Late Day Tornado near Hill City KS
22 May 07


All images and text
© copyright Gene Moore


This storm had a certain about of pain involved with it. The evening before we were chasing near Bismarck, North Dakota. After that storm was over we shift drove all the way south to central Nebraska. We had breakfast in Grand Island, Nebraska, loaded up on coffee and headed to northwest Kansas. After 37 years of chasing I can't believe we still do this stuff, but for me spring only comes one a year and I give it all I've got. I envy others that get to chase storms year around, but that's not my life.

This turned out to be one of those events meteorologists see coming far in advance. The Storm Prediction Center outlooks covered it with a very small circle days two days out. Easy chases attract a bunch of people. Expecting problems we tried to work the storms north of this "south end of the line" supercell, but with no luck. We had some great rotating supercells one to two counties north, but one of the storms rain wrapped and the second one near Norton produced a tornado before we arrived. Can't be on all these monsters at once! So, late in the day we let our Norton, Kansas storm go and came south on dirt roads. As it turned out for us we were a bit late and didn't get as close as I would have liked to, but that also kept us out of the fur ball. Locals authorities didn't want outsiders getting in the way of their spotters and chasers, a turf thing if you will. The tornado remained in open country and to my knowledge no damage or injuries.



We were well placed in open country out ahead of the supercell as the tornado formed. It was somewhat blocked by light rain and the wall cloud, but much of the wall cloud dissipated as we got into better position.

We were able to verify this funnel was on the ground with a dirt circulation from other chasers nearby. Also, in some of my shots we can see a thin needle extending from the funnel into the dirt cloud below. Unfortunately shooting into strong backlight burns out such features to the camera.


We never saw a bolt of lightning during this time, too bad it would have spiced up the images a bit. Anyway, could you ask for a better view? I had an 85mm F 1.8 lens mounted and should have used a real telephoto, my chase partner used a 300 mm, that should have "full framed" it, but I haven't seen his shots yet.

Had this been more than a 5 minute event the tornado would have probably moved toward us, or at least to the southeast. As it turned out we took all our images from this and one other nearby hill top.



The storm formed a larger funnel at this time with a wide but diffuse debris circulation under the circulation. At this time we had seen no other chasers, most were south of the vortex shooting north. That got them closer, but the contrast of the tornado against the grey storm was not good for everyone.



One last shot, on this one a thin tube can be seen extending into the dust cloud. The tornado quickly dissipated after this time, sometimes they end quickly and this one sure did.

After the tornado dissipated we drove closer and further south running into a gaggle of other chasers and dust clogged farm roads. We worked out way south through the crowds and into another shooting position just east of the wall cloud.


Ok, this was really neat. Notice the concentric top on the wall cloud and texture to the side of the wall. The right side of the vertical wall was rotating fast into the picture (if you will). The whole thing was turning fast enough that it looked like another tornado would be forming soon. On the right side of the shot was the edge of the heavy rain and hail. This part of the storm was full of lightning, in fact the whole storm from the base through the anvil was more electrified than during the tornado.



Another shot of the rotating wall cloud. In this shot I could see the first signs of trouble for the storm. Notice the lower portion of the wall cloud is showing detachment from the upper vertical wall. For this to work the knee bone must be connected to the thigh bone....etc. Sounds silly but look at the coming shot and you'll what I mean.



Here the lower part of the wall cloud is "convectivly" not in phase with the upper section. Although the whole updraft is rotating, the air parcel that gets lifted through the base of the wall cloud is not making the trip into bowels of the storm. That is, it's not one continious path.



Final shot looking more underneath the base of the wall cloud. This shot was taken just before we gave up on this cell and moved south to a new merging storm. In the end this storm (to my knowledge) did not produce another tornado, although we did see one laminar funnel from it as we headed south. Meanwhile the next storm plowed into this one and the whole thing formed a squall line just before sunset.


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