High Plains Drifter

disclaimer:  "The meteorological views/forecast thinking expressed are those solely of the author of this blog
and do not necessarily represent those of official National Weather Service forecast products,
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May 5, 2007

A “career storm” — Greensburg, KS

Filed under: Editorial,May 4, 2007 Greensburg,Special Cases — Mike U @ 3:50 am

A "career" storm… from a radar operator standpoint.  It’s 3:00am, I’m still up, but should be going to bed, but I’m just too darned keyed up.  Where do I begin?  The storm of the day erupted at the southernmost end of a cluster of pseudo-organized right and left members to its immediate north.  But the far southern storm that erupted out of nowhere just had that shape.  Not 2 minutes after I issued SVR again for eastern Clark Co for that storm I issued TOR… I didn’t have to wait for strong 0.5 convergence/couplet, whatever.  It took it awhile to get going… about Protection or so… but when it did… it went on to produce a fantastic velocity signature 0.5/0.9 slices north of Protection.  The couplet was tracking more northeast… missing Coldwater to the northwest and approaching highway 183 about 7 SSW of Greensburg.  Velocity rotational couplets were topping out at around 150 knots total shear over about a 1-2 mile radius.  I was just thanking the lord that it appeared to be taking a course to miss Greensburg to the southeast.  The next couple slices, though, frightened me.  The damn couplet was bending to the left…and the next scan was even more to the left… and I didn’t even really give it thought…  the "…tornado emergency for Greensburg…" in my next SVS… it was like instinct – just did it.  Those few minutes after watching one of the most incredible velocity couplets go directly over one of your good sized communities in your CWA… I was just too anxious.  Then the message was sent out… a plea from Greensburg dispatch… "Ford County communications this is Greensburg… we just took a direct hit…".. that came no more than about 3 or 4 minutes after the couplet passed over.  I then immediately sent out another SVS indicating that Greensburg likely took a direct hit.

Thereafter… the steady-state cycling of tornado cyclone…tornado…left turn…. next cycle… tornado, left (north) turn…. next cycle… it was routine… the most steady-state cyclic significant tornadic supercell I had ever seen, let alone work the warnings on radar.  I don’t think that there was 1 minute from the time of the first tornado near Protection….to the time it exited our CWA and headed into the Ellinwood area…that there wasn’t a significant tornado tearing $h1t up….over that 100 mile stretch.  100 miles of steady-state tornado production… I’m not sure how many members there were in this wedge-family.  Just to see hours on end of velocity signatures like this is something I’ll never forget.  Inbounds of 120 knots and higher at times… inbounds only!  Several times throughout the life!  I think the highest we saw was about 150 knots that actually looked like legit data… as in properly aliased. 

Greensburg is pretty much gone.  Especially the western 1/2 of town from what I can surmise from the media reports and interviews.  How many of you are familiar with the Largest Hand-dug Well?  There’s a tall tower that stands proud above that well.  No more.  Completely gone, at least from one of the accounts I heard.  The Big Well is located in the heart of town… and the reports are that downtown and the western portions of town suffered the worst of the damage.  One account I heard of was that when one of the residents looked out their window… they couldn’t see the tower anymore.  They didn’t know where it went.

One of my favorite storm photos of the year so far included Greensburg in the shot.  This was taken about 5 miles west of Greensburg back on March 29th.

So it’s 3am, and at the surface here in DDC it is 72/65F with the short-fuse composite showing 3000 J/kg of CAPE… at 08z!  Winds are howling out of the south southeast… it’s going to be another long day today…

Mike U


  1. Hi Mike…
    On the mid shift here at WFO HUN just reading the news about this storm. You saved some lives tonight. Hopefully you can get some sleep. I have been to the Hand Dug Well…so when I heard Greensburg…I knew where they were speaking of.

    Tomorrow is May 6th, the 14th anniversary of being hit by lightning and this has made me think how this synoptic situation is eerily similar…probably worse…than the May 5,6,7 events in 1993 in Kansas. Good Luck to you all there in Kansas as this severe outbreak continues.

    Best to you…and prayers to Greensburg KS and all those affected.
    Andy Kula
    WFO Huntsville

    Comment by Andy Kula — May 5, 2007 @ 4:09 am

  2. Mike,
    I watched that cyclic monster on GRAE at my NWS in Lincoln, IL. It sure had some awesome looking signatures in the SRM
    and the Ref. Classic occlusion that occurred right over Greensburg. I pray that everyone in town was below ground. Nice job
    on keeping up with the warnings and statements, especially every time it occluded.


