This was a day of indecision. Oklahoma was in a Moderate Risk area. A front was moving across the southern plains into the Texas Panhandle, running eastward to northern Oklahoma and curving back northward across the eastern plains approaching the Mississippi Valley. The question at hand was whether to chase the Moderate Risk area over north central and eastern Oklahoma, or watch for storms to form over southeastern Colorado, in easterly upslope flow north of the front.
I drove around Guymon, Oklahoma for a couple of hours pondering where the best chasing would be today. Around mid-day, surface winds turned to the east, pushing sufficiently high dew point air toward the higher terrain of southeastern Colorado.
I initially drove to Dodge City and then to Syracuse, Kansas, but turned south to Johnson, Kansas to intercept the southernmost storm (also known as "tail end Charlie") of a short line that had developed over the high plains of eastern Colorado.
|Driving south from Syracuse toward Johnson City, the turbulent underside of the rain free base (RFB) could be seen 20 to 30 miles west of the highway. While going up and down hills, I only got brief glimpses of possible tornadoes or perhaps lowered clouds along the rear flank downdraft (RFD) gust front/inflow interface under the RFB.|
|I turned west on a farm road north of Johnson City, Kansas. Note the anvil overhead (upper level outflow) and the band of low clouds feeding into the storms.|
|I found a dirt side road extending into a farmer's field, stopped and set up my camera. Looking west northwest, a low level inflow cloud (a.k.a. a "beaver tail" cloud) could be seen feeding into one of the updrafts from the east northeast.|
|Looking almost due west, a wall cloud formed and was undercut by a surge of RFD and outflow from the rain core (forward flank downdraft or FFD)..|
|A farmer crossed the field of view, in front of an impressive rain foot, evidence of strong outflow from the precipitation core. The character of the storm began to change quickly.|
|Looking west as the tail end Charlie intensified, the storm became better defined as a single storm, instead of a cell closely associated with the line. An inflow jet developed at the surface, flowing in from the southeast and feeding into the storm. Look under the rain free base, to the left of the rain area. Click here for a black and white version of the photograph.|
|The inflow jet continued to develop while cloud tags began to lower and point toward this stream of warm moist air.|
|Eventually, a combination of condensation and dust extended from the surface to the cloud base. I was too far away to discern rotation, but from time to time this column formed a corkscrew shape. Another view.|
|Whether this feature was a tornado or not is open to argument. I was not close enough to tell for sure. And at the time, I only had a 35mm camera and no video camera. So there's no video to review.|
|As the storm accelerated and began to bear down on my location, a barrage of cloud to ground (CG) lightning began. Lightning was striking repeatedly nearby. Small hail began to fall. It was time to pack up and get ready to find a safer spotting location.|
|I took one last photo and then left quickly, with the storm nipping at my heels. I had watched this storm sit almost stationary for at least an hour. After the wall cloud developed and was undercut by RFD, the storm changed character quickly, suddenly intensified and accelerated.|
|I decided to try to reposition myself on the south side of the storm. This meant driving several miles east to the main highway, then south through Johnson City and continuing 15 to 20 miles south through a sparsely populated area to the next east/west highway intersection. This drive quickly became one that I'll not forget. The storm quickly changed shape from a classic supercell to a hybrid classic - HP. A thick core of precipitation began to wrap around the updraft. A large cone shaped updraft base developed to the west of the highway, tucked into a C-shaped area of precipitation. Looking in my rear view mirror, I could see a dark green precipitation core behind and just to the west of the highway. I had reached the point of no return. The storm was moving east southeast quickly. I had to continue south. Black and white version of the photo.|
|I pushed harder on the gas pedal in a race to beat what appeared to be a developing tornado. To my immediate southwest, I could see the south end of the wrapping precipitation core approaching the highway. In front of me, I could see dust, tumbleweeds and crop debris flying across the road from left to right. Some of the tumbleweeds had been lofted high into the air and were moving horizontally 100 to 200 feet above the highway with the inflow jet. I was about to enter the inflow jet that I'd been watching earlier. Overhead, I could see the cumuliform underside of the anvil. Falling from the anvil, I could faintly see streamers of precipitation. Verga? Hail? My knuckles turned white as I gripped the steering wheel, attempting to maintain control while being buffeted by the wind, pelted by small rocks, dirt, wheat stubble, and tumble weeds, all being sucked into the updraft just west of the highway. Suddenly, I saw a very large hail stone hit in the road ahead of me and bounce several feet, unbroken. That was a very bad sign! Then another in the field next to the road. Then, a deafening BANG! ! ! A large hail stone hit the left side of the windshield, shattering it. Shortly afterward, the wind shifted abruptly and began to blow hard from the west as I entered the RFD. The large hail was replaced by curtains of windblown atomized rain.|
|The storm was moving east southeast. A few more miles down the road, I came to the east/west intersection. Judging by the direction the storm was moving, the core would pass over the road a few miles east of the intersection. Since the storm was evolving into an HP, I decided to pull off the road and check the damage and mend my wounds.|
|Shortly after stopping, Warren Faidley and his chase partner stopped. Warren's windshield was shattered too. His vehicle had two large craters where he taken additional strikes, one on the hood and one on the body, below a side window. A side window was also cracked. Later, I heard that a police cruiser from Johnson City was some distance behind Warren. He was caught in the hail core and reportedly lost all of the windows in his cruiser as well as the headlights, tail-lights and trim.|
|The next day, I stopped at Black Mesa, Oklahoma
to record the damage.
It initially appeared as though I would have plenty of time to circumnavigate this storm. But, sometimes I win. Sometimes the storm wins. In this case, the storm won. Fortunately, I was able to escape the hail core. Whew!
However, I did get some good images of an odd tornado or tornado like storm oddity.
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Updated: November 30, 2008
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