djburnette.com
Storm Chase: 17 May 2000

Chasers: Dorian J. Burnette, Archie Losey, Cory Phelps, Lloyd Thorndyke, and Brian Wilhite

Preliminary Destination: Salina, KS

This was a very interesting no show! Everything was there, but there are a couple of excuses for a no show in Kansas. Maybe the explanation is in regards to what Brian Wilhite mentioned…”a watched pot never boils.”

We departed Wichita State around 2:15 p.m. CDT bound for Salina. I decided not to change the destination despite morning rain in Wichita and Oklahoma, as things appeared to be coming together better to the north. As we exited the city of Wichita, we noticed clearing skies moving in from the west. Upon arriving on the north side of McPherson, I made a phone call to WeatherData, and Mike Smith tells me that the dryline is on the move and there are already some cumulus towering along it. So we all basically come to a conclusion that we need to hurry up and eat. We made a pit stop at a Braum’s in Salina. There we heard of a tornado watch for all of central Kansas. We also received information from Mark Bogner at KSN mentioning that lifted indices were now near –12 across northcentral Kansas. After eating we broke out the laptop to see how things were looking. The visible satellite image showed a healthy line of towering of cumulus clouds along the dryline on a line from near Hill City down to east of Dodge City. A surface plot showed that winds ahead of the dryline were out of the south-southeast, especially in northcentral Kansas. A strong dry punch was also noted behind the dryline with surface winds out of the southwest at 40 to 50 knots or more. Winds were also quite strong ahead of the dryline (thanks to a massive low continuing to deepen across northwestern Kansas) with some gusts of up to 40 knots. That set off a little bell in the back of my head (we will come back to that). 

We moved west on I-70 out of Salina toward the growing towers. As we approached the exit to the town of Dorrance, we spotted decent towers off to our northwest and to our southwest. A call to WeatherData and we find out that so far the towers are having a little bit of trouble. We saw a decent-sized tower a short distance to our southwest, so we pulled off at Bunker Hill to get some junk food and see if the tower would maintain itself. A few minutes later, it was already quite a bit larger and also moving right on top of us. We needed to stay ahead of it, so we moved back to the east on I-70 toward Dorrance. Upon arriving at Dorrance, we were in a good position to park and see if the thing would fully develop. After awhile, it was quite apparent that the tower was having lots of trouble, and eventually it began to flatten out. I made a phone call to WeatherData and found out that a storm tried to develop near Hutchinson, but also fizzled. Surface winds were still extremely strong ahead of the dryline, and it was definitely hard to take a look at the map from outside the car. Most of the towers that we saw going up, quickly fell apart.

Finally, we spotted another healthy tower developing to our southeast. We moved down on a road from Dorrance toward Ellsworth. Passing through the town of Wilson, Brian Wilhite noticed an interesting cloud formation on the still growing tower. We pulled off onto a dirt road and saw mammatus clouds growing underneath the storm anvil. Could we have a storm? Well it did begin to sprinkle where we were at, and the storm was definitely taking on a multicellular look to it, but we had seen no lightning so far. A call to WeatherData confirms what we were seeing, Jeff House mentioned that there were some small echoes on the radar. We continued toward Ellsworth and then pulled back northeast toward I-70 running parallel to the storm. The mammatus clouds continued to grow in size, and more rain was noted, but no cloud-to-ground lightning yet. Upon reaching I-70 we ran out of paved road so we started meandering along dirt roads and eventually come across K-18. By this time, the storm had moved a bit to our east, so we had to play a little bit of catch up. We passed under the storm (looking around before we did so, of course) and moved back ahead of it as we approached U.S. 81. It was still showing multicellular characteristics, but clearly it too was having trouble with the mammatus clouds now dissipating. We stopped in the town of Bennington and I made another call to WeatherData. Jeff mentioned that the storm was definitely raining hard, but showed no cloud-to-ground lightning. The sun was now preparing to set, so we were running out of daylight, and the dryline was beginning to retreat to the west. We followed the storm to the east for a few miles, but with it still showing no signs of good development, we decided to bag it and head back towards home.

The question is what happened in Kansas. In Nebraska there were tornadoes reported, but south of the warm front in Kansas and Oklahoma not a single thing developed. This is one of the storm chases (the other being 6 April 2001) where I began to notice a "too dynamic problem/sweet spot issue." It was too windy in Kansas this day. Strong synoptic-scale surface winds cause more mixing of the surface moisture instead of allowing it to pool well.