30 MARCH 2006: BUFFALO, KANSAS SUPERCELL
The tornado east of Buffalo, Kansas was shrouded in rain when I was south of the town at the intersection of 75 and State Road 39 looking to my north northeast. I thought I caught a glimpse and aimed my camcorder at an area that featured a long beaver's tail stretching to the southeast and a sudden, strong inflow jet. It was apparent that the storm had strengthened dramatically and today I see from the pictures on Stormtrack and elsewhere what I missed. I had made OUN around 18z and thought I would have to choose between south central Oklahoma and southeast Kansas. What I liked about southeast Kansas was that low level shear looked more supportive of tornadoes when the LLJ increased later. 850s closer to the Red River Valley had been progged at nearly due west and weak, which made me nervous. A cursory surface analysis showed recovery ahead of the dryline after the morning showers and elevated storms moved away. I expected decent instability in both potential targets, but gave southeast Kansas the advantage for the improved helicity potential and the possibility of some boundaries from earlier convection. As it stands I'm not sure our Kansas storms benefited from the latter. Either way, I wanted to be in Winfield by 21z. But some supercells got in the way. I turned back south to intercept the storm near Perry because I thought the Cimarron Turnpike's east and then southeast curvature from I-35 down toward Morrison offered an exceptional chance to flank the storm as it approached from the southwest. Like Greg, I too had imagined how I would negotiate storms moving forty-plus knots in unfavorable terrain. But reality was that as quickly as these mesos wrapped up, you had to engage them more closely than ideal for "outbreak" style navigational strategies. The mesos on both storms seemed to move to the forward flank more rapidly than normal. Therefore each approach cost ten to twelve minutes of "catch up" before I was in position to see anything again. The net effect was that I never stepped out of my vehicle, never mounted even so much as a window clamp tripod, and took only two still images and thirty seconds of video all day. On the Perry to Independence storm I witnessed a single, very elevated funnel visible for one second less than it took to grab my camera before another hill interrupted the view. I was in the midst of repositioning during the reported tornado near the Elk City Lake, KS. Afterwards, on my way north and west on SR 400 to meet the Elk County storm (which became Wilson County / Buffalo tornado), I crossed paths with at least fifteen emergency vehicles from various counties and townships. I assumed I would redeem myself on the Wilson County storm. It was well to the west and I'd learned my lesson. But this storm produced several interesting features, and seemed to make a slight right turn around Fall River Lake which slowed its forward speed. Of course this invited closer scrutiny. I observed a large elevated funnel that reminded me of the beginning of the Attica, KS 5-12-04 tornado. But the meso occluded so fast that within seconds my view was obliterated. I continued east on SR 39 until it merged with highway 75 and then I missed the continuation of 39 and found myself southbound, reciting every obscenity I know. In my rearview mirror I saw the silhouette of a cone in the rain and turned into a church parking lot to film in the direction just east of due north, or east of Buffalo, Kansas by perhaps one mile. Time was about 2354z. It was clear something was happening in there, though I never fully registered the tornado with my eyes. I should be more reluctant to chase solo under those circumstances again. It reminded me very much of May 8, 2003 in northeast Kansas. Your chance to see anything is already reduced by the hills and trees, further lowered by the time spent catching up to the storm again and again, and even more by requirements of driving and navigation. It makes the odds quite long.