This post was posted originally in May of 2011 on my old weatherninja blog.

Storm Safari 2011 is in the bag. For those of you not familiar with Storm Safari 2011 let me explain. I accompanied Todd Yakoubian from KATV Channel 7 in Little Rock, photojournalist Philip Labuda and storm chaser Erich Hopkins on a two-day trip to do a story on storm chasing tours. These are Seven to Ten-day tours that take you all over the country searching for nature’s most severe weather.

Although I storm chase all over, I jumped at the chance to the plains of Kansas with these guys to do some storm chasing. Erich and I loaded up our gear and waited for Todd and Phillip to meet us in Maumelle Tuesday, May 10th about 3:00 PM. The plan was to meet up with Roger Hill and his Silver Lining Tours in Wichita Kansas and so some preliminary interviews with some of the people on the tour. Earlier in the week while chasing in South Dakota Rogers group encountered some strong downdraft winds from a nearby thunderstorm and the winds broke out several windows in one of his tour vans. So while Roger was getting the van repaired in Wichita, Todd would do interviews at the hotel and then we would follow them on the road for a day of chasing. Well after a 7.5-hour drive from Little Rock, we arrived in Wichita about 11:00PM and settled in at our hotel (which we got a discounted rate because we were with The Weather Channel..wink..wink).

While eating breakfast Wednesday morning, we met some of the people on the chase tour. It had been a quiet tour so far for them with only one tornado witnessed. Today would be different…as the models had put the bullseye on Kansas and Oklahoma for an outbreak of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Little did we know..Mother Nature had other plans. Late Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning an area of thunderstorms had formed in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle region and then moved across Oklahoma and Kansas. This pretty much ruined our chase day as it trashed the atmosphere and made it very difficult for thunderstorms to redevelop as the atmosphere was much more stable with clouds blocking out the sunlight. But there’s always a chance. While we had some downtime while Roger was getting the tour van repaired, Todd interviewed Roger’s wife Karen and several of the tour guests.

Todd interviewing Silver Lining Tours owner Karen Hill
Todd interviewing a Silver Lining Tour guest from New Zealand


Todd interviewing Steve who is legally blind.


An interesting twist to the story is that one of the guests was blind and but said he could feel the energy of the storm. You can hear his story on Channel 7 Nightside on Monday night, May 16th.

Once the interviews were complete I took the chance to get a picture with some of the guys on the chase tour and check out the vans. The equipment used is similar to what I use when I go storm chasing.

A few of the chasers and me.
This van has seen plenty of hail!


We loaded up and headed towards western Kansas. Dodge City would be our first stop to look at the weather conditions. On the way, we pulled into Pratt Kansas to get fuel and we saw Reed Timmer and the Dominator, the TIV and a host of other chasers lined up on the side of the road or in gas stations or restaurants in anticipation of thunderstorm development.


Passing one of the tour vans on our way to Dodge City.


Tracking all the chasers. I would say Kansas was the place to be.


We stopped in Dodge City and had some lunch while Roger looked at the models and indicated that we were going to have to go much further north into NW Kansas and west of Garden City. While we were taking a break, Todd had a little “Twister” fun.

While we were taking a break, Todd had a little “Twister” fun.


Dodge City Kansas


Montana Mikes in Dodge City. Wx Guru suggested this for lunch.
Break Time!
Todd shot a promo with an iphone 4.
Just goofing off in Dodge City.


The sky in Dodge City was clear but the temperature was warming up. But we were west of a dryline and not a favorable area for thunderstorm development as the humidity is  very low. 


Just a dry looking skyline in Western Kansas.


Towering cumulus clouds were being reported in NW Kansas closer to the track of a surface low-pressure center coming out of Colorado, so off we went. Our window was closing as it was approaching mid-afternoon. We crossed the Arkansas River in western Kansas. It looked quite dry with very little water in it. Quite different from what we see in Little Rock.


As we traveled north through West Kansas we started to see cumulus building to our north.


Cumulus starting to build higher in the West Kansas sky.


As we approached Oakley Kansas we could see developing thunderstorms to our west and NW. We turned west at Oakley and headed for extreme western Kansas. At the same time a couple of thunderstorms went tornado warned in NE Colorado and we were getting kind of excited. On our way west, we encountered two dust devils so we knew the atmosphere was trying to tell us something. Cell service was kind of spotty on this trip but Verizon held up rather well for our data collection.

We turned north at Sharon Springs and were working our way towards Garden City. About halfway to our destination radar indicated thunderstorms developing  along a boundary in NW Kansas. This would be our target area.  Temperatures south of the boundary were still warm, but north of it, the were much cooler. As we stopped for gas just south of Interstate 70 near Garden City we could see a fairly potent storm to our south drifting to the north, so we quickly got into position for any possible intercept. It looked promising but just didn’t deliver.


