March 06, 2017   

I knew there was a risk of severe storms today, but with the greatest potential out in Kansas, I didn't give it a lot of thought about making a trip.  Around 11:00, my son Ryan calls me just to make sure I didn't have any thoughts about going on a chase as he had to make a decision about this daily work schedule.  At about the same time, Brian Stertz is texting me about how the outlook was looking extremely good in his own back yard near Kansas City later in the day.  So, as fate would have it, I was gently convinced by the two of them to make the trip.  By 11:30, I was on the road to pick up Ryan and his girlfriend Jennifer Crutchfield who decided she wanted to go.  We made good time with our only stop at the gas station in Oak Grove, Missouri for a fill up.  Our goal was to pick up Brian right after his work shift at about 4:30 and move to the target.

We got to Brian's place around 4:00.  Brian had gotten off a bit early, so we immediately got on the road.  Our initial target was to the southwest of Kansas City to a town called Edgerton, Kansas.  There was a lot of conversation, especially between Brian and Jeff Piotrowski as they tried to figure the whole setup out.  We met up with Jeff in the town of Edgerton and had some more conversation.  As we watched the radar, several circulations became present on the line.  As the tornado warnings began coming out from within the line, we altered our position to a spot further west, then north.  Seemed like no sooner did we readjust, there would be a new circulation that looked a whole lot stronger and we would readjust our position again.  After several repositions, a cell out in front of the line started to look very impressive and garnered our attention.  We repositioned again and then waited for the cell to approach our location.  As we watched it, there was a solid, rotating wall cloud and there were many fingers that would continue to dip down.  Even at one point both Brian and Ryan thought for sure it could have touched down.

After watching the video, we discovered evidence of a tornado firmly on the ground that we did not see with our eyes until 2 minutes and 9 seconds after the tornado touched down.  The tornado was on the ground for 2 minutes and 20 seconds in the video. We caught this video looking to our northwest from Highway 56 as we drove from Edgerton, Kansas to Gardner, Kansas as we were driving back toward Interstate 35.  Wishing the quality of the video grabs were better, but I'll take what I can get with these camcorders.  Certainly, some of the downfalls of chasing at night including not recognizing it in real life and poor camcorder quality.

We worked our way back east/northeast, then back on I-35 and kept up with this tornadic storm all the way up to downtown Kansas City.  There were multiple power flashes even though we were unsure what was causing all of them because some were out ahead of the main circulation.  Finally around downtown, the storm and the road system collided and we were pounded with hail.  The hail covered the ground, mostly pea size, but some up to Half Dollar size.  Drivers through downtown were coming to a dead stop in the middle of traffic lanes under the bridges creating an extremely dangerous situation.  Luckily for us, we did not get slammed in the back end from any distracted drivers.

At this point, we wanted to get out in front of the line that had now caught up with us.  We headed east on I-70.  As we moved east through the intense rain and hail, a circulation on the line grabbed our attention in the southern suburbs of Kansas City.  This quickly became Tornado warned as well.  Ryan calculated the storm would cross I-70 at Oak Grove, Missouri.  As much as we tried to get to the location before the storm, the driving conditions through the blinding rain slowed us down just enough where the storm crossed the highway 3-4 minutes before we could get there.  Little did we know that the storm had just done significant damage in the town of Oak Grove.  Oddly, we never saw a visible damage path across the highway, so we still really had no idea a tornado was confirmed on the ground and did significant damage.  We tried to play catch up on I-70 past the Oak Grove exit, but the storm and us were moving about the same speed and we could never seem to gain any ground on it.  Eventually we called it a lost cause and turned around to take Brian back home.

After dropping Brian off, we now made our way back eastward out of Kansas City toward our house.  Our fuel was getting low, so we pulled off again at the Oak Grove, MO exit.  Some of the businesses had power at the exit and some did not.  We found a gas station with power.  I tried to pump the gas (at 3 different pumps), but it wasn't accepting my credit card.  I went inside to see what the problem was and discovered even though they had power, the storm took out the computers, so no gas.  The people in the station were all a-buzz about the big tornado that just tore through town.  This was the first confirmation for us that there truly was a confirmed tornado.  One guy even showed me a picture of the tornado a friend had taken of the cone tornado along with a few video clips.  I never even thought about taking a picture of the picture on his phone with my phone (darn it).   Before getting back on the highway to continue east and find another gas station that was operationable, we drove up into town as we still had not seen any damage everyone was talking about.  Sure enough, a mile or so up the road, the streets were blocked with dozens of emergency vehicles working to assist the people in town that had damaged homes.  We flipped the car around staying well out of the way of that activity and drove back to the highway, got gas at the Higginsville exit, and made the trip across the state back home. 

For the second straight chase, our light vanished into darkness of night before the storms could really get going.  That leaves photo opportunities at a minimum and quality pictures hard to come by.  In these situations, only the mounted dash camcorder in the car and a handheld camcorder are what we use.  Both of these camcorders are often blurry in low light conditions.  When the situation warrants, we also use a tripoded camera for better quality night photos, but this seldom gets used because we are constantly on the move like we were on this chase with the 60mph storm speeds or the weather conditions are too bad that we don't want to risk getting the camera wet.  For this chase, all we have are video stills from the camcorders and they are just of lower quality.


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15 Hours  -  735 Miles

Click on the link below to see video of some of these storms.

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