|Friday was the first day in a weekend of chase
opportunities. Conditions looked good for high plains supercells in
Colorado and Wyoming with dewpoints in the upper 50's (more than adequate
for the 4000 foot elevations) and 30-40 knots of deep layer shear.
High LCL's and weaker low level flow led me to believe this would be more of
a structure day than a tornado day. Given multiple opportunities
across the weekend I was
able to justify the distances involved in chasing this setup.
Ben Leitschuh was originally planning on coming
with me for the trip. However, at the last second he bailed due to
plans his girlfriend made. This meant I would be driving all the
way to Colorado by myself. It being the night before the setup I did
the math to see if it was even possible to make the trip in time, given that
I would now have to stop to sleep instead of being able to drive straight
through the night if I had a chase partner to share the drive. It looked like it would be
possible to get there and get a few hours of sleep, and the 0z run of the
models showed an improvement in moisture return and less cap for Saturday's
setup. This was enough to convince me to go. I finished packing
the mudpuppy and left Westchester at 10 pm Thursday. I stopped short
of Des Moines at 2:30 and camped in the back of the mudpuppy before getting
up at 6 and continuing on.
|My initial target was Sterling, CO. Initiation was forecast to
occur first in southeast Wyoming during the afternoon, and then fill in to
the south in northeast Colorado according to the 4km WRF. The low
level shear and instability was maximized over this corner of Colorado at 7
pm. I arrived in Sterling at 3 pm, stopping to grab lunch and check
data. A beautiful green vista in eastern Colorado:
Storms were starting to fire in
southeastern Wyoming, but I initially dismissed them. They were moving
northeast so I figured they were out of range, so the plan was to wait for
new initiation further south. Nothing was firing, however, and the 15z
RUC also showed no further development to the south. The decision to
flee came suddenly. I went north on a dusty, unpaved road that took me
through some really neat looking sand hills. After crossing into
Nebraska, I hit pavement and was able to make up some time. The
southern storm in the line was now tornado warned and had a hook on it
although it was still 80 miles out. I was determined to get it,
however. My county road took me to Dix,
Nebraska where I turned west on 30 and then north again out of Kimball.
|The visibility in the high plains is amazing. I did a
quick distance check on the radar and found that I was 30 miles out from the
storm's base. In Illinois there is no way you could see the base at
this distance, but as I looked over my left shoulder there it was. I
could only get glances to the left between the hills as I drove, but
I could see a well defined wall cloud and a couple of suspicious looking
lowerings that could be tornadoes. The tornado had been in progress
for fifteen minutes at this point and is indeed the feature centered in this
image, on the left side of the wall cloud. The following few shots of
the tornado are frame grabs from the robotic camera dome.
|A couple minutes later, it was obvious that there was a
stovepipe tornado on the ground. The tornado was actually in Wyoming
while I viewed it from Nebraska.
|The stovepipe pushed out from the wall cloud as I raced
north to find a west road option. The backlighting and high plains
visibility allowed me to plainly see the tornado from such a great distance.
|I finally turned west on a dusty unpaved road south of
Harrisburg, NE just as the tornado started to rope out. It continued
to push out from the side of the wall cloud, whereas most tornadoes are
anchored under the wall cloud. The shape was also a little unusual as
it tapered in near the top.
|I fumbled with aiming the camera while driving between the
hills of western Nebraska. My video was all over the place, but I
was able to get a few decent frame grabs of the rope.
|The tornado goes practically horizontal and ropes out into
nothing just as I find a decent place to stop and view the storm. I
was able to get a few glimpses of a good portion of the tornado's lifespan,
but it would have been nice to be parked for the whole show, and much
closer. View from about 15 miles east of the storm:
|I parked the mudpuppy and let the storm come to me.
