Saturday April 14, the main event that the three of us were waiting for had finally arrived. A high risk day across the central plains, one that had already made the record books before it even began! This was the first time in history that the Storm Prediction Center issued a ‘High Risk’ of severe weather on their initial Day 2 outlook. This event was well forecast very far in advance, and looked exceptionally favorable for a very large and violent tornado outbreak. The team was excited and we all thought and said to each other ‘if we don’t see a tornado today, we are doing something wrong!’.
This was the first time I had ever observed two separate ‘High Risk’ areas issued by the Storm Prediction Center on one day, but the SPC did eventually combine these two areas into one extremely large ‘High Risk’ bubble. Tornado risk was an exceptionally high 45% across Nebraska and Kansas. A 30% risk extended into Oklahoma. These types of days only come along once a year.
We stayed overnight in Oklahoma City from the previous day’s chase, and decided to leave around 11am targeting far northwest Oklahoma. It was nearly a toss-up between targeting northwest Oklahoma near Woodward, or targeting central Kansas near Salina. Funny enough both these cities would be hit by tornadoes later in the day. Storms would likely initiate in this area and with storm motion expected northeastward, any storms that developed in this area would move into the favorable environment of central Kansas and likely become tornadic. Additionally with the extreme instability in the atmosphere storms would develop very quickly, meaning we would need to stay aggressive with these storms as they will develop and become tornadic very fast. We also felt that it really didn’t matter which storm we picked this day, the environment was so overwhelmingly favorable for tornadic development that every storm would likely produce tornadoes.
|Tornado Probabilities||Svr Hail Probabilities||Svr Wind Probabilities|
At 10:45am CDT the Storm Prediction Center issued Tornado Watch #165, a Particularly Dangerous Situation or PDS Tornado Watch. PDS is the most severe form of Tornado Watch, implying this is an exceptional situation and needs to be taken seriously. The SPC indicated on their watch that strong tornadoes, significant hail and significant high winds all had a high chance of occurring today. With parameters this maxed out and overwhelmingly favoring massive severe weather development, it’s hard not to be a little excited as a storm chaser. Days like this are absolutely amazing to experience!
Storms had already initiated off the dryline a bit earlier than I had expected in the day, meaning we were already playing catch up at 11am. By 12:55pm a few more isolated storm cells were developing along the dryline, and these we knew immediately were the storms to target. A storm had developed right over Beaver OK in the Oklahoma Panhandle, and this was the storm we would try and intercept. The storm was still 79 miles to our northwest at this time however.
Well as luck would have it, we were having extreme technical difficulties in the chase vehicle. My laptop blue screened, then our mobile internet connection wouldn’t connect, my powered cell data amplifier system wasn’t working, then finally one of the two cigarette lighter plugs in the vehicle stopped working forcing us to pull over and check fuses. Naturally it wasn’t any of the fuses, so we had to re-wire things in the vehicle and resume the chase without the powered cell data amplifier. Our data coverage range now significantly decreased and did cause major problems for us the rest of the day unfortunately. This delay also cost us a good 30 minutes, which meant we had almost no chance to catch our original target storm. No problem right? Another storm developed just south of it which we could catch, plus we all believed on a day like this it really didn’t matter which storm we target as they will all produce tornadoes.
|Radar at 2:01pm CDT, red square marks our position.
31 miles from our new target storm northeast of Lipscomb TX.
Old target storm is now northwest of Ashland KS.
|Our view of our new target storm, taken at 2:08pm CDT.|
By 2:20pm we were in position 7 miles south of May, OK, watching as our target storm approached and would pass just to our north. Already storms to our north in Kansas had hook echos and could produce tornadoes at any time, but we were confident this storm would do the same very soon.
|Radar at 2:19pm CDT, red square marks our position 10 miles east of our target storm.||View of our target storm from the same time.|
|Radar at 2:28pm CDT, rotation developing.||Wall cloud developing at same time.|
|Radar at 3:01pm, red square marks our position, behind the rotation now.||Our view of the storm from the same time. A possible lowering in this cloud.|
Paved road networks in this area started to become rather sparse, as was data coverage without our powered amplifier. We were staying with this storm almost entirely by visual means and best guesses, the old fashioned way!
|Radar 3:43pm, red square marks our position.||Our view at same time, nothing to see here except some rising scud likely along the leading edge of the RFD.|
We continued chasing this storm as fast as we could but due to poor paved road networks, speed of this storm, and the storm’s location we had to go as fast as the speed limit would allow just to keep up. Meanwhile the storm cell to our south continued to produce several brief eF-0 tornadoes.
At 4:54pm this big tease of a storm finally produced a very brief funnel out of the wall cloud just on the north side of Sawyer Kansas.
|Radar 4:53pm, our position in Sawyer KS marked by red square.||Video still of wall cloud with tiny funnel that developed for maybe 5 seconds.|
At the time we didn’t realize it, but other spotters observed a brief tornado touchdown near Penalosa Kansas at 5:02pm CDT, 20 miles east of our position. This tornado caused no damage and was rated an eF-0.
We continued to chase and chase and chase this storm as fast as we could without stopping anywhere, the storm kept producing wall cloud after wall cloud yet failed to produce any tornadoes. Around 6:00pm we saw rotation on the storm had weakened significantly and the storm overall appeared to be losing strength. After seeing storms to our north and storms to our south producing tornadoes while this one continued to lead us down an extremely frustrating tease, we decided to abandon this storm and head south to the next cell.
