Meteorologically, the setup for this day did not seem overly significant until the day of. As models began to show extreme instability and strong wind shear near the crossing of two boundaries at the center of the NE/KS border, the Valparaiso University Storm Intercept Team honed in on this location. The atmosphere was primed for explosive thunderstorm development, and the wind shear was evident when we saw these clouds near Smith Center, KS:
Known as transverse rolls, these are formed when low-level winds and upper-level winds cross. Low-level winds blow through each cloud, while upper-level winds slice across them, rising to create a cloud, sinking to create a slot of blue, then rising once again. This change in wind direction was vital for the strong storms expected in the afternoon. We waited patiently at this spot, watching as cumulus grew and towered over our heads. By 5:30 CDT, however, the sky rapidly began to clear. No tower could break the cap of warm air aloft, and declining solar energy meant our location had busted. As we ate in town, we noticed a storm did break this cap along a boundary near Atwood, KS. We hurried to this location as this location had very nice parameters for severe storms as well. Unfortunately, as we neared Atwood, the storm began to lose its power.
We were about to drive home, when an explosive updraft took hold to this storm’s south near Selden, KS. The thick inflow bands into this storm meant it was literally sucking in warm, moist air:
We hurried closer, and as we saw the bomb-like updraft corkscrew to the heavens we knew we were in for a show.
As we positioned ourselves, the view was incredible, and the storm seemed to be spinning like a top. The dying Atwood storm and its massive bell-shaped base can be seen in the distant right hand side. The whole scene was thrown into an dark, eerie blue twilight.
A small but solid updraft quickly approached and presented a bit of a lightning hazard. A left-moving storm also approached from the south behind it, lit by the last bit of sunlight.
As the storm twirled closer it expanded in size, its wall cloud now a massive wedge-shaped lowering not unlike what its predecessor in Atwood grew. The storm repetitively spat out lightning that jumped all the way from its top to the ground.
Chaser convergence was definitely noticeable here, as the middle-of-nowhere outskirts of town were suddenly filled with suburban-like traffic. We pulled over near a small farmhouse where a woman and her dog had come out to take in the otherworldly scene. We had to assure her that danger was not imminent yet, but that she should take shelter from continuous flashes.