Saturday, March 7th 2009
As the day approached, there was a lot of naysaying in the chasing community about this setup. I believe this had a lot to do with the lack of forecast CAPE. It seems to me that some chasers use CAPE as an ultimate measure of severe probability. From what I could see, the models were consistent with painting a bulls eye of CAPE just to the northwest of Wichita. I really liked this consistency. Sure, the CAPE wasn't what you'd see on a super outbreak day in May, but it was good enough for me. Tie in some good (not great) shear and we were in business.
Maybe I'm too used to chasing Colorado setups, but 50ºTd's seem more than adequate to me to see good storms. Again, the moisture was put down by many forecasts. What I couldn't understand is that even with this shear and instability in place, many forecasts called for a linear thunderstorm complex. For the life of me, I still can't see where anyone was getting that.
The morning before (on the 6th), I pulled a couple of model soundings (from the NAM) and altered the surface temperature and dew points. I noticed that even with small increases, the amount of instability increased by a lot. So, it became pretty obvious that since the models were predicting high clouds, if we got any clearing, things were going to go nuts.
Michael Carlson seemed just as eager as me to get out and maybe we were wishcasting a bit, but we both agreed that we had a pretty good setup working out. On Friday night, we finalized plans to meet up early in the morning and head out to Kansas.
I woke up at 4:25AM and prepared for the trip. While I was waiting for Michael to show up, I did a hand surface analysis. The moisture was already better than I had expected in the Wichita area and I noticed that the cold front that had pushed south had become quasi-stationary. The dryline was still pretty far to the west and a weak surface cyclone had formed in the Great Bend area.
Once we were on the road and had some visual satellite imagery, we could see a clear punch, if you will, heading to the area. In Colorado, we were socked in under a weak upslope ... basically just a layer of stratocumulus. Into Kansas, the sky became darker and I knew we were under the cirrus shield.
Near Hays, however, we started seeing the sun peeking through. Winds were out of the north there and it was pretty cold but as we drove south out of Salina, suddenly we found moisture, southerly winds, and much warmer air. We lost our sunshine just south of Salina but had made pretty good time.
We met John & Michael O'Keeffe in Goddard with plans to fuel up and grab a bite to eat for lunch. However, we soon realized we had coolant pouring out of the front of the car. A quick inspection yielded a leaky radiator hose. So, while the O'Keeffes headed off for their chase, Michael and I chased auto parts stores, looking for one with the correct hose.
We found an Auto Zone not too far into Wichita and proceeded to replace the hose in the parking lot while towers starting climbing to the west. We were on the road north just as the storm went severe-warned. As we approached, it was now tornado warned. There were reports of tornadoes southwest of Hutchinson but we now had the storm directly in our sights. We flew west out of Newton to intercept.
As we got close to the storm, it looked pretty outflowish. We positioned ourselves on N. River Park Road, just south of W Dutch Avenue.
As the storm approached, a bit of a notch formed and a nice updraft manifested itself, poking out from the storm. It was tiled at almost a 45º angle. We shot south through the place mark of Alta Mills and then turned east on NW 60th Street. The updraft was right overhead at this point and was rotating. Upon video review, I can actually see what looks to be a plume of dust in the trees to the southeast. This would make sense as just after we turned onto NW 60th, Michael saw dust swirls cross the road in front of us. We were in a weak circulation.
Trying to put some distance between us and the storm so we could actually see something, we blew east pretty fast. We came upon Darin Brunin and Dick McGowan a mile or so later and greeted them quickly (first time we'd met either of them).
We kept driving for a mile or two and I was busy videoing the sky above and to the south as best I could. Michael suddenly got excited and saw a huge debris swirl. I turned and looked off to the northwest and also saw it. There was a steady stream of dust being pulled into the updraft, but what we saw as a brief, violent spin, lofting darker, reddish dust and debris into the air. There was no condensation funnel present but the wall was right above and ragged with rapid rising and twisting motion. We stopped and got out to video but the dust swirl dissipated. ... and my camera ran out of batteries.
The following video details the chase up until that point.
I replaced the batteries in my camera just as we got a face full of RFD, so we got back in the car and blew east. A couple minutes later, I looked over my shoulder and saw a nice funnel in the same area as the dust swirl (got this on video as well). I was still a little hesitant to "call it" but we continued on. We headed north on N Ridge Rd into Hesston as the storm was arriving. The sirens were going off making it only the second time I've heard sirens while chasing (the first being Fort Lupton, Colorado in 2007).
The wall cloud looked ominous but it wasn't rotating all that much. As we went under I-135 and got east, it lost strength. We continued on the storm for another 40 minutes before waiting to core it. It looked alright at times, but seemed to cycle between being almost menacing and just another HP storm.
We left the storm at almost 6PM CST and headed back south and west. There more storms firing to the southwest and some looked chaseable. We drove through Newton and ended up near a power plant outside of Colwich. Our storm had fizzled and we wanted to get some lightning. We hung out near a bunch of radio towers but didn't see one CG in the twenty minutes we were there. The clouds were flashing constantly, but we got no love on the ground.
Finally, another storm looked good southwest of Wichita. So, we headed to that one but got caught on a slow drive through suburban western Wichita. By the time we made it down to where we wanted to be, the storm looked less threatening and we had resolved to core it and then go get dinner.
The coring didn't work out as planned either as the moment it reached us, the storm split right down the middle and the precipitation suddenly stopped. Michael and I looked at each other in wonder and then I poked my head out the window. There was storm all around us but directly above, I could see Orion.
We gave up that point, fueled up, and met the O'Keefes and Tony Laubach at a Texas Roadhouse near the airport.
Micheal and I decided to drive home afterward (eight hours back to Denver). I let him sleep and I took the wheel ... since he'd been driving since 5AM. We weren't done with the weather, though. Near Newton, I got us into a nice hail core which had the largest hail of the day! There were easily quarters in the core as it passed. Of course the moment I got the camera out, it stopped.
I thought we were done after Salina, but nearing Russel, the western sky lit up with lightning. THIS was the elevated convection many of the forecasts had said would be the main storm type of the day. And elevated it was! The temperatures at the surface hovered around freezing, but the storm had plenty of rain and pea-sized hail.
Aside from some fog, that was it for the weather. Somewhere along the line, we changed from Standard to Daylight time, making my arrival home at or around 6AM MDT.
All in all, it was a very successful chase for me for three main reasons.
1) We got out in March!
2) Saw a great supercell!
3) Our forecast verified.
Here is a video detailing the second half of the chase:
Here are a few other chasers' accounts from the day (pics/video/etc)
Brandon Ivey (who may have close-up footage of the spin-up we saw. His position seems to verify this.)
I'm liking Alta.