The Conway Springs KS Tornado
of 29 May 2004

All images and text © copyright Gene Moore
unless otherwise indicated
.

During the May 29th localized outbreak the Conway tornado was the last event of the daylight hours. A violently rotating wall cloud formed as the sun was setting and produced its first tornado in the waning red twilight sky. My images have a reddish hue from the setting sun and the dust in the air. Here is a shot of the wall cloud as it moved across the open fields of south Kansas. For me this particular tornadic system was difficult to get into position on wall cloudbecause I had been well to the west photographing other tornadoes. Also the wall cloud has a northerly movement that was just fast enough to make setting up and shooting a challenge. Had the circulation been moving more easterly, which is common in many mature supercells dealing with the lighting would have been easier. I was jockeying for position when the first tornado formed very fast; it first funnelwould be more accurate to say in "materialized" as opposed to forming and dropping down like the average tornado. This set a president for how all the tornados would form and dissipate with this circulation through its life cycle, very fast spinning up and dissipating. The shot on the left is of the first tornado that hit the ground while I was driving. You can see the blurred movement along the ground as I continued to drive north in an attempt to get ahead of the system. What amazed me about this event is how rapidly and violently the funnels changed shape and position. This tornado and the ones that followed twisted and squirmed across the prairie while churning up dirt and debris. At the time of this writing I'm not sure how many tornadoes will be counted for the Conway wall cloud, some meteorologists contend there was only one tornado forming and dissipating and it never left the ground. This is not true as you will see in some of my images. Others believe it was a "family of tornadoes," I'm in this camp. And lastly, some feel there were a large number of tornadoes forming and dissipating, that is, they wish to count each funnel touchdown as a separate tornado. Right now I think there were two distinct tornadoes and I photographed a gap in the action to prove that point. One tornado dissipated completely and another formed on a different part of the wall cloud. Regardless of how it's tallied (and it doesn't matter to me) this was one of the most spectacular tornado events I've seen. It easily ranks in the top ten of all tornados I've watched in my 34 years of chasing. Others may not be that excited about this one, each of us has different features of supercells and tornadoes that we wish to see. Following this introduction is a set of images, video captures from the following funnels that formed. This series shows how rapidly the size and shape of the funnels changed and how in one situation a classic elephant trunk tornado turned into a monster in a very short time. After dark two more tornadoes formed nearby the main Conway Springs vortex, one was about 2 miles east in the inflow channel and the other was a suction-spot tornado that formed about a mile to the west. Both were difficult to shoot in the very low light, but occasional lightning illuminated the scene.

   

Having gotten into position and the tripod set up the tornado is to my northwest. This is a wide angle shot of the wall cloud and tornado that's in progress. This is a more focused in shot on the base of the circulation and the tornado.

A local policeman is right across the dirt road from me. I remarked, have you ever seen anything quite like this? He said he had seen none were like this, I'm sure implying how violent the movement was.

     

At this point the funnel was beginning to get larger as it swung back and forth behind the nearby trees, still changing shape every few seconds.

At this point we got to watch an amazing event, the tornado doubled in size in less than a minute. The streamer of condensation from the left was wrapping down and around the tornado at this time. More condensation wrapped around the funnel quickly.

   

Now the funnel is shown getting wide with the added condensation. More cloud material and condensation wrap around the outside of the vortex. Most of the tornadoes I've seen tend to "swell out" to get larger, this was different. This pattern of growth continued until it was much larger.

The large funnel continues to widen and spread out at the top. Finally forming a tornado twice the size it was a short while ago.

     

The base of the large tornado wraps up into a large round ball as it moves north through open fields. Then the shocker, it quickly narrows again, showing an amazing bag of tricks.

Then suddenly there is no tornado, the base of the wall cloud is still spinning, but clear of tornadoes. This lasted for about a minute and a half with minor spin ups that didn't make a major funnel.

   

Rapidly a narrow funnel snakes its way to ground. This small funnel would turn into the next monster.

   

A new elephant trunk funnel twists and churns across the countryside. At this point I need to get north again. The digital camera makes it look like daylight, but the sun has already set.

   

As I drove a few miles north to get in a better photography position the funnel grew, did it ever! At this point I got blocked out by downed highlines, so I had to shoot from here. I'll also add by this time it was pretty dark.

The tornado at the largest I saw it that evening. To my north about a mile dirt was flying across the road headed west into the large funnel.

 

A brilliant flash of lightning blinds the camera. Most of the lightning flashes were behind me and to the east.

   

The tornado continues on to the north as a policeman turns to shift his position further east.

Continue on to the Conway Springs night tornadoes

Return to Chase Day Index Page