Jamestown, Kansas and other tornadoes: May 29 2004 Tornado Outbreak

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

I started the day in Hutchinson, Kansas. A possible tornado outbreak had been predicted for days and the May 29 morning data confirmed the forecast. There was an upper level trough that was forecast to move eastward across the High Plains. A secondary low was expected to intensify near the dryline/cold front intersection on the Nebraska/Kansas border. The dryline would extend southward. There was strong low-level shear expected across the area with the potential for isolated tornadic supercells from the triple-point south along the dryline. The SPC had already issued a "High Risk" for large areas of Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma and was calling it an "extremely dangerous situation." Because of the large area, making a forecast was difficult. I had two target areas. One was in the Belleville to Concordia area of north-central Kansas and the other target was along the Kansas/Oklahoma border south and southwest of Wichita. My biggest worry was getting caught between two areas of tornadic storms and missing everything. On a rare high risk day, a wrong forecast would be even more painful. Upon further review of the data and discussions with Tim Vasquez and other chasers, I decided on my northern target and shifted it slightly westward. This was more of a "sure thing." There was a potential for bigger tornadoes in the southern target but there was also the possibility that the cap wouldn't break or storms would form after dark. At the end of my vacation, I wasn't in the mood to gamble.

I drove north, then west on I-70 from Salina, Kansas. At noon, the skies were clear except for a few small cumulus. I met Jason Persoff, M.D. for lunch at the Pizza Hut (1P) in Russell, Kansas. He was back from Denver and ready for a good a chase day. We discussed the forecast and agreed on a target area of Osborne to Beloit. By 1:39PM, there was scattered cumulus already developing across the area. I was concerned that storms would explode before we reached the target area. To a nonchaser, it was a beautiful day. To a chaser, the day appeared ominous and explosive. Warm moist winds blasted from the southeast as puffy cumulus moved across a blue sky. Since 281, our northern route, was blocked, we headed back east on I-70, then turned north on 14 by 2:15PM. As we drove, one of the radio stations played "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult and "Riders on the Storm" by the Doors. Very appropriate. Initiation was now expected near Smith Center, Kansas in an hour. At 2:45, we were within a few miles of Beloit (2V) . Towering cumulus were developing all around us. We arrived in Beloit at 3PM and bought extra food, gas and checked some additional data. Jason and I chatted with some locals at the gas station and warned them to monitor local radio stations for severe weather info. I was now concerned that Beloit was in danger from the expected storms. The sky was oppressive and dangerous. Towering cumulus (3V) were exploding over the town. We probably wouldn't have to leave the area. Jason and I drove to a parking area just north of Beloit at 3:30PM and waited. Storm towers were forming across the area. One tower, to the west, already had a base (4V) by 3:20PM. This could be our storm. Of course, other storms could form just outside of our viewing area. We continued to wait.

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

My phone rang and Tim Vasquez stated a storm was exploding to our southwest. We left our tower and drove south through Beloit. Soon, the edge of the developing storm was visible. Jason and I stopped at 4:00PM south of Beloit and five miles east of Hunter. The large tower was now to our west and was trying to organize. Rain began to fall from the elevated base. At 4:09, a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for Jewell and Mitchell Counties. Tim called again and stated that the storm was backbuilding and developing a mesocyclone. This meso was north of Hunter and moving northward. It would pass 8 miles west of Beloit. We drove north, then west on a gravel road just south of Beloit. We stopped on a road east of Hunter and could see a rainfree base by (5V) 4:23PM. At 4:37PM, there was a prominent lowering and increasing rotation. Harsh tones were blasted from the radio as a tornado warning was issued. I talked with Jim Leonard via cellphone and we compared our different viewpoints of the storm. The rotation of the wall cloud (6V) continued to increase by 4:38PM along with warm inflow. A needle-funnel formed (7V) at 4:38:00 PM and it kinked (8P) by 4:39 and 15 sec. By 4:39 and 25 sec, the funnel was gone. Another funnel (9V) formed at 4:39 and 37 sec and vanished within a minute. The wall cloud continued to rotate. The meso slowly moved toward our location and was almost overhead (10V) by 4:50PM. We always had an escape option. The meso became slightly disorganized by 4:53 PM. It was cycling. Jason talked with a group of farmers in Beloit via Ham radio and updated them of the storm positions while I obtained additional radar info.

