17 May 2019 Southwest KS Tornadic Supercell

Part I: A Mesoscale and Visual Analysis

A classic Great Plains supercell developing in the early evening on 17 May 2019 left an extensive trail of damage across southwest and central Kansas before dissipating in the early overnight hours. After initiation along a dryline in the Oklahoma Panhandle, this long-lived supercell propagated north from near Beaver Oklahoma to Meade Kansas. During this initial period a cone tornado developing south of the Oklahoma border, moved north into Kansas before dissipating. However, as the storm propagated northward it cycled with a new updraft and associated mid-level mesocylone developing east of Meade. This cycling phase began a window of prolific tornado development as the storm began moving to the northeast with this trajectory continuing nearly four hours before dissipating near Ellsworth, Kansas. The second tornado (and strongest surveyed vortex) emanating from the storm began southeast of Fowler and continued northeast for 26 miles before dissipating near Ford. Two additional, significant tornadoes tracking between Ford to Kinley and Lewis to north of Belpre left considerable damage along their tracks. A brief tornado along the Stafford…Barton County line was the fifth and final vortex during the six-hour lifespan of the supercell. After assessing impacted farmsteads northeast of Minneola, the NWS Dodge City survey team found at least EF3 damage with the second tornado. Further, the team also found at least EF2 damage with the third and fourth tornadoes at numerous locations starting northeast of Ford, inside the town of Lewis, and ending north of Belpre. As usual in the High Plains, the lack of damage indicators inhibits the ability to accurately assess peak intensity with all of the reported tornadoes but specifically the first and last tornadoes were not even rated (EFU) due to insufficient damage indicators. A review of the near storm environment reveals the atmosphere being very unstable with ample CAPE and low-level shear. Other severe weather parameters depicted a prime setup for discrete supercells with tornadoes and large hail possible. In addition, this storm spent a large portion of its lifespan in close proximity to the KDDC 88D therefore allowing detection of numerous structural features unresolvable at longer distances.

Wesley A. Hovorka
NOAA/NWS Weather Forecast Office, Dodge City, Kansas

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