There had been much hype and talk for a week prior to the events that unfolded on April 12, 2012. The Storm Prediction Center issued a Day 3 Moderate Risk for southern Nebraska, All of central Kansas and part of northern and central Oklahoma. We decided to go with an on-call chase as the ingredients were coming together for an outbreak of severe weather in the Plains.
On April 10, 2012, The Storm Prediction Center issued a Day 2 High Risk. There were two target areas. The first target area was in northern Kansas and south central Nebraska, where a surface low was tracking out of Colorado towards the northeast. The winds aloft were condusive to severe weather development as the Jet Stream was maximized in this area as it rounded the base of the trough. The second target area was along the dryline in western and central Oklahoma and Kansas, which, during the spring storm season, is always a player for anyone to witness severe weather if conditions are right and certain parameters exist.
Prior to departing on early Saturday morning, I wanted to take one last look at the 0700 UTC Day 1 Outlook for 4/12/2012. This outlook would decide on which target area to choose and what time we would leave to get into position. The outlook showed the same parameters and areas, with both areas showing a 60% hatched area for severe weather. We decided to head towards southern Nebraska and play the surface low which was in a highly sheared environment.
We departed at 2:00 am with our guests and proceeded to our target city of Beatrice, Nebraska. As we headed north out of Kansas City towards St. Joseph, Missouri, we noticed the lower cloud deck and there was not much of a temperature/dewpoint spread. Overnight convection (storms) stablized the area and created an inversion in the lower atmosphere locking in the cloud cover and fog. Of course, it was ealy in the morning, (9:00 am) and there was plenty of time for the low cloud deck and fog to burn off and destabilize the atmosphere just ahead of the surface low track.
We arrived in Beatrice around 11:00 am and decided to wait and see what transpired. Radar was showing storms already beggining to fire in Oklahoma along the dryline and there were storms beginning to form to our southwest and west ahead or the low. We loaded up and began to proceed towards Hebron, Nebraska. A few of the cells to our southwest were becoming thunderstrom warned rather rapidly, so our excitement began to build for our first Plains chase of the 2012 season. Little did we know how big of a day we were going to have. Outside of Hebron, we observed on radar that a few of the storms we becoming tornadic and that but the storms were taking on an High Precipitation charateristic and reports from other chasers that the tornadoes that were becoming rain wrapped. The storms were beginning to congeal in to large High Precipitaion system and we not so much discreet as it moved northeast towards Omaha.
We stopped in Belleville, Kanasa and met up with fellow storm chasers Tom Stolze and Jon Kriegh from St. Louis and took a look at the latest radar trends and observations. Currently, the storms over northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas were remaining discreet and the Storm Predicition Center dropped the 60% hatch area in Nebraska as it was looking like the storms would feed into a better environment after dark as the Low Level jet kicked in across the area adding to the wind shear already in place. We decided to play the storm that was closest to us, but we were essentially 2 hours away to the north of it. There was a storm coming out of Oklahoma that has been tornado warned most of the day and was heading towards Mc Phearson, Kansas. The cells were moving at a pace that would get us there and in place about 45 minute before the storm would move through. We decided to head towards Salina, Kansas and wait it out.
We drove south of Salina, Kansas and waited at the junction of I-135 and US 81. The storm became tornado warned and reports were coming in of a large tornado on the ground near Geneseo, Kansas moving northeast. We were in perfect position to intercept. 20 minutes later, in the distance, we saw the tornado. It had still kept its wedge shape and was moving a bit more north of our position.
We decided to drive north to intercept. we returned onto I-135 and proceeded north and then east on Falun Road. We drove about 3 miles and came to a clearing at a 4 way intersection. We had a spectacular view of the meso and wall cloud to our immediate west and northwest. There we saw the wall clud produce several spin ups along it. This particular supercell kept cycling. The meso would occlude (choke off) and a new meso would form in its place.
The storm continued on its northeast path towards the city of Salina, Kansas. The wall cloud and meso were visible at all times eventually crossing I-135 to our north. Thankfully, the storm did not cycle while over Salina as it moved towards the east. We were clearly behind the storm and proceeded east on I-70. The wall cloud was to our southeast and was moving towards the northeast. A tornado formed again, lifted and then came down again as it crossed I-70 about a mile or so in front of us. The Kansas State Police stopped traffic as it crossed the interstate.
Once the tornado crossed the interstate, it lifted but the wall cloud remained and was visible rotating as we came up along side of it. The wall cloud was to our immediate north and we were approximately 1/2 mile from the circulation as we traveled east.
We followed the meso and wall cloud as it moved along to our north and east. The storm began to cycle again as we stopped to watch in Solomon, Kansas which was about 10-15 miles east of Salina, Kansas. As we pulled of the interstate, the funnel cloud appeared and fully condensed to the ground. It took the appearance os a large cone as it proceeded to churn up land out in the country to the north of Solomon. Eventually, the tornado grew into a large stovepipe shape and it gained intensity.
we proceeded north out of Solomon to catch up to the meso and tornado as it once again changed shape and became a large cone. We watched in amazement as the tornado lifted into a funnel cloud and then cycled again, coming down as a small cone. We could clearly see the RFD (rear flank downdraft) slot behind the meso and wall cloud and knew the tornado would be short lived. The RFD overtook the meso and the tornado begain to occlude. Before total occlusion, the tornado took the shape of an elephant trunk and a rope as the upper winds determined its fate.
The tornado roped out and dissapated as the meso and wall cloud began to lift. Our chase was done. We proceeded to Junction City, Kansas and met up with the rest of our chaser friends from St. Louis and celebrated a successful day of chasing and prepared for the long drive back home.