June 9, 2005 - Hill City, Kansas Tornado

Chase Account by: Scott Blair

The photo above illustrates classic supercell structure along with a long-lived tornado that passed within one mile south of Hill City, Kansas. This wide angle photo was taken along Highway 283 looking southwest at the approaching tornado. A secondary tornadic region can be observed under the wall cloud as a small dust whirl. With time, these two tornadic features became one central circulation as a wedge tornado developed along the highway. The Hill City, Kansas tornado remains the most significant and dramatic event I observed during the 2005 storm season.

By 4pm, a rapidly developing wall cloud formed south of Penokee, KS in Graham County. The lowering quickly became surface based and very organized with a long tail and rapid rotation. A significant tornado appeared imminent for several minutes before the initial touchdown. As Eric Nguyen and I repositioned to Highway 283, a tornado quickly condensed southwest of Hill City, KS. We stopped to observe this spectacle two miles south of Hill City. The tornado originally developed on the southern edge of the mesocyclone near the nose of the visual RFD clear slot. With time, the tornado shifted more into the central circulation of the meso. Very rapid rotation was contained within the high-contrast tornado as copious amounts of dirt were pulled into the circulation.

With the tornado approaching my previous location, I bumped slightly north and continued to observe. The tornado transitioned into the mature stage as rotational speeds increased and the width continued to expand. For a couple of minutes the tornado slowed its forward progression, although a slow movement towards my new location was noted. The condensed vortex visually appeared highly organized with multi-vortex action swirling about the tip of the vortex. The sound of the tornado was clearly noticeable as the beast neared within a half-mile.

The tornado reached maturity as it reached Highway 283. As the circulation expanded, the transition from a large cone into a wedge commenced. A violent roar, best described as a distant jet engine sound combined with a rushing waterfall, echoed the landscape as the strong tornado moved north-northeast to my location. Indescribable rotating motion filled the horizon as the outer edge of the tornado moved within 100 yards from my vehicle. An extreme amount of focus and planning was critical to the safe continuation of observing at the very close proximity. As the tornado neared within 50 yards, I took the last video and rapidly blasted north into Hill City. An experience of a lifetime drew to a close.

We shifted east on Highway 24 and southeast on Highway 18 to observe the borderline HP supercell. We caught a few more tornadoes across eastern Graham County and western Rooks County, specifically near the small Kansas communities of Bogue, Damar, and Palco. The storm appeared to weaken with time, possibly contributed to crossing an outflow boundary where more stable air resided along with its inflow seeded from an ongoing supercell further southwest. Deciding to focus on the new supercell, I raced down Highway 183 to Hays, KS and westward on I-70. Here we observed more tornadoes northeast of Trego Center, near Ogallah, and north of Ellis, KS. These tornadoes were weaker and short-lived, but provided a nice close to the incredible day. The journey ended back in Hays, KS reliving the day with chase friends.

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