Trentham Stormchasers  - 'Going to Extremes' 2012 USA Roadtrip

The Langley, Kansas EF4 Wedge Tornado

Report: Clyve Herbert

Photography: Clyve Herbert / 14th April, 2012

It was almost 4 weeks since we arrived in was an unusual experience, coming to America with my younger brother Keith and my son Dayle. Keith was accompanying me with plans of renovating our homebase in Hillsboro, Kansas. Dayle was also eager to muck into the work.

Denver, as usual, was a great airport to arrive in - I can highly recommend it, with easy access to the east and barely an hour and a half away from the Rocky Mountains. The house renovations in Hillsboro took the best part of 3 and a half weeks - it was a huge job! My brother's expertise in home renovations was invaluable! Still, the 3 of us had lots of fun as we slogged through our 12 hour days. The time had gone fast and there had been little opportunity for stormchasing...only a brief chase to eastern Kansas on the 22nd March where we encountered orange sized hailstones and a rotating wallcloud.

Today though (14th April), is the last day my brother and son would be in America as we were en route to Denver for their departure to Australia. But as fate would have it, today was one of the highest risk days for tornadoes in Kansas for over a year. The setup was classic - a cold front approaching from the west, a dryline and triple point across southwest Kansas, an amplifying upper trough, and a strong surge of Gulf moisture.

By late morning we were heading SW to Greensburg, in gloomy low level fractus and stratiform cloud with occasional drizzle. The low level southerly was blowing at 30-40 knots and buffeting the car about. With humidity at 85% and temperature of 21C/70F, there would be no shortage of energy for any storms that would get organised today.

By early afternoon, cells were developing along a frontal dryline across western Kansas with the upper level jet digging in at over 100knots. As the storms grew taller they started to get a move on, but the updrafts proved strong and were able to deal with the speed shear quite effectively. By mid afternoon, just about every storm that grew along the frontal boundary became a supercell.As we headed toward Greensburg the tornadic cell to our northwest weakened rapidly in response to a new cell developing just west of Greensburg. We headed north to pace this new development which grew stronger over the next 40 minutes or so. The storm started to develop a strong beaver tail on its right flank and a potent looking flanking line. Radar indicated strong mid-level rotation. The roads were becoming clogged with chaser convergence...we opted for farm roads where our Chevy Traverse AWD coped quite well with the muddy surface.We zig-zagged NE alongside the wallcloud, the RFD showing a strong dry slot cut. We found a sealed road and headed north to be enveloped in the RFD rainwrap.We finally escape east and emerge under the beaver tail.Turning north along a county road, the wall area suddenly dropped an almost instant wedge tornado, barely half a mile to our east. It was here that we encountered some idiot drivers...a white 4WD roared past to pull up directly in front of us - we had to swerve to avoid a rear end collision. The majority of chasers in America are thoughtful and conscientious on the roads - I would assume that the odd idiots are not storm chasers, but opportunists that tag along.

We continued to zigzag northeast, pacing the now enormous wedge tornado, gathering abut 30 minutes of high definition footage. Finally we were blocked by debris and could no longer proceed. Instead we pull over and video the gigantic tornado receding to the NE. My brother was ecstatic! He would often tell me over the years he would love to witness a tornado - today he crossed one wish off his bucket list! My son Dayle stood there bugeyed, almost in disbelief and was initiated into stormchasing with one of the largest tornadoes I had ever seen.

As evening approached, the day was not over for us. Driving to Denver looked as if it would become an all night session as we headed back to our homebase Hillsboro, KS, where another tornadic supercell was rotating NE at almost 50 mph. We dipped south from Hwy56 along Hwy 15 towards the small village of Goessel where we encountered a rapidly rotating wallcloud that soon put down a trunk tornado. In near darkness we witness our second tornado for the day touch down.This slender funnel lifted and touched down over the next 40 miles - we had several close encounters and some great video footage. We watched a multivortex scream across a field barely 200 yards from us. It was getting late and we needed to be in Denver...we turned tail and eventually head along Interstate 70. From the sopping humidity of Kansas, we enter Colorado with sleet and snow, to arrive in Denver at 3am (CDT).

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RFD cutting in north of Greensburg Kansas

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The storm starts to exhibit classic supercell structure...beavertail on the right, flanking line on the left, with an RFD undercut. Note the tilted updraft.

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We paced the wallcloud south of Langley when it suddenly put down an almost instant wedge tornado.

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We pace the tornado for the next 30 minutes near Langley and to the north, zigzagging across muddy farm roads and connecting county roads

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Eventually we were blocked by debris....and stopped to photograph the receding massive wedge tornado moving NE at an estimated 60mph

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The tornado finally disappears into the haze and continued to beyond Salina and on towards the Nebraska border. It would be difficult to rate this tornado as it effected mainly open country however it left significant stripped fields where the track could be seen disappearing into the distance. My estimation of strength would be top end EF3 or EF4.

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Classic hook of the Langley tornado. KS

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Dayle and Keith Herbert...and a tornado

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Keith achieves another of his bucket listed items.....

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More views of the receding Langley tornado

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Final shot of the Langley tornado.

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Second tornado for the day was at Goessel, KS in near darkness....also a sporadic tornado cycling supercell that ended up near Manhattan and passed 8 miles west of our homebase at Hillsboro.

Stay tuned for the next episode...

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