Sitka, KS Tornado
May 31, 1999

Chase Summary

Shaun Kelly (N0JDT) and I departed Burlington, Colorado in the morning and drove south to Slapout, OK. From there, we saw the cell go up. We intercepted it and stayed to the east of the updraft. Another cell tried to form immediately to the southeast but got sucked in to the main storm. It developed a second wall cloud. Then, the whole storm seemed to gust out to the south. The tornado then developed.

On May 31, we started in Slapout, OK. The Meade storm exploded convincingly enough that we felt we needed to go north. There was another storm visible much farther to the south (the Lawton storm, probably), and a few moderate/towering cumulus to our southeast. With 25MAY97 engraved in my head, I kept my eye on those towering Cu while Shaun drove north (they never did anything). We took State Highway 23 up to Meade State Park, and instead of drifting west then north from there, we decided that even though we were somewhat far away, we still had a good view of the updraft base, so we went east, then north, up Highway 23. This allowed us to get some decent structure shots from a little farther away, where we could see various inflow bands and parts of the main tower.

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Storm tower as we approach from the south.

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View looking west, from Hwy. 23, just north of Meade State Park.

We continued north on 23 to Meade, then we stayed on U.S. 160 all the way to Sitka. We were very fortunate to have this highway so nicely follow the path of the storm. As the storm moved east-southeast, the updraft base/action area slowly got south of the highway. Fortunately, 160 took a short dive south with U.S. 283 for a few miles, putting us back due east of the meso again, and giving us some more breathing room to avoid the core.

What was really the decisive factor in our route was a combination of two things: 1) We were getting light hail 2) We were thinking 25MAY97. Because of (1), we kept drifting east ahead of the action area to avoid the larger hail that was being reported closer to the updraft base to our west. Because of (2), we were constantly looking for new development to the south to choke off our storm. At the southern junction of 283 and 160, we saw one of the struggling towers to our south suddenly take off. At the same time, it was getting pulled into the updraft of the Meade storm and exhibited an interesting horizontal
roll at its base as this happened. At this point, I seem to recall making the decision to get east under the new "storm". We kept driving east either because of this decision or because we could not find many good, unoccupied pulloffs, or both.

Anyway, we ended up at the junction of U.S. 160 and U.S. 183 (Sitka). There was a good parking lot, and, feeling safely east of things again, we stopped to take more video/stills. By this time, the second updraft had been pulled in, so that there was just one very large updraft base, but a second wall cloud, just to our west, was visible between us and the original Meade storm action area.

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New wall cloud in foreground (left), old wall cloud in the background (below, right).
View is to the west.

Up until now, the core had stayed just to our north the whole time, paralleling us just north of the highway. However, it was becoming apparent, as we sat at this intersection (Sitka), that the now very mean-looking core was coming more directly south at us than before, and it was time to take the south road option. So south on U.S. 183 we went.

Right at this time, it looked to me like the storm was gusting out, since everything seemed to be suddenly surging south at us. What I didn't think of at the time is that the storm could have simply been taking a sharp right hand turn before producing its tornado.

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Everything is starting to surge southward, looking like things might gust out.
Winds may have switched more east-northeasterly here for a bit.

The cloud features looked much more ragged, which fooled me for a bit, but seeing that this "gust-out" was a wet "RFD" cutting in from the north, what we saw makes more sense. We were able to zero in again on an area of cylonic rotation amidst the mess. Underneath that area was some rotating dust, and looking at the video, the initial point of tornadogenesis was probably a bit farther north than I originally thought. Anyway, with the rain surging faster south behind this area of rotation, the original action area disappeared from our view entirely, so it became quite clear to us what we were following. We wanted to stop and set up for video/stills, but when we tried to do so, the rapid southward motion of the tornadic area kept us moving south along with it.

Finally, as the visible condensation funnel formed, we realized this beast was soon going to cross our road. It was our decision whether it would do so in front of us or behind us. We chose the latter. It would have been "safer" for us to choose the former, but I guess I didn't want to get swallowed by core and take baseballs. I was definitely thinking "turnpike" as we raced south in front of the tornado, but we made it, and there were even one or two cars well behind us (1/2 to 1 mile behind) that also made it safely. Their video, if it exists, is probably more dramatic than ours.

Initial Stage of Tornado - No visible funnel, but definite rotation in contact with the ground


A minute or two later, the condensation funnel is fully formed.


Dust and debris cloud is now making an appearance.

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Dust and debri cloud is fully visible now.

At this point, we are most concerned about getting south.
The tornado is about to cross our road.

Tornado is getting closer now.  Keep moving!
Next time, we'll probably park it and let the tornado go in front.

Tornado in rear view mirror, about to cross the road.
Powdered sugar donuts starring in the video.

With the tornado now wrapped and behind us, we decided to hang out for a while.  We captured a couple more neat images.

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A left-moving storm approaches us rapidly from the south.

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The sun sets on our chase.

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