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  • Writer's pictureMichael Thornton

Chased by a squall line

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

VS showing little to no cloud coverage in SW KS.

The day before June 21st, I was looking at weather models and noticed that both the NAM 3km and HRRR agreed that we could have dewpoints as high as 65 degrees along with instability reaching into the 3,000s and shear values maxing out at around 73 knots [84mph] 18,000 feet above the earths surface in Southwestern Kansas and Oklahoma. On June 21st, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK issued a Moderate Risk for severe weather in the afternoon hours stating that "Numerous severe storms are expected across the Plains, including Kansas and Oklahoma this afternoon and tonight. Very large hail, intense damaging wind gusts, and a few tornadoes will be possible." Around 10 am I looked at mesoscale analysis to see exactly what the atmosphere was doing in real-time. I noticed that Thermodynamics were showing instability reaching into the 4,000s because of the lack of cloud coverage in SW KS. I also noticed that there were 30 knots of shear [34mph] 18,000 feet above the earths surface in that same area.

Cumulus towers shooting vertical into the atmosphere in SW KS. - 3pm.

At 3pm cumulus towers began to shoot vertical into the atmosphere changing the bright blue skies into an atmosphere filled with cotton-like clouds in Southwestern Kansas. I watched multiple towers initiate and then fail to support itself in an environment prime for potential supercells. That was until two storms began to initiate near Montezuma, KS.

I watched as both of these cells continued to grow from the town of Ford, KS. Knowing that they were indeed going to grow into something bigger because of the supportive environment. I began to drive North on U.S. Route 400 and then turned onto Ford-Ensign road until I reached the town of Ensign, KS. From here the storm began to develop and show supercellur characteristics. The storm began to take a NW track towards the town of Wickett, KS. I drove North on road 24

where I met a farmer who told me that they

desperately needed precipitation and hoped that the storm would bring them some. With some dejection I informed the farmer that they weren't going to see any rain with this storm, however, I told him that a squall line will eventually overtake this supercell and in the next couple of hours, he would get his wish. Soon after the storm began to head more NW and I headed North down road 24 until I reached P road. From this location, I watched as the storm began to show

tornadic potential. While I was capturing photos of this gorgeous storm, a couple in a Dodge Ram came up to me asking if I needed help. I thanked them for their concern but happily told them that I was chasing storms. This Severe Thunderstorm began to become more High-Precipitation and quickly lost all of the visible structures. Since the storm

was about to collide with a squall line coming in from NW KS, I decided that it was best to go West on U.S. Route 400 and watch storms as they began to collide with each other from the "Santa Fe Trail Tracks". Almost immediately after I grabbed my tripod for my cameras a family showed up behind my vehicle and began walking down the trails right into the Severe Thunderstorm. I

couldn't believe what I was seeing. I kept asking myself "Why are they going down that trail, don't they see the obvious structure points?" I yelled at them to get back in their vehicles, but I got no response. Soon after I had to bail as the squall line was coming way to close for comfort. As I drove down U.S. Route 400, I was gaining ground, but

then I, along with a dozen other chasers were forced to stop as two semis with oversized loads took up the entire on-ramp to take U.S. Route 400 South along with the main road. As we were waiting for the semis to pass a white Chevy Tahoe came blazing past all of us and went into the grass trying to get around the stuck traffic. After the semis

passed, I calmly drove South on US-283, as I knew I was once again gaining ground on a squall line that was producing around 93mph winds inside the storm. This is when the white Chevy Tahoe made its return. The people inside this Chevy Tahoe must have been terrified because they were driving incredibly reckless trying to get out in front of the storm. As I was getting blasted by dust being picked up from the storm's outflow they continued to ride the bumper of my vehicle until I pulled over to let them pass. Had I needed to slam on my brakes due to the decrease in visibility, I could have been seriously injured because of this. Please, if you are interested in chasing storms, always remain calm and give people space when driving. Eventually, I gained enough ground to be able to safely pull off of US 283 and measure wind speeds as the gust front came towards me. This next part was probably one of the coolest experiences ever. As the gust front overtook me an average wind speed of 30mph/max wind gust of 42.5mph was recorded. I was

outside during this whole process and as a result, was hit by dust being picked up from the storm's outflow. It might seem insignificant, but being able to experience a storm's outflow and then getting hit by dust as a result of said outflow and being outside in it is just absolutely incredible. After almost losing my hat I continued South on US 283 until I got to US 160 where I turned West onto the road and found an awesome spot to

view two separate parts of the squall line. An older couple in a blacked-out Ford Raptor joined me soon after. After missing a beautiful anvil crawler I decided to pack up everything and continue South on US 283. This is when I struck up a quick conversation with the older couple. They said that they were from Chattanooga, OK. The couple made a funny

remark saying "The great lightning strikes always seem to occur after you put away the camera." I laughed and replied, "That always seems to be the case for me." The couple then headed towards Meade, KS to intercept part of the squall line and I headed back East on US 160 then South on US 283 where I noticed how incredibly blue this HP

Thunderstorm had become. It was breathtaking. I continued down US 283 until I passed Rosston, OK, where I pulled over to watch and photograph a beautiful shelf cloud coming right at me. By this time I was about 10 miles out in front of the squall line and that allowed me to let it safely come near me and shoot video of it. As it came within 5 miles of me I tracked more South on US 283, where I got gas in the town of Laverne, OK.

The next 30 minutes were easily the most intense part of the entire chase. As I was getting gas in Laverne, OK, the gust front overtook the town. This meant that while I was getting gas, I was being hit by 40mph straight-line winds, even though it's not severe, trash cans, and other loose objects were in the air. I only filled up to 10 gallons and informed the gas station

workers to get inside as the storm was right on Laverne, OK. From here I immediately dropped South on US 283. Once I got to the intersection of 283 and 412 I had to quickly make up my mind whether I wanted to continue South or evade the storm by taking 412, a Southeastern option. I chose to continue down US 283 as it was the quickest

and most safe way to evade the squall line that was looking to engulf me. As I continued down US 283 towards Shattuck, OK, lightning began to increase. I realized I was inside a lightning barrage. I then looked off to my West and noticed a huge fireball in the distance. A lightning bolt had struck a battery tank. At this point in time, I was most worried about my GMRS antenna becoming a target for a CG bolt and destroying my vehicle's

electronic system. After I reached the town of Arnett, OK, I looked at my options. I could either continue chasing this squall line into Central Oklahoma or go West into the Texas Panhandle, where a Tornado Warned cell was near the town of Higgins, TX, only 18 miles away. I decided to do neither of those two things and end the chase.

On June 21st, I chased across two separate states, for a total of 451.2 miles and that is before counting the 3-hour drive home. I have realized that in 2020, I have been enjoying my chases much more than I have in the prior years. This chase was no different. I truly enjoyed chasing on June 21st as the structure and storms were just absolutely awesome to be around. I sincerely hope that you enjoyed reading my blog today and I hope that you are in good health! Until next time, I will see you under the meso!

Click here to watch footage from the June 21st chase!!


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