I just found this amazing video that shows fully how close we come to the Leoti, KS, tornado last week. Apparently Weather Nation was filming the tornado from an angle facing us as well, showing even better how close we came to the (small) tornado! Check it out:
As previously showed, this is my video of the event:
and Tim Purington’s view from behind us (you can see his vehicle in Weather Nations footage as well):
I have recently finished my week of chasing with Erik Burns and Tornadic Expeditions, and what a week! We had some something in the vicinity of 20 tornadoes on three different days. I have never experienced a weather setup this great and, as far as I understand, very few has! Obviously, I am very happy with the week.
Erik just started his tour company I was participating in his first tour week ever, together with David from Buffalo, NY. Erik’s goal with Tornadic Expeditions is to have a very personal storm chasing experience and it really is. It was very personal and very far from the bigger storm chasing tour companies who can have up to 15-20 people on the same tour.
When I review how good a certain tour company and tour guide I try not to be biased by how good the weather setup was, since it is nothing the tour guide can actually affect. I have been on tours with no tornadoes reported at all during the entire week and now this one with tornadoes on storms every day of the week. I believe it is fair to review the tour company according to how well they perform with the given setup.
First of all, Tornadic Expeditions is run in a very comfortable Toyota van. Since we were only two people on the tour we could spread our stuff out in the entire van which was very convenient (although this will probably not be the case in future tours). The seats are very comfortable and the van is arranged with a screen in the back so you can see everything that Erik is looking at on his computer, which some but not all tour companies have. This is very useful and makes you more involved in the chase.
The downside of the vehicle is that the setup of some inside features makes it a bit difficult to look outside, especially forward. The view is blocked by a camera setup and the fact that the wind shield is quite low. This did in fact make me miss out on one brief tornado completely and much of the first tornado we saw. It was annoying but not much worse than the view from most other tour companies I have been in either.
Compared to other tour companies we tended to stay in hotels of higher quality than what I am used to on other tours. This was highly appreciated by me and David!
In terms of forecasting skills and finding tornadoes I believe Erik is very skilled. It was obvious when we caught the amazing Dodge City tornado outbreak where he spotted the boundary rotation and predicted a tornado outbreak one hour before it happened, convincing his chase partners to go for it when they were quite reluctant to change target.
We also missed a few tornado targets but that always happens. Tornado chasing is just like baseball in that sense. No batter hits all the balls and no tour guide will get on all the tornadoes.
We did however miss out on the 90 minute Chapman-tornado which was a huge bummer, both for Erik and us. Many seasoned chasers, and even SPC, missed it in the forecast and nowcast. When you experience busts like this, it is always painful but I would have wished for some more leadership in terms of looking at the situation on a more positive and progressive side when it happened. It would have made the situation less painful.
We did, more importantly, get to experience the Dodge City-outbreak which I will be forever grateful. In addition to that we also had a very exciting close encounter with an EF0 tornado at Leoti, KS, and saw a nice wedge tornado together with some smaller spin-ups in Texas. Erik did great in terms of finding tornadoes.
As a tour guide Erik is very energetic, emotional and caring. He truly loves chasing and that love is contagious. Chasing with him is very much like just coming along on a chase with a veteran chaser and experience his storm chasing style, rather than going on a tour.
One thing both me and David was concerned about however was the attention to driving. He did, like many tour companies where the tour guide is also the driver, have to focus a lot on the GPS, the radar and, at times, on the tornadoes. I have seen this problem in previous tours as well. Still, it is something that made us both very nervous and something we brought up with him. For next season he mentioned he will consider hiring a driver to remove this problem.
All in all, I think there is a few things that can be improved and could have been handled batter but my general feeling about Tornadic Expeditions is that I can highly recommend choosing Tornadic Expeditions for your next storm chasing tour. The things that were not so great seemed to be things Erik will be dedicated to work on for upcoming tours and, after all, this was his very first tour as well.
