Saturday and early Sunday proved to be the violent conclusion to several days of nearly unprecedented preparation and predictions, as a massive tornado outbreak swept across northern Oklahoma and Kansas, with parts of Nebraska and Iowa being impacted as well. Among the hardest hit was the town of Woodward, Oklahoma, where over 100 homes and businesses were heavily damaged or destroyed by a (preliminarily-rated) EF-3 tornado that struck just after midnight early Sunday; sadly (and amazingly), this was also the only killer tornado of the outbreak. Damage is still being assessed across southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma, but so far several tornadoes have been assigned a strong to violent rating, with at least one rated as EF-4. Below are the current updates from the forecast offices in charge of conducting damage surveys; we'll update again as new information on the current tally of 135 tornadoes becomes available; Reed will of course post updates on his Facebookand Twitterpages as well.:
EF-4 near Kanopolis Lake, EF-3 Conway Springs-- Will Campbell and Dan Castro of the Omaha Twister Chasers live streaming teams got some amazing photos of the EF-4 tornado as it moved near Marquette, KS, pictured at the top of this post. (What a monster!)
As anticipated, storm chasers were out in full-force over the weekend, and several TVN teams captured some pretty compelling video on Saturday (of note, TVN website moderators JCPalmer and DougNKC were chasing and tracked down some tornadoes in Kansas as well!!!). The Dominator teamcovered storms in southern and central Kansas, eventually documenting tornadoes near Hesston, as well as the after-dark tornadoes near Wichita. TwisterData.com's Dave Demko and I started off chasing in south-central Kansas, but when storms re-initiated in northwest Oklahoma in the early evening, we opted to leave the storms near Arlington and Kingman, KS (which eventually produced the tornadoes near Hesston) and dropped south toward the Alva, OK area. We arrived in Cherokee, OK, area just as a large cone was touching down southwest of town, and soon another tornado developed to its east, resulting in two simultaneous tornadoes! We ultimately positioned ourselves for an up-close and personal encounter with the rope-out of the initial tornado, which dissipated roughly 100 yards south of our position, and offered us a "unique" opportunity for documentation! Thunder Entertainment's Curtis McDonald, Matt Chatelain, Daniel Betten and Thomas Spence were on this same storm and documented the rope-out from another wild angle, and eventually tracked it all the way into the Wichita metro. A prolific tornado producer, it put down several wedge tornadoes along the way.
Residents across the entire southern and central Plains region are urged to take time now to prepare and be mindful of severe weather this weekend. The threat begins this afternoon, when tornadoes, destructive hail and damaging thunderstorm winds are possible; the threat will continue through at least Sunday, as a very potent storm system makes its way across the Great Plains. Today's focus will be on the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle region, north into western Kansas. If storms are able to fire, strong directional shear and moderate instability will provide an environment conducive for strong tornadoes this afternoon into the late evening. As the storm system progresses gradually eastward Friday, much of Oklahoma and Kansas will be under the threat of severe weather, along with northwest Missouri into southeast Nebraska and southern Iowa; all modes of severe weather will be possible. The "main event" at this point appears to be Saturday, with the threat shifting very little as compared to the previous day. Forecast models have continued to show the wind fields and instability associated with this storm system coming together to support a widespread tornado outbreak scenario, with supercell thunderstorms a possibility along a warm front that is likely to be oriented across central Iowa and southeast NE, and extending south along a dryline that will stretch from around Grand Island, NE into northern and central Texas. The Storm Prediction Center has highlighted this area as a rare "Day 3 Moderate Risk"; the last issuance of such an outlook was in association with the devastating April 27 outbreak in the southeast United States last year. As always, we encourage everyone to monitor local media for updates, have a NOAA weather radio with fresh batteries, and a plan to find an adequate underground shelter or safe room (highway overpasses DO NOT qualify! Of note, check out this article about shelters along the Kansas turnpike). Reed will be providing updates from the field via Facebook and Twitter, and the live streaming page will of course be very active as well.
Yesterday, TVN (Chad Cowan, Chris Chittick, Shay Phillips and myself) chased NW OK, with hopes for just some large hail, but we ended up seeing several tornadoes, including one up-close! Having no data the entire day, we chose a target of Beaver, OK, where the first towers of the day exploded. We time-lapsed the towers going up for about an hour near a wind farm just north of Ft. Supply, OK and went after the northern cell after it showed signs of strengthening. We were just north of what would be the dominant supercell of the the day, as the towers exploded just to our west, but left it for the northern one, initially. Upon catching the northern one, it was clear that the storm was linear and was beginning to go outflow dominant, so we blasted south towards Woodward.
We set up just south of Woodward, OK, where we witnessed our first brief tornado of the day to our west, which was cone-shaped and lasted maybe a minute. We then blasted back to the west and then south, watching an elephant trunk tornado develop (and briefly touch down) along with baseball size hail falling at our location. Approaching from the north, the RFD surge was intense and we could tell that something big was about to happen, so we continued south punching through it, and heading back east where multiple vortices were present. The tornado, at the time, was multi-vortex, or so we thought, with rapid right to left motion moving just above the ground and strong westerlies at our back. The tornado seemed to be stationary for a good 5-10 minutes, spinning up vortices and occasionally putting a full condensation down of various shapes. Looking back (and seeing other video/photos), it seems we were on the outer circulation of the tornado, with the vortices being underneath the main condensation funnel--which was not visible due to our location directly beneath it! It was an incredible day, but unfortunately, Reed could not chase due to other obligations.
Tomorrow, could potentially be a big day, dependent on moisture return, and tonight's expected MCS/storm clusters, which could hinder moisture transport to SE CO and NE NM. Starting Thursday, a threat will exist from W KS through the TX panhandle, where large hail and tornadoes seem likely. Thursday, Friday and Saturday have the potential to be HUGE across the Plains as well, so stay tuned! Don't forget to followReed's Facebook fan page and Twitter account, for real-time updates during the chase!