White Cloud, KS tornado - May 21st, 2011 Chase Report

Saturday - May 21st, 2011

Chased with Skip Talbot.

The day was amazing.  I should have known, just seeing how beautiful and perfect our morning sky was when we woke up around 6:30.  We had left Chicago the night before to position ourselves closer to the plains for our chase day.  We were chasing a slight risk 5% day, but why not?  :)

We stopped so Skip could take a look at the morning data, and we were right next to a beautiful farm with a bunch of cows.  I saw this adorable sight of a baby & mama cow... luckily they both were interested in the crazy lady with the camera.  At this point in the day, I was whispering to myself that I'd better take some decent cow photos because they might be the best things I saw all day.  Little did I know...

We were pretty wiped out after a few more hours of driving, and we arrived close to our target area in plenty of time.  So, we parked and crashed out for a quick power nap in the van.  I took a quick photo of the spot we chose before we left.  What a pretty sight.  I love this road.


We had more than our fair share of construction to deal with... but at least we got lights this time instead of escort flag cars!

Mighty, Mighty Skiptones - my awesome driver / navigator / storm chaser of awesomeness. 

The obligatory shots of Skip setting up the dome.

Things started to look up when the towers were building.  We just love seeing that.

After a bit of repositioning... our view of the storm.

We are the white dot.  Peeking at our radar data!

And, very immediately as we got in there, the structure started to kick off.  There were so many photogenic aspects to this storm, I don't really know where to begin other at the "start" of the reel.  The features were dropping, churning and moving like crazy.  Just gorgeous.

We referred to this as the "donut."

Then, I realized "This storm could really drop something..."

A little later, our "jellyfish..."

Then, what we determined to be just some quickly spinning scud... but as we came upon it, this bit was swirling and reaching out toward us.  Pretty terrifying on a severe storm.

Double dippers.

Is that Mordor?

Then, a funnel cloud.  Sweet mother of hope, a funnel cloud!

Oh... and have I mentioned this was all happening in a Severe Thunderstorm Watch?  NOT a tornado watch box?  Yeah.

The funnel didn't quite want to become a tornado and it lifted back up.  We drove on for a while and watched the storm dance around.  

And then, the sky went turquoise.  I mean, emerald green.  I mean, DAMN.  The freakin' sky was green.

We were driving along Hwy 7 (northbound) and a huge wall of trees was to our left.  We had zero visual of the storm other than miscellaneous bits of scud or outflow we kept seeing.  Sort of like what you see in the photo below.

Then a handful of seconds later... OH HOLY mother of ...

Skip started backing up the van immediately and this was the last shot of the tornado I got.  A few seconds of sheer terror took over as we were desperately trying to figure out which direction it was going... we would later determine (measure) that this tornado appeared just over 600 feet in front of us.  And, it was indeed corkscrewing in our direction.  Skip pulled a very skillful and quick turnaround on the road, and we hit it, watching in our mirrors as the tornado crossed the road behind us and dissipated into the air.  Needless to say, we have no plans on taking Hwy 7 again if we are in the area... :)

We got a bit down the road and decided to turn back around and see what damage might have been caused.  We were stopped by this gentleman who warned us about a tree down in the road.

A quick shot out my window at the gorgeous sky as we headed back to the spot we sighted the tornado.

We arrived to find a truck stopped and this police car arrived on the scene just after we pulled in.  I got a few shots and then Skip and I helped them clear the roadway as best as we could, to at least make it passable.  There was a very large tree portion that we were unable to move.

What followed in ending the chase was a series of incredible rainbows, lighting of the sky and what I would actually call phenomenon.  The first sweet sight:


This shot was taken as we were driving down the highway.  Eastbound.  The sun was setting BEHIND us. Somehow, the sun must have been shining low level beams of light into the storm in some way, because it appeared to the eye as if light was bursting out of the ground.

I'll repeat... the sun was behind us when I took these images.

Seeing as the Rapture was supposedly going to occur this day, Skip and I were joking to each other, "So, is it a bad thing that we're not in that bright light over there?"  It was that otherworldly.

And then, just to outdo herself, Mother Nature threw in a double rainbow and some fire red clouds.

A perfect chase day.