March 7, 2009 Storm Chase – Southern Kansas

March 7, 2009

Storm Chase

Southcentral Kansas

Editor: Putnam E. Reiter

Forecast/Setup –

Risk Area: Slight Risk
Initial Target Area: Ponca City, Oklahoma



Last weekend an Arctic front moved through the region and the Gulf, taking 50F dewpoints almost to Cuba. The models had been somewhat consistent on the setup for today as a southern stream shortwave trof was progged to move east into the region. However, a big unknown was the ability of the Gulf to recover. Models seemed pretty insistent on 50-55F dewpoints moving into Oklahoma and possibly points north. At the very least, strong wind fields at the surface and aloft would create very favorable shear. A big problem was the subtropical jet and associated cirrus. This was progged to be over the threat area, reducing surface heating.

The ultimate setup had the southern stream shortwave trof moving towards the region Saturday afternoon. Limited moisture did return with 55F dewpoints in northern Oklahoma and 50F into northern Kansas. The surface low as in western Kansas with a dryline southward just inside the western border of Oklahoma. This location was well west of the GFS progs and something the NAM consistently showed. The cirrus did develop and it did reduce surface heating, however we still reached the low 70s across much of the region with CAPE values around 750J/Kg. The models initialized a little higher but I’m in the ballpark.

Storms developed around mid-afternoon in west-central Kansas southwestward to northwest Oklahoma. There was some linear look to them, but overall they remained discrete. A storm did develop just west of Wichita, KS, that got a tornado warning. Storms in Oklahoma moved northeast into Kansas with no further development. In Kansas the storms moved northeast through the early evening hours.

The Chase –

Team 1 – Brett LaBare, John Holsenbeck and Putnam Reiter
Miles Driven – 430 – Gas spent $41.00
Departure Time – 14:15 CST
Return Time – 23:50 CST
Track Path

We left the Severe Weather Conf in Norman, heading north on I-35. Storms had developed in Kansas with SPC issuing a severe thunderstorm watch. We decided to head up to Highway 11 and evaluate our options. Getting up there around 4pm, we got gas and talk about the ongoing activity. A supercell was located near Wichita and we thought about going after it. After some thought, the best idea was to head west towards the activity in northwest Oklahoma, southweset Kansas.

We took Highway 11 west and eventually hit Highway 281. At first we thought about going south to Alva and then to the southern most storm. However, the northern storm of the three rapidly intensified, so we went towards it. Taking Highway 281 north to Hardtner, we went west on Hackberry about 2 miles. Then, we turned north on Gypsy Hill Road and found a spot to park. The dust in the air made storm scale viewing tough, but we did have features for about 10 minutes before we got to our observation point. When we got out we noted very strong southerly flow, probably 20-30mph. Additionally, a rain free base was present and a briefly organized wall cloud. The RFD cutoff the updraft region, which attempted to reform just to our northwest. At this point the storm appeared to become elevated and accelerated to the northeast. The middle storm was not of interest and that left tail-end Charlie, which happened to be by itself.

We drove south to Hackberry and south just east of Gypsy Hill Road for a little bit, watching the final storm approach. Trying to get better cell coverage and closer to the storm, we moved a few miles west and sat on a hill. From here we watched the rain free base approach with periodic lightning. The storm passed us by and we thought it had become elevated again, but it was not outflow dominated. So, not really sure what we thought had happened. However, we decided to stay with the storm as it moved northeast near Medicine Lodge. We went back north on Gypsy Hill Road and took it to Highway 160. We eventually got RADAR data back and noted the storm had re-organized, although not what we’d call a supercell at the time.

We went east of Highway 160 towards Medicine Lodge, cruising on through the town. The thinking was we could at least follow the storm as we headed back to I-35. There was almost a full moon, so despite sunset, visibility was really good. We had a good view of the backside of the storm and periodic lightning flashes gave us a few of the rain free base. As we approach Attica, I commented that the base had risen a little. A few minutes later, just east of Attica, Jay screams funnel. After a rather abrupt stop, we all jumped out of the vehicle. Several lightning flashes revealed a tornado, although it was brief. Since the tornado was in open country, there were no power flashes. And, we didn’t get video up quickly as we spent a few minute attempting to contact the NWS, which we actually succeeded in doing (relaying information is always paramount). We started back up at 19:30 CST, although I think the tornado was probably around 19:27 CST.

We followed the storm on east and went northeast on Highway 2 past Harper. We got a few miles northeast and the storm appeared to have weakened. Watching the storm a little longer, the rain free base reorganized and lowered. So, we continued north to Highway 42 near Norwich, where we sat and watched the storm some more. The moon light was very impressive here and gave us a nice view of the updraft base. After watching the storm a few minutes we noted it was beginning to race northeast and there was quite a chill. Our thinking was the storm had become outflow dominated and most likely elevated. As we headed back home on Argonia Road through Milton the temperature was 59F and rose to 66F by the time we reach Highway 160. This seemed to reinforce our thinking the storm was done.

We stopped at Penny’s Diner in Wellington, Kansas, a nice/quaint place to eat. Getting done stuffing our faces, we headed back east on Highway 160 to the Kansas Turnpike (I-35) and went south. I dropped Brett off at the Walmart and headed on home.

This chase was awesome for a variety of reason. First, I’ve had an aversion with going into Kansas. This appears to have been solved and I’m happy about it. Second, Brett hasn’t seen a tornado and while it was at night and brief, he’s seen one now. Third, I got to chase with Jay for the first time and that’s after 18 years of knowing him. Fourth, the Enterprise I had its first chasing voyage and came back with no hail dents!

Lessons Learned –

– Nothing that comes to mind, it was a good chase.

Multimedia –


Encounters –

Engaged Storm: West of Hardtner, KS
Tornado: No
Funnel: No
Hail (larger than 0.75 inches): No
Wall Cloud: No
Wind (above 57.4 mph): No

Engaged Storm: West of Hardtner, KS
Tornado: Yes – brief near Attica, KS – 19:30 CST
Funnel: Yes – see above
Hail (larger than 0.75 inches): No
Wall Cloud: Yes
Wind (above 57.4 mph): No

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