May 24th had the best of both worlds. As Photo Tour #1 went to Colorado for its rewards, Tour #4 had a special day along an outflow boundary south of Dodge City. As Tour #4 moved north out of Oklahoma, hard cumulus towers formed along the boundary near Minneola. Soon, a storm emerged from these towers and would become an intense tornadic supercell as it drifted north towards Dodge city and spun like crazy. It took it awhile to really get going good, but when it did, a huge wall cloud formed, and started spinning wildly. The first of a dozen tornadoes would form of every shape, size and intensity, and at some point as many as 3 tornadoes were on the ground at the same time. Dodge city eventually came under a tornado emergency as a large multivortex tornado hit the west side of town. As the supercell moved north of town, many other storms formed and eventually turned into a huge cluster of severe storms that moved across Kansas. As that happened, we left the storm and went to Garden City for the night. An amazing day, with a dozen tornadoes from this storm and the fact both of our tours capitalized on the days potential was even more special!
May 24th was a day that had huge potential. Unfortunately there were two pretty clear targets. Play the upslope in eastern Colorado for what would certainly be a pretty tornadic supercell, or play southwest Kansas with high instability along an outflow boundary. Fortunately we had two tours going at that time, Tour #4 and also Photo Tour #1. After considerable discussion Photo Tour #1 headed for Colorado while Tour #4 headed for southwest Kansas. Both tours scored big this day! Upon arrival in Colorado Photo Tour #1 intercepted an intensifying supercell east of Denver. This storm would become a formidable supercell that would cycle multiple times and produce a half dozen tornadoes. As this storm approached an area south of Ft Morgan it began it’s tornadic phase as it intercepted better moisture and instability and the storm’s base came down. the Photo Tour, true to its name, found numerous beautiful places to photograph this supercell and it’s tornadoes all the way out towards the Kansas border. It kept producing tornadoes off and on the rest of the day and into the evening. Nothing wilder than night time tornadoes. Finally as it moved into northwestern Kansas, the Photo Tour dropped off it and headed to their night destination.
May 23rd was a big day of ups and downs. Nature seemed to play a cruel joke on us and give us all the potential ingredients for a major severe weather event, but put all those ingredients too far east of the dryline in the Texas panhandle to do much good. Storms formed and were high based, never a tornadic threat, along the dryline. These cells would move off and die due to a capping inversion. Finally late afternoon one storm formed at the tail end of a cluster and moved far enough east to intercept 70 degree dewpoints and 4000 CAPE values. This storm would go crazy near dark and produce at least 2 significant tornadoes. The first tornado, a tapered cone, churned across the countryside west of Northfield, while the second tornado, a large EF3 multivortex turned wedge tornado, would be very close to Northfield. Lightning would illuminate this tornado and at one point, 4 bolts were visible around the tornado. An AMAZING event to say the least! Fortunately there were no fatalities from these tornadoes. Night time tornadoes are especially dangerous as you cannot see them unless they are lit by lightning or hit power lines to cause them to glow green. An incredible event to what would be the warm up day for the next day, the largest tornado outbreak in a couple years in western Kansas!
Storms abound on May 22nd. The Texas panhandle and northwest Texas were the target areas. We played the dryline first, west of I-27, but a confluence boundary east of the I-27/287 corridor would end up being the favored area. A few tornadoes occurred southeast of Amarillo as storms formed and spun, but they were quite messy. A second area of storms formed northeast of Amarillo in Ochiltree county. An outflow boundary on the south side of the developing storm would be the focus point for storm rotation. A weak tornado occurred before we got there. As we arrived, southeast of Spearman, an elephant trunk tornado formed and touched down briefly. It happened so fast and was so messy we couldn’t get any photos of it. Minutes later a large wedge formed and moved southeast towards our location. A huge blob of wet RFD hit us with 80 mph winds as we scurried east to get out of the way of the tornado. It wrapped in rain after a few minutes and was no longer visible. We stayed with the tornado warned supercell for hours after this as it cycled many times, but never became tornadic again. A fun day and a very large tornado!!!!!
May 21st was the first day in a period that would be the best of 2016. This day featured a triple point over western Kansas, as well as good shear, strong instability and decent moisture. Storms appeared they would form on the HP side of thing and they sure did. The triple point and warm front lit up like crazy mid afternoon, and the tail end storm would become the storm of the day. Anchored at the triple point, this supercell would cycle many times and each time get prettier and prettier. It produced a couple weak, short lived tornadoes in its lifetime, but the story of the day was the storm’s structure. It was a sculpted twisting, turning supercell, easily the prettiest of the year. Each updraft that formed at the triple point would be ingested into the main storm’s updraft, proving a fresh poof of warm moist air for the cell to feed on. Helicity was quite strong in this beast and I was actually surprised it did not produce a significant tornado.
By mid evening, the storm was running out of available instability, and it started to weaken. Right at sunset it was quite pretty, with a liberty bell appearance and tons of lightning. Finally just after dark it died off, and the skies calmed for the night. This would be short lived as the next day proved to be quite volatile a bit further south in Texas.
The set up this day was not ideal for tornadoes, but with moderate shear, instability, moisture and a dryline in place, we knew storms would fire along it. Due to large temperature and dewpoint spreads, cloud bases were fairly high, and thus storms became outflow dominant quickly. We intercepted several storms near the I-20 corridor west of Abilene that gave us some pretty structure, an occasional wall cloud and lots of lightning. They all were severe at times and even one became tornado warned. A big dusty haboob formed as the main cell turned into a line and eventually gusted out. At that point we dropped south on new cells and watched then rotate slowly and produce large hail.
May 9th was one of the best days of 2016. Deep moisture, high CAPE values, great wind shear and strong lift along a dryline would generate several intense and tornadic supercells in central and southern Oklahoma. We positioned ourselves south of Pauls Valley as a persistent updraft was forming to our southwest. One supercell formed and anchored there and became tornado warned. However, it was the new updraft on its southern flank that would become the storm of the day. This updraft would become an intense tornadic supercell dropping an EF4, and 2 EF3 tornadoes along its path.
Our intercept of the very close and INTENSE EF4 Wynnewood tornado would be one our guests will never forget. A very predictable and fairly stable tornado would allow us to get very close to it, something we usually do on our Close Encounters tour. We were positioned a couple hundred yards north of the path of this tornado, and we flipped the vans around, ready to jump in and get out of the way should it make a sudden turn. It did not. It passed very close to us. You could hear the waterfall sound of the tornado as it ripped its way across the highway next to us. It would move east and dissipate near I-35. But this storm was far from done. A nearly mile wide tornado would develop and pass just north of Sulphur and an additional elephant trunk shaped tornado would form east. Both of these tornadoes were rated EF3. At the end of the day we would drop all the way south of the Red River into northern Texas as more supercells would develop and become tornado warned.
The photos of the vans in front of the tornado are courtesy of Hank Schyma !!! THANK YOU Hank!!!!
Our hearts go out to those who suffered losses this day.
On May 7th we had high hopes for something big to happen. It certainly did not disappoint! Numerous storms formed early afternoon along and south of a warm front draped over eastern Colorado. Upslope flow was deep, while shear, instability and moisture were quite good as well. Too many storm interactions early in the afternoon caused messy modes, with several tail end supercell type storms to form and be the ones that produced the most severe weather. A cluster of cells near Ft Morgan early in the afternoon would produce tornadoes along the warm front, but we decided to target more southern tail end storms that were receiving the best feed of air.
Late afternoon, our on call tour led by Caryn Hill would intercept a supercell south of Wray that would produce a pretty elephant trunk shaped tornado. It would die off fairly quickly before the main show would start. A mixture of supercell and nonsupercell tornadoes would form, nearly a half dozen in all. The final tornado is one that has been well publicized, a beautiful whitish tornado as seen in the pics below, with a reddish debris cloud nearly to cloud base! Remember SLT will get you there!
May 6th featured an approaching shortwave trough, with great shear, but very limited moisture. Upslope flow into the Laramie range in southeast Wyoming would result in several storms this day. One high based supercell formed and was quite electrified. It never produced much in the way of severe weather but looked pretty and was nearly stationary on the mountains. The lightning it produced was quite photogenic.
April 15th had potential. We weren’t sure how storm modes would end up, and the bigger question was how good of quality would low level moisture be this day. The various models were at odds with each other. We decided to target the northern Texas panhandle dryline and hope storms could form, mature and then move off the dryline into better air. We sat around the Dalhart, Texas area waiting for initiation to occur. By mid afternoon storms started to form, but due to many splits, storms never maintained for very long without having merging issues. A couple storms did intensify and one particular supercell even became tornado warned southwest of Stratford. It actually tried hard as a wall cloud formed and was steadily rotating. However, its rear flank downdraft became too strong and undercut the storm’s updraft causing it to weaken. It cycled up and down a couple times, and then near Stratford, something happened. The storm was ingesting very unstable air as inflow dramatically increased. You could see a huge dirt plume skyrocketing upward as rapid lift was occurring in the storm’s forward portion of the updraft.
A tornado warning was reissued as the storm crossed into the Oklahoma panhandle. Soon a cone shaped funnel formed and was visible for about 5 minutes before it dissipated. The structure of the supercell was top notch as a sculpted liberty bell formed and spun wildly. We raced up the highway towards Eva and sat on US 64 east of town about 5 miles. An elephant trunk shaped tornado soon formed and stabbed the ground a few times and dissipated. Quickly another larger truncated cone shaped tornado formed and stirred up dirt and debris for a minute or two and also dissipated. As the supercell crossed 64 heading towards Eva the supercell had a very strong RFD surge as a new wall cloud quickly lowered to our northwest. Soon a pretty white elephant trunk shaped tornado formed, followed by a second one just to the east of the first. These two danced around for 10 minutes, often creating multiple vortices under them and then dissipated soon afterwards. By this time darkness was approaching and the storm was weakening, so we broke off our chase and headed for home. Great day and fortunately all tornadoes occurred in open country!