Storm Chase - Bennington/Solomon/Abilene, KS || 25 May 2016

We started the day out in Dodge City where we had viewed several tornadoes the day before. This day’s chase took us further east into Kansas looking for convergence and backed winds along the dryline and other boundaries. As we made our way east on Hwy 50, we stopped at a couple abandoned buildings east of Spearville, at a spot on the map called Ardell. We had passed these the day before while shooting some sunset pics after the Dodge City storm. My daughter is a bit of an explorer and spent a lot of time checking things out, including peeking into a window where she was hissed at by a huge, cranky gopher snake that had wound itself around some pipes dangling over an inky abyss.

Exploring a towering abandoned building in Ardell.

The western suburbs of Ardell, Kansas :)

As we got further east, a long arc of clouds bordering hazy skies announced the dryline bulge. It was extremely cool to see it stretched out like that visually without even needing satellite. Although the satellite view was pretty impressive too, showing both the arc of the dryline and a boundary further east. Towers were trying to build on this eastern boundary, while others were brewing to our north near the triple (quadruple?) point. We gradually made our way eastward shooting landscapes along the way, watching the boundaries percolate, trying to decide between east or north.

Approaching the moist boundary of the dryline bulge [2010Z].

Radar view of the dryline boundary [2011Z].

Satellite view of swirling boundaries and growing cumulus fields [2030Z]

Landscape east of Macksville.

Triple point cumulus far north of Macksville [2031Z]

By the time we reached Hutchinson around 2145Z, convection was gushing anvils to our north near Claflin while the Wichita towers appeared to still be working on the cap, so we headed northwest to head for the northern target. When we got to a few miles southeast of Lyons by 2215Z, those anvils had gone orphan while a Wichita storm was finally taking off and looked like it had a nice, muscular updraft going. More self doubt followed as we drifted eastward and a new growing tower between Minneapolis and Lincoln to our north got going. I watched these two towers compete for attention north and southeast until Rt 61 a few miles southwest of McPherson when a final decision had to be made. I opted north, thinking that storm’s convection looked sturdier, had a backsheared anvil, overshooting top, hopefully the benefit of a boundary and better backed inflow to work with, and an easier intercept by this point.

By 2254Z, southwest of McPherson, the choice of storm target finally became clear. (Left: storm northwest of Salina—check! / Right: storm east of Wichita—farewell…)

As we got further north on I-135, the storm was looking pretty impressive as it approached the north side of Salina. I wondered if Bennington would see a repeat 2013 performance—and apparently a tornado did briefly touch down there while we were still making our way north.

Blossoming supercell north of Salina [2317Z]

We headed off onto the grid about 4 miles north of I-70 and had our first look at the base. It was working on an RFD notch, but didn’t look too impressive at the moment.

RFD notch nudging into the base east of Bennington [2339Z]

A corkscrew in the updraft west of Bennington [2349Z]

We got a little behind for a few minutes, but worked some very nice dirt road grid to catch up. After heading west another 5 miles, the storm really pulled together and we caught sight of a hazy, dark, cone tornado behind a thin veil of RFD precipitation. The pace of the chase really picked up after that. As we paced and worked to gain ground on the storm, the tornado grew in size while the choppy barrel meso above it took on Bowdle stylings.

First view of the growing tornado as seen from 7 miles west of Solomon [0009Z]

Strengthening cone tornado as seen from 5 miles west of Solomon [0013Z]

Wide view of the tornado and sculpted RFD cut [0013Z]

Growing tornado and chaotically detailed meso [0016Z]

At 240th road, I headed south and got onto I-70 to try and gain some ground on it, snagging blind photos out the window along the way. Just a bit before the Solomon exit, we encountered a sheriff hollering at a tour van operator who was parked on the side of the interstate while his tour group was loping across the median. Yikes.

Dashcam view of tour group getting busted for Interstate frolicking [0025Z]

Shrouded tornado lurking north of Solomon [0026Z]

View to the northwest from the northwest side of Abilene [0038Z]

We made our way to the east side of Abilene and Indy Road just north of I-70. It was a perfectly elevated spot to watch the dusty, stovepipe tornado approach and widen into a large cone as it crossed our road a little over 2 miles to the north. It served up the best set of photos and video I’ve ever gotten of a tornado. A couple of locals, a father and I think his teenage daughter pulled up and talked about this being the first they’d seen even though he’d lived in Abilene his entire life.

View from Indy Rd north of I-70/northeast of Abilene as a stovepipe moves across the landscape [0050Z]

Close view of the dusty stovepipe [0053Z]

Tornado and rippling RFD cut getting ready to cross Indy Rd. a little over 2 miles to the north [0054Z]

Crossing Indy Rd [0055Z]

Tight video frame view of tornado base after crossing Indy Rd. [0057Z]

As it passed to the east, RFD shrouded the view and was pretty intent on knocking my tripods over, so we packed up and pulled back east onto Old US 40. Because the storm was nudging increasingly south and we didn’t want to play tag with the approaching tornado, we turned south on Rt 43 at Detroit to get some distance from it. I was concerned that by the time we found a good east-west road we might not catch back up until the river infested, choppy road network south of Junction City. So we lost it at that point and snagged sunset photos of a beautiful trailing cell before heading further south and shooting some nightscape shots with fireflies, stars and receding lightning near Antelope.

Sunset and striated structure on trailing supercell [0134Z]

Stars, lightning and headlights reach into the sky near Antelope [0411Z]

Chase map for the day — 25 May 2016

Close up chase map showing photo locations and approximate tornado locations.

Zoomable/interactive chase map

Video highlights from the chase

NOAA Abilene-Chapman Tornado Survey — 25 May 2016