4/29/97 KS chase by Randal Horobik

From: rhorobik@idir.net (Randal W. Horobik):

        My visions of April completely ignoring northwest Kansas with
thunderstorms were mercifully squelched on Tuesday, April 29. Weather models
that morning showed a low pressure system railroading its way onto the
plains with the National Weather Service mumbling sweet predictions of hail
and possible tornadic activity. A noon-time check showed that the system had
slowed slightly and was looking to track slightly northward of where the
morning predictions had placed it, but we definately had a green light for
some action.
        The first thunderheads went up WNW of Colby between 1400 and 1415
CDT. In the 45 minutes it took me to shake free from work, check radar,
stuff my partner in the car and drive east of town, the storm was already
pushing somewhere between 30,000 and 35,000 feet and intensifying rapidly.
We paused for a few minutes on a rise east of Colby along US 24 to get a
firsthand feel of how the storm was building and drifting. I made an idle
comment to my partner that as quickly as the storm was intensifying, there
would have to be some sort of a watch issued in the near future. Three
minutes later, the NWS out of Goodland issued a Tornado Watch for the
northern tier of counties in Kansas.
        The storm we were closest to was moving northeast, so we decided to
stay on US 24, and then cut northeast on US 83 east of Colby, figuring we
would intersect the path of the storm somewhere north of Selden or south of
Oberlin. Observation of the base of the storm was severely limited by a well
(and quickly!)-developed rain core, but no rotation could be seen as it
formed over northern Thomas and southern Rawlins County. As is to be
expected with such a fast-building storm though, a healthy inflow could be
observed and felt. Approximately ten minutes after we started driving again,
a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for our cloud and an accompanying
cell farther to the northeast near the Nebraska-Kansas border. 
        As US 83 turns more northerly just east of Selden, we began to
notice some good cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. The storm turned on a
more northerly course as we drove the 22 miles between Selden and Oberlin
and we didn't actually encounter any rain until we pulled into Oberlin at
the intersection of US 83 and US 36. After a very quick debate on which
route to take, we decided to observe the storm from the crest of a hill 1.5
miles north of Oberlin on US 83. The vantage point gave us a good panorama
to the west and we could observe the two strongest points of the storm (one
just south of US 36 and the other some 3 or 4 miles north of that highway,
west northwest of us). We were treated to numerous cloud-to-ground lightning
strikes as the storm approached. Although it had topped out at almost 45,000
feet according to the radar, the storm itself was appearing to diminish in
intensity as it moved closer to us.
        We decided the line was possibly burning itself out, that we would
wait for it to pass overhead, see if it re-strengthened, and, if not, drive
west to pick up some cells that were starting to fire up in Eastern
Colorado. As the storm moved through, the lightning continued and we were
deluged by some torrential rains that limited visibility to 1/4-1/2 mile for
six or seven minutes. In all, the heavy rains went on for about 15 minutes
or so, with a few drops here and there continuing to fall beyond that
window. We estimated some of the wind gusts with the storm at around 55
miles per hour (seven-tenths of a miles south of us at the airport they were
measured at 52 MPH...not bad for the first guesstimate of the year).
Dime-sized hail had been reported with the storm near Herndon -- 10 miles
west of our position -- but none was observed as it passed over US 83.
        We opted to let the storm proceed without us as Decatur County
doesn't have a "good" southwest to northeast county road and we felt fairly
confident that the southern portion of the line was starting to fizzle and
wouldn't produce more than rain for the remainder of the night. That was
where our good luck for the day ended as the Colorado storms proved to be a
total bust, with all the "promising" radar signatures fizzling before they
ever reached the Colorado-Kansas border (not that the future of our storm
was any better...it re-fired briefly in south-central Nebraska and then
disappeared, but never went severe after leaving western Decatur County). We
got back to Colby at 2000 or so...not a great chase, but a good one to get
the ol' blood flowing for another spring.

Respectfully submitted,

--Randal W. Horobik

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