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Today must have been the most stressful, most rewarding, most exciting day of my chasing career. I finally made all the right calls and got lucky, bagging my first tornado on a solo chase.

I was not planning to chase today. I was going to drop Jess off at the Kansas City airport and start for home. All it took was one glance at the SPC outlook to change all that. We raced up to KCI, late as usual, and I left Jess at the airport around 1 PM. It was super unfortunate that she had to leave on this stellar storm day, and it was really tough to see her go.

I went north, just as cells in the area were beginning to initiate. Just like on Friday, they kept forming in one spot, right near Kansas City, and followed the same path to the northeast. The difference today was that these storms were popping up as supercells.

I spent much of the day driving in circles. The first cell I attempted to intercept was a cell that quickly put a tornado on the ground. Unfortunately, I was on the exact wrong side of the storm at that time, and was unable to see anything. It was only a matter of luck that I was able to squeeze into the area of the storm called the “notch”, which is a rain-free area to the southwest of the main updraft. It offers the best look at the wall cloud without any pesky precipitation getting in the way. Hill after hill yielded teasing peeks at the wall cloud, which was blocky and extremely low. The initial tornado reported with this cell must have lifted, but strong rotation was clearly evident, and I saw a brief funnel dip down as I was closing in.

Finally I found a good place to stop and observe the cell from the south as it moved ever so slowly to my north. The funnel was still evident, though it had lifted a bit.

Finally it dropped down and made a nice cone shape. Again, road options were not great, so I only had a few minutes to observe the tornado before it was obscured by rain. I saw dirt being kicked up on the ground, making this funnel officially a tornado on the ground.

I followed directly behind it, passing through the town of Waverly, which had been hit by the tornado. I observed a few downed trees, some of them in the road. One tree has also fallen on the roof of a house, though damage did not look extensive.

I followed behind the storm for a while, but the wall cloud was obscured by rain. Due to the poor road network, I was unable to get into position to see anything else from this cell. A nice juicy cell was next in line, however. The forward flank downdraft from the new cell was going to kill the current storm, so I abandoned it and headed for cell #2.

I got lucky and skirted the core of the second tornado-warned cell, which had a funnel cloud reported on it by I-70. By the time I got into position, however, it had weakened and was no longer a tornado threat.

I raced the final cell of the day to the northeast, on the northern end of the MCS that was beginning to develop. The cell was moving away and was just too far to catch it in time, and its tornado warning expired as soon as I reached it. I almost got stuck because the road was closed, but again got lucky and popped out the northern end of the MCS without incident.

I waited for the mess of storms to pass out of the area, then went back south, headed towards Springfield, MO, where I am spending the night. I stopped several times to take in the post-storm goodies: mammatus clouds, some lightning, and even a full double rainbow stretching all the way across the sky.

It’s tough to get excited during the day because you have a lot of different things to focus on when chasing alone. After the fact, looking back on all the pictures and videos, it all seems very surreal. I’m very proud to have caught my first tornado on my own, though it is unfortunate that it caused damage. The tornado that tore apart Joplin today is also hugely unfortunate, and my heart goes out to the victims who will be struggling to pick up the pieces. I’m passing through Joplin on the way to Oklahoma City tomorrow, and I am not looking forward to surveying the damage. One SPC report says: “Over 20 semitrucks and cars flipped off I-44. All interstate signs gone and damage.” I sure hope the road is open…

Anyway, tomorrow looks like another big day. I’m headed to central/western Oklahoma for early afternoon. There is lots of instability, so things are going to happen early and quickly.

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