    Comment by James Auten — May 5, 2007 @ 5:37 am

  3. Great job last night, Mike! You saved several lives by pulling the trigger on such strong statements. That storm was very nasty on GR2AE. Some of the strongest convergence I have ever seen on Level II data. Has to be the best looking couplet at least since Moore, OK.

    Again, nice job and speaking for the chaser/met student community we appreciate all that you do with the spotters/chasers.

    Brett Adair
    Mississippi State Meteorology Student
    Alabama Storm Trackers

    Comment by Brett Adair — May 5, 2007 @ 3:13 pm

  4. Mike…Awesome, amazing, and tragic. This is the most interesting blog post of the year so far for me. Thanks for sharing this experience. You did all you could do and undoubtedly saved lives! Mike Wilhelm, Vinemont, Alabama

    Comment by Mike Wilhelm — May 5, 2007 @ 9:32 pm

  5. [...] Our loyal reader Mike Wilhelm pointed us to Mr. Umscheid’s blog, Under the Meso. His personal story about the devastating tornado is gripping. Thanks to both Mikes. [...]

    Pingback by ABC 33/40 Weather Blog » You Gotta Read This! — May 5, 2007 @ 10:21 pm

  6. An Account of the Greensburg tornado from a NWS forecaster.

    Amazing and historic post regarding the Greensburg tornado from a NWS forecaster.

    Trackback by Anonymous — May 5, 2007 @ 10:53 pm

  7. [...] The latest death toll I’ve heard was 7. I read a story here about the radar operator who probably saved many lives with his great warnings and strong warning language… [...]

    Pingback by geoffgottlieb.org » Blog Archive » Greensburg, KS — May 5, 2007 @ 10:58 pm

  8. On behalf of my family, thank you. My parents’, sister’s, grandparent’s, uncle’s, and great uncle’s houses were all leveled by this storm in Greensburg. Everyone is safe. They had the warnings they needed to be in their basements. The photage of the destruction is just unbelievable.

    Phoenix, AZ

    Comment by Doug Koehn — May 5, 2007 @ 11:34 pm

  9. Mike, I was in DDC ’92-’94 when the office first spun up, but never worked anything like this. I grew up in Pratt and my folks are still there, and have been through Greensburg many times. Including grade school trips to see the Worlds Largest Hand Dug Well and Worlds Largest Palasite Meteorite. Still trying to reconcile my memory of the Hwy 54 and Main Street intersection with the photos I’m seeing now.

    All the best to you and the rest of the staff there.

    Greg Hanson
    WFO Burlington VT

    Comment by Greg Hanson — May 6, 2007 @ 12:32 am

  10. Mike, What a touching account the events of the Greensburg tornado. It was such a tragic hit.

    Comment by Dewdrop — May 6, 2007 @ 8:02 am

  11. Mu, You did a fantastic job and I’m proud to work with you. We talked to several folks in Greensburg and the surrounding area. They all commended the efforts of the NWS during this event. For those who are wondering…the hand dug well is still there. It didn’t look like there was too much debris in it. One of the city officials said they still had not found the meteorite. I’m sure they’ll find it. I had never heard of a water tower being destroyed by a tornado. This one was twisted and crushed. Wow. Good Job, Junior!!

    Comment by Scott — May 6, 2007 @ 9:26 am

  12. We’re Arizonians but travel to and from the southwest to Wisconsin every year. We’ve stopped frequently in Greensburg and enjoyed meals at The Kansan Restaurant (great pies!). Did the restaurant survive the storm?

    Comment by Tontojohn — May 6, 2007 @ 11:11 am

  13. Let me throw something out for reference. When Udall was hit in 1955, there was not the warning system we have in place today. Compare how many lives where lost then as now. Good job on acting in time. Lt. Fred Heersche Mulvane Emergency Services.

    Comment by Fred Heersche — May 6, 2007 @ 11:21 am

  14. Mike -

    From a fellow CR forecaster at MPX, I’d just like to say “GREAT JOB!” I’ve driven through Greensburg many times on my trek from the Twin Cities to my brother’s house in Perryton, Texas, and I have to say that I’m still in shock, knowing that the next time I drive through there, Greensburg won’t be there anymore. As has been said before, you and your colleagues saved A LOT of lives that night!

    Comment by Karen — May 6, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  15. Thank you for posting your thoughts, I believe you saved a lot of lives while under enormous pressure. I would like to read more on your thoughts of this event if you decide to put more up, personal thoughts and technical interpretions. My wishes go out the communities and people envolved in this tragic event.

