Medicine Lodge, KS tornado - April 8th, 2015

Our outlook for the day gave us a 15% hatched tornado risk for Southeastern Kansas, Northwestern Oklahoma and Western Missouri.  We decided to target south central Kansas.

The big question for the day was, what would be the triggering mechanism to kick storms off for us?  I think fake batman below illustrated our question quite nicely.

We ultimately pulled into a gas station in Wellington, KS and were met by my long time friend Tony Laubach, and Blake Naftel, a historian, film maker and true documentary badass.

Classic waiting for storms and getting some sun on my supremely white legs.

 I love, love, adore, love this photo of us below.
Left to right, Skip Talbot, Blake Naftel, myself and Tony Laubach.

 We had a nice little chaser convergence, and did some pre-chasing prep.  As usual, Skip was working diligently on the dome.

 Above:  Rob Hurkes chatting with Blake Naftel about film photography.

 Above right: Anticipating some water issues, Skip stuffing towels into the dome crevasses.

 Above: Ben McMillan doing his live Youtube chasing broadcast. (@WeatherLiveTV)

Soon enough we decided to go after the little blip on the radar that had turned into a severe thunderstorm.  We knew this would be our storm, as the lead cell seemed to be the dominant one at this time.  We got to a little pull-off and saw a beautiful anvil with some mammatus.

Jumping for joy at the first chase of the year!  Getting out of the van and feeling the warmth, the moisture, seeing the storm?  There's nothing like it, and it's something we yearn for all winter.

This cloud looked like a swan to me.  Why are you looking at me, swan?

We drove south to get to the updraft base portion of the storm.  

After coming through the rain we had a tornado warned storm, and along with it, a really muddy and hazy view of the updraft base.  There already seemed to be a ragged wall cloud with a suspicious looking bowl lowering underneath.

Finally as the storm moved overhead, the wall cloud was more defined as it approached our location.

We were a few miles south of the main highway on a gravel road, and a local farmer pulled up behind us wondering if there was a tornado, or if one was imminent.  We explained the storm and he decided he would stay with us.  "I'm gonna stay here with you, and if you run, I'm running."

We had a classic view of the horseshoe updraft base, as a local firefighter came down our gravel road to look at the storm from our location.  You can see the RFD cut clearly and the wall cloud on the right side.

Suddenly we noticed streaky rain bands spiraling around the wall cloud (bears cage,) and that's often an immediate precursor to a tornado.  I've seen this many times, but never in this way.  You can see it in the photo below - the rain bands were acting normally in a streaking, left to right, rapid motion on the right.  On the left, however, they were pulsing erratically and spiraling like ribbons with tight spirals in frantic and rapid bursts.  I knew a tornado was imminent in the next few seconds.

And sure enough, from the moment the rain bands started, to the moment we had a fully condensed tornado, took only 24 seconds.

Times for the photos below:

 6:53:22                                         6:53:34                                         6:53:46

And then, suddenly, we had a fully condensed, beautiful and weird looking tornado.  The way the structure appears here, this tornado reminds me of a game of tetris.  Squared off, blocky features.  Definitely unique to any I've personally seen.

And just as quickly as it appeared, it quickly disappeared.  A short-lived (brief) stout tornado that was on the ground for less than 1 minute.

After the tornado dissipated, the wall cloud moved across the road in front of us.  I noticed a rainbow off to the left as the sunlight was starting to filter in and hit the back of the storm.  It was clear the updraft from our tornado was dying and a new updraft was being formed further to our east.  I urged Skip to drive forward so we could frame the tornado near the rainbow.  We crept further south, and what a gorgeous sight.  I only wish the tornado was fully condensed at this time.  However, the funnel cloud and the scene is still one of my favorite chasing moments.  So beautiful.

We drove further south to try to frame the funnel under the full rainbow, but it had nearly fully dissipated.  You can see the jagged and scuddy remains of the lowering below, but still, what a sight!

We decided to go back north to the main highway so we could catch back up with the storm.  Beautiful scenery on the way back!

After we got back on the main highway to head east to catch back up with the storm, the sky was incredibly ominous.  There were low, looming clouds with turbulent appearance and we weren't quite sure what we were looking at.  Low scud?  A wall cloud?  A tornado?  We proceeded with caution, and decided to stop because we didn't have a clear visual, and we were without updated radar.  Safety is always our main priority.  In the view below we saw what we thought was a big scuddy wall cloud churning away, and it could even possibly have a tornado in it.  We definitely don't want to drive into that!  To our southeast, we had a lowering with some rotation or movement, and I thought it looked like an emaciated wall cloud.  It would turn out that that lowering was the remains of our original wall cloud / updraft base, still shriveling as the storm moved east.

We decided to stop and get some end of the day photos of structure, as it appeared our storm was done producing tornadoes, and we had a long drive to Iowa for our next day's target.