May 29th, 2004 Belleville, Kansas
We left Friday May 28th, 2004 at 7pm MST. We arrived Hays Kansas 2am (CST) and checked into our Motel 6. We could not get our computer to work which was frustrating. Next time wireless here we come! Saturday we headed east towards Salina. At the Salina Public library we checked forecasts, chaser forums and data on various websites. We had a quick picnic, and experienced strong hot wind - good for storm building. We had to choose - either head north to Concordia and use that as our base for chasing, or head south. We opted to head north to Concordia. We arrived in Concordia just in time. We then decided on a circular route to Belleville. We headed north up the 81 and then turned west at the 148 through Norway, and Kackley. We then turned North through Courtland to intercept the 36. We headed West toward Montrose before turning around. West of Belleville we spotted a glorious storm approaching- funnel clouds were developing all around us. We videotaped what looked like multiple vortices. We were about 6 - 10 miles away -visibility was not good we battled to spot any touchdowns, or debris clouds. It was on the 36 that we saw a suspected wedge tornado heading towards Belleville. We were approximately 6 -10 miles away from Belleville. It seemed to dissipate before reaching the town. Tornado sirens were sounding, and the sky was green, dark and treacherous. We kept getting blasts from inflow/ outflow (the wind direction was all over the place). We attempted to head north up the I-81 three times. Each time weather, and wind made us stop and turn tail. A semi was overturned and we saw twisted metal sheeting torn by the wind from sign posts.
We eventually managed to get through and decided to head north into Nebraska where we hoped to bail out of this storm chase, and find a nice quiet peaceful campsite. This was not to be. I was Chief Navigator, and I had us travel North to Hebron NE along the 81. By this time it was night and extremely dark. We then turned west along the 136. We hoped to get to Hastings before turning north to Grand Central. It was not to be. The weather radio warned us that a storm system was about approaching Hastings and it had hurrican force winds. By this time it was night fall, pitch black with NO visibility. We were in the middle of nowhere, with no exit route. This is a bad idea. Note to self: Always have an exit route. So we decided that hurricane force winds were not for us, We turned around and headed back. The trouble was we headed back into a line of thunderstorms, and tornado warning areas. We got onto the 81 and turned South, and hoped to reach the safety of a Motel. We had no access to weather data, or maps apart from what we were hearing on our trusty weather radio. We drove through the most appalling hair raising weather - driving rains, high winds, hail, horizontal rain, you name it- made the more awful by the fact that we were driving blind. We reached a Motel in Belleville - No Vacancies. I think with the bad weather warnings posted everyone had headed for home and shelter. Our next attempt to find room of at the inn was met with the same-. In the end we called a Best Western in Salina which had rooms and made a reservations. Eventually we made it - quite frazzled, and humbled. Bed and sleep never felt better.
The next day (Sunday) was calm, mild and benign. Who would have thought that only 8 hours previously all hell had broken loose?
For that day 92 tornados were reported. Check out the report here.We can't wait to go storm chasing again.
We are busy sorting through photographs and video. Will post them soon (once Kevin helps me capture an image off the video.) For some idea of what we were seeing check out this site. This site has extensive photographs taken by a more experienced chaser in our area. The photo's to look out for are the one's of the wedge- like suspected tornado approaching Belleville. The reason I say "suspected" is because neither Kevin nor I could see any rotation/ debris from our vantage point. It helps having other chasers in the area who can confirm sitings as well as damage paths. We did not see any of the other reported tornado's report by this storm chaser. Read his chase diary. It makes interesting reading.