Saturday, May 5, 2007

May 4th Greensburg, KS

Wow. What a bittersweet chase for us. Randy Rhea and I basically farted our way west slowly waiting for storms to go up. I didn't want to wait for the south cells to move into our area, so we just tried to keep from getting bored and held our ground. It paid off. We were heading west toward the new cell west of Coldwater when we heard the first TOR warning. The only equipment we had was a weather radio. So we were already scared. Night chasing with no radar is not a good idea. So we're about 8 miles east of Coldwater flying west when we hear the first funnel reports. SHOWTIME! Not even 2 minutes later that funnel turned into a large tornado with a small(er) tornado forming under a new meso. Well, that newer "small" tornado grew at an alarming rate. As we were turning north onto 183 in Coldwater, we could see the southern area of circulation, and it looked iffy. We get up onto a hill, to see a large cone to the west, and a growing stovepipe on the east side of the updraft base. With each lightning flash, the stovepipe grew into a moster. Absolutely massive. We were at least 10 miles away and it was a beast. As we got closer, the western tornado weakened, but at least 2 satellite tornadoes were dancing around the wedge. There were at least 4 on the ground at this time, 2 strong ones. My buddy Randy Hicks was very close to these tornadoes and saw 6 at once. 2 more satellites on the north side of the wedge. As we followed it north, it only got bigger. At one point, it looked like it was wrapping up in rain. We stopped, i got out and took some pictures, and it looked at least 1.5 miles wide. we were more than 5 miles south of it and it takes up the whole frame. We continued to follow it north as it went through Greensburg. We were sure the roads were blocked due to significant damage, so we tried to take a county road around town. Bad idea. Stuck in the mud. With a new meso trying to funnel to our west. Luckily, we're awesome, so we got unstuck, and got the hell out of there. We watch a new wedge move NE and decide we can't catch it(we thought it was the same one, but damage paths and radar say otherwise). Then we decided to go home, due to damage reports and basically knowing we couldn't get to it. We left the wx-radio on just to hear damage reports. It produced numerous strong tornadoes for somewhere around 5 hours. Amazingly there were only 12 confirmed deaths as Greensburg sustained a direct hit. The warning system won the battle tonight. 95% of the town was destroyed, and only 12 people lost their lives. thats amazing to me. Props to Mike Umshied, the Warning coordinator for the NWS in DDC. He was in touch with spotters and issued a "Tornado Emergency" for Greensburg and saved countless lives. Its just amazing how well the spotters, chasers, NWS, and local TV Mets worked together tonight. If the warning system worked this well all the time, tornado deaths could be cut in half.

Another death was confirmed as an on-duty police officer was spotting around Macksville. The damn tornado was so big he didn't know it was there. He died protecting his town and he is a hero. Our hearts and prayers go out to all of those affected by this outbreak.