(5V) (6V) (7P)
(8P) (9V) (10V)

We headed back east to 14 along back roads including a curved "Bob's Road (11V) ." Jason had a GPS that was a necessity for navigation. At 5PM, we turned north on 14. The main storm was to the north and a new meso was forming to the west. We stopped at a small chaser convergence at 5:02PM and watched an area of rotation to the west (12V) . Another base was forming farther to the west. We chatted with several chasers and an EMS crew who had heard radio reports of a tornado north of Beloit. Navigating around the storms and finding the best region to target was difficult due to multiple areas of rotation and other areas obscured by rain. We continued north and arrived in Beloit by 5:18PM. We turned east on 9 and were stopped at a railroad crossing by a freight train (13V). Chasing can be very frustrating. Luckily, the storms were cycling in intensity and we some time. After the train passed, we blasted east on 9 and then north on a dirt road. We stopped at 5:42PM.

(11V) (12V) (13V)

The main storm was to the north. Inflow winds and storm rotation increased. The striated storm (14V) was organizing and strengthening. Within a few minutes, a wall cloud (15V) was visible and it slowly lowered. Dust blew into the storm. We changed positions to the main road as our position was hit with dirt and dust from nearby plowed fields. At 5:54 PM, a large white tornado (16V) extended outward from the storm. The funnel (17V) was southwest of a large black wall cloud. Usually, tornadoes are attached to the wall cloud. Contrast was low as the dust flowed toward the storm. The white tornado was probably northeast of Scottsville in Mitchell County. I was suspicious that a wedge tornado was forming under the wall cloud.

(14V) (15V) (16V) (17V)

We continued east then north. The wall cloud (6:00PM 43 sec)(18V) was lowering and there may have already been a tornado on the ground. Another wall cloud image (19V). At 6:02PM, we turned east (20V) onto County Road 360 (?Rock Road) and stopped. We were almost due south of Jamestown and west of Concordia. There were several other groups of chasers watching the dusty wedge tornado (6:03PM and 38 sec)(21V) to the northwest. The tornado became wrapped in rain and dust (22P) by 6:06PM and many of the chasers left our area to approach the tornado. The circular edge (23V) of the storm towered into the sky. The tornado was moving in northeasterly direction and passed just northwest of Jamestown in Cloud County.

(18V) (19V) (20V)
(21V) (22P) (23V)

Jason and I started to leave at 6:10PM before we noticed a funnel cloud south of the wedge damage path. The funnel (24V) was almost directly west of our position. Rotating debris below the funnel became visible at 6:13PM. The white tornado (pic #1)(25V),(pic#2)(26V),(pic#3)(27V) elongated and slowly moved toward us. The debris dissipated but more circulating debris (28V) formed under the funnel (29V) at 6:15 and 42 sec. This has been reported as an anticyclonic tornado. We were buffeted by high winds moving toward the wedge. I was concerned about RFD wrapping around the storm, yet I was confused about the unexpected formation of the small western tornado away from the main storm. At 6:17PM, the tornado had dissipated.

