Hiawatha, Kansas tornadic storm bust, June 4, 2005


This will qualify as one of the longest chases. I started the day in Richmond, Virginia. I had known Saturday would be potentially explosive for several days and had gotten airline tickets Tuesday afternoon for Kansas City. At 4PM Friday, I did a final check of the models and current data and decided to bag my 6:30PM flight. I was especially concerned about the lack of good backed winds across the target area of eastern Kansas and lack of focal areas of precipitation. I hated to spend the money for a bust day. I went to see Star Wars, then I checked data at 1AM. Wow, the 00Z ETA had dramatically changed from previous outputs with a developing low and backed winds across eastern Kansas. With high CAPEs and upper level support, this day appeared to a potential outbreak. My forecast was confirmed by the SPC issuing a moderate risk at 2AM. I quickly repacked my gear and got a ticket for Kansas City leaving Richmond, Virginia at 6:30AM. They used my credits for the Friday ticket. My initial target would be Topeka, Kansas. Unfortunately, I was so excited I got no sleep.

I arrived in Kansas City about 10:30AM and I could already see the low level moisture streaming north. I havenít seen this since 2004. I stopped just west of Topeka to get lunch and check data using a nearby hotel. The SPC had upgraded to a High Risk. I saw two potential areas, one slightly north of Topeka and the other near Wichita. I was concerned about the lack of a strong SE wind. The best backed winds were initially to the south. I waited and soon towers began to form slightly west of Topeka along a boundary. I liked the 70 dewpoint and Cu field but was worried about the calm winds. I drove west and positioned myself by exit 346, just south of Willard. There was a cluster of towers and developing cells to my west and north moving northeast. Initially, none were dominant. I was concerned about something developing to the south and hesitated, maybe for too long. I started north at 2:45PM to intercept the lead cell in Pottawatomie County. I didnít like targeting a northeasterly cell in a developing line. I have always learned to go after the most southern cell. I turned north on 63. There were two cells (still high-based) to my north, but the easterly one was becoming dominant. They were moving to the northeast. At 3:15PM, I turned east on 16 and then north on 62. Visually and on XM, I was not impressed by the storms. At 3:55PM, I passed the Kickapoo Truck stop on 75. The storm was to the northeast. I SHOULD HAVE turned east on 20 but I continued north. I planned on turning east on 36 and catching the southern part as it passed to the north. I figured there was still plenty of time and also wanted to keep my south option open. I also think lack of sleep played a role, and I was distracted looking at the map when I passed the turn off. I had the camcorder rolling when I passed the east option, and I now can forever review my screw-up. Anyway, I continued north and then east on 36. The storm was looking much better on radar and I was now west of the core. I was encountering heavy rain and hail up to a few golf balls. I stopped by a Walmart just to the west of Hiawatha to let the core pass. Then I heard the tornado warning and reports by a radio station of a tornado sighted near their studio. If I had punched the core at that point, I may have been able to see something but I didnít want to drive into the tornado. I continued through the southern edge of the core after most of it had passed. At 4:33PM, I could see an area of strong rotation pass to the north across 36 (I was east of it) but no tornado. I followed the storm by continuing east, then north through the town of Highland. There was rotation but no more tornadoes. I got stuck on this awful road that goes northwest along the Missouri River. The western border is an embankment covered with trees that block any western view. The main storm continued across the Missouri River, and I was out of road options. I continued through the no manís land of extreme southeastern Nebraska, Northeastern Kansas. Near Falls City, I had the option of going east toward Missouri or dropping south along the approaching line of storms. I decided to go south on 73, slowed by avoiding the cores of hailers. The storms were becoming more linear and close together. A massive line of storms was approaching from the west. I decided against trying to target areas of rotation in the line as these brief spinups are very hard to chase. The day was over. I headed east on 36, then south on 29. I did briefly go back to St. Joseph as one storm in the line formed a hook as it approached the city and was tornado warned. I was too close not to give it a try but I saw nothing. I went back to Kansas City and took an 8:30AM flight home. I had planned to upload video to The Weather Channel but by video was useless, especially after I saw some amazing tornado video of the Hiawatha storm.

Thus ends my tale of woe. I was mad at myself, tired, and disappointed as I was so close yet missed a beautiful tornado mainly because of my own stupid mistake. Itís on my tape so not only can I remember it forever, I can watch the precise moment the mistake was made.

A few other items of note and learning points: The ďtopsĒ on XM verifies nicely visually with the development of towers. I wonít chase on no sleep, and maybe Iíll core punch if necessary and reasonably safe. The road network in northeastern Kansas is awful. Finally, Tim Vasquez has amazing forecast ability. His initial main target area was Holton, Kansas just south of where the tornado formed. If I had only parked my self in Holton instead of waiting too long in Topeka and watching the southern areas. ARRGGGGGHH!


The main part of the core had passed to the north, and I was able to head east on 36. I broke through the precip but the tornado had ended. View facing east.

I saw the area of significant rotation pass over 36, but no tornado.

I followed the Hiawatha storm north and east. It was looking better with strong rotation but I was curving to the north along the Missouri river with no east option. It produced another tornado in Missouri.


All images video stills.

Return to Storm Chase Accounts and Images