Storm Chase 2001
April 6 Chase
"High Risk, Low Returns"

What had been built up as a major severe weather outbreak of tornadoes in the central plains turned out to be just a big wind producer.  Blake Michaleski, Don Wheeler (me), and two other University of Louisiana-Monroe Atmospheric Science majors embarked toward southern Kansas on the evening of April 5 arriving at Dodge City, Kansas at around 11:30AM.  Upon check of the Day 1 Outlook from the SPC, the moderate risk forecast for the central plains had been upgraded to a high risk.  Current weather conditions in southwestern Kansas at the noon hour were not conducive to a high risk.  Low stratus and stratocumulus clouds persisted across much of the region accompanied by low visibilities in haze.  Winds increased steadily from the south and southwest during the course of the early afternoon.  By 2PM, winds were steady at 25 mph with gusts to around 40 mph.

We visited the Dodge City library to obtain current weather conditions.  Our decision was to jog a few miles west of Dodge and wait.  We parked on top of a nice hill with a great view; however, persistent clouds and haze limited our visibility.  After a few hours of hearing nothing and seeing nothing, we decided to ride back into Dodge and give the library another visit.  Still nothing was showing up in the area.  Severe thunderstorms had developed, however, near the warm front in northern Kansas and southern Nebraska.  The SPC had issued a PDS tornado watch for that area.  As for us, it was still a wait and see game.

Thinking the dry line was closer than it was, we decided to move north and slightly east of Dodge City to Jetmore.  Again, we waited on a nearby hill.  Although visibilities had improved as far as the haze was concerned, cloudy skies prevailed and winds continued out of the SSW at some 30 mph with gusts to over 40.  Another couple of hours passed and still no break in the clouds and no surface heating and it was late afternoon.

We began to make our way back to Dodge City and began to hear reports on the scanners of severe thunderstorms developing in the extreme southwest part of the state moving north and northeast at 70 mph!  We chose to head for Garden City.  Enroute, severe thunderstorms continued to fire and rapidly evolved into a squall line.  Although the line produced pea to nickel sized hail, little or no tornadic activity was reported.  Only one tornado warning for a Doppler indicated tornado was issued early in its evolution.  No confirmed reports of a tornado were received.

We arrived in Garden City and headed south on US 83.  We could see the developing squall line through the haze just to our west.  The visibility was still quite low.  Time for a decision.  Few east/west roads prevented a westward punch into the line so we decided to go north back into Garden City and head east to stay ahead of the line.  It was becoming quite apparent the line was becoming solid and tornadic formation was not likely.  For the excitement of it all, we pulled over and allowed the line to overtake us.  We experienced pea to dime sized hail and winds of 40-50 mph.  After the line passed, we continued back into Dodge and took some impressive photos of the back side of the line - perhaps the best visibility of the day.

With no surface heating due to cloud cover and a strong cap, only the eastward advancement of the dry line was able to force thunderstorm development.  By the time the dry line advanced, conditions were favorable for squall line development, not individual supercells.  The chase was an intense three day affair for only a couple of hours of squall line.  We all agreed we probably should have stayed put at home but with all sources shouting, "Major tornadic outbreak," it was just too tempting to resist.

Radar, Satellite, and Dodge City Skew T
Thanks to Mike Ridgeway; Robert Stuart Jr. High; Twin Falls, Idaho for these images.

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