    Comment by Eddie — May 6, 2007 @ 2:03 pm

  16. Hello,
    I volunteer for a non profit organization called Katrinas Angels. Please pass the word to the community of Greensburg KS that our thoughts and prayers are with them. Having been involved with the Katrina disaster – our group of volunteers know what they are going through and what’s ahead for them. We are coordinator on-site volunteers as well as collecting donations to help them. http://www.katrinasangels.org

    Comment by Janet — May 6, 2007 @ 11:42 pm

  17. Outstanding job, Mike – it’s people like you at the NWS that have done so much to help warn people – when I first heard about the storm all I could think of was another Woodward scenario – and your efforts helped prevent that even as the video showed that this was clearly one of the strongest tornados in a decade. Keep up the good work, and I hope to see you if I can get into the area the end of this month.

    Comment by Richard Halter — May 7, 2007 @ 1:21 am

  18. Hi Mike

    Amazing job. I watched it here using GR AE. There were some incredible signatures being spit out by the radar. There are a few images posted on StormTrack. Incredible storm structure. Your warnings were spot on and timely. There is no doubt that dozens of lives were likely saved because of the efforts of the NWS, Media, and Emergency Management.

    Great Work


    Comment by Beau Dodson — May 7, 2007 @ 2:14 pm

  19. Mike, Thanks. My Dad lives at the Carriage House in Greensburg. They all survived in the basement, and apparently it is one of the only buildings left standing. The Methodist Church next door was destroyed. Those living in tornado alley really depend on you guys doing your jobs. Sounds like you did the right thing for my hometown. I know you saved some lives.

    Comment by Kent McVay — May 7, 2007 @ 4:02 pm

  20. [...] I often wonder about who is at the other end of our EAS recievers at the radio station.   Down here in south texas the i typically see Severe Thunderstorm Warnings and Hurricane Warnings, but i never give much thought to the guys putting this stuff out on our ticker-tape.  This guy is one of those persons.  Check out his encounter with something called a Tornado.  Don’t really see them across these parts, but looks like they are a real bugger. [...]

    Pingback by john munoz dot com » EAS Reciever — May 7, 2007 @ 8:47 pm

  21. Mike, I haven’t the slightest idea who you are, or where you come from, but I am grateful that people like you are here. I am a volunteer F.F. from an adjacent county, & I lived in the area off & on after my parents divorced in the early 80′s. I have had to perform actions as a volunteer in the last 48 hrs. that I would have rather not have ever had the chance to perform in my lifetime. But, because of folks like you, with the wherewithal and the ability to warn the general public of impending danger, my duties could have had much more tragic endings than what was realized. Make no mistake, I never want to see anything like this again, but, because of the dedication of folks like you, I understand that my personal experience could have been exponentially worse, & the general public is most certainly in debt to you for your diligence. Thank You.

    Comment by Kyle — May 8, 2007 @ 12:41 am

  22. [...] On The Radar: We visit with Mike Umscheid from the National Weather Service Office in Dodge City, KS. Mike was the radar meteorologist on duty during the EF-5 tornado that plowed through Greensburg, Kansas. He’ll talk about what he saw on radar and what it feels like to work through a “career storm“, the first EF-5 on the new scale and first F-5 in the U.S. since 1999. Click here to link to ongoing coverage from NWS Dodge City, KS; [...]

    Pingback by Politics » Swenglish Rantings Radio - 070507 — May 8, 2007 @ 2:35 am

  23. So proud of you Mike. This time of year we are all pretty fortunate to have a few ‘weather weenies’ around. Just excellent work. We’re certainly keeping the good people of Greensburg in our thoughts up here in KC.

    Comment by Mike Peregrine — May 8, 2007 @ 6:55 am

  24. Hi Mike,

    Would like to thank you for your excellent severe weather instincts to protect life during the horrific tornado night there in Kansas. The warnings you provided were exceptional and gave immediate gravity to the situation at hand.

    I too was working the radar at The Weather Channel from 8pm till 5am and was amazed at how long the couplets and tornadic signatures kept coming all the way from SW Kansas over Greensburg to I-70. It was a night that will never be forgotten and my heart and prayers go out to all that lost family and friends that terrible night.

    Thank you for the watches warnings you provided with your team to help warn and save lives!

