Jump directly to photos of this rated F4 tornado.|
The 00z model data looked quite incredible for Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri. Our intent with this data was to get on the western edge near the dryline, and just to the southeast of the low for initiation. See the data.
Driving west we saw a cumulus field begin to develop between Wichita and Emporia. The decision was to head south-southwest to get in the middle of the cumulus field, thinking initiation could come from this area in a short matter of time. At about 11:45 a.m. we were in the vicinity of I-35 and 56 between Topeka and Emporia. A PDS tornado box was issued not long before this time. As the towers appeared to be moving at a pretty good clip to the northeast, we followed them in hopes to stay within the cumulus field as it developed while moving northeast.
By 1:00 p.m. 3 PDS tornado watch boxes had been posted! And we were right in the middle of them. The 1:00 surface obs showed a temp of 77 and a dew point of 70 at Coffeyville, KS and behind the dryline Medicine Lodge was 84/30. Although this was farther south from our location, it gives a good indication of the strength of that boundary and the amount of instability ahead of the dryline.
By 2:30 p.m. we were near Lawrence, KS watching towers develop around us. We ventured north to try to follow these storms as they developed, but it appeared as if they were multicellular. Farther west a very isolated cell developed on the dryline. For a short time we were derailed to follow this cell, but it quickly died as it's updraft was not high enough to get caught in the steering winds. Therefore it's slower movement than the dryline allowed the cell to fall back into the dry sector, and died. We then quickly turned around and headed back toward Lawrence as new towers were going up to our east along I-70.
At 4:01 p.m. the NWS in Kansas City issued a tornado warning for Wyandotte County, KS, just west of Kansas City. Law enforcement reported multiple tornadoes on the ground and the storm was moving into Kansas City, expected to be there by 4:30 p.m. We had this storm in our view just ahead of us. We were in hot persuit.
At 4:13 p.m. we were near Bonner Springs, KS approaching the toll booth. Here is where Doug Kiesling got spectacular footage of the first touchdown coming across I-70. This tornado barely missed the toll booth. By the time we got there, debris covered the road and the toll attendants were still in shelter. People were walking aimlessly in a daze along the road. Some looked to be covered in mud and perhaps splatterd with debris.... About a minute later at 4:14 p.m. we began to get in the damage path and we started having falling debris on us. There were feathers, paper and other larger pieces of debris falling from the sky, but the tornado was not yet in sight. It had to have been just ahead of us out of our view... perhaps rain wrapped. A few minutes later the National Weather Service issued a "Tornado Emergency" for Kansas City as two large tornadoes were reported on the ground. One near Platte City and the other in the northern half of the Kansas City Metro. This one in the northern part of the metro was the one we were about to intercept.
According to a spotter I spoke to after the chase [Mikey Kampmeier] the tornado footage taken by Doug Kiesling is the tail end of what he saw approaching the speedway. According to his account, the tornado never dissipated after coming through the toll booth area. The tornado got rain-wrapped when Doug lost sight of the tornado, but from Mikey's location the tornado was still very visible from the ENE. It continued to grow into the monster we were about to witness as it approached the Kansas Speedway from the WSW.
By 4:15 p.m. we had come to I-70 and 110th street on the northwest side of Kansas City. On the map below, you can see that the tornado was roughly 1.5 miles from us. On the second image, you can see the tornado tracks the NWS plotted. The storm we chased was the middle storm.
Here the tornado showed it's ugly head. We exited on the south side of the road, across from Kansas Speedway and watched as the tornado grew in size and became a wedge just before getting obscured by rain and distance. Above us was a Fox news helicopter, but from their location they could not see the wedge, even though it was just below them. The meso was so wide and low that the chopper would have to have been much lower to see the wedge under the meso. But in doing so they put their chopper at great risk, so they could only view damage.
According to the damage report and accounts from the other side of the tornado, in the images below the 1st image the damage was rated at F2 but sequentially get up to an F4 destructiveness by the last 3 images, starting with the multi-vortex stage, which was confirmed by Mikey Kampmeier who was just west of the tornado on Parallel Parkway. Here it was located just south of Parallel Parkway near 435. Just after we lost view of the tornado is where it took the life of an 81 year old man and his dog who were outside trying to seek shelter when the tornado struck. Later, the man's belongings were found as far away as Chillicothe, MO, some 80 miles to the northeast of his home. Another story heard on a Kansas City TV station said that somewhere in this stretch a woman was taking a bath, her home was destroyed and she was found shortly after the tornado passed naked in a tree... virtually unharmed.
The tornado continued on toward Liberty, MO, however we were unable to reposition ourselves to see the tornado again. We continued the chase to the ESE, but the chase was virtually over for us as far as success goes. Read the damage survey and Shawn Hewitt's chase account.