Chasecation 2016 Day 4 (5/25): Southern KS LP Supercells

This log hurts to write, because of how I missed the massive EF4 tornado of the day…

All cities mentioned here are in KS.

Map of the day’s activities/locations:

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Started the day in Dodge City, KS, after having witnessed an incredible tornado swarm the day before. Surveyed some of the damage in the morning (no pictures). SPC and other chasers were not high on this day due to concerns about capping and lack of large scale ascent. However, the parameters and moisture was there such that if any cell popped, it would be able to produce all modes of severe weather.

Because of the initiation concerns, I assumed I would not miss out on much no matter what I did. BIG MISTAKE — and my first of many — never go into a chase with the attitude that your decisions won’t make a difference. (With that attitude, I didn’t weigh or consider my decisions as heavily as I should have, which would cost me down the road.) That said, personally I was optimistic on something happening, as weak forcing matches up well with a cool EML/weak cap. Based on pattern recognition of triple point/boundary intersections, I set the initial target to Salina the night before.

So after lunch I drove on over to Great Bend (halfway from Dodge City to Salina) to get a better handle on the environment. At that point, SPC upgraded the risk level from MRGL to SLGT over southern KS and TCU had developed near I-35 in that area. The kinematics appeared to be stronger in southern KS as well, with stronger 700mb and 850mb flow. So I switched targets, shifting SE to Newton. There, I could see a clump of TCU begin to get going to my SE towards El Dorado. Despite my observation that a few storms had gotten going at my old target near Salina, I rushed off towards El Dorado nonetheless.

En route, I could see the cell was really getting going. Updraft velocities were explosive, a testament to the 4000-5000 J/kg of MLCAPE in the vicinity.

 

But even at this stage, I felt something was wrong with this cell. First off, it had barely any flanking line as it moved off the dryline. By the time I actually got to it, only a long, slender, dying updraft remained. With no hydrometeors to reinforce the updraft, inhibition and lack of forced ascent ultimately resulted in the cell’s demise.

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And now the Salina area activity was tornado-warned! Logic would dictate I went back north to my original target for the tornado-warned cell, right?

Nope. Influenced by (1) my lackadaisical attitude towards the day, (2) sunk-cost bias of going back north after having moved south, (3) the lack of kinematic support for the activity up north, and (4) me believing I-70 was 2.5 hr away, instead of actually 1.5 hr, I moved south towards new activity developing near the OK-KS border. The whole time I was sure the northern activity would go outflow dominant immediately, and I would be too late to see anything coming from that cell. (In reality, had I gone, I would’ve seen the last half of the large tornado near Abilene, KS.)

To the south, the new storms were readily visible near Rock, KS in the below photo. The updraft on the left would try and produce a lowering a few times.

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I closed in on that updraft near Belle Plaine, KS and witnessed a gorgeous LP updraft-sunset combination.

Along with new updrafts to the south lit by the evening light.

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The cells died not long after this and I headed back to Wichita. An updraft even further south in northern OK did get going after dark and produced a couple of tornadoes.

But when I was at Rock, I learned fully the extent to which I had messed up. A supercell that formed north of Salina went on to produce a tornado that churned for 1.5 hr and inflicted EF4 damage, barely missing the town of Chapman, KS. The tornado of a lifetime, and I had three chances to get it.

  1. Had I stuck to my original target/pattern recognition;
  2. Had I waited at Newton instead of gunning to the El Dorado cell;
  3. Had I thought it out a little more after the El Dorado cell collapsed.

That’s chasing though. I think I was influenced by the lessons learned on 5/22, to rush to the El Dorado cell, then further south, instead of thinking through a little more. Well, lessons unlearned then. But most of all, I learned to trust my instinct. I’ll expand more on lessons in another post.

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