    Sincerly yours

    James Wilson
    Operational Weather
    The Weather Channel

    Comment by James Wilson — May 8, 2007 @ 9:39 am

  25. [...] On The Radar: We visit with Mike Umscheid from the National Weather Service Office in Dodge City, KS. Mike was the radar meteorologist on duty during the EF-5 tornado that plowed through Greensburg, Kansas. He’ll talk about what he saw on radar and what it feels like to work through a “career storm“, the first EF-5 on the new scale and first F-5 in the U.S. since 1999. Click here to link to ongoing coverage from NWS Dodge City, KS; [...]

    Pingback by ABC 33/40 Weather Blog » WeatherBrains Episode: 67 — May 8, 2007 @ 9:42 am

  26. Mike, thank you for a job very well done. When we do awesome work like you did, it makes the job of defending the National Weather Service from the budget cutters and consolidaters so much easier. Of course the most important aspect of the great job you did is the fact that you saved many lives in Greensburg, but also know that in the long run you
    have helped save many of your co-workers jobs. Thanks again.

    Comment by Dan Sobien — May 8, 2007 @ 10:14 am

  27. I am doing analyses of past tornado oubreaks and am finding a common pattern associated with the placement and timing of tornadic systems. Can you provide the number of families of tornadoes associated with the synoptic system, including the Greensburg, Kansas,event?

    Comment by Dave — May 8, 2007 @ 4:59 pm

  28. Mike,

    Wonderful job! I worked at WFO DDC in 1994 with Fritz K, Jim J and Jeff H. As I watched events unfold and saw that DDC was involved, I was thinking about how savvy that office always has been in dealing with svr wx. From someone credited with saving lives during Katrina, I know the significance of your actions and the professional pride we all get in the NWS when something goes right. My heart goes out to those who perished from this town that I visited about 13 years ago. Say hello to the gang and GREAT JOB once again to you and WFO DDC.

    P.S. – I have a technique that I use extensively here, known as the Ricks Index. I ran it on the KDDC sounding before the event and it pegged the index (213) which indicates F5 potential, gusts 105 MPH and up to softball sized hail. If you are interested in the output and technique, hit me with an e-mail. You may ask Jim J and Jeff H for background info as I used it there back in 1994 as well.
    Regards, RR

    Comment by Robert Ricks — May 9, 2007 @ 6:51 am

  29. OUTSTANDING JOB, MIKE!!!!! From all accounts we have heard on the East Coast, you did a fantastic job of saving lives. It’s all in the lives saved, since you can’t save property. I have already spoken to Larry in the hoopes that you and and the office gets the Gold on this one. Great job! Keep up the outstanding job.

    Take care, John O.

    Comment by John Orgler — May 15, 2007 @ 5:01 pm

  30. Meso:

    Great job with the TOR and SVR issuances. The timely warnings saved several lives. Instinct often bests science in these situations. I’ve worked through several multiwarning events, but nothing like this one. I am so thrilled that you decided to apply for and join the NWS a while back. I still remember when you were in HS, and on Undernet every night talking about every big storm in the KC area. Now you have been on GMA, and was able to meet the NWS director and the President in person. Congrats Mike! It’s great to see that you have become one of the best, and one of the most recognized forecasters on our team.

    David (txkid) Spector
    WFO Hanford

    Comment by David Spector — May 20, 2007 @ 9:01 pm

  31. Dude!

    I just wanted to tell you how much I greatly appreciate the way you have given credit to us chasers who were involved with the Chase. THANK YOU SO MUCH! You did an excellent job, and I love the way you pulled the trigger without hesitance. You were truly involved with saving many lives! I look forward to working with you in the future….hopefully, not in a similiar incident! Keep up the good work, and thanks again, you Tweener!

    PS: Don’t forget the tip I gave you! Bring your mark closer to you when you need the ball to grab more, and look further down the lane when you need it to skate! If you are leaving “Wrap-10′s,” don’t change a thing except to move your spot about 6 inches closer to you. Trust me, it works!

    Comment by Lancer — June 4, 2007 @ 11:13 pm

  32. Mike,

    Full credit to you for remaining calm and sending regular updates on the NOAA radio that night. To say that I was slightly emotional as we approached the storm from the east is an understatement. When the emergency situation was issued, I could not help but realise that there were most likely going to be fatalities in Greensburg or anyone that remained in its path.

    Keep up that professionalism Mike – I don’t know how I would have felt if I was not able to chase in my own back yard like that due to being on duty that night.

    Jimmy Deguara

    Comment by Jimmy Deguara — July 1, 2007 @ 1:51 am

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