April 24th was a very difficult chase day. SPC had issued an enhanced risk for Central Kansas, with a 10% hatched area for the possibility of strong, long-track tornadoes. Our initial target was Russell Kansas, where we figured the triple point would set up. We made our way to Hoisington and hung out there to analyze things as we waited for storms to fire. Indeed, by late afternoon a storm initiated near Hays, so we raced north and west to intercept as it exploded into a supercell.
We positioned ourselves east of Hays to let the storm come to us, but in doing so we missed the touchdown of the storm’s first brief tornado. The cell was moving to pass to our north, so we made our way to intercept. From a distance as we approached the base, we viewed the touchdown of a brief tornado northeast of town, beneath a massive, rotating base.
We followed the dirt road north and then took another east, paralleling the updraft base which was now just ahead of us. Unfortunately the storm was quickly becoming HP, and we soon found ourselves enveloped in the rain with an area of strong rotation moving along beside us. We were fairly sure that a large, rain-wrapped tornado was in progress, however we just were not confident enough to confirm just yet.
Sure enough, as we were driving I looked out the rear driver’s-side window and emerging out of the rain was a large cone tornado!
We watched the tornado for several minutes as we paralleled it to its south. However it soon became deeply wrapped in rain once again, and we lost sight of it for good in the core of the storm. We continued with the storm as it moved eastward, however the road network was, to put it mildly, appalling! Hills and valleys made long skyward views impossible, and gravel roads became dirt roads, which then became muddy paths through the rugged Smokey Hills.
We later learned that we were more successful than most this day. Storms had seeded one another all through Central Kansas, and so the day produced far fewer tornadoes than anticipated. Our storm was the only one that did produce, however many chasers failed to catch this or the other tornadoes on this messy, HP storm. I’d like to think it was all skill and a perfectly executed chase, however I’d be lying if I said a little luck weren’t in play! Regardless, we bagged a tornado, and ended the day riding high.