I am very grateful to have been a part of this week and to have experienced the best chase day of my life, thanks to Erik and Tornadic Expeditions.
I woke up feeling really tired but excited about the day. Almost everything was pointing towards a big day with several big tornadoes. The SPC was predicting an 80% chance of tornadoes and 60% chance of strong tornadoes rated EF2 or higher. The area we targeted had a 15% hatched risk which is the highest risk I have ever chased in.
After last year’s SPC-busts I was not allowing myself to get too excited though. I was also struggling with computer problems all morning which kind of removed the focus from the anticipation of the day. But, of course, the day was a bust – at least in terms of a tornado outbreak in Kansas.
The storms all started around 1 p.m. (which is really early) and it washed out the entire area leaving all central Kansas cool and stable and thus very unsuitable for severe thunderstorms. When Erik realized that was going on we hauled down to the Kansas-Oklahoma border where the air was still untouched and unstable.
We got on a storm that was slowly becoming better looking, albeit being too linear. For a while it seemed pretty promising, had some really nice structure and we experienced some large hail but that was pretty much it. It was a rather decent chase day per se but with the build-up of the day it felt more like a bust than a nice chase day.
We ended up in Greensburg, KS, where we stopped at a gas station where I randomly ran into three (3!) previous chase partners / tours: Charles Edwards, Gene Robertson and David (again). We all hid from pea-sized hail for some 10 minutes before heading back to Oklahoma City.
My tour with Tornadic Expeditions was thus over and I was expecting the first long, good sleep for a week. An amazing week was at its end with some 20+ tornadoes and three tornado days. I have never been so lucky with the weather pattern for a tour and Erik did a good job finding the right targets as well.
As of the morning on Day 5 I had seen 13 tornadoes in total. I was about to double that number today. Day 5 was an epic storm chase day and many seasoned storm chasers have mentioned this was their best day ever. I was fortunate enough to experience the Dodge City-tornado outbreak of 2016.
We knew today was going to be a major chase day but the target area was not 100% clear. Some things pointed towards the Texas or Oklahoma Panhandle and other further up in Kansas. We positioned ourselves in the heat in Woodward, Oklahoma, in the early afternoon.
Around 4 p.m. cells started firing up near Minneola in South west Kansas. Erik noticed a subtle low pressure in that area and was convinced that would definitely be a major event – “I have seen this before, this storm will go nuts!” he mentioned to his two chase partners who was more convinced of staying in our area. They discussed for quite a while until Erik convinced them and we blasted north.
Erik was right. The storm positioned itself on that boundary and just grew bigger and bigger and for us it was a race against the clock and I was super stressed in the back seat worrying we would miss the show.
When we arrived the storm was south west of Dodge City and was showing an impressive wall cloud. At this point we knew it was just a matter of when the storm would fire a tornado. We got a little bit closer but when the storm started producing a funnel we stopped and looked.
The show of the decade was about to begin.
There was not long until a tornado started to form. After that everything was just going crazy. The first tornado stayed on the ground for about 30 minutes. The storm generated a second wall cloud which started spitting out secondary tornadoes as well. At one point there was four tornadoes At The Same Time!
We drove a little bit closer as the storm progressed and regrouped but never got really close. First of all, we did not want to waste time in the car when there was tornadoes on the ground, second of all the roads to our west (where the tornadoes were) were mud roads not suitable for our car and thirdly, the storm was dropping tornadoes everywhere so it was not safe.
The storm missed Dodge City, KS, by a mile or so and while we were driving into town we saw the last tornado rope out behind the trees and houses. We chased it a bit further and followed another tornado warned storm for a while until we called it a day and headed back to Dodge City.
Like most of these amazing days you don’t just get tornadoes but we also saw some amazing (anvil) lightning, some while there was a rainbow. On our way back we also stopped to photograph the most amazing mammatus field I have ever seen (even better than Leoti, KS, last Saturday).
