Well as anyone on Facebook probably saw, last night was absolutely the single most terrifying and humbling night of my life. Josh has confirmed that the vehicle I was in, Scout 1, received a direct hit by the outer circulation of the strong side of an EF2 tornado. We were chasing in central Kansas surrounded by three supercells with tornado producing wall clouds. It was like rolling a dice decided which one to go after. From any one vantage point we could usually see at least two of the wall clouds. And the velocity signatures on radar were blowing up. We let the first warned cell go by but the second one we almost immediately had a visual on a rope-like tornado near Walker, KS. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwOUnkb5iQg&feature=youtu.be It was very close to us, in fact the upper circulation was directly over our heads so it was a race to get ahead of it in order to deploy pods. The casing for our temperature/relative humidity sensor on the mesonet fell off and another vehicle M2 ran it over! Josh jumped out of DOW7 and came into our Scout and directed us along a road until, unfortunately the tornado dissipated.But like I said, we were seeing tons of rotation all around us, so even though it was getting dark we got ourselves positioned for the next rotating updraft. DOW8 was sent north along the road to get a good scan of the developing tornado while Scout 1 followed closely behind, by about a 1/4-1/3 mile. By this time, it was pitch black except for the lightning and we knew we had a tornado on the ground but communication kinda fell through and we couldn’t get any azimuth or lat/lon of the circulation from the DOWs. So we are sitting on this road trying to watch for the tornado in the lightning and then we look up and see TIV (tornado intercept vehicle) and Sean Casey maybe a few yards in front of us between us and DOW8. We got struck by a big gust and the truck rocked a bit but then it got very quiet. So Josh told Karen the tornado had crossed the road in front of us but she kept yelling back into the mic NO NO NO It has not crossed the road yet, 0.5km away from your position! Next thing I know, my ears explode. It was so painful to feel that pressure drop and my heart dropped into my stomach because I knew what that drop in pressure must have meant. And then the wind came out of nowhere and shoved us. We could see the circulation on the ground in our headlights and our truck started turning to the side. Ronan, being the most amazing driver on the planet (drove TIV and a production vehicle for ice road truckers) put the car in reverse and steered our back into the strongest wind so we didn’t skid any further). But by the time it was over, we had been spun a bit and he had reversed more than 90 degrees. Our mesonet only read 70mph but I believe it was a bit higher than that. We then looked up and saw a house beyond DOW8 explode. Completely explode. Debris everywhere and you could see the condensation funnel on the ground in our headlights. We jumped out as soon as it stopped and I started to run up the road to take pictures, but then realized there was debris falling from the sky so I ran back to Scout1 and kinda hovered under the side view mirror. We heard yelling on the radio that DOW8 had been hit and broke a window! But once we had confirmation that they were okay, we drove up towards the house and discovered there was literally nothing left, not one wall was standing. We later found out it was a modular home that had no been strapped to the foundation.I yelled to Josh that I saw a car in the driveway and someone might be home so I grabbed my phone to call 911 and Ronan and Josh ran towards the debris calling out for anyone. Before I could finish dialing I heard yelling from the neighbor across the street. I ran over to her and she told me her elderly neighbor Pat was on the porch right before it struck. I rushed across the street to relay this to Ronan and Josh. Ronan was the first to hear moaning and was able to pick his way through the rubble towards the woman, who by some miracle was laying on top of the pile, barely buried with a few bad gashes but awake and somewhat responsive. By then a couple of sherrif’s deputies pulled up and asked me if I lived here. I said no but told them someone was injured in the house and where she was. They asked me to find a flashlight so I ran back across the street to the hysterical neighbor and managed to calm her down enough to find me a flashlight from her home. She kept screaming asking me over and over if her neighbor was alive. I told her she was and that the best way to help would be to calm down and to find a flashlight for the paramedics. I could hear her children frightened in the basement. She got me a flashlight and I ran back across the street, remembering just feet from downed power lines to watch where I was going closely. There was literally glass and nails and wood everywhere as far as you looked. By this time our team paramedic was with the woman and a local firefighter. So I picked my way through the debris, cutting and scratching my legs a bit, and held my phone and flashlight over the firefighter’s shoulder who was holding the woman’s neck steady. Our medic Eddie was asking the woman all kinds of questions, her name, age, who was president, what year it was, her address, did she know what happened… She knew her address and other than that could only tell us tornado over and over again. She was definitely in shock. To make matters worse, it started pouring. I took off my jacket to hold over the poor lady who was covered in blood, insulation and drywall dust. Ronan gave me his jacket but I was soaked from head to toe by this point anyway. Once the ambulance arrived, I was sent by the paramedics to get blankets from the ambulance to keep the woman dry and I once again picked my way through debris. Once she was in the ambulance and we got back to our vehicle, that’s when it all hit me. I felt extremely overwhelmed. Tornadoes, to me, are the most beautiful things on the planet. But in that second where I was standing over this woman in the pouring rain holding a small pinpoint flashlight, smelling natural gas, shaking from the cold and rain, I looked down and realized that I was standing on a small Christmas trinket tin from Pat’s house…I hated tornadoes. We kept chasing immediately after the rescue, like nothing had happened. But I was completely humbled. I still don’t even have a grasp on all the emotions that went through me last night. I stayed up until nearly 5am talking to Ronan and Herb, one of the DOW engineers, about the stress and shock of a situation like that. You see damage photos on the news but you can’t (I never did) possibly understand the human emotion of being caught in something like that. It’s completely indescribable. Today we are chasing in northeast Nebraska and tomorrow, our target city is none other than Russell, Kansas again. I have mixed feelings about this because I don’t want these poor people to be put through this again so soon but I want to possibly go back to the lady’s house and talk with her neighbors, maybe bring her flowers.http://www.crh.noaa.gov/news/display_cmsstory.php?wfo=ict&storyid=83526&source=0 Walker, KS Tornado from the dash of Scout 2
Russell, KS Tornado from the dash of Scout 2
Lowering wall cloud
Found another radar truck!
Funnel! Walker, KS tornado
Damage from Russell tornado