2012-04-27: Brief tornado near Council Grove, KS

SPC 1630 UTC Day 1 Convective Outlook on 27 April 2012. Copyright NOAA.

SPC 1630 UTC Day 1 Convective Outlook on 27 April 2012. Copyright NOAA.

Parental visits in springtime are always fraught with uncertainty. We can pack our agenda for the weekend with varied activities, only to have everything unravel the minute the atmosphere starts acting up. I had poo-poohed the chase setup for Friday, April 27th, thinking that it wouldn’t be worth driving to Kansas. However, I awoke to find the forums abuzz with excitement about the shortwave trough ejecting earlier than forecast, prompting a moderate risk on the Day 1 convective outlook from SPC. Anticipating an early afternoon chase setup, my husband and I scooped my parents up from the airport, and blasted north on I-35 into south-central Kansas, where we were greeted by clearing skies and a few turkey towers along the dryline. (Mom and Dad had flown more than 800 miles south from Minnesota to see us, only to backtrack immediately almost 1/3 of the way home.)

2012-04-27: Funnel cloud near Council Grove, KS

Brief funnel cloud near Council Grove, KS. Note the clear slot illuminating the funnel.

Near Emporia, KS, we met up with Jeff S., chasing solo. The atmosphere produced mediocre convection for hours. As a surface low approached from the west, increasing the low-level shear, it also squeezed the warm sector between the cold and warm fronts. We were forced to follow the warm air up into the Flint Hills area. This region has good visibility, provided that you’re on top of one of the hills. By the time we targeted a storm near Council Grove, KS, the warm sector (and the storm’s access to the warm, moist air within) was only a few tens of miles wide, if that. Cold rain and gusts of wind pelted us as we parked on a hilltop gravel road off U.S. Hwy. 56 near Bushong, KS, watching two cloud bases to our west-northwest. Suddenly, Jeff S. shouted to our group as a small white funnel abruptly materialized within an RFD slot to our northwest. I barely had time to re-center my video before it eroded away.

2012-04-27: Tornado near Council Grove, KS

Brief tornado near Council Grove, KS. One or two suction vortices revolved around the base.

Minutes later, another funnel descended from the far bank of clouds, tickling the ground with a few suction vorticies. From my vantage point, this brief tornado dropped right behind a tree. My video consists mainly of my scrambling a few feet to the right and re-leveling my shot, by which time the tornado had already vanished. Because of the brevity of these two funnels and the shakiness of my video, I decided not to post either shot on YouTube. Screen shots it shall be.

The cold rain and pea-sized hail began to fall in earnest, driving us back into our cars. We may have glimpsed another funnel on the horizon, but lost it in the rain after a few seconds. To our north was a road hole, forcing us to head east on U.S. Hwy. 56. The remainder of our chase consisted of an attempt to catch another storm to the east of our original target. Unfortunately, it was ingesting stable air, the warm sector long since squeezed out of existence, and we decided to abandon the chase near Osage City, KS. We had dinner at Emporia, then began the long haul back to Norman.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten little more choosy about which days I chase. (I chalk part of this change up to accumulated experience, and part to having a full-time job and family to support now that I’m done with school.) However, when I have guests along, I’m more likely to bite on riskier setups with more potential failure modes. Even though it required a 5-hour drive each way, seeing one tornado is definitely better than seeing none!

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