(24V) (25V) (26V)
(27V) (28V) (29V)

The area of rotation moved northeast and was directly in front of our position. A new rope tornado (30V) formed at 6:22PM directly north of our position. It almost vanished, then reformed and lengthened into an "S" shape (31P) by 6:24PM and 37 sec. It was gone by 6:25 and 25 sec. At 6:26 and 30 seconds, a new funnel developed to our west and another rotating wall cloud (32V) formed to the northwest. The rotating wall cloud and persistent funnel (33V) were still visible at 6:28PM. There may have been a brief wedge tornado under the wall cloud. The main storm was now directly north. Amazingly, we had not changed our position since stopping to film the wedge. At this point, we headed back west on Rock Road and north on 40th St in the direction of the wedge damage path. At 6:38PM, we crossed Teal Rd and a railroad crossing in Jamestown. Chasers were everywhere. We saw the end of a brief very narrow tornado to our west at 6:40PM. The funnel extended far from the storm and didn't touch the ground. Jason did see a debris cloud under the funnel. We passed a damaged power pole (34V) and house (35V) at 6:42 PM. Luckily, I don't think anyone was injured. Farther north, there was a police road block. We turned around and went south, then east on 28. I had talked with Jim Leonard of Cyclone Tours who was on the other side of the roadblock. Jim and his tour group, Cyclone Tours, helped a couple girls out of their tornado damaged house. The Jamestown tornado (wedge) was rated F2 on the Fujita damage scale. Luckily, there were no reported injuries.

(30V) (31P) (32V)
(33V) (34V) (35V)

Jason and I entered Concordia at 6:55PM. According to Tim Vasquez, the storm was forming another large hook echo 11 miles northwest of Concordia and 5 miles south of Bellville. We turned north on 81 and headed toward the huge beast of a supercell (36V). The striated storm loomed to our north. We turned east on 148 at 7:05PM and stopped in another chaser convergence. There was a dark lowering (37V) to our northwest that was in contrast with a bright green field. The lowering moved northeast and became rain-wrapped. Yet another narrow lowering (38V) formed to our west and it displayed rotation. The primary storm (with a beautiful hail-shaft) (39P) was to our north and east. Although no tornadoes were visible, Jason and I (40P)enjoyed photographing the dramatic scenary. We then drove back to north 81, then west on 36. We could see a nice wall cloud (41V) and notch at 7:38PM but it fell apart. Jason and I stopped to examine some two and a half inch hail (42V) before Jason headed back to Denver. He was scheduled to fly out the next morning and had a long drive ahead of him. I drove back to Belleville, passing a truck (43V) that was blown off the road. The huge HP storm was moving north. There was a interesting non rotating linear scud formation north of Bellville. As night was approaching, I had no desire to play with an HP beast (reported 4 and a half inch hail) with poor visibility and low chances for photogenic tornadoes. I ended the chase and headed to Salina for the night.

(36V) (37V) (38V) (39P)
(40P) (41V) (42V) (43V)

On May 30, there was a slight chance of storms in Missouri and Arkansas. After learning that The Weather Channel didn't need my footage uploaded to them the previous night, I headed to Kansas City. While uploading more video via satellite at a local Kansas City TV station, I checked more weather data. The chances for photogenic tornadoes was low and too far east. I decided to head back to Oklahoma city for my flight home on Monday. May 29 was an amazing storm chase day and a great way to end a two week vacation. I sighted about 6 to 7 tornadoes including a wedge on that day.

(V -- Video Still. P -- Scanned from negative. Kodak ASA 200 or from slide, Fuji Velvia 100.)

Archived Weather Data and Information for May 29, 2004

SPC Tornado Reports Tornado Paths Map
by NWS Topeka WFO
Weathertap Radar Animation (940KB)
compiled by Dave Lewison
SPC Tornado Probabilities
SPC Convective Outlook
8 AM (graphic)
SPC Convective Outlook
8 AM (text)
SPC Convective Outlook
8 AM (graphic)
Surface obs. from UCAR&UNISYS
8:43 AM and 7:00PM

May 29 12Z 250 mb 500 mb 700 mb 850 mb
May 30 00Z 250 mb 500 mb 700 mb 850 mb
Upper air data from UCAR, compiled by Tim Balassie

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