May 9, 2015 was supposed to be another big day in the Plains. SPC had outline a MODERATE risk of severe thunderstorms about 3 days in advance which is very rare. In fact, I think there have only been about 13 instances of this with the last happening a few years back.
Anyway, looked really crazy on models however the devil was in the details. Them details were what a morning MCS and prior days’ convection was going to do to the environment. My concern was the northern play wasn’t going to work at all because convection had left a large cold pool over the previous days, lapse rates would be horribly worked over, so we wouldn’t get the instability and “juice” we needed up there. So I decided Childress would work again for the night before so if I needed to go south I could. Initial model forecasts were for a strongly sheared, highly unstability dry-line which would support a classic tornado outbreak scenario from Kansas to Texas. Woke up to a squall line pushing through however skies were clearing behind to the west and dew points were into the 50’s over the high terrain. I decided to head north into Southwest Kansas to play the dry line where lapse rates were good (~8C/KM 700-500mb), which allowed for surface based instability of 1500-2000 J/KG. This in conjunction with very strong wind shear, would allow for the potential of tornadoes. Headed north out of Liberal watching towards go up and continuously fail. As I headed west into Southeast Colorado, I somehow missed the storm that went up south of Lamar and pushed north producing tornadoes. I was over 35 miles away and decided not to pursue it due to moving away at a swift clip. Was fairly annoying missing such beautiful tornadoes over my target area and I was certain the day was a bust. Decided to jump on Highway 40 and head east calling it a day.
Dumb luck had it that a storm went up south of the highway and had a tornado warning on it. We were in perfect position. Stopped to get gas in some small town along 40 there and saw the explosive updraft due southeast of us with low level clouds screaming out of the east. The boundary was just to our north and I figured if this updraft could hit the boundary, it would produce tornadoes. I had no idea the show we were about to get….
Updraft looking southeast
Soon enough we had a visual on what would become a stunning show. The first tornado ongoing near Oakley, Kansas. The tornado was stout and appeared to have a strong base, similar to the Elmwood/Yates City tornado in 2010. Mesmerizing! 10+ minute long life cycle too! Thankfully damage was minimal on this.
Tornado #1 roped out and gave way to another tornado, this time right around dusk. A stunning wedge tornado (#2)
As if that wasn’t enough, a 3rd tornado formed and we had 2 at once. Multiple vortex from the lifting wedge to the left and a satellite tornado to the right (Twins!!).
We stopped and a 4th tornado dropped down to our west, while a 5th stovepipe tornado was ongoing to our north (which I failed to capture). Another instance of multiple tornadoes at once and this storm had several areas of evident rotation as well.
The 6th tornado we observed was a fleeting multiple vortex after the strong stovepipe dissipated into the night. It appeared like we had 2 on the ground again here, however it was a large multiple vortex tornado in progress! Amazing shape shifting tornado
3rd instance of multiple tornadoes at once on this storm. Another multiple vortex tornado to the left here and then another satellite tornado to the right!
Another satellite tornado to the right as the multiple vortex continues to crank (tornado #7)
Shape shifting tornado continues to churn under supercell structure. Possibly dual tornadoes again here (tornado #8), however it appears like the multiple vortex has lifted and a cone is setting down to the right. The storm appeared to be retrograding northwest though in my view.
Cone tornado now descends as I described above under a classic looking supercell.
Poor quality video grab of a lightning illuminated wedge tornado as the whole base filled in now, assuming its the same tornado as above as we travel northeast with the storm. Radar rotational velocities were quite impressive at this time, so glad it didn’t really impact any towns here. (tornado #9).
And then this happened….probably my favorite of the night over all the tornadoes we saw. Incredible lightning display with this low topped, highly tornadic supercell over Northwest Kansas. Notice the lightning arc coming out of the updraft!!
Overall this was a great chase day with at least 8 or 9 tornadoes being documented by my camera. Possibly more than that though, that is just my conservative count on this event. Probably produced well over a dozen as it plowed toward the Nebraska border. Really an amazing event considering the observations of 57/57 in our area while watching these storms. Extremely strong low level jet and helicity near the boundary certainly aided in this cyclic tornado monster!
Winds: 60+ mph