Chasecation 2016 Day 3 (5/24): Dodge City TORNADOFEST

What. A. Day. Warning: long post, but this day deserves it.

Map of the day’s activities and locations:

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Started the day in Woodward having seen my first tornadoes the day before. 5/24 looked promising around the triple point several days out. The morning obs showed deep moisture and numerous outflow boundaries (OFB’s) left over from overnight convection, basking in sunshine. A prime setup.

Ate lunch at the Polly Anna Cafe in Woodward — large portions for great price and great service! Afterwards, decided to head north to Buffalo, OK along with everyone else and their mothers. Visible satellite indicated three distinct OFB’s: (1) draped from Scott City SE to Dodge City in KS; (2) further south closer to the KS-OK border; and one in northern OK north of Woodward. I noticed that the boundary layer in OK had become quite hot, with cloud bases too high for tornado formation. Additionally, some TCU were developing near Scott City near the OFB #1-dryline intersection. So I repositioned north to Ashland, KS.

Waited for awhile in Ashland while the Scott City activity blossomed into the first tornadic supercell of the day. Decided to stay patient and stay south; the SPC in the meanwhile had upgraded the southern KS-northern OK area to a 10% hatched tornado risk and issued a high-tornado-probability watch. Repositioned again north to Minneola, KS, when the cell of the day popped along OFB #2.

Unfortunately, at this time my data feed died, presumably due to the load produced by the chaser convergence in the area. I had no choice but to play it safe and assume the cell would turn right, so instead of heading north on US 283, I shifted a bit east and then took a dirt road north. (It turned out the cell would turn left and ride OFB #2 north. This motion cut me off from the best photography opportunities as I fell behind the cell. Oh well)

Developing supercell, as viewed just east of Minneola, KS:

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Not too long before a lowering appeared:

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And then a funnel:

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The funnel would drop up and down a few times before coming down for good. (The powerlines are associated with US 283.)

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This tornado would change shape a few times.

And then it lost its condensation funnel a few times. When it came back, it came back with a vengeance. First, as an elephant trunk:

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Then it grew to a stovepipe:

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This tornado was eventually rated EF3, a strong tornado. It seemed to get wrapped in rain, or was just too far away after this point. I cut back onto the highway and gunned it north. Two tornadoes appeared in front of me:

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Tornado #1 on the left, which NWS has determined was the same tornado as the one in previous photos, I’ll defer to others for some amazing footage. Tornado  #2 on the right, had some interesting multiple vortex structure. Try to find all the vortices (yes, there are more than one in both photos):

Tornado #1 had, at this point, become quite large, and was probably producing its max damage east of Ensign, KS:

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I thought at this point Tornado #2 would become a large wedge and head straight towards Dodge City, but it was not to be. Shortly after, a third mesocyclone appeared, shown in the following picture, on the far right:

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The third meso would end up swallowing up Tornado #2, rated EF1.

At this point I tried to leave the chaser traffic by taking dirt roads and shifting away from the highway again. Bad idea. Despite my AWD vehicle, I got stuck in the mud. Thankfully, I extricated myself from the situation and returned to highway 283. So there’s a ~15-20 min gap in my chase.

Back on the highway, the third meso was gunning it strong. A large EF2 tornado (#3) had already touched down and exhibited multiple vortex structure:

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Then morphed into a large stovepipe:

Tornado #3 shifted back and forth between the above stovepipe structure and losing its condensation funnel/having multiple vortices. I am guessing the below picture is when it produced the damage on the western side of Dodge City. The foreground is Dodge City proper.

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Soon after, tornado #3 roped out NW of Dodge City. Stupid powerlines.

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The chase became quite complicated now. Rain started falling, courtesy of a new left-split cell crashing on us from the south. To continue chasing the tornadic cell, I knew I had to yield to the left-split or get cored with heavy hail. Plus you get the problem of the town itself and navigating its roads and traffic lights. Plus I encountered my own personal problem: my vehicle was shaking at high speeds due to the wheels being encrusted in mud (from my earlier mistake). It got dicey here. I circled the east side of Dodge City, away from the left-split, somehow witnessing the birth and maturation of Tornado #4, rated EF3, to the north of the town. No pictures, just some crappy video taken while I was trying to drive and navigate.

I ditched the cell at this point, the left-split having disrupted its structure and the continued movement north putting me out of position. I took a photo of the gorgeous sunlight afterwards:

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Two things happen after this time. A dude comes over and helps me with the vehicle problem. So that’s figured out. I see a new cell near Kinsley, KS that looks to be producing a tornado. Naively, I go east to take on that cell.

Nice double rainbow along the road east (now on US 50):

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Alas, the cell weakened as I approached Kinsley, and I turned back west to stay in Dodge City overnight. In the meanwhile, I miss one of the best mammatus displays in ages, right over Dodge City. Dumb dumb dumb!!!

P.S. As I checked into the hotel for the night, I noticed multiple vehicles with destroyed windshields. That aforementioned left-split produced 3″ hail across Dodge City and inflicted quite a bit of damage. The NWS summary can be found here.

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