BLACKWELL, Okla. - The cap wouldn't bust, so Wednesday's storm chase did, instead.
After Tuesday's successful chase in Nebraska that yielded a powerful storm from marginal potential, Wednesday taunted storm chasers mercilessly on a day that seemed to have a higher risk of supercell thunderstorms. The 12-member Southwest Virginia storm chasing team targeted southeast Kansas, based on factors that included deep moisture, moderate wind shear (changing winds with altitude) and the presence of a weak cold front in an area of strong daytime heating. It appeared to be well worth a long drive south from an overnight stay in Kearney, Neb.
But the day's chase ended at a convenience store in Wellington, Kan., south of Wichita. There, after watching cumulus towers rise into a hazy sky only to fall again for more than an hour, the clouds began to wash out entirely.
A stable layer of warm air aloft, known as the cap, or CIN (an abbreviation for convective inhibition, that is pronounced "sin"), prevented the storms from firing as expected. Some CIN is needed for supercell development, as it keeps a lid on heating and allows the atmosphere to cook through the day rather than explode into widespread showers and thunderstorms early.
"Look, a tornado!" one man shouted as he walked by the group's vans parked at the convenience store, a mocking grin on his face. No one laughed.
The team rode a little south, looking for something - anything - in the sky that resembled a building thunderhead.
"I'm seeing a big sea of nothing," chase team leader Dave Carroll said, cresting an overpass on the Kansas turnpike headed south, toward the Oklahoma line.
The day ended early, with Mexican food at Blackwell, Okla., - and the group's fourth consecutive night in a Comfort Inn.
But the day wasn't through with its taunts. Several tornadoes had occurred in Iowa and Minnesota, an area that would have been reachable from Nebraska, but had been dismissed. And just before sunset, large cumulonimbus clouds appeared on the northern horizon, as thunderstorms finally developed near Wichita.
Welcome to the part of storm chasing that "Twister" doesn't show.One in a series of stories by weather columnist Kevin Myatt as he joins a storm-chasing Pulaski County teacher and his students.Meet the storm chasers and follow their progress. Also read Kevin's daily journal, listen to audio clips, view interactive graphics and more.
Do you have a question about tornadoes? Send an e-mail to Kevin at email@example.com, and he may post an answer online.