May 19, 2011 Dorrance Kansas Tornadic Supercell

I will start this account with something sorta funny. Sometimes it's fun to pick an exact town the day before, yet I rarely ever do this. I'm usually like, whatever, it'll be in this general area. But having some sarcastic fun on facebook about the day before and then the following day, this day, I went ahead and eyed an exact town, an obscure tiny one in the neighborhood of where I was guessing for a target. This guessing came off simply where would the dryline be and where would the warm front be and the intersection point. And this is the exact sarcastic comment the night before this chase on facebook(personal one) in comments of a post.

Mike Hollingshead - Nothing will happen around Olmitz KS.

Wednesday at 7:28pm

It was kind of like one of those, "nothing to see here, everyone stay home" deals. In picking it I was guessing off a map on a model(24hr ruc), I then had pulled up google mapping and zoomed in to that area and picked this Olmitz. Nothing funny about this yet.

So anyway I head south at 8 a.m. and go west at McPherson KS. Soon I could see the dryline and warm front intersection out west. Same time stuff was trying to fire to my southeast. In the last few years somewhere along the way I quit just heading to a target I liked most. So often I end up between areas I think could work and I play it "safe" by being within a shot of both. This day I stopped that. I thought, jesus man be like you used to and just commit to what you like most. Playing in the middle leaves an annoying drive to either, missing early stages. So I went west and then north of Great Bend, stopping west of Hoisington. This was right east of the dryline and warm front intersection, or just ne then. The storm of the day, at least up in KS, would indeed fire right there west of Hoisington. It wasn't until later in the day when Amos said, "nice call on Olmitz" I even thought to see exactly where that 2 person town was, in relation to where I'd been. Knew it was somewhere within a few counties of there. I was freaking sitting right by it west of Hoisington LOL. I said that the night before and I never even realized that was exactly where I was, within a few short miles(4 or 5). That is highly crazy to just end up THERE. And.....the storm freaking fired and became more for real right on Olmitz. It's not this image above yet, but that was where I was. That return there lifted north and the real storm finally fired there after it. It's not crazy as far as the pick, eh lucky guess on front positions. It's just crazy to actually end up essentially exactly THERE, not just not even trying to, but not even realizing it happened until later in the day. I had a good laugh at that while in Salina about to head home. Anyway, the chase...

In Hoisington looking sw, the base of the early stage of it is there above the right tree group(not much but it was it, could see it pluming up and anviling. When the core of the thing finally went into the 50+ dbz category it was likely doing so on Olmitz lol. Just kinda funny.

The whole time in Hoisington I knew I didn't want to be in Hoisington. But I didn't know where I wanted to be. I just knew I was way too close to initiation with a potential road gap/crappy road issue. I was west of town first, then came back in town trying to decide to go east or north on 281. It kept feeling 281 would just end up west of things quickly. But the area east of 281 didn't look like it would for sure have good paved options. Finally went east anyway, then north at Odin. That was paved most of the way but went to gravel a bit over halfway to Dorrance. Radar showed precip from the strengthening supercell would be on that road now. I so hate messing with those things because they can go from decent enough gravel, to piss poor no gravel in no time. But I made it precip free.

I raced west at what looked to produce a tornado soon, until reaching Bunker Hill, which it was now basically on. It was rapidly gaining that look, like it was going to plant something significant soon. I raced north of town to check out the east road, south side of Wilson Lake there. It was getting into that period of time you might not have time to go back to I70 if that option was not good(a tornado stopping you and possibly getting you in a blocked in area where north might turn to mud). And sure as hell, that thing was a muddy looking mess going east, south side of lake. So raced back south at it, now on Bunker Hill but thankfully not producing yet. The above photo was taken at Bunker Hill before racing north real quick to look for that east option.

I quickly hop back on I70 and fly east out of there. It looked disorganized then again, but that didn't last long. Soon I could see it reorganizing behind me on the interstate. A big sign it was making a hard right turn now, the reformation to the south.

The above video capture is after I flew back east of Bunker Hill and flipped around and am now heading back west at it. Now it was really looking ready to plant a tornado on I70. Nice curling rfd and fat low base north of it, with a wall cloud. Though the rfd was pretty wet, but a lot are. Pretty sure it wasn't even tornado warned yet.

The problem with this day up here was cooler air north of the warm front. You need to get some clearing north of the boundary and heat that air up some. This happened nicely actually. But before initiation, you could see on satellite that clearing punching north of the front itself, was hitting a wall and not eroding the clouds at a certain point north of I70. With the front continuing to lift north early on, it was just making that window shorter and shorter as it neared the region not clearing of low cool clouds. Though up through this point here above, it was still in good air on and just north of the warm front. The environment here was pretty ripe for a strong tornado to happen, given a good enough window away from that wedge of colder surface air, which it was readily nearing.

