Storm Chase: 6 April 2001

Chasers: Dorian J. Burnette, Joseph Crane, and Archie Losey

Preliminary Destination: Dodge City, KS

This was quite a frustrating chase day. For about a week, this day had been showing lots of severe storm making potential. The end result was a punky line of showers and storms with lots of high wind behind them. Can you say...downward transport!? Here's what we saw in the field:

The original destination was Dodge City, but upon pulling out of Wichita at 2 p.m. CST, we heard from KSN of a storm rapidly developing southeast of Hutchinson. Since that was on the way to the ultimate destination, there was no harm in taking a look. By the time we got out on the road heading west on K-96, I made a telephone call to WeatherData to get their assessment of the storm, since I had not looked at the radar yet. I talked to Mike Smith and he mentioned that the storm trying to go southeast of Hutchinson was weakening. Thus, we resumed our focus to Dodge City. On the way, we ran into shower after shower after shower. The drizzly junk just would not let up for any sunshine. It stayed cloudy on us most of the way with a few peaks of sunshine here and there. This seriously concerned me about a busted chase in the making. Yes, your drizzly junk will lay down outflow boundaries all over the place, but you have absolutely got to have some sunshine for the instability to take off. Upon our arrival in Dodge City, slightly after 5 p.m. CST, we were still experiencing intermittent rain. Although, we did hear that Liberal was observing some sunshine. We also heard of tornadic storms to our west...crossing the Colorado/Kansas line. I called WeatherData and Wes Etheredge mentioned that the storms have gone to a squall line already with MARC slots noted. The line was moving rapidly eastward. We first figured on sitting in the outskirts of Dodge City and waiting for the line to come to us, but I just did not have a good feeling about instability the farther to the east. Combine that with the fact that it would soon start to get dark, and we decided to head west to meet the line of storms.

We decided to stop just outside the town of Cimarron, KS. This way we would be far enough ahead of the line that we could track them for at least a little while. Ahead of the line of storms, the cloud motions were absolutely incredible. As the storms approached us from the west and southwest, I made another call to WeatherData. Mike Smith mentioned that there was a storm to our south-southwest that looked like a comma-head with a potential tornado. After staying in one position east of Cimarron for awhile, we began to see some cloud-to-ground lightning here and there, as the line approached us. However, the lightning was definitely not very drastic, which was odd. This was supposed to be a line of severe thunderstorms, but the amount of cloud-to-ground lightning sure did not give any indication of that. Nonetheless, we decided to continue eastward back toward Dodge City staying out ahead of the line for as long as we could, since any tornado formation would be on or near the leading edge (and no I am not talking about gustnadoes). We stopped for a brief time just east of Dodge City to see if we could see any decent cloud formations. Eventually the line of storms (if you want to call them storms) was on top of us. We tried to stay out of ahead of them for as long as possible by going north, then east, then north, then east on enough roads. It proved quite difficult, as the storms were moving at some 50 mph by this time, and we would occasionally get blasted with some gusty winds and hail, however. We eventually ended up heading directly east and managed to stay just barely ahead of the line all the way to just east of Kinsley. At which time, I noticed how weak the line was becoming (hardly any cloud-to-ground lightning), but some good wind-driven rain, so I just allowed the storms to pass over us, as we went down the highway. By the way, we were doing 65 mph (the normal speed limit) on the highway, and the storms passed over us!

This was indeed a weird day. The entire day everyone was talking up damaging tornado outbreak, but the system was "too dynamic" for that. Please note...there were only a couple of storms that produced tornadoes this day, and they did not do so for very long. Jon Davies came up with several ideas about this day that I could not agree more with:

- the strong wind fields and dynamic forcing appeared to overwhelm everything else, forcing a linear squall line that blasted east even though the environment over western KS looked very favorable for supercells and tornadoes.
- comparing Friday to the upper air charts from Hesston, Andover, and May 3rd '99, the 700mb temps were all warmer across Kansas, implying a stronger cap.
- the same comparison suggests those 3 outbreak days had much broader _cyclonic_ flow aloft associated with the upper trough to our west. The upper flow on Friday was actually _anticyclonic_ to our west and south in the morning in advance of the energy wave, with a much sharper/narrower (as opposed to broad) wave of energy than on the aforementioned outbreak days
- The tornado outbreak days had storms that formed well east of the dryline, instead of right on the dryline, partly courtesy of the weaker cap. Note on Friday the storm that tried to form in Reno county early pm snuffed right out, and most other storms were confined directly to the dryline when the massive forcing came out aloft.
- The environment wind fields were not as strong on average on the tornado outbreak days, giving storm movements of around 30 to 35 to maybe 40 mph. Friday's wind fields suggested storm movement at 50+mph, and we saw 50-80mph (!) observed movements. This implies again that the dynamics and mode of forcing was overwhelming environment considerations.
- The 3 outbreak days had upper systems that did not blast out to the east so rapidly, without all the massive outflow, etc., at the surface. On the outbreak days, the dryline moved little for several hours, while the upper system deliberately moved out across the dryline, leaving the dryline largely in place for awhile. Remember that the progs were all blasting the dryline/wind shift east quite fast right along with the upper wave.

The only other thing that I would add to this was that there just was too much drizzly junk across much of Kansas that kept the instability down. Actually, according to WeatherData, the stability indices became more stable through the afternoon.