Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Deadly nighttime tornado in eastern Pratt Co. Kansas on 5/23/08

It seems like there have been an unusual amount of nighttime tornadoes in Kansas the past couple years, with the 2007 Greensburg event being the most notable. Last Friday evening (5/23/06) was yet another nighttime tornado that killed a married couple in their car shortly before 11:00 pm CDT on Highway 54 in Pratt County, Kansas east of Cairo (60 miles west of Wichita), not far from where I grew up. The map above, with radar inset, shows the approximate location of the tornado.

It is very unfortunate that the couple was driving from Colorado to visit family in the Wichita area, and had pulled off the road to wait out the storm. Unwittingly, in the the dark and rain and hail, they had parked directly in the path of a large tornado that blew their car at least 200 yards off the road, killing both. This event reiterates the importance of having a weather radio available in your car during tornado watches, and knowing your location to avoid driving into a potentially tornadic storm.

Shawna and I looked at the damage a couple days later while in the area. Pictures that Shawna took (above) show how mangled the vehicle was, and how far off the road this car was blown. In the first photo (looking northeast), the remains of the car can be seen with a large "scrape" in the foreground where the vehicle bounced. In the second image (looking southwest), Highway 54 can be seen in the distance behind the crumpled car, along with tree damage caused by this half-mile wide tornado. These photos are a reminder that vehicles are clearly a deadly place to be in a strong tornado. My informal survey suggested at least EF3 intensity, given tree and building damage in the area.

The local environment that evening was excellent for tornadoes after dark. The Medicine Lodge RUC profile (above) located south of the supercell at 10:00 pm CDT showed an extremely favorable for tornadoes, with CAPE > 3000, SRH > 500 (!), and EHI > 10.0 (!!!). In the last image above, the large 1/2 mile wide tornado can barely be seen, backlit by lightning, in a video grab courtesy of Brandon Ivey and The Storm Report ( Thanks, Brandon.

Shawna and I have thought about this couple and their final moments a great deal the past few days. It makes us very sad.

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