07.10.13

Chase #5: SC Kansas Supercell and Mud Bogging

Posted in Storm Chasing at 6:29 pm by Rebekah

19 May 2013, the second moderate risk day in a row, this time for central to northeast Oklahoma up into eastern Kansas and western Missouri. The upper-level trough had now dug into the western Plains, a sharp dryline formed just west of I-35 in Oklahoma up into south central Kansas, and a few outflow boundaries from the storms in the area the previous day helped provide the focus for convective initiation.

We initially targeted somewhere from Medicine Lodge, Kansas to Blackwell or Ponca City, Oklahoma, and headed south from Haysville (south side of Wichita) just before noon.

Without a particularly strong cap, storms began to fire between 2 and 3pm, and we got on a tornado-warned supercell near Caldwell in south central Kansas.

We watched the supercell for a little while as it further organized and a large bowl-shaped funnel cloud began to lower.

As the storm began to catch up with us and the rain picked up, we attempted to get out ahead of it, but ran into some trouble.

In the now driving rain, I was all the more dependent on the guys for navigating and telling me where and when I should turn. A certain road just ahead was suggested, and I took it, not realizing until it was too late that it was a dirt road. Now in a loaded GMC Yukon on a clay road near the Kansas – Oklahoma border, once the rain starts, you’re almost certainly stuck.

I did my best, and I might have been okay if I had quickly see the gravel drive immediately on my left and tried to turn off there. However, about 20 or 30 feet down the road I began to fishtail, and while I was going slow and trying to slowly adjust, I was outmatched and the next thing I knew we were in the ditch.

Trying not to panic, I tried to straighten the wheels and have the four guys push the vehicle back on the road, but to no avail. The rain pounded down, the hail began, and we knew we were forced to wait it out and hope for the best.

As one of the guys looked at the radar and realized we were right in the path of the hail core, and then told us that at least one tornado had touched down on the storm and was also probably headed for us, I then did have a bit of a panic attack, mixed with anxiety at costing us a chance to see the tornado touchdown.

After what felt like hours, the hail and rain let up (and there was no tornado, thankfully), and a couple of the guys got out to take a look around. We were blessed to have missed the largest hail, though we still got golf balls that dented the roof of the Yukon (not a scratch on the windows, though).

Dean walked (barefoot! on one of the muddiest roads I had ever seen!) down to the main road, and a kind farmer saw our plight and stopped to help. The young man had a big sturdy rope that he hitched to the back of the Yukon and to the front of his truck, and then backed up down the little gravel turnout and with surprisingly little effort helped us out of the ditch and onto the gravel.

After we got back on the road (with a VERY dirty/muddy interior after we all tracked through that muck…took herculean efforts to clean it out later, and to clean our shoes), we decided to resume the chase, though by this time the storms were quickly squalling out.

By this point we had found out that south Wichita (close to where we had stayed the previous morning…yes, it happened again…) had seen at least one or two tornadoes, and there were also some decent tornadoes forming in central Oklahoma.

Somewhere just south of the Oklahoma border, we stopped to watch a storm for a little while, and to evaluate how the day had gone and how we wanted to proceed, as we were all still quite frazzled and frustrated.

As the show in our area was about over, we decided to have dinner in Ponca City. There we saw more footage of a large tornado that had gone through Shawnee, just east of Oklahoma City. I wasn’t exactly upset that we missed it, as it didn’t sound photogenic (became rain-wrapped soon) and was a destructive and killer tornado, but after a couple of somewhat disappointing days, there was a long talk at dinner about priorities and different chasing styles, etc., and the next day Dean and the two other Aussies decided to split off and Will and I chased together for the remainder of the trip.

It was a sad conclusion, but turned out quite well as we were able to get a much smaller car (Nissan Altima, a great little thing!) and enjoy a more relaxed style where we also saw the benefit of two photographers traveling together as we didn’t mind stopping now and then at interesting photo opportunities. We also ran into Dean and the Jons a few other times, which was fun to see each other under the meso again. I also took full advantage of having Will to myself to ask unlimited questions about New Zealand, where I would soon be moving to. ;)

Anyway, the five of us ended this day in Norman, Oklahoma, after about 12.5 hours and only about 250 miles.

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