I feel so grateful to have experienced this day since it surely will be a day I will remember for the rest of my life. I don’t know how many tornadoes we saw today but it was somewhere around 15. Not only did we see many tornadoes but they were all unobscured, good contrast and high based. We saw all ranges of tornadoes, from wedges to drill bit-tornadoes. Thankfully, the tornadoes never hit Dodge City either and there were no casualties. In other words – it was the perfect storm.
We finished the day at Applebee’s in Dodge City that was full of storm chasers. I got to meet storm chaser legend Reed Timmer (from the Storm Chasers TV-series) and had a well deserved beer.
Update: I will probably continue to update this blog post with more photos and videos as I am getting them edited.
Today looked really well with CAPE-values of 6.000. The problem was that there were three targets to choose from: Big Spring, TX (where I saw a landspout tornado in 2014), Woodward, OK and Donley, TX. We chose Donley since there was a big flood risk in Big Spring and Woodward did not look as good as Donley.
There was an apparent target already at 3 p.m. coming up along with a tornado watch in our area. We watched it for a while at a distance before we headed out there. We arrived at a beautiful immature LP-cell in the perfect environment. For the first time on this tour we could observe it without rain and, in all other aspects, perfect environment.
For some reason, it started dying off more and more and completely evaporated after a while. There were no other good options really in the area so we sat and waited to see where we should go. It felt like the day was over.
After about an hour a second wave punched through and pushed up a new set of storms a bit further west. It did not look all too impressive at first but generated, lowered to the ground and started to look really impressive. For some 20 minutes it formed a wall cloud and apparently spun up a brief tornado (that we did not see).
When the sun was about to set it was the absolutely perfect setting for a photogenic tornado. We had the sun in our back, we could see the entire storm structure and there was a rainbow to our left.
Instead the RFD undercut the storm and you could start feeling the wind in your face (coming out from the storm, instead of going in) which was a sure sign it was dying off. It did so in a spectacular manner though.
We finished off at Big Verne’s steakhouse in Shamrock, TX, where I realized I had dinner before (after the Canadian, TX, tornadoes). It always feels funny when you realize you arrive at a place you have already been to in Tornado Alley.
Arriving at Elk City, OK, I saw a familiar car at the parking lot of our hotel. Apparantly, Randy and Lisa from the Outlaw Chasers that I chased with last year, was in the same hotel. I had a quick chat with them before finally crashing in my bed.
Yesterday was an amazing chase day but the setup for Day 3 was looking even better! Our target area was the dryline in the eastern panhandle of Texas where we ended up in the early afternoon. The bases of the storms, however, looked ragged and dry while storms an hour to our east were showing much better potential so after some 30 minutes we decided to give up the dryline and chase those.
We caught up with the storms around 5 p.m. and picked the south end charlie over the northern storm that had already had a funnel cloud, according to reports. It was a rather wet chase where we often ended up in the strong forward flank downdraft that was rocking our van.
The lightning at this point was IMMENSE. I have never experienced any lightning like this before, it was striking down left and right and literally shook the van when it did. It was incredibly powerful and I loved it!
When we stopped the second time it did not take much time before the storm was wrapping up and started to look more and more tornadic. We made a stop when the storm reorganized and creating a new base and that’s when we saw the first tornado of the day.
I really did not see it until Erik shouted “Tornado!” again. It was not fully condensed to the ground but rather a bowl with multiple vortices underneath. Those vortices wrapped up to become a wedge tornado that rather quickly disappeared into the rain where we could not see it any more.
At the time of the tornado I was expecting it at another place and had my wide angle lens on so my photos and video of the camera is a bit wider than I would have liked, especially since there was so much fine detail action going on underneath.
We regrouped and drove through some intense rain before we got up on a hill and saw the cell spawning a brief needle tornado for about 5-10 seconds. I did not have time to bring up my camera so I never caught it on camera.
The third tornado was at the same spot. I had some issue with my telescope lens not being able to focus on the low contrast targets so I was still using my wide angle to that distant tornado. It was cool to see a tornado, especially with all the lightning going though.