Storms starting to build in NW Kansas
This storm caught our attention but it didn’t produce anything.
Erich and the Silver Lining Tour group looking at the storm coming up from the south. Notice the jackets.
Temperatures were in the mid-50s. Not exactly what you want to see for tornadoes.


We headed back to Garden City, then west towards Burlington Colorado. There were several thunderstorms to our west and three of then were tornado warned. We could see for miles in this country so we took a shot. On our way, we encountered a developing thunderstorm that we were watching very close. We passed on it for another cell to our NW and this one would deliver a wall cloud and small funnel. This was just to the east of Burlington.


This storm caught our eye on our way to Burlington, but we let it go so we could get on a more
promising storm to our NW.


Wall cloud just east of Burlington Colorado on I-70
Trying to get a funnel going.


As the first funnel dissipated a new lowering appeared on the wall cloud.


We quickly moved west of the storms and then turned north in Burlington to intercept them from the south. The storms were rather slow movers so we had plenty of time to get catch them. While moving north, we encountered a hail shaft. The hail covered the road in front of us but it was pea to marble size so it didn’t cause any damage to our Jeep. As we were moving north we saw the TIV (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) stopped on the side of the road. It looked as if they were setting up their camera equipment and getting into position for a possible intercept. There were chasers up and down the road we were on in anticipation of this storm spawning a tornado.


Hail covering the road.


We finally located a great spot to get a closer look at the storm. While it edged closer to us we could see a well-defined rotating wall cloud with a few smaller funnels trying to get going. We thought for sure that this would produce a tornado but with temperatures on the north side of the boundary in the upper 40s to low 50s, it just didn’t happen. Everyone on the chase tour piled out of the van to take pictures and video of the mesocyclone. No tornado, but we were in perfect position. If one had occurred with this storm we would have been about 50 yards from the touchdown.


Rotation with the thunderstorm (hard to tell)
Look close to the center and you can see a swirl indicating a small funnel.


Silver Lining Tour guests taking pictures and video.


Taking video of the mesocyclone. That’s Todd in the blue shirt.


Funnel trying to form.


After the storm moved to our north, everyone took off to intercept another storm coming up from the south. The TIV and crew blew past us and then we left.


TIV and crew moving N. Notice the hail shield on the Discovery Channel Crew vehicle.


We drove north for a few miles then turned east and waited for another storm. With the new storm, we encountered some large hail (slightly larger than quarters).  Radar indicated some rotation with the storm so we got to a location where we could intercept it if it produced a tornado. It had a small funnel but was mostly a rain and hail producer.  


Storm lowering and moving toward us.


Can really tell in the picture but that middle section is a hail shaft.


Shooting some video of the storm.


Erich capturing an image of a small funnel


Between the two telephone poles in the center of the picture
a small funnel can be seen. 


After the storm moved through, we saw the TIV once again heading to the east.


Once the storms moved through, we said goodbye to Colorado and prepared for the long drive home. We headed east, then south to Goodland Kansas, then east again on I-70 where we spent the night in Hays Kansas.


The long road home from Colorado….


We ate breakfast in Hays then loaded up for Arkansas on during the morning. It was amazing to us after leaving the Silver Lining Tour group and heading east, we happened to stop at the same hotel they were staying at in Hays.On our way back we came across a large wind farm in the middle of Kansas. It was several miles wide and long so we stopped to take a few pictures.


Kansas wind farm between Hays and Salina


A closer look


Kansas wind farm


Once we made it to Salina we turned south and headed for Wichita where we stopped for lunch. We noticed we picked up a little Colorado dust on the Jeep so I decorated the window.



Photojournalist Philip Labuda and Todd taking a break


Storm Safari hunters Todd, Erich and me.

We left Wichita and were watching radar closely as thunderstorms were developing over Eastern Oklahoma and Arkansas. We thought we might get in one last  chase before home. But most of the storms were away from our route. We made it back into the LR area around 6:30 that evening.

All in all, I would say the trip was a success. Todd got his story or stories and I got another chase in the book.  Total miles traveled: 1685, Number of tornadoes: 0, number of funnels: 4 and a lot of hail and lightning. We ate plenty of gas station junk food and it was good!!!

Storm Safari Route: Little Rock,AR to Tulsa OK-Wichita KS-Dodge CityKS-OakleyKS-Goodland KS-Burlington CO-
St. Francis KS, Goodland KS, Hays KS, Salina KS, Wichita KS, Tulsa, Little Rock 1685 miles


For more information on a storm chasing vacation with Silver Lining Tours click the link below:

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