By mid-afternoon, it was time to say goodbye to the McDonald’s parking lot in Russell, Kansas and get into full bore chase mode. From Russell, we drove southwest to an area south of Hays, Kansas. Our chase began near the small community of La Crosse as a supercell storm began to intensify. Driving through La Crosse, I made the comment that the town might not be around much longer. I didn’t realize it then how prophetic my words were. We stayed on the storm as it went through cycles of intensifying and weakening. Strong outflow winds generated by the storm buffeted us and raised huge clouds of dust which obscured visibility from time to time. The winds also generated several large gustnadoes. A gustnado is a rapidly rotating column of air usually associated with the outflow from a strong thunderstorm and are sometimes called spin-up tornadoes. Unlike a true tornado, a gustnado usually does not extend from the ground all the way to the clouds above; however, strong gustnadoes can have winds speeds over 100 MPH and are capable of causing damage to property. Our storm failed to generate a tornado, but it did manage to produce some amazing wall clouds and a narrow funnel cloud. Supercells forming to our south did become tornadic by late afternoon/early evening. Unfortunately, our group needed to be in Oklahoma City early Saturday so that several people could make their flight connections on time. Storm chasing friends of mine were able to intercept seven tornadoes produced by the supercells that formed to our south, and you can imagine my disappointment over missing those. It really pained me to see the tornado photos and video they captured, but that’s the way it is sometimes. I still have another week of chasing left, so perhaps it will be my turn then.
And what happened to the town of La Crosse? It was hit by two tornadoes that night. Although there was property damage, no one was seriously injured or killed. Also, one of the DOW trucks I saw earlier in the day took a direct hit from a tornado that same evening. The tornado blew out a window, but didn’t roll the truck and no one inside was injured.