The summer solstice starts this afternoon at 5:34pm CDT, June 20th. A full moon will also occur during solstice tonight. The astronomical timing is such that this is actually rare occurrence. The next full moon that will occur on a summer solstice will be on June 21st, 2062. The last time a full moon occurred during a summer solstice was the summer of 1967, shortly after midnight. Prior, it also occurred during the summer solstice of 1948.
In 1917 – The temperature at Tribune, Kansas, dipped to 30 degrees to establish a state record for the month of June.
In 1949 – A tornado northeast of Alfalfa, Oklahoma, circled an area one mile in radius.
In 1985 – Lightning struck a house, broke a bedroom window, and missed striking a metal frame bed. A man was killed but his wife was unharmed by the lightning.
On Tuesday, May 24th, 2016, a small outbreak of tornadoes occurred in southwestern Kansas within the vicinity of Dodge City. There were 14 observed tornadoes, including four sets of twin tornadoes, a set of triplets, and a large multi-vortex tornado and wedge tornado. So far, the National Weather Service in Dodge City, Kansas, surveyed 9 tornadoes thus far. Fortunately, the majority of these tornadoes remained over open fields. There were five EF-3, two EF-2, and two EF-1 tornadoes that occurred within the Dodge City area (the EF-Scale is a damage indicator scale, and tornadoes are solely rated based off of the damage they cause).
Tuesday was shaping up to be a potentially volatile day across southwestern Kansas. The 1900z / 2:00pm CDT observed sounding on Tuesday launched from the National Weather Service in Dodge City, Kansas, sampled an extremely unstable environment with CAPE (instability) in excess of 4,000j/kg. Extreme instability, coupled with sufficient low-level wind shear profiles and dew points that were nearing 70°F, the environment was becoming highly favorable for supercells.
We initially traveled down to Buffalo, Oklahoma, just to the north of Woodward where a dryline bulge was present. Dryline bulges are caused when winds within the troposphere (part of the atmosphere where weather occurs) are stronger in one particular region than the other due to strong low-level convergence and wind shear. This, in turn, causes parts of the dryline to mix forward, or bulge (Note: A dryline is not a front nor does it function like one). This exponentially increases the potential for severe thunderstorms, and an upper tier tornado watch was issued by the Storm Prediction Center for southwestern Kansas and western Oklahoma, with high probabilities of strong tornadoes and extremely large hail.
Cumulus towers began to form within the vicinity of the Buffalo—Woodward—Dodge City area. Continuing to watch the visible satellite and cumulus fields deepen, we watched an anvil develop to our north. Leaving Buffalo, Oklahoma, we headed north into southwestern Kansas. The storm developed rapidly with a well defined base. As we approached the vicinity of the storm, we documented the first wall cloud of the day (video can be found via here). Strong, warm, and moist inflow was occurring at the time as scud was rising rapidly into the rotating wall cloud.
We decided to continue to head north on Highway 283 towards Minneola and Dodge City. Shortly thereafter, the first tornado of the day formed south of Minneola and Dodge City. Turning west off of Highway 283 onto a dirt road, we traveled westward for about a mile or two to document the tornado (video can be found at the bottom of the page). At first, the condensation funnel was not fully condensed due to somewhat of a lacking of moisture from the downdraft. Over a short period of time; however, the funnel was able to condense all the way to the ground, leaving a spectacular view as we were positioned about 4 to 5 miles to its south-southeast. The tornado then began to stretch out due to a process called dynamic piping, where stretched air flowing at the surface into the tornado contracts. A corollary to this is the vortex of water that forms while draining a bathtub.
After the helical vortices occurred, the tornado dissipated rather quickly. Within a period of about 10-15 seconds, a second tornado formed. And, in a very short amount of time, the second tornado began to grow in size rapidly. It moved off to the north-northeast at about 20-30MPH, faster than the first tornado that formed. We headed back east towards Highway 283 and continued northward towards Dodge City.
