Storm Chasing: 5-4-03 Girard, Kansas Tornado

Simon took this picture quickly while I video taped.

The following are all digital video stills except for the two big ones.


At about 5:10 pm, Simon, his roommate Jason and I (Jim) could see the large tornado to our east as the rain got out of the way. It was quite a site.

It cannot clearly be seen, but the southern condensation wall (of the tornado) is right in front if the furthest car, no great than 100 yards to our north. Debris can bee seen in the top of the picture moving from left to right.
In this video still, it's hard to see, but you can again see the wall of the tornado. It must have been between 1/2 and 3/4 miles wide. Debris can be seen just to the left of the furthest right tree. Very intense! These horrible quality video stills do NOT give justice to what we saw at this time!

New wall cloud to our east

Wall cloud to LP to our west, produced a brief rope tornado.

This use to be a well-constructed house. As you can see, all that is left is a concrete foundation. This is a couple miles into Missouri, just ENE of Girard, kansas. That is F5 damage.


5/4/03 Girard, KS Tornado Chase Summary

This chase day began with a wake up call from Jim Bishop, which was followed by a call from Reed Timmer. I jumped to the old computer and made a forecast. I pinpointed southeastern Kansas near the town of Independence. I woke my roommate Jason, whom goes chasing with me from time to time, and asked him if he wanted to tag along, and he did. Jim came over to my house and I threw all my gear in the car. We left Norman around 10:30am and the dryline had already mixed out to just west of the I-35 corridor in Kansas. We took I-44 to SR 99 in NE OK and drove north into Kansas. In the car Jim and I discussed the setup for the day and agreed that southeastern Kansas was the best initial position. We stopped on a small road SW of Independence, KS and monitored developing cumulus towers to our west. Sometime while we watched towers rise and fall we received a call from our friend Chris Walsh, and he told us a small storm had developed a county to our southwest.

We watched and waited as the cell approached our position. The storm developed a nice rain shaft and a good rain-free base. The storm showed good signs of strengthening as it moved over our location. As the cell moved over Independence it seemed to show signs of rotation, but we were slowed by traffic lights in Independence, so the storm got a decent lead on us. We maneuvered around towns on the state highways in Kansas in an attempt to catch the storm, but it seemed that all our efforts were in vain. We almost caught the storm near Parsons, but dropped it again, because we had to make a detour around Parsons. We finally intercepted the storm for a third time in Girard, KS. We did not know at the time, but a tornado had been on the ground since Parsons and was moving ENE toward Girard. As we approached Girard I could see the monster tornado to our east-southeast.

The tornado was a large black wedge as we approached it from the west. We followed closely behind the tornado on SR 57 as it ripped through Franklin. The tornado continued to grow in size as it passed through Franklin. We jumped ahead of the tornado and drove north on a road bordering KS and MO. We stopped on a road directly behind a KS State Trooper and watched the tornado begin to cross the road in front of us. The tornado then began to veer slightly to the south, so the State Trooper and I were both forced to drive our vehicles in reverse in an effort to avoid the tornado.

We then turned the car around and followed the tornado into Missouri. Northeast of Liberal, MO we watched the tornado, which was wrapped in rain, transform from a wedge into an intense stovepipe, soon followed by a cone stage and finally a thin rope stage. Debris fell from the sky like black snow as we watched the once large and ominous tornado rope out over the Missouri countryside. We parked the car and stood in awe gazing at the center of a devastated landscape. The damage path in the wake of the tornado was very wide to say the least. We saw mud covered cows trotting across fields that were now barren with the exception of wood scattered shards that impaled the earth. To me the landscaped seemed to resemble a large cemetery marking the burial spot of once prosperous farmsteads.

From our location we watched an LP supercell fire to our immediate west, which developed a ragged wall cloud. It took only moments for a brief rope tornado to touch down from the newly developed ragged wall cloud. The tornado lasted maybe a minute and then lifted. I am not sure if anyone besides us saw this tornado. The supercell quickly dissipated after the tornado had lifted.

We decided to continue northeast after our original supercell, since it seemed to have a good chance of sustaining itself and possibly producing another tornado. We were slowed down by every damaged house, because we had to ask the people near each house if they needed help. Only once did some men need help, so I jumped out of the car and helped clear some debris from the road, and then we continued on our way. We quickly caught back up to the storm and saw a new wall cloud form to our east, and soon after we began hearing reports over the car radio of a tornado heading for Stockton, which happened to be our storm. We arrived in Stockton, MO just as the tornado was leaving the northeastern side of town. As we entered the south side of town on SR 39 we could clearly see the wall cloud and rain bands wrapping around the backside of the tornado. The town had just been hit and we viewed what the residents of the town were about discover as they slowly left the safety of hiding places within their homes to view the damage.

I tried to make it through Stockton to reach SR 32, but large trees and debris blocked all the roads leading to the north side of town. Also, we noticed the battery light had come on in Jim’s car before we reached Stockton, and I suspected the alternator had died. We had one choice, which was to head south on 39 and try to reach Springfield before the battery died. We did not make it far, because the battery died just south of Stockton in a small town called Arcola, MO. It is too bad our chase was cut short, but far worse things could have happed. We received some help from some residents of the town.

Our biggest dilemma was with respect to Jim and his final exam the next day. Jim’s car needed a new alternator, but we would not be able to get a new alternator till the next day, because it was a Sunday night and half the area was without power due to the large tornado outbreak. Jim could not wait till Monday to get a new alternator, because he had a final exam the next day. We had the car towed to Mt. Vernon. We called a friend, and fellow chaser, to pick up Jim and take him back to Norman, OK, so he could take his final exam. Jason and I slept in the car in Mt. Vernon Sunday night, bought a new alternator the next morning, installed the new alternator, and drove Jim’s car back to Norman that evening. Changing the alternator proved to be a difficult task for Jason and I, but we managed to finish the job. We rolled into Norman, OK Monday night with Jim’s car and a good story.



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