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Incredible Tornado Outbreak - 10 Tornadoes !!

Harper/Sumner County, Kansas - May 29, 2004

The Storm Prediction Center had a High Risk of Tornadoes for the central plains and this was going to be my last chase day for this 2004 trip so I had high hopes for the forecast...I was not disappointed.

Once the storms started to fire up, we picked one near the Kansas/Oklahoma border and we sat underneath it for quite some time, waiting for it to get its act together. It took a long time but when it finally did, this storm went insane and became the most prolific tornado producer that I've ever seen.

The first tornado was brief with a slim twisted funnel, almost tying itself into a knot. It was only visible for less than a minute but this storm was just getting started. Another slim funnel formed and slowly snaked its way to the ground. Once firmly planted, it kicked up quite a bit of debris. I was able to set up my tripod and get amazing, zoomed in video as the tornado churned away. It did hit a structure of some kind and it threw large pieces of debris high in the air. It looked like a drill press as it tore through the fields of Harper County. Unfortunately, this was the same county that was hit by multiple tornadoes back on May 12th. This tornado was on the ground for at least 20 minutes as we continued to track its movement northeast.

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The original tornado was still on the ground when we spotted a second tornado forming just south of our location. As the first tornado dissipated, this new one took on the shape of a large cone that became completely filled with debris. We eventually lost sight of it as we got closer to the town of Harper. As we approached the edge of town, I looked out the passenger window and spotted what looked like a large, rotating sprinkler head. I immediately realized that since it was traveling the same speed as I was that this was no sprinkler. There was another tornado touching down in the field just to the right of the van. I pulled over and looked straight up...The rope thin funnel was arcing right over top of us! We rushed to get ahead of it before the tornado hit the town. Luckily, it lifted before it hit.

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Once we made it to the other side of town, we started hearing reports of a huge wedge tornado up ahead. It was wrapped up in rain and difficult to see but the tornado was huge. We kept our distance from it and slowly inched our way forward through the curtains of rain. It crossed the road just ahead of our position at the Sumner County line. Once we were clear of the rain, we could finally get a good look at this huge wedge. As we were observing it, another brief tornado spun up ahead of us. They were dropping from the sky everywhere and we had to keep alert in case one were to form on top of us. The large tornado was now becoming obscured by rain again and we started to focus our attention on a new wall cloud that was forming. Unbelievably, it puts down yet another tornado. We lucked out and found a perfect intercept road that let us right to it. The tornado would widen at times, then become slender and lift momentarily, only to re-form and drop back down again.

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As we got closer and closer, the tornado would shift its direction and speed. I've never seen a tornado move the way this one did. Along the way we also had to deal with other hazards like 70 mph inflow winds and downed power lines. All the while, the tornado kept growing and growing until it became our second wedge of the day. We got close enough that we had to keep a lookout for satellite tornadoes that sometimes orbit around other strong tornadoes. One of these satellite tornadoes did form close by but it was rotating away from us.

As night fell, the tornado was still going. We could catch glimpses of it in the darkness but all our road options were blocked by downed power poles or trees. We had to back track along the country roads and we actually got the van stuck in the mud at the edge of a pond. With some help from the locals we eventually got free but not without coming within inches of the van sliding into the pond while we were pulling it out with a tow strap.

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This was my best chase day ever, It doesn't get much better than this...'till next time...

This year's trip to the "Tornado Alley" region of the U.S. was the best ever! Many incredible tornadoes were intercepted and filmed. The Tornado Chase 2004 page contains my daily logs from the journey.