12 MAY 2004: ATTICA, KANSAS AREA TORNADOES

 

I chased this day with my friends Tony Laubach, Scott Eubanks, Kurt Hulst, and his chase partner David Diehl.

We targeted an area near Medicine Lodge and watched the first tower go up west of town. What later became the "northern" storm which lured some chasers and trapped others was initially over-sheared and we waited patiently while the updraft took shape.  The storm of the day began south of the first cell, and immediately began to inhibit the other storms which had developed a lowering.  We didn't like the new storm at that point, but we soon learned to embrace it.
 


Scott Eubanks, David Diehl, and Kurt Hust (left to right)

The 'northern' storm begins

Tony Laubach chills before the madeness
   

The southern storm grew dominant and began rotating.  At approximately 00:10z, a tornado touched down near Sharon, Kansas, and we filmed from a position off State Road 160.  We were about two miles east of Sharon.  The first stages of this tornado looked like a landspout, a translucent, symmetrical funnel surrounded the true condensation funnel which snaked down through the sheath.  All day, these tornadoes would demonstrate interesting flow patterns as the condensation was often absent and the circulations could be traced by the large amounts of dust.  At this time, the storm base was still quite elevated and ragged, and there was no identifiable notch.  Toward the middle of its cycle, the tornado assumed more classic features, with a beaverís tale, a clear RFD slot, and a long condensation funnel.  Then something interesting happened.
 

Condensation began to appear and rotate around the primary circulation but at some distance (see my video grabs), almost as if the tornado inflow was achieving LCL about three-quarters of the way up the tornado, but was not being properly entrained. This new satellite condensation occurred at the same time as the ground circulation and condensation beneath the new development dissipated. Was this an incursion of some lower-buoyancy RFD into the tornado circulation?   Perhaps as this Ďcoolí RFD becomes a larger and larger component of the inflow (since we know that tornado inflow is always composed of some RFD air), it kills the tube?  I donít know. 

Again, the storm was high based and the underside not healthy-looking.  It would be interesting to know the value of the boundary layer relative humidity.  With the elevated nature of the storm, my suspicion is that lower buoyancy RFD played a role in what I observed.

Immediately following this, the tornado resumed, for another few minutes, the initial landspout appearance: a weak translucency almost identical to how it began.  Remarkable.
 


Here the first signs of the surrounding condensation begin

More from a few seconds later

Already the ground circulation is growing more diffuse

Everything beneath the condensation is disorganizing

Sort of looks more like a classic tornado structure now, but the effect is not positive

Wide angle view at higher resolution
   
 

Our second tornado was another symmetrical cone with very organized motions at both cloud base and ground level but no real condensation. However, the swirling dirt makes the strong circulation plainly visible.  On video, it almost appears as if an anticyclonic circulation surrounds the interior vortex for a time.  I will post time-lapse of this later.
 


Tornado number two
 

The Attica, Kansas tornado is well-known in 2004 and this was our third tornado of the day.  Attica emerged from one of the most rapidly rotating storm bases I have witnessed, with deeply sculpted striations and a funneled rotation that finally raised dust beneath its tapered end.  This time condensation was not missing and the Attica tornado filled in nicely, and grew to a tall, graceful stovepipe before roping out.  This tornado was rated F3.
 


The powerful Attica meso

Attica tornado touches down

Approximately 0113z
   
 


Tornado number four appeared south of 160.

 
 

Tornado number five began three miles west of the 160/2 intersection, just south of 160 by less than 300 yards at approximately 8:17 PM. Because it seems to be a separate circulation and definitely assumed a distinct shape, as opposed to the unorganized nature of the prior tornado, I have segregated them.  
 


Tornado number five ~0122Z

   

 
Tornado number six formed very close to the intersection and developed a spout-ish appearance, marking it as an independent circulation from the touchdowns that preceded and followed it.

The ghostly tornado six.

 
There is a possibility that this is a satellite tornado of numbers five or seven.  If so, then it is marked as B on Scott Currens' excellent survey below.  It is also possible that numbers five and seven are the same tornado (Currens' Track A), but my video seems to suggest they are not.  
 

At ~ 0125 UTC, I stopped on State Road 2, just south of the intersection of 160/2 (south of Harper, north of Anthony) and filmed the first stirrings of tornado number seven. This new tornado was just west of the road, assumed a funnel-shaped condensation from the top and gathered a swirling drape of black dirt around its base for a menacing appearance.  Two minutes later, we headed south on State Road 2 as the tornado filled in rapidly.

Our goal was to move south of the tornado before it crossed State Road 2, and the benign growth and movement of the vortex as we began rolling gave us confidence that this would not be a problem.  But tornadoes are unpredictable, and Scott Eubanks' video shows the tube's dramatic acceleration in our direction.  Within thirty seconds it became a dark cone with a black circulation of dirt at the base.  Rain and debris flew across the highway, sucked into the burgeoning debris cloud.  The inflow crosswinds were fierce and it was difficult to communicate on the radio.  I managed to film the tornado with one hand, and when we emerged finally south of its path, I shot the video through my back window. This tornado was rated F2.
 


South of the tornado's path I turned and filmed as it approached the road.  This was tornado seven.

This DOW vehicle was quite close and had the tornado not slowed and moved more northerly than its initial heading, the results might have been unfortunate.
   
 

We continued south on SR 2 toward Anthony to examine a newly-developed storm.  At 0149Z, this produced another thin tube, tornado eight, we have forgotten about, but it's in the video.  At the time, Scott, Tony, and I all agree on the radio that there is a see-through cone extending from base to ground, which of course fits with the presentation  many tornadoes that day.
 

 
 

Then at 0207z, from west of Anthony, we observed another lowering with a massive, bowl-shaped updraft. Hanging beneath this is a persistent funnel cloud.  By the time we noticed it, it was no longer so low to the ground.  However, the camcorder saw everything, including what I suspect was tornado number nine of the day.  If we understood anything by the end of May 12, it was that condensation funnels on the ground were not the benchmark for these tornadoes.  Most were translucent cones or funnels during their cycles.
 

       

Scott Currens' damage survey

NWS initial survey

Reflectivity during Tornado 7
Report From NWS Wichita
 

Thanks to my great chase partners that day and to XM for helping us decide to stay south.

Cyclone Road

All Images © Copyright 2004 Amos Magliocco