The Attica Kansas Supercell and Tornado
of 12 May 2004


All images and text
© copyright Gene Moore


During the Sharon, Kansas tornado a new updraft developed to the south that we were able to reach traveling east on highway 160. This storm was not large, but it did have particular characteristics common in storms that have one purpose, to produce a tornado. The storm moved to the southwest of Attica as a strong updraft with no precipitation or lightning from the cloud base, although it did show strong rotation at this time. In the image the cloud with a column of precipitation in the sunset is the Sharon, Kansas supercell. It continued to move north and dissipated. These shots were taken looking south-southwest from a mile west of Attica.



Dramatic supercell base with huge optical vault and vertical wall on the north side. At this time the whole cloud was rotating strongly, but no rear flank down draft (RFD) dry notch had formed on the back side. Lightning hit the ground a few miles to our northeast making photography outside the vehicle no fun. It was coming out of the anvil precipitation or forward flank of the supercell. Still, this was a spectacular scene to watch develop.


This image is from just east of Attica looking southwest. The base of the supercell looked very different at this time. A large RFD had sliced into the back of the rotating supercell and two areas of cloud rotation were spinning up debris cloud in the fields to our south. The real scene was darker than this shot, but shooting right into the setting sun generally yields these kind of results.



The RFD cut is had chopped a big slice out of the supercell defining the main area of rotation where the tornado would son form. During this shot the funnel, although still aloft was churning up a dirt cloud. A 104 degree wide angle lens was used for this image.


The dark base keeps the funnel from showing in this shot but a bulbous lowering maintained the debris cloud on the ground. Meanwhile a large curl develop in the RFD notch. It was unclear at this time which way the forming tornado would move, north into town or northeast over us.



It just seemed to take forever to reach this point where a good debris column extended to ground. I guess it was waiting for every chaser within three states to find a parking place. . The RFD notch had now cut 3/4th's of the way through the supercell. When it reached 100 percent, full circle you can forget the tornado because the updraft gets separated from the storm and dies.

  I spent the next couple of minutes shooting video as the funnel came down. This was a spectacular scene, you had to be there to understand. Perfect lighting, no rain or lightning nearby and the wind although brisk was manageable. This was so much better than the first tornado where we shot from the pouring rain and hail.  


Serious tornado in progress churning up the fields and headed for Attica. From our position it was difficult to tell how much of the town may get hit. The heavy dust cloud obscured much of the ground features. The fact that the sky was not full of bricks and boards pretty much told us the town had been spared.


We originally wanted to park a bit further west but all the field openings were taken from chasers approaching from the east. So we settled for a spot long the road in the grass. One thing that did irk me, a chaser pulled right in front of us and parked....with miles of open road did they want company that bad. Folks, don't block someone else's view when they have tripods set up. I took a lessor filming position on the Anthony tornado to keep from blocking chasers.



Vertical shot of the tornado. It filled much of the sky to the west at this time and was about to cross the road.


Here is my version of the roof coming off the house. I had more zoom left so I could have gotten closer, but I was trying to keep the shot steady. Here are a couple more of the roof leaving the ground.



Large red debris cloud and tornado moving north of the highway with perfect backlighting. This makes up for all the chases I stood out in the pouring rain and lighting to get a bad shot. I thought it would be hard to top this moment, but as it turned out there was much more to come from this storm before and after the daylight was done.


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