What started as a northeast moving storm had slowly turned right until it
was now moving east-southeast. The wall cloud still had some rotation
left in it so I hoped it would cycle and produce again.
|The wall cloud fizzled and I started checking radar for
potential new targets. Some flanking line storms started to pop to
the southwest of the supercell I was watching. Looking west at one of
|The base of the original supercell as it approached my
|A lowering with weak rotation rapidly developed as the storm
approached. A few chasers from Minneapolis pulled up along side me and
we chatted for awhile as the storm looked like it might produce again.
|The lowering takes on a more classic funnel shape, but the
rotation really was not strong enough for it to be called a funnel.
|Rising scud into the feature:
|As the lowering developed I could make out what appeared to be
laminar funnels within it. They didn't last long, however, and the
lowering soon evaporated.
|Scudnado (a non rotating tornado look a like) develops on
the northern flank of the base.
|After sitting in the same place for almost a half hour, I
finally moved east to keep up with the slow moving storm. I followed a
couple of mobile mesonets down a steep and winding road to drop south and
then east. Looking north at the storm's base with the precipitation
core on the right, the rain free base on the left, and a lowering the
|Looking back at the entire storm:
This is one of the best
photographs I have taken while storm chasing. The lightning capture
was a total fluke. I didn't even realize I had captured the lightning
until I reviewed the pictures the next day.
|Bubbling convection on the top of the updraft tower.
|The storm a few minutes later. Note the horseshoe base
|A large lowering started to develop under the base of the
storm as it passed over Dalton, NE. It looked like a massive wall
cloud and was very dramatic in appearance, but as I approached the storm I
realized it was a massive wall of scud. The storm was gusting out and
going outflow dominant, meaning it was dieing. I followed it a bit
longer until I was sure it was done (at least from a chaser standpoint)
before bailing back west to get to a southbound highway.
Heading west, however, I ran into a
chunk of the Vortex2 research team. Their mobile doppler radar truck
stopped abruptly in the middle of the road and started scanning the area
behind us. Apparently they detected a large embedded tornado in the
core of the storm. I knew I wouldn't be able to see an embedded
tornado, and had my fill for the day so I continued west and then south,
calling it a night.
|Heading south towards Sidney, NE I got out under the anvil
of the storm and saw my first good mammatus of the year. A gorgeous
display that I'm glad I didn't miss by chasing an outflow dominant storm
into the darkness.
After bagging a nice tornado and a gorgeous supercell,
a celebration was in order. I called all the chasers that I knew that
were in the area and organized a chaser tradition: steak dinner. On
the edge of Sidney I found Dude's Steakhouse. After running around all
day eating junk food or no food, getting out of the van and smelling that
steak was heavenly. Storm chaser and meteorologist Stan Rose pulled in
next to me at the lot. After introducing ourselves we got a table and
waited for the rest of the crew to join us. The Minneapolis guys I met
earlier were already in there and I took a picture for them eating their
celebratory dinner. We were soon joined by Adam Lucio, Danny Neal,
Jesse Risley, Mike Brady, Brandon Sullivan, Scott Bennett and Ben Holcomb.
We all had a good time sharing stories from the day. It was the
perfect end to a great chase.
This was the chase of the
year of the so far. Even though it was the furthest distance I have
been from a tornado during a tornado intercept (at over 30 miles when I
first made it out), I could still plainly see it. I wish I could have
been closer and gotten better video of the event, but it was still a nice
catch. The awesome supercell structure that followed really rounded
off the chase as well. It was a great success in my opinion and
justified the entire trip. No matter what happened weather wise the
next two days I knew I would go home happy. Lots of chasers were
positioned a lot closer to the tornado when it happened and got stunning
video. The most amazing was from the Vortex2 research team. As
the tornado roped out and went horizontal, they were positioned to look up
inside the funnel and could actually see a smaller condensation funnel
spinning from within. It was amazing footage, and I'm glad they
finally got good data from a tornado after weeks of roaming the plains empty
handed. The tornado was rated EF1 and was one of only a couple that
formed that day.
- Move on initiation. You can always drop back to your original
- The visibility on the high plains allows visual intercepts from