Waking up and having the moderate risk area 30 miles away is always nice. It was the case yesterday when I awoke in Garden City and saw the moderate risk extended all the way into Kansas encompassing the Dodge City area. After spending a good amount of time the night before going over the forecast, I was still convinced that southern Kansas was going to be the best play for tornadoes. I had heard a lot of chatter about Oklahoma but quite frankly, the hodographs looked like garbage, and the EHI on the 0-1km scale barely registered a blip. I could at least find some decent curvature in hodo’s from Ashland, KS to Pratt. We finally decided on Ashland as an initial target which gave us the option to duck down in to Oklahoma if we had to. On our way south of Dodge City, we stopped in Minneola to go over some data. The HRRR kept firing discrete cells near and around the Dodge City area right around 22z. It kept most of western OK quiet. It was enough to convince us to sit tight in Minneola to see what would happen later in the afternoon. After gassing up and finding a nice parking lot to sit in and wait, we were joined by Tara Spencer and her sister Kimberly who decided to sit and wait with us too.
After a few hours, the cumulus field overhead started to get more beefy and I was convinced storms were going to fire soon right in our area. The mesoanalysis page showed we were sitting under about 3500 CAPE with a weakening cap. Turkey towers were popping up and going upward pretty rapidly. But ultimately, that last bit of cap that was hanging on toppled our towers over and storms never got going. So we kept waiting.
Finally, storms started to fire further north back up near Ness City. We had all grown tired of waiting around all day, so we saddled up and went after them. We got back through Dodge City and took Highway 283 north toward Jetmore. We intercepted our first cell which had a decent base at one point, but as we got closer, it diminished significantly both on radar and visually. A few minutes later, a new cell in almost the exact same location formed and started to look pretty good.
The cell itself wasn’t overly impressive in it’s current form but it was moving extremely slowly so we were able to get closer. The cell started to build and took a slight right turn heading now southeast instead of due east. We bumped around on some dirt roads staying ahead of it and photo’ing it. It started to get bigger but became pretty HP.
At one point we stopped near an abandoned farm where we noticed some nice mammatus right above us.
After stair stepping dirt roads north and east of Jetmore, we dropped back down to the south and emerged on Highway 156 in Hanston. We went south from there where we pulled over one more time to take a look. The cell had blown up in to a monster and was not only growing, but it was moving a bit quicker and right in our direction. There was a 3.25″ hail marker on radar which made me twitch a little bit (haha!). We kept moving south and eventually got far enough in front of it that we could go back west to highway 283 just south of Jetmore. I really wanted to be in the best position to see the backside of the storm and have a good visual on the base.
We finally got to a spot where I was pretty satisfied with being not only in position to see the base, but we weren’t going to get steamrolled by the thing either. Our cell was discrete at this point but I was a little concerned that a line of cells behind it were moving fast enough south, that it was going to all absorb in to one big line. And that’s exactly what happened. After the cell merge happened, we stopped up on a hill to see what it would look like. And even though it was still off in the distance, you could see the makings of an absolute beast.
And within 5-10 minutes, it was closing in on us fast!
The massive shelf was kicking up dust as it moved closer to our location. The winds coming out of it were very strong. I snapped off a few last shots before we had to flee the area before being overrun.
I turned around and looked at my laptop to see if the radar had updated. I saw that a new scan was coming in and right away I saw that the storm had gone tornado warned. The warning said that radar had detected a forming tornado south of Jetmore. Right where we were. I led our 3 car caravan down the dusty side road that would take us back to the highway where we could bail south. The winds were kicking up so much dust that at one point I lost complete visibility. Perhaps the developing tornado was nearer to us than I thought? Eric was bringing up the rear of the caravan with the girls in the middle car and as I squinted trying to see, Eric yelled “Go Scott, go, go go!” over the radio. It sounded pretty urgent. I floored it and speared through one last curtain of dust to the highway and decent visibility. I bailed south with Eric, Tara, and Kimberly right behind. Phew, we made it out of there. But then I noticed that a trouble light had shown up on my dashboard. I wasn’t in any position to stop and look at that moment with the beast right behind us. We got about 8 miles down the road where I was able to pull over hopefully for a few more photo’s. Eric was behind me and noticed that my front, right side tire was almost completely flat. Not good!
I figured I was dead in the water and we had a tornado warned goliath heading right at us. I hoped I could nurse the car down the road where we could find some shelter to hopefully let the storm pass. Eric said that he had one of those NASCAR style jacks with him and figured we could get the spare on there in only a few minutes. So, new plan! Eric took off down the road south where he was going to stop and setup the jack and have the lug nut wrench ready to go when I pulled in. He took off, and I limped down the road and pulled in to a lot where he and Griffin were waiting for me. It was just like a pit stop in NASCAR! It took us longer to figure out how to release the spare tire from the bottom of the car than it did to actually change it! But we did get it changed just in time as the gust front overtook us. By the time it got down to us where we had made the tire change, the tornado warning had been cancelled and it had weakened but did hit us with a few pea sized hail stones and some impressive winds.
While it was passing over, I looked up tire shops in Dodge City but it seemed like all of them were closed. I was fortunate enough that the spare tire with the car was a full sized spare and I could make it home on it if I had to.
The storm had passed over us and as we drove in to Dodge City looking for some dinner, we aborted that plan in favor of shooting another amazing KS sunset.
After this drove back to Garden City where we stopped for dinner at Applebee’s. I was so fortunate to have Eric and Griffin with me to help change that tire, so dinner was on me, no problem! I was pretty frustrated over the tire. It seems, my vehicle luck this year hasn’t been very good to say the least. Perhaps my other years with no vehicle problems was just luck? Anyway, I was able to get the car home and the tire was replaced today. Again, a huge thanks goes out to Eric, Griffin, Tara and Kimberly for not only helping with the tire situation, but for being great chase partners. Thank you all so much
2012 Chase Statistics:
Mileage This Chase: 912
Total 2012 Chase Mileage: 7,137
Tornadoes This Chase: 0
Total 2012 Tornadoes: 6
Milestones This Chase: First flat tire while chasing
Music of the Day: Ame – “BBC Radio1 Essential Mix 7/23/2006″