on 81 in Hebron, but I was blocked by the hail-filled core. The storm was moving south-southeast at 25 miles per hour. I turned around and dropped south in Fairbury on 15, then briefly west on 8 to the small town of Reynolds by 5PM. The storm was to my west and approaching. I went south on Bismark road and crossed into Kansas. I encountered rain, small hail and increasing inflow toward the western storm. I was completely alone on this gravel road. At 5:14 PM, I sighted a tornado (pic #1) (4V),(pic #2) (5V) to the west. Because of rain and hail, I dropped south for better visibility (6V) . I also wanted a safer viewing area since a new meso was forming between the tornado and I. A small funnel (7V) appeared at 5:16PM associated with the new meso (pic #1) (8V),(pic #2) (9V). By 5:17PM, visibility (10V) had improved but there was some rising scud close to my position and I had to drive south to be in a safer position. The tornado occluded (11V) by 5:18PM. Although I was in Washington County, I am not sure if the tornado was in Washington County or just over the border in Republic County. Further south, I looked back north and could see rotation but no tornado. I later found out from Shane Adams that there was another brief tornado that I had missed. Oh well. Thanks to Tim Vasquez for accurate nowcasting.

(4V) (5V) (6V) (7V)
(8V) (9V) (10V) (11V)

Another meso was forming to the southwest and it was more isolated. It was the southernmost and most isolated meso in a conglomerate of storms. I continued south and could see the new meso (12V) by 5:25PM. There was even a brief funnel (13V) . This meso was my new target. I drove through Haddam at 5:28PM and turned south on 22. As I encountered more small hail, I sighted another brief funnel below the meso. I turned east on 36 and stopped on a hill for better viewing. There was strong rotation in the meso but no tornado. I continued east and there was another lowering by 5:37PM. I drove south on 15 following the backlit meso. This was one of the more impressive storms that I have seen. The contrast was amazing. At 5:58PM, a needle funnel (14V) formed. The storm was rotating but was a bit more high-based (15V) by 6:02PM. I joined a large caravan of chasers heading east on 148. At 6:21PM, I entered Waterville and turned south on 77PM. The meso was to the west. I stopped at 6:26PM to observe rapid rotation and rising motion in the meso. Chasers were everywhere. The wall cloud under the meso tightened (16V) and I saw another brief funnel by 6:27PM. The storm structure (17V) was absolutely amazing (another image (18P) ). With more rain approaching, I headed south for a better viewing position. I pulled off at 6:36PM to watch the storm (19V). A group of university chasers were in front of me with a truck and radar system. The base of the storm began to lift and become more disorganized. The storm was slowly dying. I think it was being undercut by dry air from the west. I thought the chase was over; however, I noticed storms forming far to the southeast…

(12V) (13V) (14V) (15V)
(16V) (17V) (18P) (19V)

New storms were developing near Topeka, Kansas. I broke off from the chase and blasted east on 16 and southeast on 99. I crossed Tuttle Creek Lake at 6:53PM, and the storms were visible across the beautiful lake (20V) . The storms were exploding and by 7PM, I could see two classic appearing supercell thunderstorms with anvils, overshooting tops, flanking lines and main updrafts. The overshooting top (21V) was clearly visible by 7:07PM and the flanking line (22V) was visible by 7:18PM. I was frustrated because of the winding roads and slow trucks; however, I was able to reach the Topeka area by 8PM. Severe storms were erupting over and near the city. Channel 13 was showing live video of tornado in either downtown Topeka or Lawrence along with radar images with large hook echos. There were several tornadic supercells in the Topeka area. I drove south on 75 and at 8:08PM, I could see the backside of one of the tornadic storms. I encountered heavy rain and small hail as I passed through the edge of the core. The rain decreased when I arrived in Lyndon at 8:30PM. I continued south in Osage County. The storm to the north (23V) became more electrically active by 8:39PM. I was several miles south of Lyndon on 75 watching a storm to the north. At 8:40 and 42 sec, I observed a lowering to the ground (24V) that shifted eastward. Rotation (8:41 and 49 sec)(25V) was evident. I may have seen a tornado (Close-up Pic #1 8:41 and 55 sec. (26V) and Pic #2 8:42 and 5 sec. (27V)). I have not yet seen any official confirmation of a tornado. Unfortunately, visibility was decreasing with the approach of night. When it was dark, I ended the chase. There were mesos to the west and south. Thanks to Jack Kertzie for nowcasting and helping me avoid the dangerous portions of the storms after dark. It was awhile before I heard from Jeff Piotrowski. He also saw a tornado that day but lost his cell phone in the excitement

(20V) (21V) (22V) (23V)
(24V) (25V) (26V) (27V)

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

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