April 3rd, 2011 - Northeast Kansas
This day looked to be a decent chase day across east-central Kansas, so Chris, Michael and I headed south to stay the night at my aunt's house in Wichita. This would make the following day much easier to chase since we would already be much closer to our target when we woke up.
However, as we drove south through the Flint Hills, we found a few things to shoot. They were burning their fields, so the entire region was surrounded by a yellow haze as the sun got lower. Some of the fires got a little out of control, encroaching upon the ditches and even some guardrails along the highway.
We deviated off our original route a bit so we could shoot something Chris remembered driving by on a chase earlier in the season. He was talking about Eureka Falls, KS. Really comes out of nowhere. You're driving along on the flat/rolling planes, dip down into a small valley, and suddenly on your left is a really nice set of waterfalls at the end of a lake. Definitely not what you'd expect to see in Kansas!
Shot some other landscapes around the area, including this small pool and gnarly tree near the base of the falls.
Eventually climbed some shale shelves to the right of the falls and carefully made our way across the stream to the other side. The adjacent "cliff" gave a nice overall view of the falls.
That was just pre-chase day stuff though, so as far as we were concerned, the REAL stuff to photograph would come tomorrow. On the drive back we had a ridiculously close call with several dear on the highway. I'm not sure how we made it through, but Chris managed to weave between 4 deer that all came across the road at once! We almost nailed one on the right, while another deer crossed just ahead of us. 2 other deer nearly rammed into our side, yet somehow, we made it through without a scratch! Talk about luck. We soon made our way to my aunt's house where we spent the night (thanks again, Christi!).
Woke up around 10-11am to look at data (feels nice to get a full night of rest before a chase lol). Before long we were on the road towards Emporia, KS where we met up with Mira (another chaser). Grabbed lunch at Freddy's and watched a fairly steady stream of chasers pass through town. While we waited for things to fire, we drove around looking for another nearby set of waterfalls. Before we could get there though, a couple updrafts exploded just west of Manhattan, KS. They were already pretty healthy looking on tops, so we raced north. Got a shot of our towers framed behind an old Kansas schoolhouse on the drive there.
(If you want to see a gorgeous timelapse film revolving around this school house, check out Kansas-based photographer Stephen Locke's video here!)
Blasted on the winding Kansas highways and eventually got a good closer view of the updraft. Some nice crunchy convection!
As we got under the base, though, it was apparent that this thing already wanted to be outflow-dominant and elevated. Almost looked like an elevated whale's mouth shelf underneath.
What this thing did end up doing was become a rather prolific gustnado producer. Gustnadoes are generally weak areas of circulation that form along the leading edge of the storm. I'm not sure if I could even count how many we saw as there always seemed to be one going on somewhere at just about every point on the drive. We intercepted what seemed to be one of these gustnadoes while going through a small town.
Thanks to all of the field fires, there was an obscene amount of ash and corn husks being hurled in the air. Definitely a surreal scene as this house was silhouetted in a cloud of ash and dust.
From this point on, the chase was essentially impossible. This thing was severe-warned and I believe its text said moving ENE at 80mph. Good luck keeping up with that thing. We hopped on the turnpike but really failed to gain any ground on it. Fast storm motions are a b**ch. Eventually pulled off of the turnpike to shoot the storm as it overtook us. There was briefly an area of circulation, but it died out after a minute. In this shot towards the top-center you can see a rounded funnel trying to form. Nothing impressive or really threatening, but it did have a little rotation with it.
Just the shear speed of the storm was enough to cause some wind damage. Evidently some pipe in this hardware store busted and started spraying water. Not sure what exactly happened but you can see some of the bend sheet metal.
All in all, a very strange start to the season lol. Think we got more usable shots the day before shooting the waterfalls. Early season storm motions are just so damn difficult to keep up with, but we made the most of it. Got to meet a couple new chasers and in the end, had a fun time chasing the Flint Hills of Kansas!