| HD EXPEDITION VIDEO: May 24 Dodge City, Kansas tornadoes: Watch Video
4K EXPEDITION VIDEO: 4-Way Dashcam Timelapse of the expedition: Watch Video
HD EXPEDITION VIDEO: Front Dashcam timelapse of the expedition: Watch Video
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DODGE CITY, KS - The longer I've been storm photography (2016 was my 24th season), the higher the bar gets for an event to rank in my top ten. So, it's saying something that May 24, 2016 is my new #1. This storm produced the bulk of every type of tornado scene I've ever wanted to capture: Several "lifetime" tornado scenes - simply perfect in structure, lighting and foreground. I will always be in humbled disbelief I was blessed to be there and witness such a rare and stunning display of nature. It's going to be hard to top. In fact, if I had to choose between the legendary Campo tornado day and this one, I'd pick Dodge City every time.
I counted (from my video and stills) at least 11 separate tornadoes. Others say there were more, possibly as many as 15-18 (which very well may be true, when you're closer, you tend to miss some of the action in other parts of the storm). My better years (2004, 2005 and 2007 for instance) have netted me a total of 12-14 tornadoes all season. Seeing 11 or more in a single day is off the charts!
GPS LOG: Click to view the GPS track for this expedition
I had stayed in Sayre, Oklahoma the previous night, so I had a pleasant leisurely trip to the day's most obvious target only 3 hours' drive to the north. An outflow boundary from previous day's storms was oriented from western Kansas down into northwestern Oklahoma, just east of the dryline and in the midst of a very unstable and sheared environment. Any storm that fired on the dryline and interacted with this boundary would have excellent tornado potential.
I stopped among several groups at the Shattuck Windmill Museum, a classic landmark in the realm of storm photography. After buying a Windmill Museum t-shirt, I made my way north, stopping at a large roadside pull-off at Rosston, Oklahoma as the largest and best pre-storm photographer convergence I've been a part of got going: seeing and talk to fellow colleagues you only see in passing maybe once a year. In the 4-way view timelapse video from the day, this starts at 5:30. I had a great time here, just another perk of this amazing day.
As we milled about meeting, greeting and conversing, someone made the announcement that a supercell way up near Scott City, Kansas had already produced a tornado. That was the cue for us to start wrapping up our roadside mini-convention and move north to our incipient storm, where some agitated cumulus was looking ready to break through. One by one, we loaded up and took off northbound.
As I approached the storm at Minneola, the first scud tags of a wall cloud began to develop. I kept going, pulling right up under this area with only a few minutes to spare before the first dust whirl began in the field a couple hundred feet to my west. I backed up slightly to give the newborn (and very weak at this point) tornado some room to cross the road in front of me, and the show was under way! The tornado tracked northward generally right along the road, making for an easy following as it went through several forms - morphing from narrow cone funnel with a thin tube to the ground, to a crazy snaking multiple-vortex "sidewinder", to full cone, then to a majestic stovepipe (and sometimes cone) with an expansive black debris cloud. At one point, a horizontal vortex was exhibited.
As the tornado was getting started, a separate tornado to the east (visible in the first image below) briefly kicked up a puff of debris, marking the day's first instance of two or more simultaneous tornadoes. This second tornado circulation merged with the first, causing the "sidewinder" morphology just before the primary tornado rapidly intensified. The tornado at times was a clone of legendary Rozel. At times there was even a tornado reflection in the wet road - how often do you see that?! I'll let the still images I took during this interval do the rest of the talking:
This panoramic composite shows the tornado's life cycle: