April 7, 2013 Great Bend, Kansas Chase: Misfortune Turns to Fortune

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Great Bend, Kansas supercell

Its was the first real chase of the 2013 season. I awoke early that morning and checked some weather data to see where our target zone would be. Wichita, Kansas was the target that day and the time of arrival was going to be around 4 pm. Usually 3-4 pm is a great time to stage up for a typical chase day considering thats when most storms tend to fire off. Unfortunately storms fired off a lot earlier than I expected that day and by 1:30 pm there were already sever thunderstorms near Wichita, Kansas. We were a little over two hours away from Wichita, Kansas and the rate the storms were moving east there was no way we could catch them.

I kept my course into Kansas and headed to Greensburg. Me and my wife leslee discussed our next course of action from there. At this point I was feeling somewhat discouraged but was holding onto a glimmer of hope that storms would possibley form in western Kansas not too far from our current location.

I called the national weather service out of Dodge City and talked to a meterologist on staff and discussed the current data and what were our options at the time. After looking at some data myself and talking to the meterologist it appeared that supercell thunderstorms could form late that afternoon near Ness Cit , Kansas. So we rolled the dice and headed north west about an hour to Ness City. As we got close my wife shouted “look! Look over there!” Her shaky fingers pointed to a giant cumulous cloud town shooting up in the atmosphere like a rocket! A sight for sore eyes for this anxious chaser.

I then drove towards this might storm in the making taking some some advice from my wife on the optimal route to take to get there. We found ourselves beneath this small storm within minutes.

I pulled over on the side of the road to get us in prime visual view of this already majestic looking storm. Even though structurally this storm was not all that big, the enviroment this storm was in was explosive and the potiential for this storm to become a tornadic supercell thunderstom was favorable.

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Early stages of the Great Bend, Kansas supercell

The camera crew set up a time lapse shot and marveled at this storm as it rapidly grew and consumed the barren Kansas plains. After only a few minutes the storm had grown to magnificant proportions and began racing accross the plains at speeds of close to 50 mph. We jumped in the car and tried to keep up.

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Golf ball hail stones from the might Great Bend supercell…

We noticed in our pursuit of this storm that it was already leaving behind great evidence of its power buy the layers of golf ball and larger hail stones on the road we were traveling. Large hail stones are a great indicator of a powerful updraft of a storm which is a strong vertical area of air lifting the perception up in the atmosphere where the air is much cooler causing at times large hail to form and drop from the skies once the weight of the hail stone is heavy enough to overcome the strong rate of wind.

We kept flying down the roads and I kept my eye on radar to see if this storm was showing rotation and where our target zone would be next. Upon looking at this I saw an area on radar where winds were moving quickly in different directions in a tight area, often an indicator or a tornado or an area where one would form. This area is often where a wall cloud is located. A wall cloud is a lowering beneath a supercell that is rotating and often is in the area where tornados form.

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A funnel forming near a wall cloud of a supercell thunderstorm near Great Bend, Kansas

After a few minutes we located the wall cloud near Great Bend, Kansas and maneuvered into position to get close to the area of circulation. I pulled to the side of the road. The Kansas wheat fields surrounded our vehicle in all directions, a sight almost as majestic as the storm itself. I step out of the car and the wind stops. Not one blade of grass fluttered and the only sounds were birds faintly chirping in the back ground. As we stand in awe it suddenly happens… multiple funnels lower towards the ground and are rapidly rotating. We are stand in silence. I am thinking to myself “am i too close?” Only a few hundred yards away is an impending tornado. Trying to reach it self to the surface of the golden wheat filled plains… but on this day it was not to be and the funnels as quickly as they formed were back tucked up in the dark stormy skies.

great bend kansas profileIt was an exciting and successful chase day no doubt and one of the best first chases of a season I had ever had. I couldn’t help but to be excited about the chases that lied ahead of us in the season.

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