June 17, 2015


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Rapid City, SD
North Platte, NE 10:32 AM 6/17/2015
Rapid City, SD 9:12 PM 6/17/2015
Rapid City, SD
0 mph
Wall Cloud, Updraft Base


Upslope supercell play off the South Dakota Black Hills. Intercepted tornado warned supercell over Rapid City noting organizing wall cloud. Storm tracked southeast into lower terrain under strongly capped air mass, and slowly withered as photogenic low precipitiation supercell with rainbows.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Herb Stein, Sean Casey, Justin Walker, Mike Browne. Equipment: Canon 60D, Canon t2i, Canon EFS 10-22, Canon EF 50mm, Sony HDR-xr500v.




Wednesday, June 17, was my second day out on this run with the Tornado Intercept Vehicle crew. Moderate instability was forecast with upslope flow across the Black Hills in southwest South Dakota into Wyoming. Mike Browne was able to catch up with us and drove the Doghouse, the support vehicle for the group, on which I was navigator and forecaster. We left North Platte, Nebraska in the morning and set an initial target of Rapid City, SD. Our hopes were that storms would initiate on the upslope flow in the Black Hills, organize into supercells and hopefully produce a tornado for us as they drifted southeast into lower terrain where instability, roads, and horizon views were all more plentiful. The problem, however, was the cap. Warm air aloft looked like it could stifle storms once they moved away from the source of lift on the higher terrain.

The Waiting Game
5 miles ESE of Hot Springs, SD
5:32 PM
We made it up the Black Hills by early afternoon and hung out at a crossroads gas station off of highway 79 just east of Hot Springs. Then the waiting game began. Mike Browne caught some z’s in the back of Doghouse until we started to get a few radar returns from storms initiating deep within the Black Hills.

Storm over Rapid City
4 miles SSE of Rapid City, SD
6:38 PM
We had to wait for storms to get out of the hills before we could make a play on them. The squirrelly roads and terrain make the Black Hills themselves nearly impossible to chase. A severe warned storm was approaching Rapid City on the edge of the hills, however. We tracked north for the intercept and as we approached, we could see a wall cloud looming in the distance above the town.

Rapid City Wall Cloud
4 miles S of Rapid City, SD
6:50 PM
We navigated the roads to actually intercept in town just as the storm picked up a tornado warning, the wall cloud looking more robust. The intercept was a little crazy with lots of traffic and in a far more urban location than we’d prefer. I worried that parts of the town might take a hit, but the storm still needed to organize and hit the more favorable moisture and directional shear to the southeast.

TIV and Tail Cloud
6 miles N of Hermosa, SD
7:19 PM
We tracked the storm southeast out of town. Justin and Sean stand atop the TIV as a thick tail cloud feeds into the wall cloud:

Lowering with Rainbow
6 miles N of Hermosa, SD
7:23 PM
The storm was finally out in open terrain in the grasslands between the Black Hills and the Badlands. The lighting was exquisite with the low angle sun lighting up the base in different colors with strong contrast and rainbows. A tornado now would have been spectacular, but the storm held off from producing.

Anemic Wall Cloud
21 miles SE of Rapid City, SD
7:39 PM
Then the cap hit. Convective inhibition in the low terrain east of the Black Hills had turned out to be substantial. The storm’s base retreated and was eaten away, dwindling from a classic supercell to a sculpted low precipitation supercell. It made one last attempt at a wall cloud with a scuddy, anemic lowering. We could see our chances at a tornado rapidly fading, however. Tony Laubach and Jennifer Brindley caught up with us at about this time too, on a dusty unpaved crossroads in the middle of nowhere that was suddenly busy with storm chasers. Brindley opted out of another run with the TIV crew and was living it up with her original chase partner, Tony. It was great reunion.

Sculpted LP

8:01 PM
Even though it looked like we weren’t going to get a tornado, we tracked east southeast with the storm for structure shots. And it was a beaut! A striated barber pole LP supercell twisted away in the gorgeous South Dakota landscape. The dying updraft looked like pulled taffy as the capping inversion eroded the cloud mass.

South Dakota Surrealism
12 miles W of Scenic, SD
8:15 PM
There’s something magical about South Dakota. It might seem like another poor, rural Midwestern fly over state to many, maybe with a few tourist traps like Mount Rushmore. But to a storm chaser, when storms happen upon the beautiful Black Hills, grasslands, and Badlands scenery in the late spring and evening light, it is truly an enchanted place.

This was the dying gasp of our storm at this point and we were approaching another difficult piece of work terrain in southwest South Dakota: The Badlands. We let the storm go and decided to call the chase and head back to Rapid City for grub and a room.

Hard Sun
9 miles WNW of Scenic, SD
8:25 PM
I’m pretty sure Mike Browne and I were cranking Eddie Vedder’s 'Hard Sun'. It’s the absolute perfect song for this moment: sun setting after a gorgeous day in the Plains.

Dying Storm with Rainbow
9 miles WNW of Scenic, SD
8:28 PM
One last look at our storm as it dies over Buffalo Gap National Grassland.
TIV needed a little work so we wound up calling the next day a down day. We headed into Box Elder on the night of the 17th and had some fun at a local bar. The next morning Justin and Sean were underneath the TIV for much of the morning. We had it up and running by afternoon and rolled it over to the theater to catch Jurassic World, the vehicle turning some movie goers’ heads. We got a room in Spearfish and met up with Brindley, Tony, and the Weather Nation guys, another happy reunion before the chase resumed once more.


The tornado shot eluded us yet again, but a gorgeous supercell in gorgeous scenery is always most welcome. The capping inversion that killed our storm also sculpted it into a beautiful LP barber pole. The cap is double edged sword.

Lessons Learned

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