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May 22, 2008 - Collyer | Grainfield, Kansas Supercell - High Risk

Tornadoes target Grainfield and Collyer, Kansas during a rare High Risk issued by the Storm Prediction Center.

Storm Chasing Kansas

We left the Omaha, Nebraska around 8:00 a.m. and choose Hays, Kansas as our target. We felt storms would form along the dryline around that vicinity. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued a moderate risk of severe thunderstorms throughout much of western Kansas. I was excited but cautious and one could only wonder what was about to unfold today.

Our route through Nebraska was west on I-80 and then south on highway 183 towards Hays. We stopped at a local pizza hut in Stockton, Kansas to eat some food, take a bathroom break and check out the current meteorological conditions. As we finished eating, SPC issued a Particularly Dangerous Situation Tornado Watch for most of western Kansas around 2:00 p.m. We got back on highway 183 to head south towards Hays and then jump on west I-70. Skies began to clear with signs of initiation near Grainfield, Kansas.

Grainfield, Kansas Supercell

The synoptic winds were screaming out of the southeast towards the strong 984 millibar low pressure system located in Colorado. Steve and I continued to drive west on I-70 and took the Grainfield, Kansas exit to scan the skies to our west-southwest. We found a little gravel parking lot along highway 23 and stopped to observe an approaching supercell traveling south to north with word of a tornado warning from the National Weather Service for Gove County. The storm was a high precipitation supercell (HP) which is very tricky to chase due to the amount of precipitation and low visibility which can obscure the wall cloud and tornado. The storm continued to move directly north as a lowered rotating wall cloud came into our view. The city of Grainfield blared their tornado warning sirens, but we failed to see any confirmed touchdowns with this storm as it moved to the north. The TIV from storm chasers drove near us and Steve took some photographs as it passed on by. This storm did produce tornadoes in the cities of Hoxie and Oberlin, Kansas. Shortly after, another smaller storm to our southwest came into our view and had a lowering on its southwest flank, which did produce an interesting scud feature that ingested dirt into its apparent mesocyclone. The storm chasing group from Mississippi State joined us to watch this feature move north.



Collyer, Kansas Supercell

We decided to pursue another stronger cell 30 miles to our south-southeast that was heading toward on a line towards Utica and Collyer, Kansas. Steve stepped on the gas taking I-70 east toward WaKeeney, Kansas and turned south on highway 283. This monster of a storm had a tornado warning issued for Trego County as we approached from the north. We turned west on highway 4 and this storm had an HP supercell structure with a nice flanking line and main updraft storm tower visible. The rain-free base was large as it extended to our south, west, and north. I was concerned about the possibility of satellite tornadoes under the rain free base with the insane amount of low level shear present. The wall cloud was obstructed because the storm's inflow was so massive it ingested and kicked up a large amount of dust to our northwest. I was reluctant to take dirt roads in fear of our four cylinder front wheel car getting stuck in the mud or spinning out in no man's land. Unfortunately, we we overshot the supercell and it quickly passed us by. It did produce a couple of tornadoes, satellite tornadoes, and a enormous wall cloud that hovered off the ground as it crossed I-70 near Collyer.

This was the first disappointment of the day, so we backtracked, and ended up in WaKeeney, Kansas. The storm was moving so fast we had no choice but to abandon it and sit with our heads down at local McDonald's. There were some isolated storms to our south but they didn't look healthy so we called it a day and headed back to our hotel in Hays, Kansas. We stopped at Applebee's along with other chasers and enjoyed a tall glass of Milwaukee's own beer - Miller Lite. Around that time the television showed those storms (that we gave up on) unexpectedly gained strength and produced a tornado just on the outskirts of WaKeeney city limits which led to another missed opportunity.

We left Applebee's to go back to the hotel to charge the chase equipment and analyze the 00z models for tomorrow's big day. It appeared severe weather would strike over the same area. I finally crashed at 10 p.m. to only wake up to the sound of car alarms. Around 3 a.m. strong storms developed where our hotel took 2 direct hits from lightning. Car alarms sounded along with the hotel's fire alarms blaring. I quickly looked out the window and power was out for a short amount of time. All that was visible were the semi trucks traveling west to east on I-70. Maybe it was a sign of good things to come for our day today.

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