Chris Novy's May 27th Chase

I'll make this brief. Saw the Day 2 Convective Outlook Friday afternoon and things looked good for western Missouri. I figured it's a long weekend and I haven't been chasing yet this year so why not. Sent some E-mail to Gilbert Sebenste asking for a suggested target area and he said head to Kansas City. I decided to wait until the 15Z AC on Saturday before leaving. I figured I would still be able to make it out to MKC in plenty of time (it's a six hour drive for me). Had the AC put the risk area any farther west I would probably have called off the chase --simple economics.

I picked up my partner and headed out I-70. Things were really gunged over from the previous night's storms and I was beginning to have my doubts. I learned several years ago, however, to have faith in your forecast so we pushed west. At Columbia, MO I called the NWS in Columbia and actually got a human (instead of a recording). The forecaster said that there were some severe storms in southwest Missouri but nothing west of us. We decided to push west again and stopped about an hour east of Kansas City to call the NWS again --this time we tried the NWS Pleasant Hill, MO. I was told told that SELS had just issued a tornado watch covering eastern Kansas and western Missouri. The forecaster sounded doubtful that anything would fire. Considering the present state of the atmosphere in western Missouri I agreed with him. He suggested we head west into the sunshine over Kansas City and see if the storms in eastern Kansas could get their act together. We decided, being just an hour from Kansas City, to push west and drop in on NSSFC. We arrived in Kansas City later than expected because of a huge traffic jam on I-70 where two lanes merged together for about one mile. Incidentally, this is not the first time that I've been trapped on I-70 due to lane closures. This time traffic came to a dead stop several times. Back home in In Illinois, when lanes are closed people get into a single lane and generally move along at about 55 MPH. My experiences in Missouri they just get stupid and freeze up like a deer in the headlights. OK, maybe it was the Kansas drivers heading home! We finally got into Kansas City. Talk about a ghost town! My partner suggested that the Langoliers could have been filmed there. Aside from a couple of gentlemen enjoying their favorite beverage from a brown paper sack, we were the only sign of life off the interstate. It took a little convincing of the security guard at the Federal Building that we were not driving a Ryder truck and he finally let an NSSFC employee escort us upstairs.

Things were busy at SELS so we tried to stay out of the way. Had a brief chat with Roger Edwards and Steve Weiss. Steve also had doubts as to whether anything would fire but with the dry punch clearing the skies over eastern Kansas there was good instability. He suggested we might head north up to St. Joe and wait on a line that appeared to developing. We said goodbye and hit the road. As we were leaving Kansas City to the north we kept looking at a bunch of storms rapidly building just east and southwest of Kansas City. I contacted an amateur radio net on 146.820 and advised net control that we were chasing and would provide information. The net control operator told me that the frequency we were on was for inter-county coordination only and suggested I try another local frequency. Despite the fact that a tornado watch was in effect, nobody had a net open (at least not initially) so I continued to monitor the 146.820 frequency and weather radio. I made an operational decision to chase the storms east of us because there were a sure bet (as opposed to the stuff northwest of us that was *possibly* developing). The storms to our east also had better interstate chase options.

We headed east on I-70 and the NWS at Pleasant Hill began issuing severe thunderstorm warnings. About 10 minutes later NWS issued a tornado warning. about 15 miles east of us. The cells were morning northeast at about 35 MPH but the line was making little eastward progress. This meant we had a good chance of catching up with the storms. About 10 miles away I was able to see lots of scud clouds dangling beneath the storm but no evidence of a tornado. There was a lot of mindless amateur radaio chatter about scary dark clouds (as usual). We saw a very large hail shaft ahead of us to the north of I-70. This made me feel good. It meant I would be able to approach the storm out of its core and maybe I would not need a new windshield. About five miles away from the storm we pulled off I-70 to watch a wall cloud developing. I got out and set up the camera. I couldn't believe it, the cloud was rotating --but anti-cyclonically. I taped a few minutes and then we pushed north and east. By now, the local amateur radio SKYWARN net was starting to get on the air --though quite disorganized. I checked in and advised them that I had an anti-cyclonically rotating wall cloud and that I would be following it. From the sound of the radio traffic to follow, they didn't believe my report. I didn't get upset, however, because I knew this was normal behavior (they didn't know me) and besides, NWS already had a tornado warning out. We got trapped behind a slow driver on a twisty, hilly road and had no place to pass. An amateur radio operator reported a brief touchdown but we could not see anything because of the hills. Finally we popped over a hill and saw a brief condensation cloud (it wasn't even smooth like a funnel) from the ground to the wall cloud. I still was not convinced that I was looking at a tornado. From my vantage point it could have been vertically stacked scud for all I could tell. Now south of the wall cloud I noticed a pronounced clear slot forming wrapping around. I knew this storm meant business. I shot some more video and then headed east. Road options and daylight dictated that we stay to the west of the wall cloud. We got into a good position west-northwest of what rapidly became a well-defined funnel cloud about 2 miles away. I again set up video. Nervous (mainly from the driving) I accidentally hit the record button twice in rapid succession. I had the tornado perfectly in the viewfinder, nicely lit, good shot composition. Nice slow zoom up on the debris cloud rising. Beautiful orange cast in the cloud base. Just one problem --I wasn't recording!! Aaaaggggguuhhh! It's a bad habit of mine (not checking the record light). A habit that this missed tornado event will hopefully break me of. Within two minutes the tornado was gone. We continued to follow the wall cloud but it never produced again. :(


My biggest lesson learned is a TV phrase called Roll, Record, and Confirm! It's the CONFIRM part that I didn't do. I feel like such an ass. At least I got to see a tornado this year.

The NWS at Pleasant Hill/Kansas City, MO did an absolutely superb job with the weather radio coverage of the event. At times the weather radio almost sounded like a radio talk show as the forecaster casually described all the storms and their movements. Very informative, frequent updates (about every 10 minutes). It was the Doppler-based tornado warning that got me on that cell in the first place.

The amateur radio portion was rather disappointing but this could have been because it was a holiday. It's hard to say.

Charley Kline, you missed your chance dude!

Thanks Gilbert!


05/27/95 5 SW ODESSA





Chris Hayes Novy - WA9V Internet:
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