Kathleen, meteorology student Cat Taylor, and I drove to the southwest side of Wichita to photograph what we were nearly certain would produce a tornado as early as 2:30pm.
At 3pm, a hook echo, a radar signature of a tornado was forming southwest of downtown. All images are mine except as noted.
As we were in position between Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport and Clearwater, we watched the entire life-cycle of a tornado that took out power lines and did some other (minor, as far as I know at this point) damage. UPDATE: Three homes damaged. It was moving right for Wichita.
The hook echo was getting better defined:
|The black circle is the radar site at NWS at Mid-Continent Airport|
The radar became horrifying in that the circulation in the Doppler wind data became very intense: Greensburg or Joplin magnitude, and it was headed right for the city.
Shalyn Phillips, Dick McGowan and Darin Brunin got this photo of the tornado as it moved toward the Wichita city limits (a different tornado than the one I photographed above). Note how indistinct it was becoming: Rain-wrapped! Note: The tornado went right over our initial photography set up.
If you were listening to Wichita radio, you heard about the tornado south of the airport. This was it. Again, increasingly indistinct because of rain-wrapping. This photo from Mike Nelson via Facebook.
The hook and tornado -- we believed -- was making its way into southwest Wichita. Here, it was crossing Interstate 235.
Then, the uncertainty. The radar showed the very strong circulation and a hook that was completely wrapped in rain (like Joplin). Even though the sirens were going off in our location (near Haysville), I was scared to death history might repeat itself.
But, the damage* was minor compared to what I feared. I'm guessing that there was so much rain in the storm (considerable flash flooding even with the drought) that the downdrafts undercut the tornado's circulation and it could no longer make it all the way to the ground. We heard, and others reported hearing, a roaring sound. Hopefully, we will find out, as various mobile radars were on the storm and this may be a topic of future research.
Regardless, it was a Dairy Queen chase. It honors a tradition of the original storm chasers (circa 1972) of going to DQ after a successful chase in which a tornado is caught.
|Kathleen (superb driver), Cat Taylor (excellent chaser) and yours truly.|
* There was scattered damage around Wichita, including my home. More on that later this evening.