It was the third day of an extended storm chase into the Great Plains and I have several good storms to show for it including an awesome twin tornado shot near Cherokee, Oklahoma during the last 20 minutes of the chase on Saturday.
First off, there was an incredible number of violent tornadoes in Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma on Saturday. Thoughts and prayers go out to all affected.
I chase storms as a hobby and in an official capacity either for broadcast (KOLR/KOZL) or for education (Missouri State University). Chasing is thrilling to be sure but I also learn more about tornadoes and supercells every time I head out. The twin tornadoes pictured are an excellent example of how much different each tornadic storm can be.
The chase started in Kansas. We hung in east Kansas for a while on a hunch that something my fire there but abandoned this idea and started heading west in southern Kansas. Several supercells were forming southward into Oklahoma and the plan was to catch one and then drop south to the next one, which largely worked out for us.
The first encounter was south of Pratt, Kansas just southwest of the town of Sawyer, KS. Radar indicated rotation with this storm and visuals confirmed the existence of a well-defined wall cloud. The wall cloud passed just north of our position south of Sawyer. It passed north of the town as well. We chased it north of town as it was weakening. It looked is if a new circulation center had formed on radar but this was hard to get a visual on. There was a tornado report on highway 54 just east of Pratt which seems to confirm this idea.
We stopped for three more supercells before dark. One was near Medicine Lodge. Once again, a clear rotation that never tightened up into a tornado. The second storm was south into Oklahoma, it passed just northwest of Burlington on Highway 11. We watched this for a while in the 7 o’clock hour. It became clear that a larger storm to the south was hindering the development of this cell.
It should be noted that we were deprived of radar data at this point. 2G Verizon was the best we had which delivers images slowly! If I had know how much larger the southern-most storm was, we would have broken off of the Burlington storm sooner!
With only about 20 minutes of daylight left we checked out the last storm. It was on the way home anyway. When we busted out of the “anvil core” heading south on highway 11, another wall cloud was visible on our right. A family was watching this storm and said “you missed it” They were referring to a tornado which had already formed and dissipated. I advised these folks to keep following us south as we were too close to the direct path of the storm.
In the video, you can see a second tornado formed as we were driving south. The right twister appeared white in the sunlight. We stopped again at the Highway 11/64 intersection just north of the Cherokee Airport. This is where one tornado passed in front of the other (see picture) and then became one again as it passed just northwest of this intersection. A close-up of the ground dust and debris is included in the video too.
Finally, we took up a position in the parking lot of the airport. The video shows this as a classic looking black tornado with a diffuse back-light made of of rain and hail providing excellent contrast even after sunset.
For those wondering, the Cherokee storm went on to produce the EF-3 monster tornado in southeastern Wichita later in the evening.