Almena, Kansas Tornado
3 June 1999

After spending the night in Amarillo we anticipated another chase event across west TX. The first morning visible satellite was down loaded on the lap top computer. Conditions looked favorable for the region across the northern Texas panhandle. A dryline was moving in from the west and deep moisture was in place. It would be a simple chase. Over northern Kansas a dying complex of thunderstorms left an obvious pool of cool air. A ring of cumulus cloud bordered the outside edge of the out flow boundary (OFB). It was the most obvious tornadic set up I had seen in years, but we didn't need it we had the Texas Panhandle, or so we thought. At about 1030 that morning we were cruising the desolate roads near Perryton and didn't like what we were seeing. The low level winds were not acting right. Another data set was down loaded into the computer from a local cell phone tower. The forecast delima was to decide if the Texas panhandle would not produce severe storms. The decision was made and we rat raced north on secondary roads. Drew Smith (from England) navigated as we targeted the western remains of the morning OFB. We were sure there would be tornadoes, but would we make it in time?

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

banded supercell WNW   supercell & funnel NW

Our first view of the building supercell in far north Kansas taunted us for over an hour as we pushed north. A distant anvil could be seen above the deep haze. No warnings had been issued. As we neared the storm it was about 1630 local time and to our amazement no precipitation was falling from the storm. We had driven upon a huge updraft and an anvil streaming off to the east. A classic supercell was building across our horizon.


The storm was banded half way to anvil level with laminar striations. The rotation was obvious from a distance of 50 miles. As we neared the storm chasers were scattered across the hills of the open country east and south of the storm. Most were set up on tripods watching and waiting. We set up shop on a road south of Almena with an unobstructed view to the northwest. A funnel formed under the strong updraft and sent a thin needle very close to the ground, but slowly dissipated.

twin funnel NW   two circulations to ground

Streamers of light rain and hail begin to circle the strengthing wall cloud. A funnel formed and split in two with each funnel circling the other. Another circulation begin to pull dirt off the ground just to the east of the twin funnels. The link image shows a darkened version where as many as 3 circulations may be seen sturring the ground.


The twin funnels persisted as a large circulation raised more dirt off the ground. The storm was getting stronger but would we be able to see the tornado when it formed?

dust lifting off ground   forming tornado

After our initial funnels dissipated a large circulation of dust begin to swirl under the storm base. Intermittent violent spin ups transported more dirt into the air. This was followed by a thin striated curtain of rain that encircled the dust. We held our position with a nice overview of the action. The contest for who could get closest was going on about 5 miles to our northwest. With so much dust and rain obscuring the updraft getting close did not guarantee a good view. We would hold our position for now.


A large funnel materialized out of the dust and begin to form a tornado. Just to the east of this region intermittent small funnels danced to the ground and dissipated, but it appeared the west circulation was taking over. I had a handy wood fence post to rest my camera on. The southeast wind was getting stronger and I needed it.

tornadic circulation reaches ground   tornado becomes wider

The large funnel was spinning up mud on the ground as the point of the vortex descended lower. Rain had been falling long enough that the ground in the vicinity of the tornado was probably wet. On the highway behind us we could hear the stragglers that were getting in late race north.


The tornado appeared to be dissipating and reforming. It was struggling to find stability. The top of the funnel was much wider, but the condensation was still above the ground. A wide debris cloud swirled under the circulation. A secondary circulation was in progress to the north or right of the obvious tornadic circulation. Note the funnel and rain swirl on the right. This area gained and lost strength, but never took over as the main tornado.

  large tornado getting planted  

Finally the tornado planted on the ground. A wide funnel that narrowed to a stove pipe in the center was obscured by dirt and rain. The secondary circulation shown in the previous image rotated into the main tornado and was absorbed.


  tornado northwest of Almena

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The tornado became a classic cone at this stage. This stage usually is short lived and we were fortunate to capture the scene.