The Dramatic Harper Night Tornado
of 12 May 2004

All images and text
© copyright Gene Moore


After gorging ourselves on tornadoes during the late evening hours we drove south back into Anthony, Kansas. There was one more storm, a developing supercell to our west. Before getting back into town I told Mike to turn west early to avoid the bright city lights. To the west we saw a long inflow cloud feeding into a new storm. Beneath the cloud base was a shallow wall cloud with a funnel and a small debris cloud on the ground. As we jogged further west and north between the fields Mike spotted a large bowl lowering with funnels and dust to the northwest; meanwhile I navigated and readied the camera gear for night photography. This was not far from Attica where we had shot a tornado a little over an hour ago. The lowering was right up against the rain and it was difficult to see. As we got further west the spinning bowl lifted, but the whole area still had rotation. We set up our camera in the darkness having no idea what was about to happen.

spotter watching funnel form large funnel moves toward road
A funnel appears from the northeast side of a large and seemingly disorganized wall cloud. The whole area under the base was turbulent and rotating. A small plume of dust is already spinning up to the left of the trees, but I don't see it at the time.   The lightning catches the funnel again, although the center of rotation appears to be further to the left. The camera is set on wide angle trying to catch the development. Meanwhile, I squint into the darkness trying to watch the ever changing motions along the skyline.   Getting a glimpse of rapid movement I zoomed into an area behind the trees. A weak flash of lightning reveals a funnel shape in the murky darkness of the viewfinder. It was quite a shock when I realized a tornadic funnel was filling the frame and a tornado was forming just northwest by a few miles.  

early radar

Doppler Radar from Enid OK

The Harper storm develops off the outflow boundary (OFB) of the Attica supercell. Notice the shape of the new cell matches the shallow arc of cool air extending south from the main storm complex and hook east of Attica. The time was 8:20 CDT. The image is left unsmoothed to show detail.   At this time the storm is becoming a supercell, but obviously the main attention is directed further east on the tornado producing hook echo. The time was 8:37 and many chasers were watching a large tornado just south of Harper.   This image is smoothed and shows both storms at 8:41 CDT. Note the small glitch of yellow and orange southwest of the new supercell. This appears to correspond to the developing mesocyclone and I believe was lofted dust.  

The next lightning flash was bright and there is no doubt what's going on.   Another weak flash shows dirt being lifted into the rapidly rotating funnel.   Intense lightning illuminates the large funnel as the condensation shoots to the ground.  

Continuous lightning keeps the funnel in sight as it churns through the fields just behind the trees. The lightning kept getting more intense, a perfect setup.   A large tornado appear from behind the trees with a churning debris cloud in progress. The flashes are so intense we can actually see the rotation in the darkness.   The intense debris cloud was coming into full view during this shot. The top of the funnel was large and extended well above the apparent cloud base.  

Go to Harper Page 2 for more pictures

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