“Don’t be afraid to be wrong”, my professor told me before he challenged me to leave his class to test my knowledge and gut feeling while fueling my passion. Was I right? I can’t say. Never thought I’d be witness to one of this area’s most unexpected outbreaks of quite massive tornadoes.
Despite no mention of tornadoes, my friend and I’s faint worries were proven with a destructive tornado touchdown in Kokomo, IN and we set out to pursue a second developing line of mini-supercells. The environment was terribly moist and lacked significant instability and deep-layer shear, but with cloud bases almost on the ground and low-level speed and directional shear quite high, we recognized a threat of a couple weak mini-supercellular tornadoes. We had not quite considered wedges, however.
The first storm we followed initially was an obvious target, a long-lived mini-supercell trudging ahead of a line of storms. After a painful haul filled with blinding downpours and anticipation, as soon as we emerged from the rain we were subject to this jaw-dropping monster lurking a few miles ahead. This is it, my first “wedge” tornado, a condensed funnel wider than it is tall. Thankfully, due to lack of strong wind dynamics this day, the actual damage path was significantly smaller than it visually suggested. This was just northwest of Kokomo, IN, mere miles from the earlier tornado.
As the tornado became rain-wrapped, we recognized that our chances for safe spotting were about over for this storm. A second supercell followed behind it:
On such a “soupy” day, beautiful storms are often hard to come by. This day was an exception though, spitting out classic structures one after another.
As inflow strengthened and the circulation visibly tightened, I became extremely worried that the Kokomo area was in for its third significant tornado.
A slender tornado inched its way down briefly in the lower left third of the photo.
Thankfully, we were able to follow it out of the populated area without it producing a strong tornado, but the bowl-shaped lowering above gave rise to some of the fastest spinning motion I have ever witnessed.
Clouds were in rotating knots.
It is now we believe our third tornado formed just north of Sharpsville, IN. The strongest rising motion from the ground I have ever seen arose from the solid vertical wall of cloud on the lower left.
This unknown mass was contorted in ugly, ripped shapes.
It became tighter then wrapped in rain.
It was now obvious a rain-wrapped tornado spun furiously in a ball of rain.
As the rain cleared, a murky cylindrical tornado appeared.
It became lopsided, then quickly dissipated.
Just as it disappeared, we noted the storm next in line appeared ready to produce a tornado. A confirmed tornado was reported, but we missed it en route.
The day was quickly turning into an unexpectedly dangerous nightmare.
We eventually caught up to this third supercell and followed it closely, meanwhile watching behind it as a fourth beautifully sculpted mini-supercell erupted. We reassured a few frightened locals as best we could, but we just did not know anymore what the day had in store.
Next time we looked back on the fourth supercell near aptly named Windfall, IN, it was a frightening beauty.
All storms seemed to look the same this day, a never-ending army of mirrors. There was something strange and unreal about them.
This was likely the closest near-miss of the day, a gorgeous ground-scraping rotation near Windfall’s windfarm. No tornado.
Worried that a fifth supercell was forming behind it, we left the former storm for a better view near Hobbs. Something was in the air, as this next storm also failed to produce a tornado despite very strong rotation.
As darkness grew, we were forced to leave, as the mini-supercells failed to produce anything in the way of lightning to aid our spotting.
Of course, we had to dodge a sixth tornado-warned supercell through Tipton, IN.