Soon thereafter our HP supercell spawned a fourth (!) tornado. This was a cone tornado but also very brief, not fully condensed and low contrast so it was not too impressive. Still, 4 tornadoes in one day! I did not expect that when we left the dryline earlier that afternoon.
At that point we did not expect to see much more under the rainy conditions we had so we started driving out from the storms passing severely flooded towns. We were lucky to get out of there since many other storm chasers got trapped from fallen power lines and flooded highways!
We stopped at Childress, TX, and let the now congealed storm pass over us while having a late pizza at Pizza Hut. Childress was getting a LOT of rain and the lightning was hitting us hard. I feel asleep, dead tired, to the sound of crashing lightning.
Although I saw a record amount of tornadoes and the first wedge was quite impressive the tornadoes were not very picturesque and we were mostly under rain. This made the “tornado experience” rather mediocre and although that was really cool but what I really loved from this day was the absolutely incredible lightning!
There were 32 tornadoes reported that day. David caught a great wedge tornado in the northern storm and there were reports of tornadoes all the way up to South Dakota!
One of the most common questions people ask me when I tell them I chase storms is: “How close have you been to a tornado?”. Up until now, my answer has been “I have been underneath one“, but I think I need to update that answer after Saturday’s events.
Day 2 was our first real chase day and the season really started with a bang! We knew the week would be great but Saturday was supposed to be a slow start but it turned out to be one of my best chase days ever!
Our target of the day was south-west Kansas and we set off to Scott City. We had lunch at Subway’s where I bumped into Scott McPartland and Dave Lewison (who took the photo picturing the tornado that used to be my “closest to a tornado”-record). I also met George Kourounis in the same tiny Subway who updated me on some of his amazing adventure stories, like standing next to a lava lake in Kongo. I love the fact that you stop in “random” places and meet up with people you know all over Tornado Alley.
We all preferred to wait for the storms out on a field so we went outside of town and waited. The cumulus sure took their sweet time to come which gave me a suntan while waiting under the blue skies. We had surface winds of something around 20 mph which almost made it feel like we were already in a storm. Crazy!
We regrouped to a rest stop where I saw a familiar car with a hail cage coming in. David! David is my chase partner from last year and although I knew he would chase in the vicinity it was a neat coincidence that he, and his crew, ended up in exactly the same spot.
The storms were struggling and I lost faith in that we would actually see something until one finally started to get organized and quickly turned into a great supercell. The chase was on!
The storm was absolutely stunning already from the start, the structure of it was just amazing and it felt like it would drop a tornado any second. In fact, it did, and we missed it – at least to the point that we could not directly see it from the point we were at and we had a really good view, but it was brief (30 seconds), low contrast and behind a rain curtain.
We regrouped from our structure view to get closer into the base in order to see potential tornadoes better…and got more than we bargained for! While chasing inside the bear’s cage Erik suddenly shouted “Tornado!” but from my side in the car I could not see anything – well, I saw something but I could not tell it was a tornado really.
The tornado was coming closer and we stopped to let it pass in front. I quickly (2-3 seconds at most) got out to shoot the tornado only to realize it had changed its path and was coming right at us. Erik was shouting “We need to go!” and I was back in my seat in milliseconds and we raised away. At that point I could see the circulation on the ground just outside of us and it was really, really close. Less than 100 yards! Erik slammed the gas pedal and drove off as I filmed the tornado passing just behind us!
The tornado was merely a spin-up and was dissipating while it was approaching us only to die off a few seconds after. It would not have made any significant damage to us but it was still an incredible adrenalin rush! Off course, it was too close for comfort and nothing we planned to do although Erik and I were well aware of the risk. 61 year old tour guest Dave was a little bit more concerned about the safety aspects of it though.