Pulling over safely off of Highway 283 south of Dodge City, we moved off near a field and began to document the tornado as it traversed across the landscape. A few miles away from the tornado, we observed rapid horizontal motion as dirt was sucked around the tornado. Given the low amount of debris and saturated ground, the tornado did not pick up an abundance of dirt from the fields. As a result, the fully condensed funnel took on an incredible grey color as it moved through the open fields.
However, the tornado kept maintaining its speed and increased its movement to near 20MPH as it headed northward towards Dodge City. We quickly got back in our truck and headed north on Highway 283. The tornado continued to grow, and the right edge of the tornado began to bow out as we documented numerous horizontal vortices. At this point, the tornado was becoming violent. Horizontal vortices are an indicator of rapid vertical winds near and within the tornado.
Due the significance of this tornado as it continued to move towards the near vicinity Dodge City, a population of about 30,000, the National Weather Service office upgraded the Tornado Warning that was in effect for Dodge City to a Tornado Emergency. These are only issued as a last resort by the National Weather Service as the tornado poses an imminent danger to human life and property, with the potential to produce catastrophic damage.
We came to the junction of Highway 283 and Highway 400 northbound, and decided head northward on Highway 400. Twin tornadoes formed again as the stovepipe tornado moved off to the north and northwest as a large multi-vortex tornado began to form from a wall cloud that was nearly touching the ground. The stovepipe tornado began to rope out as the multi-vortex tornado intensified. A new tornado formed to the left of the multi-vortex as it headed north to the southern areas of Dodge City. The supercell began to occlude, and the twin tornadoes began to turn left, sideswiping downtown Dodge City.
Mobile Doppler radars from the University of Oklahoma (OU RaXPol) and from the Center for Severe Weather Research observed six vortices within the multi-vortex tornado that revolved in a Fujiwhara motion before forming into the wedge tornado, according to one of the field scientists. Here is a brief four second time lapse of the multi-vortex tornado as it headed into southwest Dodge City. The sub-vortices within the time lapse can be clearly seen “dancing” around the surface in an erratic and violent motion.
Traveling north on Highway 400 towards the southwest part of town, we started to observe damage with downed trees, and sheet metal roofs ripped off of farm buildings. This was one of the latest images I took of the multi-vortex tornado before it turned into a wedge, and before we encountered more damage.
Nearing the junction of Highway 400 and Highway 50 in the southwest part of town, we came up on a tractor trailer that was tossed by the tornado. The truck driver was okay, and police had just arrived on scene. In turn, we continued to travel north towards Highway 50.
Turning east onto Highway 50, we came across a row of downed power lines and observed more sheet metal roofs torn off buildings, and debris scattered about the fields. Eventually, we crossed a row of trees and saw a house that suffered major damage. Immediately, we pulled over and found a clearing to crawl underneath the power lines that were about six feet above the ground. We gave immediate aid to the people affected by the tornado. It took roughly an hour for paramedics to get their vehicles up to the house due to the downed power lines. We stayed within them through and when the paramedics arrived. But, they were eventually taken to the hospital to be treated and were miraculously released the next day in fair condition.
These are a few of the photos I took of the damage after the people affected by the tornado were taken to the hospital. The damage photos were sent the next day to the National Weather Service in Dodge City to be used for their damage surveys as they provided documentation of the damage immediately after the tornado impacted the area.
After surveying damage at the house and within the general vicinity, we came across baseball to softball size hailstones that were still on the ground more than an hour after they fell. The main hail core impacted that area before we came up on it.
The chances of seeing the magnitude and multitude of tornadoes in a relatively small area from one storm is extremely rare. The outbreak of tornadoes that occurred in the Dodge City, Kansas, region, on Tuesday, May 24th, was likely one of the most documented storm’s in history as there were mobile Doppler radars, hundreds of storm spotters and storm chasers filming the storm’s evolution, as well as data from the scientific instruments placed in front of the tornadoes. The forecast lead time ahead of the event, and ground truth information provided to the National Weather Service was a key factor in getting word out of the oncoming danger. Only two people were injured during the entire event, and no one lost their lives.