Sunday, May 20, 2012

5/19/2012 Kingman/Harper, KS Tornadoes

We did it!  CoD Trip 2 had everything on the line Saturday after a quiet week in the severe weather world.  We had been watching Saturday's setup for a few days and knew it would be our only hope to bag a tube before heading back to IL.  We awoke at a nice Fairfield Inn in Hays, KS (first time staying there actually; however, I've stayed in Hays numerous other times) with maps printed and ready to analyze.  John Monteverdi (SFSU professor) chatted with us in the morning and was excited to see our students performing hand analysis of the morning observational data.  You could sense the excitement amongst the students, even though it was admittedly not one of the best tornado setups.  Optimistic would probably be the best way to describe our feeling about the day because we were sure there would be storms due to the forcing for ascent, but moisture was limited and upper-level wind vectors were aligned parallel to the surface initiating boundary.  Given these caveats, we were worried that storms in central KS would interact with one another and congeal into an MCS rather quickly.  In days leading up to Saturday, we talked about targeting the Woodward, OK area due to better shear vector orientations relative to the dryline.  However, we noticed this area beginning to fold over and surge southeast due to a building surface ridge on the lee side of the Rockies related to subsidence behind the advancing vorticity maximum. The boundary instead sagged in more of an east/west fashion leading to similar problems of what we were expecting to happen in central KS.  Instead of heading to western OK for the later show due to a stronger cap, we instead hung out most of the afternoon in Pratt, KS watching visible satellite.  It was decided that a better chase strategy would be to play the tail end of bubbling cumulus just west of our location.  These storms quickly became prolific hail producers, but it was apparent that the strength of the forcing and cap were leading to a non-supercellular convective mode.  What happened next was amazing...  We started noticing several high-based [LCLs were near 3 km] funnels just west of Kingman, KS.  A couple of these funnels eventually turned into tornadoes, but they were not associated with mesocyclones.  Instead, I'm assuming that preexisting vorticity near the surface boundary was being stretched by the rapid vertical acceleration near the surface due to the nearly dry adiabatic lapse rates.  Numerous tornadoes were being reported west of Kingman by late afternoon.  We kept dropping south/east with the storm motions and witnessed a long-lived tornado near Harper, KS.  Looking at radar, this tornado appeared to be more of a hybrid with a clear inflow notch and a supercell-like hook echo appendage.  Either way, this tornado was very pretty and the students were fascinated.  The group on this trip was one of the best I've ever had and it was great to get to know them / learn about their lives.  Ten days that I will not soon forget...
Beautiful sky as storms begin to initiate
 Dust being kicked up from mesoscale boundaries
 W of Kingman, KS
 High-based funnel near Kingman
 Needle tornado near Kingman
 Elephant trunk near Harper, KS
 Harper take two...
 Panny view as storms begin to become "shelfy"
0-3km vorticity generation potential valid at 00z 19 May 2012
Getting creative with the CoD Van.  Kudos to Amy for thinking of this! 
 After creating the legs of the Wicked Witch, we found the TIV and decided to make a funny photo opportunity.  It was quite a hit with the ROTATE folk.

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