6/11-12/97 chases by Randal Horobik

From: rhorobik@idir.net (RWH):

Subject: 6/11 and 6/12 KS Chase Report

        Before I start, a brief disclaimer/apology for many of the times in
here being approximations. Seems the sheet of paper I was writing my chase
notes on was victim of a 60 mph wind gust and was last seen flying
southeastward just north of Leoti, Kansas. Anyone downwind finding it can
just keep it :) Times, where given are based on a combination of my best
recollection and time estimates based on warnings issued by the National
Weather Service (which, fortunately, lists when it issues warnings and keeps
this list away from wind gusts).

       With the SPC putting a moderate probability zone for severe storms to
the south and east of me, I figured Wednesday, June 11, would probably be
fun. Took off from Colby on I-70 at around 3:45 p.m. Central as clouds began
popping like popcorn. We literally went from clear blue nothing to promising
looking development everywhere in the space of 30 minutes. A scan of
Goodland NWS NEXRAD showed the most promising area at the time to be just
west of Weskan, still in Eastern Colorado. It was a small cell, but I
figured at the rate everything else was growing around me, it would be
nicely developed by the time I got down there.
        Went west on I-70 out of Colby, caught County Road 407 south from
Levant to Winona, U.S. 40 West to County 391 to catch K-25 west of Russell
Springs. Began salivating as the NWS reported a confirmed tornado from my
storm in Greeley County (for the record, it was on the ground for about 5
minutes, no damage that I'm aware of)...also kicked myself as a Severe
Thunderstorm Warning was issued for -- you've gotta be kidding me -- Colby
*sigh*. After a quick internal debate that lasted all of five seconds, I
decided to keep going after the known tornado producer since I was ETA 25
minutes from both. Time was about 4:30 p.m.
        EXCEPT...in the ten days since I last travelled K-25 between Russell
Springs and Leoti, they have begun a huge re-surfacing project with delays
of 10-15 minutes on a lengthy one-lane restricted section. As I grumbled and
sifted through my county maps for an alternative route (and not finding one
that I liked) I *finally* got moving again (delay time 10 minutes) and got
the first good view of my storm as it tracked just west of Leoti around 5:10
p.m. It was a *very* small cell, but had all the right ingredients...low to
the ground...wall cloud...still appeared to be developing...storm rotation.
decided to drop south on K-25 and stay in front of the storm in case it took
an abrupt turn to the south. The storm was a beautiful watch as it meandered
slowly southeast at 10 mph or so...there wasn't much precip falling from it,
so observation was very easy. By 5:50 or so, the storm had forced me down
K-25 to around 1 mile east of the town (?) of Lydia. Just before 6 p.m.,
Goodland sent out another Severe Thunderstorm Warning on the cell. Within 90
seconds of the decree, the view under the storm went from reasonably clear
of precip to dark black with downpours...some farms west of Lydia were
getting drenched. As the rain and some small hail began to arrive at my
position, I turned south on K-25 and eventually on the county line county
road (sorry, no number that I'm aware of) east towards Friend. Got through
the gravel stretch and back to the blacktop and met someone from the Scott
City storm spotters group and together we watched in wonder as the storm
dumped rain to our west along K-25, then vanished in the space of 15-20
minutes. By 6:45 p.m. as I arrived at Friend and the junction of US 83,
there was no trace a storm had existed to my west.
        Looked around and saw an excellent mushroom-shaped thunderhead with
a big puffy cauliflower top to the east-northeast...I'm guessing in the
Dighton/Ness City area. Consulted the maps and decided that by the time I
caught up, daylight would be limited and the likelihood for anything but
hail scarce, and beat a judicious retreat north on US 83 and back to Colby
on I-70. I would love to hear from anyone who might have been chasing in the
Ness City area around 7 p.m. or thereafter, just to hear what I missed.

