It’s April 22 — a month away from the date that has in recent years become the most consistently successful and intense day for the Hokie Storm Chasers — May 22. If all goes as planned, the first of two Tech storm chase groups will have been prowling the Plains for a week on May 22, 2011 — perfect timing for a dramatic tornado intercept before returning home by the scheduled first trip end date of May 25. (No pressure) Since there will be too much new stuff to blog about when May 22 actually arrives, let’s reflect on April 22 about the big May 22 chases of recent years.
May 22, 2004: The elephant trunk with a debris cloud in Harlan County, Nebraska, is one of the most classic tornado images ever taken from a Tech storm chase group. Minutes later, the chasers would become the chased, as a rear-flank downdraft with clocked winds topping 100 mph caught up to the team racing south away from it. This tornado was part of a massive outbreak that also produced the famous Hallam, Nebraska, tornado, the widest on record at over 2 miles.
May 22, 2007: This was a day when the storm structure was so awe-inspiring in the Hill City/WaKeeney area of Kansas that the cone tornado we saw was almost an afterthought. Strong high-level winds sculpted almost flawless “mothership” supercell formations as we bounced between the storms for 5 hours (and through some pretty big hail for a few minutes, too). We raced eastward away from a lightning-lit evening squall line as the once-discrete supercells linked arms.
May 22, 2008: The most prolific tornado chase day on record for the Tech team with at least eight obvious tornadoes (and perhaps 2 to 6 less obvious ones) as we tagged at least four different supercells ended with one of the most intense encounters for the Tech storm chasers. After a sunset, close-range intrecept of an orange-backlit tornado south of WaKeeney, Kansas, the chasers got caught in a violent rear-flank downdraft that hurled quarter-sized hail, blinding sheets of atomized raindrops and tumbleweeds at the vans for 10 harrowing minutes.
May 22, 2010: The Tech chasers were positioned so well that we were outside the vans when a cone tornado dipped out of a rapidly rotating wall cloud southwest of Bowdle, South Dakota and spun across the open fields. We felt the RFDs slam down and around us as the tornado moved by to our north. EF-4 damage, including giant metal high-tension electric transmission towers buckled to the ground, occurred just north of Bowdle as a series of small towns were narrowly missed by tornadoes. The team also later saw storm structure almost as extreme as that of 5-22-07.
— Kevin Myatt