April 14th, 2012 - Kansas Tornadoes

Saturday.  The big day.  The tornado day.

I had been up all night very sick, throwing up and with a fever.  It felt like food poisoning but we weren't sure if I had developed the flu.  I was actually planning on staying at the hotel and having Skip and Brad go chase without me (that meant them driving 6, 8, + hours north and me having to find an alternate way home.) -- They refused to leave without me, and even said they would call off the chase completely in order to take care of me.  They put together a blow up camping mattress and sleeping bag in the back of the van for me, and we were off.  Luckily I was able to sleep and rest, and progressively get better... by the time storms rolled around, though I was not 100%, I was able to photograph them and enjoy them.  I am so grateful to my teammates for taking care of me and not leaving me behind.  I couldn't ask for better friends.

We ended up targeting Kansas, having driven through Pratt a number of times over the past few days, we felt oddly annoyed to have been back and forth to the same small town in Kansas again.  But, we had hope for the day!

Overall we got 4 tornadoes, two of which were close, front row-seat (from a SAFE vantage point.)

We were stair-stepping down tornado warned cells that were progressively moving north-east, and we were having trouble staying ahead of them despite a nice grid road network.  Many of the roads were sandy and muddy, so we had to switch to driving south and east four to six (+) miles at a time to stay ahead of some of these storms.

It was a mostly challenging and frustrating chase day, as we hadn't seen a single tornado by early evening and were increasingly getting more and more tired and aggravated.  

First funnel cloud of the day:

Second funnel cloud of the day, what a crazy mean looking dude this was.

Next, this little funnel dude below was the beginning of our first tornado.  As it started to come closer to us where we were sitting to watch it, we decided to get up and move east out of the way just in case it did become an actual tornado. 

As we pulled away I saw in the side mirror a funnel cloud, and said "Oh, funnel."  Skip swiveled the dome cam around in perfect time to catch the funnel as it became a tornado, causing power flashes behind us and quickly becoming enveloped in a broad circulation of rain curtains.  It was a very intense moment!  I will be updating the blog here with Skip's video as soon as it's ready to view.


You can view Skip's timelapse / video of the chase day HERE.  To see the first tornado, start around 4:24 on the video.

After driving away - so much pretty light!

Then, this little bowl lowering was the start of our big tornado catch.  You know, the one that was pretty and photogenic and made the billions of hours in the car and billions of miles worth it.

When we got to this intersection, we pulled over and got out of the car as we had the opportunity to do a few times, just briefly through the day.  We could really feel the inflow to the storm, and it was really amazing to be close enough to feel the way the wind changes and hear the way the wind changes when a tornado is being born.  The temperature, direction and sound of the wind (a really ghostly, amazing howl) beings as a storm is ready to produce a tornado.  The motion is intense and beautiful, and it's an otherworldly experience.

Just after this frame above, a guy pulled up and asked, "do you guys see any rotation?"  We said, "There is a tornado behind you!"  He looked over his shoulder and without a word, sped away in a major hurry.  Funny how things can slip by if you aren't hyper aware of your surroundings.  

I love the shot above.

We had to keep moving east to follow along with the tornado, and the light changed as the sun was dropping slowly, and it was a nice orange and purple mix.  What a beautiful tornado.

Overall we had four tornadoes for the day - after the brief one that caused the power flashes and this cone, we had two night tornadoes (see the last image above) - and another one I didn't get a shot of while we were driving.  Overall a very successful chase day, albeit challenging and exhausting.