October 22, 2004


Initial Target: Storm Lake, IA
Departure: Bolingbrook, IL 7:15am CDT
Arrival: Bolingbrook, IL 3:00 am CDT
Intercepts: None
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: None
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: Fog, Stratus (woohoo)
Miles: 1130


Worst bust yet.  1130 miles, 1 speeding ticket, 1 broken camera, 0 storms.  Highly anticipated late season chase that resulted in ultimate bust.  Targeted Storm Lake, but wound up in Sioux City/Le Mars chasing the best instability.  Encountered fog, misting rain, and low stratus all the way to Sioux City.  Clear skies encountered there after.  Called it a bust at 7:30 and headed home arriving at 3:00.

Crew and Equipment:

Solo chase.  Equipment consisted of a NOAA weather radio, cell phone, TH-F6A Tribander, and GPS equipped laptop.


The GFS showed a strong trough moving in from the west.  Temperatures were going to climb into the 70's and possibly hit 80 in the midwest and upper plains, with dews in the mid 60's.  This combo would make for some good instability.  Coupled with ample wind sheer from the trough and a strong surface low, I was looking at chasing a potential October severe weather outbreak. 

The earlier model runs indicated the outbreak would occur on Thursday, my full day of class.  But as luck would have the low progressively slowed down and by later model runs on the ETA I had narrowed the target area down to Iowa for Friday.  The target area was further west than I had hoped, but how often do you get to chase in late October?

SPC was calling for a 5% risk for tornado.  Conditions weren't as favorable as the early model runs that got me excited, but at this point I was dead set on chasing.  Thick cloud coverage across almost all of Iowa and Illinois was going to limit stability.  A clear slot was moving over Nebraska and I was counting on that to set things in motion over Iowa later in the afternoon.  I left Bolingbrook at a quarter past 7.  It was a dark, cold morning, the sky grey and misting.
As you can see, there is a lack of photography for this chase.  This is mainly because I discovered that my camera was broken the morning of the chase, a huge disappointment, but I decided to go anyway.  However, the other reason was simply that there was nothing to take pictures of.  The stratus and misting fog continued all the way into Iowa.  I hit some precipitation between the Quad Cities and Iowa City, but ignored.  The show was going to be further west.

One thing that I did accomplish on this chase was a good field test of wifi data availability.  I made data stops in Iowa City, Ames, Storm Lake, Sioux City, and Le Mars and was able to connect everytime.  Storm Lake and Le Mars, being out in the boonies, however, took some effort.  It still beat trying to find the use the library though.

I reached Des Moines just after noon.  The grey stratus continued, which was not good for my chase prospects.  I continued north stopping for data in Ames.  SPC had moved the risk area northwest, and the RUC had indeed moved the instability and helicity northwest toward Sioux City.  Well, that was much further then I had planned on driving originally, but I hadn't come all this way for nothing (or had I?).  By the way, Ames was a good data stop.  I was connected before I even had the car pulled over.

It was now early afternoon and I would have to book in order to get into position before initation.  The last thing I wanted was to have drived all this way just to miss the early stages of development and then find myself playing catch up on a squall line.  The unmarked cruiser got me just a few miles out from Storm Lake.  I was clocked at 75 in a 55.  $69.

Another data stop in Storm Lake said keep going to Sioux City, and that nothing had fired yet.  The clouds were starting to break up a little and the air was noticably warmer.  Despite my speeding ticket, that cheered me up a little.

Coming into Sioux just before 5:00 I saw blue on the horizon.  "Woohoo!," I thought, "the sun is going to heat the surface and I will see some storms soon."  Another data stop in Sioux City, showed an MCD for my general location with talk of issuing a watch soon and that I was in a narrow tongue of instability.  Both good things.  Storms had in Nebraska but they were weak.  Hopefully something would fire out in front of in the better CAPE.

Here's a funny side story.  Country folk always wave to people they pass, a friendly gesture I'm not accustom to in the Chicago suburbs.  Well, I got into the groove of waving to the locals (partly because I didn't want to look suspicious while war driving for wifi).  In Sioux City, I was pulled over checking data in a residential area.  Two burly biker dudes sat on the curb across the street from me: shaved heads, goatees, piercings, and chopper jackets.  As I pulled away I thought, "Eh, better not wave to them, they definitely aren't the waving type."  As I passed I got two big smiles and a couple of grand waves.  You gotta love that Iowa hospitality.

I consulted with Stan and Fabian over instant messenger as to where to head next.  I finally decided to head north a little ways.  It was out of the city and closer to the CAPE and helicity bull's-eyes.  I wound up in Le Mars and drove around for about 15 minutes looking for data.  Nothing had fired yet.  There wasn't even a cu field overhead.  That was definitely a bad sign.  The cap was holding tight.  The sun slipped below the horizon and there was still no initiation.  I called it a bust at 7:30 and started the long trek home.

I made it in at just after 3 am, dog tired, and beaten.  I probably should have pulled over to rest my eyes, but shouting songs with the windows rolled down helped keep my eyelids open.  My first chase over a thousand miles, I had tested my limit for one day.



This was a classic bust, and the speeding ticket added insult to injury.  I'm no meteorologist, but next season I will be logging the weather data so I have something to pour over and figure out how and why the bust occurred.  Plenty of other chasers went down on this too, though.  It seems that we were the victims of over optimistic wish-casting.  In the future I will be watching the long range models with skepticism and reserve for enthusiasm.

Lessons Learned:

  • Don't get excited about the 160 hour GFS.
  • Forecast the cap the morning before the chase.
  • Don't exceed ten over the speed limit.