A cone tornado that was rated EF-2 along its path touches down near La Crosse, Kansas on May 25, 2012. See this image larger.

On our 7,500 mile journey we encountered three “moderate” (or elevated) storm risk days. Ironically, these three days were among the least interesting of the trip.

It turned out all of the days we chased were relatively marginal for tornadoes, but we capitalized on the one which we felt had great potential. We also saw a tornado on a day with a considerably smaller risk.

Other than the early-season outbreaks of March 2 and April 14, there have been very few large-scale tornado events across the country this year. As we personally saw in 2011, “randomly” selecting two weeks well in advance -- to get clearance from work, etc. -- can be a difficult proposition. Last year, we somehow found the several week period in a hyperactive spring with very little activity.

This time, we pushed the dates back a bit - in part due to other commitments. But it was also a recognition that while the traditional “tornado outbreak peak” typically comes earlier in the season many years, the “easiest” time to run across a tornado is probably late May into early June. The period is full of events that a smattering of tornadoes with some regularity.

While I can’t definitively thank climatology, given that the pattern was less-prone to tornadic systems than usual, we certainly had a lot more to chase this go around.

Since some days provided many more notable photographs than others, below is a compilation of a few different types of storm activity we saw on our trip. For a fuller group of imagery, check out my photo set for the trip on Flickr.

Storm structure

May 24 — We were able to track two briefly severe thunderstorms in Iowa. They each exhibited minor rotation on radar, though the first (pictured here) was certainly outflow dominant when we reached it and the second fell apart on approach. See this image larger.

May 25 — A wall cloud drops for a time before the supercell’s rear flank downdraft completely clears the slot near the storm center heading toward La Crosse, Kansas. Eventually the circulation center would relocate behind this one. See this image larger.

May 25 — A wall cloud begins to rapidly form as the sun sets. See this image larger.

May 27 — A moderate risk of severe weather with the main forcing right along the front = not quite what we were hoping for even with numerous severe storms. We found this one in northern Kansas that was briefly a supercell before transitioning to more of a cluster of storms. Prior to the shot, there was a quick wall cloud which made us head toward it. The storm was slightly elevated and flying, so we let it go. See this image larger.

May 28 — Like most days with storms, we knew this one would be tricky to catch tonraodes. Supercells that fired in northwest Texas quickly developed into linear storms, or stayed embedded along with those types of storms. This storm briefly exhibited a wall cloud. See this image larger.

May 28 — Multiple modes of storms are seen under a brilliant light across northwest Texas. See this image larger.

May 29 — This supercell was located to the north of one we ultimately dropped that was targeting the Oklahoma City area. It looked pretty good on radar, but we wanted to get into “cleaner air” to increase our odds of getting a tornado. There was at least one chaser report of a brief spinup on this after we left it behind, but it was not confirmed to my knowledge. See this image larger.

May 29 — I’m a bit sad we missed the sculpted look on the other side of this storm in Oklahoma as it headed toward OKC. But in a slow-moving northwest flow regime, it’s also nice we got the opportunity to use the light to our real advantage coming in from the west. See this image larger.

May 29 — After tracking a high-based supercell to the northwest of Oklahoma City for some time, it began to play games heading into sunset, thanks in part to a cell merger and rain core helping to raise humidity levels and lower cloud heights. This image was taken about 10 minutes prior to a brief tornado mainly wrapped in rain. See this image larger.

June 1 — A high-based supercell roams across the northwest Texas panhandle. See this image larger.

June 1 — This was shortly after we were punched by the rear flank downdraft and “notch” on radar. The main body of the storm is still just off to our north at this point, so there was not much time other than for grabbing a quick snap of the scene. See this image larger.

June 2 — What the storms in Colorado lacked in tornadic potential, they made up in interesting skies. See this image larger.

June 2 — When there’s limited wind well above the surface, messy storms tend to win out. They still produce some beautiful skies though. Here we are stopped on a lonely stretch of road in southeast Colorado. near the Kansas border. Outflow boundary chasing. See this image larger.

June 3 - Our last day in Oklahoma. The first storm of the day blew up and fell apart in a matter of 30 minutes. This one looked better for longer, but ultimately fell to the same fate. For a while we were envisioning another mothership on the horizon. Still quite a scene. See this image larger.


May 25 — A tornado rated EF-2 at its peak churns through open fields near La Crosse, Kansas. This shot was taken right around the end of twilight within a minute or so of the tornado first touching down. See this image larger.

May 25 — A tornado ropes out before disappearing near La Crosse, Kansas. See a similar image larger.

May 25 — A tornado that formed just after 10 p.m. becomes a stovepipe after starting as a cone. See this image larger.

May 29 — The majority of tornadoes aren’t super photogenic on their own. I think we can count the one near Piedmont, OK in that group. It touched down for less than a minute and was wrapped in rain. I just happened to be taking a quick panorama as the funnel cloud dropped and became visible (the darker cone on left). This was about a minute before it quickly dropped and re-lifted. See this image larger.


May 28 — The storms to the west of Wichita Falls on May 28, 2012 had plenty of lightning. I was able to grab a number of handheld lightning shots like this one which also includes a wall cloud (center left). See this image larger.

May 28 — Losing light, we had to take a quick stop to try to snag some lightning on the leading edge of this big northwest texas high precipitation supercell. See a similar image larger.

June 1 - As the low-level jet kicked in, general thunderstorms increased during the evening with some nice and pretty frequent lightning. See this image larger.

June 1 — Brilliant lightning in the Texas panhandle. See this image larger.

May 25 supercell time-lapse

Video by chase partner Mark Ellinwood. Check his YouTube channel for more.

See also...

[May 30] Oklahoma City pounded by severe weather Tuesday, and more on the way today

[2011] Roadtripping the Great Plains: Starring a lull in the 2011 tornado season

Storm chasing goes mainstream: Is tornado voyeurism killing people?

Tornado Chasing: Q&A with Veteran Storm Chaser Amos Magliocco

Tornado Chasing: Chris Kridler, an East Coast Journalist with a Passion for the Plains