        Wednesday, however, proved to be just a tune-up for Thursday, as a
HUGE storm fired up in eastern Colorado, tracking due east along I-70. I got
a late jump out of Colby, arriving in Goodland just in time to hear the NWS
issue a tornado warning for SW of Burlington, Colorado at 5:03 p.m. By that
point, the view to my west was already *very* dark and I knew the center of
the storm lay a good 35-40 miles to my west yet, obviously encased in some
heavy rains. I began eyeing a small "shelf" cloud sticking out east from the
storm...it wasn't much to speak of at the time, but I knew if the storm took
the characteristic bend to the south that many severe numbers do in this
area, it could quickly become something worth watching. 
        I debated getting off I-70 at the K-27 exit on the west edge of
Goodland and decided to stay on the interstate to get closer to the center
of the main storm. I quickly reversed this decision and bailed off at the
Caruso exit upon hearing reports of 2+ inches of rain falling in less than
30 minutes time around the Burlington area...there are some things even
Rain-ex can't help. Got six miles south of Caruso on the gravel county road
(again, no number that I'm aware of) and encountered some rain...then lots
of rain...then 1/2 to 3/4 inch hail (mercifully of the soft *plunk* variety
instead of the harder THWACK breed which seemed my bane last summer). Beat a
hasty retreat east back to the K-27 blacktop on the first available road
that offered itself. Took a moment to catch my breath and observe the clouds
once back to the safety of the blacktop...smiling, I noted the storm was
indeed taking a southeasterly turn, and my earlier "shelf" was now taking on
a nice wall effect. Behind the wall to the west, I could see an eerie
blue-green color that I knew meant some major hail was lurking somewhere. 
        Bounced south down K-27, pausing for a couple minutes every three or
four miles to observe. The view got more promising every stop and I was
keeping an eye on two locations, one about three miles west of K-27, and
another that was pretty close to over the highway, about two miles to my
north. Halfway between Goodland and Sharon Springs, I met up with the
Buchannan's (sorry if I misspelled that), stormchasers from Hale who had
contacted me through the Storm Chaser Homepage earlier in the spring, but
with whom I had never met in real life. Just as the introductions concluded,
Goodland NWS dropped a tornado warning on southern Sherman County due to a
radar-indicated developing tornado 14 miles north of Sharon Springs. My mind
did the math...30 miles from Goodland to Sharon...14 north of Sharon would
put it 16 south of Goodland. I stuck my head in the car window to look at my
tripometer, which I reset at every town for reference...it showed 16 with
the tenth's of a mile just turning from 0 to 1. Talk about something to get
your blood flowing a tad faster!!
        We quickly scanned the sky and decided that nothing was forming
overhead and that the Goodland radar had likely alerted to the section of
the storm two miles to our north...which was low to the ground, but had no
apparent rotation to it. The time was probably around 6:10 p.m. The storm
flattened out briefly on a more easterly course again and we decided to get
south to Sharon Springs and head east on US 40. We got into Sharon Springs
just as the gust front from the south edge of the storm arrived, bringing a
good herd of migratory tumbleweeds and dust with it.
        We paused on a hilltop just west of Wallace to watch again... and it
was a sight. Wayne and I agreed that this was a storm that wanted to do
something...we just weren't sure if it would get up the guts to do it. A
local area spotter pulled up and started a conversation...which abruptly
ended as the storm again turned southeasterly and gave indications that it
would cross US 40...we took off east again and stopped on a hilltop two
miles west of Wallace as another tornado warning was issued for a radar
indicated developer 3 miles to our northwest at around 630-640 p.m. We took
video and I zoomed in on the storm with a 120 mm lens. Again, we didn't see
anything dropping or rotating, but the awe of the storm made up for the lack
of a twister (well...almost).
        After a few minutes, we jumped back in our respective vehicles, and
I led the troop over to County 391, passing a couple other obvious chasers
and a state patrol spotter. We were hoping to get south before the storm
crossed K-27. I had commented during the last stop to Wayne that there was
road construction which had delayed me the day before, but we both agreed
that there was NO WAY they'd still be down there with this weather
approaching and that late an hour.
        WRONG!! We got to K-27 just before 7 p.m. The storm had sped up
some, so I knew we'd be cutting it pretty close to get past it before it
crossed the highway. Any speculation about whether we'd make it was abruptly
quashed, however, by a Kansas Department of Transportation flagman stopping
traffic???? Talk about on the job dedication...as I opened my door and threw
up my hands in disbelief (this HAD to be an illusion, right??) my chase
notes went flying away to the southwest on the wings of a 50-55 mph
gust...shortly thereafter (707 p.m.), the rain and hail hit. The hail
mercifully limited itself to near marble size...some stones possibly
reaching 1/2 inch diameter and some wind gusts probably neared 60 mph --
wasn't this the core I had been trying to avoid all night?? Through it all,
the KDOT worker held up his/her stopsign valiantly. At 719 p.m. we FINALLY
got moving southward again...both the Buchannan's and I were *quite* happy
that there was no actual tornado in the storm.
        The ride to Leoti was slow and wet...by the time we got out from the
torrents of rain, we could see the storm had lost any indication of the wall
cloud we'd watched for over an hour and we decided to break off the chase
and retreat to our respective hometowns (my return trip was trickier as the
storm was over the route I'd normally take to get home). I waited in Leoti
and grabbed a bite to eat, then went back north (sans construction delays
this time). Wallace had received 1-3/4 inch hail I was told and a report
phoned into the NWS the next morning told of 2.6 inches of rain falling in
45 minutes as a result of the storm. 
        A very exciting and impressive two-day series of chases. No
twisters, but lots of promising storms, rain, hail...and one VERY determined
KDOT worker!!

Respectfully submitted,

Randal W. Horobik

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