Even though our new target storm was 42 miles SSW of our position, the road network and storm motion was finally in our favor. We caught this storm with great ease, and even had time to stop and watch for a few minutes.
|Radar 6:34pm, red square marks our position.||Video still from same time, I can make out an inflow tail 13 miles west.|
I felt alot better about this storm now that we are in a good position, looking at a storm with a well defined hook echo and no other storms competing with it. An isolated supercell in an extremely favorable environment for tornadoes, a good paved road network for us to work with and we had time to stop and watch it come to us, perfect!
After some minor repositioning to the northwest, we placed ourselves almost directly in the path of this storm’s hook echo. We had maybe 1 mile between us and the rapidly approaching center of circulation, when this happened:
|Radar 6:53pm, red square is our position, same time as video above.||Still shot of funnel developing just as a rain curtain wraps around and cuts it off.|
Using radar to analyze the rotation versus our position, we were about 1/2 mile from this funnel as it developed. Perhaps fortunately for us this rain curtain wrapped around it and cut it off, otherwise we may have had an uncomfortably close encounter with this. It was later confirmed however than this funnel was rated as an eF-0 tornado, causing no damage (other than power lines) as it fortunately remained in open country near Pretty Prairie, Kansas. We didn’t realize that another tornado had just developed a few minutes prior to our immediate southwest in Kingman, Kansas. It was also rated eF-0 as it remained in open country as well.
We continued to chase this storm and try to keep up with it as best as we could. This storm had an absolutely massive volume of other chasers on it, so chaser traffic became pretty bad.
At 7:15pm it produced another funnel directly infront of us as we drove toward it.
|Radar 7:15pm, red square marks our position.||Funnel develops directly in front of us at the same time.|
We continued to stay with this storm as best as we could, but it was beginning to escape us. These storms were just moving way too fast for us to keep up sadly. We did vaguely observe a long elephant trunk tornado from about 8 miles away however.
|Radar 7:48pm, red square marks our position. Tornado on the ground now.||Our barely visible view of the tornado 8 miles north.|
At 8pm we decided to call it a night. We were all pretty tired from the non stop driving, frustrated from our surprising lack of success, and with darkness quickly setting in it wasn’t safe to continue chasing in this manner. With a brief stop in Halstead Kansas then Wichita Kansas for food, we were on our way back home. Well as luck would have it, the instant we abandoned chasing this storm, it produced a eF-1 tornado in the cities of Moundridge and Goessel Kansas starting at 8:05pm. This tornado destroyed power poles, farm outbuildings, mobile homes, a brick silo and trees along a 7 mile track.
But wait, apparently this day wasn’t done with us just yet either! An extremely powerful supercell was approaching Wichita, this storm had a history of producing incredible tornadoes including the Cherokee Oklahoma twin tornadoes, multi-vortex tornadoes, and wedge tornadoes. At 9:18pm we were driving south through Wichita while this monster of a storm actively producing a wedge tornado was approaching the southern part of Wichita. As a team we decided against chasing this storm due to safety concerns, a very smart decision in retrospect.
|Radar 9:32pm, red square marks our location south of Wichita, wedge tornado still on ground.
We could have stopped and seen the tornado from this position.
|Our view from the same time, southbound on I-35.|
This storm was extremely electrical, multiple lightning flashes per second illuminating the entire sky!
|Radar 9:46pm, red square is our position. Wedge tornado still on the ground.||Our view of the lightning illuminated supercell from the same time.|
This tornado did eventually move into south Wichita and cross I-35. We could have easily intercepted this storm, but I have no regrets that we did not. Why? This is why. We could have been stupid and decide to chase this storm with a known tornado on it inside an urban area with zero visibility, then lose data and get lost in Wichita. Only to be directly hit by a tornado and quite possibly not survive the event. These people got extremely lucky, but were also extremely stupid.
We traveled I-35 50 minutes prior to the tornado crossing it. I won’t call that a close call, but I’m just glad we knew exactly where we were, where the storm was, and was able to safely avoid it.
At the end of the day we somehow managed to not see a proper tornado despite 135 separate tornado reports including numerous long track, well documented, photogenic tornadoes that affected cities such as Salina KS, Wichita KS, and Woodward OK, a city which we drove through earlier in the day I might add. I’m not quite sure how or why on a ‘High Risk’ day with a 45% tornado risk, the storms we picked magically did not produce, while every single other storm in the entire region produced large tornadoes. Perhaps mother nature was working against us?
After three straight days of storm chasing and not even one close up tornado observed, I think the whole chase team was a little bummed out… I certainly was. 47 tornadoes were later confirmed to touch down on April 14th, 6 tornado related fatalities occurred in Woodward Oklahoma, the city we drove through earlier in the day.
Going back to the beginning of the chase day… The storm that initiated over Beaver, Oklahoma, the one we had originally planned to intercept, went on to produce eF-4 damage along a 40 mile track through Salina Kansas. If we had not experienced significant technical failures in our chase vehicle, we would have intercepted that storm and seen a eF-4 wedge tornado. Perhaps it wasn’t us who did something wrong, but our equipment that failed us on April 14th. If all had gone according to plan, we would have very likely seen that tornado ourselves.
I put together a video summary of all the tornado and funnel cloud footage we captured from April 14 however…
|Chase Summary (April 12, 13 & 14 combined):|