The morning after Erik found this video, made by Tim Purington. The white van in the video is ours and you can see me get out of the van to photograph and then see the tornado pass a few seconds later:
We continued north only to get our south escape route trapped by a truck who had decided to turn around on this little highway resulting in a perfect block on the road. Our east route was a muddy road we did NOT want to go to and north was the mesocyclone and hail core. We stood in that intersection with 4-5 other vans (including Charles Edwards Cloud 9 tours and, off course, Scott McPartland and his friends – it’s a small chase world).
At that point we started seeing some intense rotation just to our north and I had no doubt the storm would produce a tornado just to the field north of us but it never did. High on adrenaline I was actually a bit dissapointed but it was probably for the best.
The storm started to dissipate a bit as the sun was setting so we went south again to shoot lightning and more structure shots. The storm kept on delivering in terms of beauty when the sun was shining on the most amazing mammatus fields I had ever seen.
We photographed lightning for some 30 minutes and then called it a day. And, what a day!
My alarm clock rang at 03.30 a.m. in my apartment in Malmö and I left tired but excited. Had a stop in Düsseldorf and then took an ancient AA plane to Chicago where I bounced on to Oklahoma City. I spent half the flight with head ache and nausea so it was not too pleasant but I watched “Twister” for the hundred time to keep me distracted.
Erik Burns (of Tornadic Expeditions) picked me up at the airport and drove me to my hotel. I had a quick nap before we joined up with Dave from Buffalo, NY, the second guest on this tour. We had a great dinner and then Erik showed us the forecast for the week. I have been trying to keep my expectations low for this tour in order to not get disappointed.
I was not disappointed.
Despite the fact we were going to start off with a down day (no storms or even thunderstorms in Tornado Alley) the week looks great, according to Erik (and the rest of the storm chasing community). I am still trying to keep my expectations in check. I have seen great outlooks turn to nothing too many times but still… I am excited!!
Our down day was used to travel a bit up north to Kansas since we might go to SW Kansas or NE Colorado on Day 2. We went to see a local attraction: a superstore for soda pops where they have hundreds of different soda pops.
I tried a “Birch beer” and a “Cherry ginger beer”, both soda pops (i.e. not beer) but neither was great.
The main attraction was to go to Wakita, OK, where parts of the movie Twister was filmed. This is a very typical place to stop for tour groups but I had never made it here and was positively surprised. We stopped by the friendly “Twister café” for lunch and then went to the museum.
The Twister museum has a bunch of memorabilia from the movie, especially “Dorothy” along with lots of photos from the filming of the movie. To my great happiness they had a free Twister pinball machine, donated by actor Bill Paxton! I LOVE pinball and had never played this one so I was happy!
We continued on to Greensburg, KS, which is another popular stop on down days. Greensburg, KS, was wiped out almost entirely by a major EF5 tornado in 2007. I had been here twice before but what struck me this time was how well they have built up the town again. They have made a huge effort to really build the town Green and have wind mills everywhere along with energy efficient houses etc. It is an amazing display of making a catastrophe into something good. Check out this documentary about it!
We ended up in Hoisington, KS, around 7 p.m. where we joined up in the bar for a beer, while Twister was playing in the bar – off course! Me and Erik were dissecting the weather “sins” in the movie of which there are plenty. Still, I love that movie!
When I went on my first chase back in 2009 I really did not expect to make it a habit but it really stuck to me and I am now booked for my 6th season! I will be landing on May 19th to chase with Tornadic Expeditions (Erik Burns) for a week and then chase with my chase partner David Williams for some 10 more days.
Last season was “ok”, mainly because I got to see the Canadian-tornado outbreak but it was a rather unfortunate season with a lot of misses. I specifically remember June 4th which had one of the most amazing tornadoes I have ever seen…in Colorado…We , however, picked the seemingly great KS-target that day.
Fortunately last season had a lot of great things as well, especially like all the great and interesting people I met. I love being out in the middle of nowhere and bump into someone and be like: “Hey, aren’t you Jim so-and-so? We emailed each other a year ago”.
So, I guess my expectations are relatively well tuned for this season and I look forward to check out a new tour company.