Paige and I left Norman promptly at 10 AM for the five and a half hour drive to Kansas City. High resolution weather models favored the Kansas City metro and visible satellite also concurred. Morning thunderstorms left an outflow boundary and a weak surface low located about 100 miles southwest set up a favorable zone for tornadic supercells. Convective initiation was questionable but we were fairly confident we would see at least one surface based storm fire up around 5-6 PM.
We arrived in Kansas City just before 4 PM with an initial plan to get just east of the city. Kansas City isn’t too much different from Fort Worth in terms of the highway pattern and traffic issues. Traffic is the main reason I didn’t want to get stuck in the city with a severe thunderstorm. Right after we arrived in Blue Springs we elected to turn right around and get about 15 miles south of KC to meet up with a few other storm chasers (Stephen Jones and Alec Scholton). Traffic was already becoming problematic which reaffirmed our decision to intercept any storm that developed in KC south so we wouldn’t have to deal with rush hour traffic.
Shortly before 6 PM a storm began developing near Overland Park which is located in the southern part of the Kansas City metro. Atmosphere conditions were such that the storm was able to rapidly become supercellular and develop a mesocyclone. The chasers we met up with along with ourselves convoyed north towards Raytown which is on the southeast side of KC. By the time we arrived around 6:30 PM at the Highway 291 and Highway 50 intersection in Lees Summit the National Weather Service in Kansas City has issued a Tornado Warning. As we moved further north into town we got our first good view at the storm and was it impressive. With a striated updraft and ground-hugging wall cloud it was obvious this storm meant business. Trees along with the urban infrastructure kept us from having a great view under the wall cloud until we were able to get up on a bridge and high point at a car dealership. At this point a tornado appeared to be imminent about a mile to our northwest. The storm was moving southeast at 20 MPH and traffic remained heavy in our area so we elected to get a bit ahead of the circulation.
One issue with chasing in cities is that you always have to keep traffic and traffic signals in mind. If a storm chaser doesn’t maintain situational awareness or get stuck in gridlock it could easily put him/her in danger. That is one of my biggest worries while chasing – regardless of my actual location in a rural farmer’s field or in a large city.
Our planned road option took us back the way we came to get north. About a mile north of Highway 50 (east/west highway) we pulled into a bank’s parking lot to get a better look at the circulation as Paige could see the circulation intensifying back to our northwest. Once we pulled into the parking lot I observed a power flash under a rapidly rotating funnel cloud – indicating a tornado was in progress with ground circulation producing damage. The funnel never fully condensed but storm chasers with a better view confirmed a multi-vortex tornado. It was on the ground for only a minute or two and produced weak tornado damage to a few structures and power lines.
Paige and I continued to stairstep south and eventually east to stay ahead of the storm. We observed a new circulation which produced a brief tornado about ten minutes after the first tornado south of Lees Summit. About an hour later we watched a rain-wrapped tornado developing near Pleasant Hill, MO before we lost view of the circulation. After a final attempt to get back ahead of the now rain-wrapped tornado we ended the chase at 9 PM with a beautiful sunset illuminating an outflow-dominant storm with a shelf cloud.