A bit after this above, it got blown apart by the wet rfd again and got more linear. Some storms will do this for a bit before really getting wrapped up and wild. Used to always see a long linear look and think the storm is done and can't come back from it. I've learned not to buy that in all situations, surprised enough times now.

I end up back at Dorrance and shoot north to get a look down the notch of this HP beast. You have to get well up in the path or north of the path to see sometimes. Perfect example of a time and why, if only I had video of the tornado lol. The issue here was still that damn lake and that road along it, which I figured here was still that muddy crap I saw north of Bunker Hill. So I figured just get up near that and look and plan on dropping back to I70. Heck I might have been past that e-w road where I stopped and saw the brief tornado before fleeing back south into hell. What I didn't want to do was be on such a road and stuck with this approaching. It may have been paved east of there now here for all I know. In the image above I'm still heading north. But you can see the features.

Same image as before without labels.

I get a bit further north and pull over in the grass(a good bit north of the above shot). Strong easterly winds blowing into the storm. Moments after stopping there I see a tornado form and go sideways south under the bowl. But hell if it gave me time to get the video camera and get it. It did the same thing for at least 3 others I've seen reports from that saw it too lol. Usually when you see such a bowl and a tornado form and go, you can count on a more substantial tornado soon after. What happened now though was at the tip of that wet rfd notching in there, it grabbed even more cloud base, ese of that bowl, and was pulling around it too. I look back south and see I stayed too long, wall of rain way down the highway(miles) could be seen racing east.

I flip the car around and head back south but right away rain hits. The more south I got the more crazy the rain and wind got. This is not a huge distance we're talking. Also these stills above are ultra wide angle and while I was going north yet. It was simply immediately wsw of my location after I left the later location ne of it and was blasting back south.

If I'm in 100 mph winds in a squall line(never have been), fear on a 1-10 scale is probably going to be a 2 and I'm asking for it to blow harder. I'd be excited mostly. There is a massive difference in this situation, where you know the environment the storm is in, crossing a strongly sheared warm front. You know the structure and get it. You just saw one small cone form under the big bowl. Part way into the rain shit hit the fan so hard. You have zero visibility and still the storm structure and happenings in your head. You knew about where the bowl was in relation and how much further you'd probably need to clear its path. It gets so bad on you, but you have no for sure idea if stopping is better than moving more south. The only thing you know for sure is way south is out of it. But you do not know if at this point doing so is going to have you just meeting the tornado, whereas maybe if you stopped you'd have been better and it passed south. Or if you stop it might be worse and you stop in the path. What I knew when I started that was for sure I had a ways to go to not be in the path and the crazy shit hitting the fan started before that middle point.

The middle bad distance south point in my head, the shit fan thing was at the worst, which was really really not cool. I've gotten caught in a few bad situations now on some bad storms. Similar situations at that. I LOVE that notch angle for everything it affords. Structure heaven if it is on a storm is there too. But one can play with fire in jumping up in there, if they can't continue on especially.

Anyway, the bad bad point and mental distance deal. Right at that worst distance south, for anything bad to be happening, it was. There'd been like an east component to the wind at first. But in this a bit further south part of this drive, it was insanely bad from the south. I was first waiting for the poles and trees to flat out go flying at me. It was a strange nasty wind. Hard, not with a hint of let up, but instead harder bursts in it. It 100% gave the impression of being right next to a strong tornado. One you'd not have any idea if it was best to stop or keep going with, because there was no damn visibility. I've been blinded in rain before and this took the cake. And it was almost like during this you could sense a big curving to that wind and rain.

The best descriptor out of it would be the ditch thoughts. I was more and more sure I was in the edge of a big tornado that was jusstttt about to finish me off, by finishing overtaking that location. Hard to explain the ditch thought at that one point. Because your brain is still weighing options, like does stopping and getting out cause you to really end up in it, a tornado, where if you kept driving you may have just cleared it. But it was so bad right there and then you seriously felt you were a second away from being hit and thrown. And again, I've wound up in cuts ahead of tornadoes and occluded deals, with strong southerly blinding rains. This wooped them all right there. Hard to explain that rain and wind. It's like the way it holds its intensity is really really telling, screaming not good at you. Because how it does that is unlike all the other high wind things you'd been in. It felt wrong and bad.

Starting to see some light to the south was so great. I was actually shaking, probably before I fully cleared the rain and I wasn't shaking in the situation at the time. That was so stupid. It was crazy how fast it closed in on that location. It's like that rfd punch raced east as often they do, but that part I could see getting grabbed by it already, barely ahead of the main old big bowl, rapidly turned into something.

