2015 Chase Diaries, Day 1, 5/28: Shelf near Dighton, KS

EDIT: Add the GPS log in the beginning, so any readers will have context on locations beforehand.

[GPS log, with locations mentioned in text annotated (Kansas City is far upper-right; Garden City and Scott City far left)]

0528_gpslog_annotated

Started the day in Kansas City, targeting Dodge City. The day before was a tornadofest, and conditions looked pretty similar, with slightly less instability. Weak mid/low-level flow suggested that storm structures could be messy, but the Plains in late May does magic.

But … the noise from a morning MCS woke me up. Quickly checked the radar and knew it was going to be one of those days – lots of “junkvection” everywhere to potentially ruin the setup. Unlike the day before. Okay, went back to sleep for another hour, and started late. I needed the rest (I’ll post the story later).

Left around 10:30 AM. The day started off inauspiciously, with a cop pulling me over for the second time in as many storm chasing trips. Seriously what the heck! Thankfully, and also the second time in as many cop encounters, the cop left me with just a warning. This was around Junction City.

By 3:30 I had reached La Crosse, KS and was at a crosshairs. Some sharp towering cumulus had developed nearby, and a cluster of storms had developed near the KS-CO border. Decided to wait a few minutes and feel the trends. Didn’t exactly want to drive all the way out west. Within those few minutes however, the radar and observational trends suggested the KS-CO storms were the way to go.

Fast forward to 5, I had passed Dighton and the storms (now with tornadoes observed on them) were encroaching on Scott City. As I wanted to avoid core punching, I made a fateful decision: take a dirt road “shortcut” to get ahead of the storm.

Bad mistake.

Miscue 1: saw running water over the road. Continued moving forward. They say “turn around, don’t drown” for a reason. The water was only a couple of inches deep but I could feel my car trying to float. So that freaked me out.

By this time the Scott City cell had noticeably become more linear in nature. Seeing new cells developing back around Dighton, I tried to take a “U-turn” of sorts via the dirt road network.

Miscue 2: Saw a muddy section with big water puddles. Okay, I’ll drive around the puddles through the drier areas. Which were muddy. So of course, the vehicle gets stuck.

Okay pretty scary stuff here, I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere and this big storm is a few miles west. I have to get out. I push on the accelerator, and I push, and I push some more. Get rid of some of the mud around the wheels. Rinse, repeat, get everything muddy. It takes about 15 minutes, but at last I free myself. Crisis averted. I immediately look for the nearest path back to the state highway. I’m drenched in sweat, but thankful to escape.

By this time the storm had pretty much become outflow dominant and I book it back to Dighton and points south. This is where the fun part begins.

Massive shelf cloud to the west bearing down on me:

20150528-DSC_7734

The green/blue hue in the clouds was unmistakable, and this picture does not do it justice. The cloud mass seemed to be rotating (idk, transitioning shelf cloud?). It had some pretty rapid motions, and velocity radar data at the time confirms that.

I outrace the MCS to the south and chase the storm chaser convergence east of Garden City. By this time the gust front had reached out well beyond the storm and could be observed visually (boundary between clouds and no clouds, essentially):

20150528-DSC_7746

Winds were SF fog like cold and strong. Yeah, tornado chances are toast. Waited awhile between Garden City and Jetmore just to see what would happen with developing cells on the southern flank of the expanding MCS. Some nice cloud formations in the distance but nothing got going, not surprisingly.

As I waited a new storm blew up right over me, and instead of taking the quick route to Cimarron and to my lodgings in Dodge City, I chose to take a detour to Jetmore to avoid any heavy rain/hail cores. New storms continued blowing up all around, and by the time I got south of Jetmore I got a view of this interesting cloud formation:

20150528-DSC_7754 20150528-DSC_7768

Trust me, it tried to spin in the low-levels. But of course very outflowly. Pretty cool looking though. Right after the second shot I ended up getting cored on anyway.

Got to Dodge City around 8:30 PM. Later in the evening while getting dinner I got one final surprise from Mother Nature. While waiting for my food, a lightning bolt struck very close to me (no time between flash and the massive boom).

I got lucky more than a few times today, I’ll leave it at that.

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