June 4, 2005

Statistics:

Initial Target: southwest of Des Moines, IA
Departure: Bolingbrook, IL 7:30 am CDT
Arrival: Bolingbrook, IL 4:30 am CDT
Intercepts: Robinson, KS
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: Non-Severe (pea sized)
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: RFB, RFD clearslot
Miles: 1106

Summary:

High risk setup with enhanced tornado probability.  Left Bolingbrook with Bob Talbot at 7:30.  Targeted southwest IA based on wind fields, fronts, and surface low position.  Checking data near Des Moines decided on changing target to northeast Kansas.  Ate lunch in Bethany, MO and rendezvoused with Stan Olson.  PDS red box for KS/MO issued.  Caravanned with Stan into Kansas intercepting tornado warned cell near Robinson.  Storm had already occluded, but pursued cell until road network forced us to abandon.  Left tornado warned line for weak but discrete storms in NE.  Small hail in Mound City, MO.  Called it a chase after intercepting non-severe cell near Hamburg, IA.  Ate dinner in Nebraska City, NE and enjoyed brief mammatus show afterwards.

Crew and Equipment:

Chase team included Bob Talbot Caravanned with Stan Olson.  Equipment consisted of a NOAA weather radio, TH-F6A Tribander, and GPS/Cell Phone equipped laptop. Photography by Bob Talbot.

Details:

This looked to be the big event of the year for northern chasers (it was a pretty slow year).  The models showed rich dewpoints, extreme instability, and a secondary surface low developing over Kansas during the day, providing for great directional shear.  The target was southwest Iowa.  SPC issued a high risk when the Day 1 Convective Outlook came.  I was bouncing with excitement when a groggy Bob showed up at my house that morning.

Bob and I headed west on interstate 80.  We started getting text messages from Stan Olson as we approached the Iowa border.  It turned out that Stan was only 15 miles behind us. 

 

We drove all the way to Des Moines before making a data stop.  The instability and upper leave shear had been pushed further southwest.  I apologized to Bob and told him we were heading into Kansas.

Driving south on interstate 35 into Missouri, Stan was still behind us before we all agreed to rendezvous for some lunch.  It turns out that Missouri is almost completely devoid of fast food and pit stops.  Just before resorting to cannibalism we found a Wendy's in Bethany, MO.  Over lunch Stan and I agreed to caravan into Kansas.  Greg Marnik called to alert me of the PDS tornado watch. for Kansas and parts of western Missouri.  The PDS "kiss of death" as some chasers call it.  We wrapped things up (should have probably gotten it to go) and headed west into Kansas.

Cells were going up before we crossed the border and quickly went severe warned.  The chase was on!  Stan kept us updated on the simplex frequency.  This was my first chase into Kansas.  Woohoo!  When the storms went tornado warned, Bob took over driving so I could work the equipment, and we picked up the pace.  Stan told us a tornado was reported on the ground near Hiawatha.  We raced to catch the storm.

Our yahoo moment of the day came when I told Bob to pass a slow driver.  Oncoming traffic appeared around the bend and we didn't have enough time to get around the car.  To make matters worse, the car we were passing was slowing down to turn left.  It was a tense moment but I calmly told Bob to "drive on the shoulder if you have to."  Bob hit the brakes and swung around the slow car to the right as a second lane opened for passing left turning traffic.  Bob handled the maneuver like a pro.  Driving is the most dangerous part of storm chasing.

 

We had a visual on the storm now.  A huge tower loomed ahead of us, the anvil filling the sky.  The tornado warning listed Robinson in the path of the tornado, and we were just a few miles from there.  As we crested a hill I half expected to see a large tornado come into view.  Alas, there was only a dark storm base with some turbulent scud.  We all pulled over to shoot the storm base, but it was clear the tornado had lifted and the storm was occluding. 

I ran up a hill to get a better view just as the RFD passed overhead.  The winds weren't that impressive, and rained appeared to be falling through the updraft.  We noted some slight rotation in the base but the situation didn't look promising. 

We kept our hopes up though and continued to follow the storm.  Doppler radar still showed a nice couplet.

The bowing storm based and RFD clear slot pictured here:

The storm lead us into the Iowa Indian Reservation in the extreme northeast corner of Kansas, and that is where we had to let the storm go.  There were no road options across the Missouri River that didn't take us terribly out of the way.

We pulled up along side another chaser to watch the storm escape.  Equipped with the weather worx system, the other chaser gave me a peak and we both decided that heading north towards other discrete cells was the best option.

Crossing the Missouri river and heading north our two car caravan wound up in Iowa again.  The initial storms had merged into a big messy line and we got hit with some pea sized hail as we stopped on the northern flank of it to get some data. 

It sure is nice having live Doppler radar in the car.  We went after a lone, northerly moving cell that had a decent appearance on the radar.

The storm was severed warned but lost the warning before we made it there.  The cell split and we caught the southern half of it near Hamburg, Iowa.

The small base had an eye catching, swirling look to it.  We watched it fall apart before deciding that we had pretty much run out of chase options.

All three of us shooting different things.  At least Stan was taping the clouds:

We crossed the Nebraska border again, stopping for dinner at the pizza hut in Nebraska city.  The weather channel played on the TV.  "Tornadoes strike Kansas!"  The TV showed awesome footage of a high contrast stovepipe tornado churning up the ground near Hiawatha, KS.  We had missed a great tornado by about 20 minutes.  We all hung our heads in shame.  The chase was just mildly disappointing at this point, but seeing that video was a blow we weren't prepared for.

It was after 8 now, we were still in Nebraska, and had to go all the way back to Illinois.  To top it off, I was coming down with a cold that started as a sore throat.

Just as we cleared Nebraska City some nice mammatus from a storm 40 miles to our west came into view and we stopped for pictures.

"Mammatus can't fill the emptiness inside, but it'll help."

- modified Sealab quote.

Nice bronze mammatus, but our show was coming to an end as the tower cast the rest of the anvil in shadow.
One last look at our consolation prize and then we began the 500 mile trek home.  Stan followed us to Des Moines, keeping us company on the ham radio, before exiting to visit a friend.  The long hours driving and my worsening cold caught up with me so Bob had to finish the drive home.  We rolled in at about 4:30 am.  Brutal.  I don't think Bob is going to chase with me for awhile.
 
Conclusion:

We came close but still managed to miss the show.  A missed tornado bust stings more than a blue skies bust.  I thought we were in a good position when the PDS watch went up, but I guess we should have left a little earlier and ate lunch a little faster.  It was nice finally chasing with Stan, and making good use of the ham radio.  Here's a link to Michael Peregrine's page who caught the great video of the Hiawatha tornado.  Scott Kampas caught the tornado warned lined in Missouri and bagged a small tornado out of it.  Here's Stan's chase log.

Lessons Learned:

  • The data connection needs to be established earlier to be on top of storm initiation.
  • Leave the night before if chasing west of Des Moines.