Someone reported the brief tornado I saw and can be seen on storm reports, first one: http://www.spc.ncep.noaa.gov/climo/reports/110519_rpts.html There is another report 5 minutes later described as rain wrapped. I don't know if that is a second of the same one but I doubt it. Because the brief one wasn't even there long enough to be seen as becoming rain wrapped. Guessing that second one is something new after that one I saw. Not sure how far north I was but seemed quite a ways from I70...or how close those estimates are on there, like where they even reported from.

One point in that I came back to this white truck with red and blue flashers going. It was amazing how close those flashers were before you could even see they were sitting there. There was another car in the same general area. They didn't appear to be moving/leaving. It was so bad though you could about feel you couldn't go anywhere. But me, I was giving her hell and sure as shit trying to get *not there*! It is absolutely not fun once you have solid fear and reason to have solid fear. Not an ounce. Not knowing is a hell in those situations as is knowledge. It'd be nice to be obvlivious in such situations, in a way. It's not remotely like just being way close to some visible tornado, even if crap was flying. You can gauge then and know basically if you are alright. Feeling as if you are in the outer edge of a rain wrapped tornado with no visibility, just not enjoyable. And again, been in enough windy rain wraps before. In that zone on that highway, it was just on another level.

And the biggest kicker of this, I did the dreaded start/stop recording fail of the whole thing! I wanted to vomit when I got out of there and noticed the camera not recording. I was like, no, I didn't just not get all of that. Because as bad as it was, you can bet your ass my hand was holding that camera out the front windshield as I drove south, eyeing ditches and thinking I had a better than 50% chance I was about to be hit by a tornado in the next instance.

After that I shot north again at Wilson, but turned the hell back south with plenty of time. I did that again at Lincoln. I wanted nothing to do with in the path of that after that again, especially with way more chasers on it now. Nerves were just shot.

I don't care if didn't record the tornado quick enough, oh well. I'm one of at least 3 others lol. Then later it happened to Steve too. He saw the next one reported but it didn't give him time to get it either. I am thoroughly not happy on the start/stop record fail of that wrap deal though. And especially so if what I think I figured out after that is true with this camera. The screw up happens when you pick up the video camera to record and don't hit the button hard enough or at all and aren't recording. You then push it to stop, but it is actually now to record and it then records your lap. You pick it up again and when you hit record you are now stopping the camera and thinking you are recording. Well in reading stuff on this camera, long ago now, I saw the function where if the camera is tilted downward it will stop recording. What I kept thinking on this deal was, why on Earth would this be a function on a video camera. Why would anyone want to stop recording by tipping the camera down. Well, as I left that area and tried to see if by chance I didn't screw up, I had the camera angled down looking at the play menu and it came to me. Why, you got me. But in looking at my camera pointed down I thought about that deal, where it shuts it off when pointed down if that function is enabled on the camera. It clicked then. I thought, hell I bet that function is for this crap! If you have that enabled and you set the camera down but forgot to stop recording, it would have stopped for you. It makes perfect sense as something to prevent one from doing this, at least in succession, and not knowing they are. You record something and forget to stop or don't hit hard enough, it stops it if you point it down like you would while not recording. You almost can't screw up like that with that set. Never heard of it on a camera before, but evidently this must be why that option is on the panasonic TM700 and probably a ton of other video cameras now.

Driving home in the rain, generally regretting probably $150 in gas for next to nothing to show for it. 777 miles. 15 hours of driving. The last 4 from Salina home in rain the whole way. On highways and the interstate they can't ever paint new lines on! Lincoln to Omaha, with long construction zones of no paint, sucked so bad in the rain at night. One car about took me out as they couldn't figure out the lanes either. So many areas you are just freaking clueless where the lane is. And this is with new headlight assemblies/covers. Of course I notice at the end, just how bad the wiper was smearing where I was looking through. Anyway, from somewhere east of York through home I had the camera mounted doing exposures of next to no lightning lol. Seriously, these here were it and that shutter was open the entire way. Pretty sure that faint lightning on the left is an upward bolt off a tower somewhere.

Blow out. The only bright one the whole way.

Rescue squad in Lincoln flying out of town. Geee I wonder if it was someone that couldn't figure out where the damn lane was. By the way doing this is not dangerous. If one wants you can put the camera on consecutive shooting mode, like 10-30 seconds or something, and lock the cable release in. It will then go on its own till you stop it. I was just clicking and locking the release myself. It could go for quite a while outside of the cities. Not sure why I haven't tried this before. Should be able to catch something cool, that is if we ever get good cloud to ground shows.