Monster Tornado in Kansas

Posted on 27th May, 2016

Apologies for the delay in the posting of this blog. Yesterday (May 25th) was not the best of chase days (despite the name of the blog probably entertaining the idea that it was). It will be a day that will stay with me for some time - with a variety of emotions to accompany it. 


We awoke in a Motel 6 in Pratt, Kansas, and the air was really humid.  We were in the target area for the day's chase, so we didn't really have to rush anywhere. Paul suggested that we drove to Great Bend, Kansas, to a steakhouse for lunch and for things to start initiating. Unfortunately, this great steakhouse had since closed since his last visit, so we went to Gambinos Pizza instead. I went halves on a large Hawaiian pizza with Laura before hanging around Great Bend for a few hours whilst awaiting for a storm to start. 


We then headed towards Salina, where a supercell began to develop. Another erupted towards Wichita but, being a split risk, Paul debated which cell to go to.  The cell by Salina looked liked it was dying off, but we persevered with the storm and it eventually started to develop. As we were driving towards it, a base started to develop and we were excited to see some rotation occurring.


Large Hailstones

One of the large hailstones that crashed around us - this was a reaonsably small one


We also became aware that there was a large hail core about to hit our location, so we dived into a gas station to take cover. I do have some footage of this but due to time and wifi restrictions I haven't been able to upload it for this blog.  Ian deployed his colander and walked into hail a good 1 to 1.5 inch in diameter, whilst these hailstones continued to smash the area around us.  Whilst this occurred, we did miss a very small tornado that had barely touched down, but did cause some dust to swirl on the ground below it. Although a missed opportunity, we did have some fun playing in the hailstones (see photo above for a quick reference on what was coming down at us).


After checking the data, we had to head south to approach the correct postion to intercept the storm. Although we could see plenty of rotation in the clouds above us, there didn't appear to be very much low level shear to actually initiate a tornado. We did see some sporadic funnels appearing but that appeared to be it. We had suspected a bust, but continuing south we did come across a small funnel forming, that did spawn a tornado after a good few minutes of trying.  I also wore my Rovers shirt for this day (all staff/guests on tour were wearing their respective football team shirts) and managed to get a photograph of me in it with a tornado.


Jason in front of the Chapman Tornado

Celebrating another tornado spot in my Bristol Rovers football shirt


We chased it east along the I-70, occasionally pulling over to track the tornado and how it was growing in size. It gave us ample opportunity to take photos and video. The tornado was growing in size and intesnity, occasionally becoming rain-wrapped and thus hidden from view. At times it became very big, with the occasional subtle change in direction. This was becoming something that had no intension of slowing down and stopping. Pulling over in Soloman, we had a chance to see how big this monster was. I believe the tornado was approximately 3-4 miles away and, with that in mind, scale how big this tornado was. Our data indicated it was appoximately a mile wide, although other reports say it was about half a mile wide. This photo may help you gauge the scale of the tornado.


Large Tornado Passes Soloman

Parked near Soloman, KS, the large tornado rolls by to the north


We continued along the I-70, taking regular breaks to observe what the tornado was doing visually.  It continued to grow in size and strength over time and before we knew it, it had been on the ground for good hour.  We were aware of several towns in the path of this tornado, so it wasn't surprising that we heard the tornado sirens blaring at every time we stopped to observe. 


We monitored its track as it cruised eastwards, missing Abilene (thankfully). It continued to grow in power and intensity, before becoming rain-wrapped (see image below). It did occasionally pop itself out of the rain and when it did, it looked evil.  This was not a "nice" tornado that wanted to stay in the field, but one that posed a serious threat to human life. 


Tornado becomes rain-wrapped

Tornado becomes wrain wrapped as it passes Abilene, Kansas


We pulled over on the I-70 ahead of the tornado's expected crossing of the interstate. At times it felt as though it was heading right towards us. Our main concern was it was heading for a town called Chapman, which had previously been wiped out by a tornado in 2008.  Whilst watching from the I-70, we saw the moment it crossed the road, with the setting sun casting an orangey and menacing glow across the scene.


The Kansas Monster Crosses The I-70

 Tornado crossing the I-70, just east of Abilene, Kansas


We wanted to get ahead and intersect the pathway by heading south via Chapman.  This is where it became almost like a scene from a tornado horror movie. From my view, I could see the mass of the tornado coming towards the town, with the dim and gloomy light creating an eerie and ominous atmosphere. The sounds of the tornado sirens haunted the air as we passed through the main town. We watched as people were getting ready for the impact. Families, children and animals all preparing for a head on collision. It was not a situation I'd like to see again.


Powering on through the town, we parked up to get put of the way of the tornado, watching as the twister appeared to crash through Chapman. I've never felt so sick to my stomach and it was one of the worst things I have ever experienced. We all made an agreement, that when the danger had passed, we would go back and help out.  It was very sombre afterwards, watching powerflashes kicking off all across the skyline as it tore up the powerlines. 


When the apparent danger had passed, we drove back towards the town. Thankfully, the town of Chapman must have been wearing their lucky underpants that day as the tornado missed it by about half a mile, leaving a near mile-wide track of destruction.  We also realised we were wearing our lucky football shirts too, as it passed closer to us than it did the town. Although still awaiting the official rating, we suspect it is at least a strong EF4 tornado, but could possibly be rated an EF5 - not common! Not many see one of these big tornadoes, let alone had one within a quarter of a mile away and lived to tell the tale. 


We departed the area and set of for Salina, where we ate at the Applebees and took stock of the day. The tornado did not kill anyone, but resulted in an injury of a 95 year old, who fell trying to get into her storm shelter. This is an amazing result, as it weaved through so many towns and nobody was killed.  We settled in an Econolodge in Salina, ready to rest up for the big risk Thursday was meant to bring.

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