The last chase day for SWIFT 2016 was the epitome of ‘saving the best for last’. It started out as any other chase day, departing mid-morning after our weather brief for our target city. This time, the target was Buffalo OK, a town near the Oklahoma-Kansas border north of Woodward. We stopped for lunch at a 1960’s style diner in Woodward before proceeding to Buffalo to wait for initiation of storms. While waiting in Buffalo, we linked up with Dr. Barrett and his team of students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and we chased as a two car team for the remainder of the day.
The intersection of the dry line and outflow boundary along which we expected storms to form pushed north, so we decided to transited north on Route 283 toward Mineolla, KS, but we never made it to our destination. Just to our west, we could see updrafts starting to form, so we stopped to watch the development. One cell turned into four individual updrafts, and then the four combined into one massive supercell thunderstorm. Reviewing our radar screenshots, the evolution from 4 individual cells to one supercell took just 10 minutes.
It seemed that everyone understood how primed the environment was in this area as SPC immediately put a tornado warning on our supercell. We followed behind the storm as it slowly paralleled 283 north. As we pulled off to observe for the second or third time we found ourselves in perfect position to watch as a wall cloud began to develop and eventually drop a nice cone tornado (the first of many tornadoes). After the first tornado roped out, continued behind the storm towards Dodge City (from a safe distance). Over the next hour and a half we were treated to a spectacular display of Mother Nature’s power.
The second tornado to form was a large stovepipe that was videoed from much…much closer than our vantage point (link: https://youtu.be/hKdVdegHMvU). Eventually, a second wall cloud developed, and we were treated to the catalog of tornado types over a total of approximately 7 different tornadoes (depending on how you count). These ranged in size and structure from rope to stovepipe, wedge, and multiple vortex tornadoes, including multiple times where there were two tornadoes on the ground simultaneously.
As the tornadoes passed over the western outskirts of Dodge City, the storm developed a hail core to our north and we decided call off the chase and head southeast towards our hotel in Pratt, KS for the night. On the way to Pratt, the excitement continued as we encountered a powerful gust front of undetermined origin that was carrying a lot of dust and tumbleweed. The gust was either a downburst from a collapsing storm or inflow to a newly forming updraft in our area. Either way we pulled over to the side and safely watched the gust pass over us and continued toward Pratt. Then as the sun set behind us we were treated to a beautiful and impressive lightning show in the storms to our north. Then to finish off one of the best days in SWIFT history, Dr. Henderson and CDR Cooper treated us to the traditional “first tornado” steak dinner before we turned in for the night.