June 19, 2015


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Gillette, WY
Spearfish, SD 12:04 PM 6/19/2015
Buffalo, WY 9:39 PM 6/19/2015
0 mph
Anvil, Updraft Tower


Upslope play on the WY/MT border. Targeted storm in southeast Montana and attempted intercept on small ranch road. Got stuck in mud following map error, costing the rest of the chase.

Crew and Equipment

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




Friday, June 19 was another shot at upslope storms with the Tornado Intercept Vehicle crew. Storms looked like they’d come off the Big Horns in Wyoming and also initiate eastward in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming before tracking into South Dakota. Roads are pretty sparse out that way, so that became our primary concern for the chase. We elected to take 90 into Wyoming and catch storms along and north of the highway. We caught lunch with Brindley, Tony, Marcus Diaz, and crew at a local burrito joint in Spearfish and then hit the road.

Crossing The Border
WY/MT Border
4:49 PM
A storm fired in Montana. We cut north off the interstate for the intercept and wound up on a red gravel road that took us across the border.
The state line was marked by a tiny sign affixed to a fence post. It was the first time the TIV had been in the state and my first time as well.
Unfortunately the main gravel road jutted off to the northwest. The northeast road that would lead us to our storm turned out to be a gated ranch road. We’d have to find another way. On my Delorme maps I spotted another east road just south of the border in Wyoming. It eventually connected with another north county road that was probably well maintained gravel or paved. We turned around and crossed back into Wyoming, having spent less than five minutes in the state most of us had never visited before then.

The east road looked like a ranch road as well, but it was in decent shape and the gate was open. We decided to go for it. We tracked for miles and miles down the single lane road. It gradually deteriorated as we went with sharp bends in steep terrain, water filled holes that tested our four wheel drive capabilities, and rough stretches that were little more than tire ruts. Up ahead, my Delorme Street Atlas said there was a decent sized river, but a bridge that connected us to the main road. I should have known better. The road conditions said otherwise. Finally, after what seemed like an hour of off-roading adventure, we came to a little fence post gate. A single small rope was tied across a couple of wooden posts, signaling that road up ahead was “closed”. Little more than grass lay beyond. I don’t know what possessed us to press on. Maybe it was simple stubbornness and denial that if we kept going we could make it. Turning around now meant having to backtrack down that long, slow road and would more than likely cost us any shot at a storm intercept, effectively ending our chase. TIV was lagging behind, having to take the road much slower than the “Doghouse” Mike Browne and I were riding in, a raised RAM 2500.

I got out and untied the rope. We radioed back to TIV about the gate and rope so that we could put it back the way we found it. Then we pushed forward. We followed a couple of grown over tire ruts through tall grass and around a bend that lead us out to the river. There was no bridge of course. Right on the other side of the bank we could see the main road leading off to the north and toward our storm. I sighed in disappointment. We were pretty much done. Mike Browne swung a wide circle to turn us around on the river’s floodplain. It looked perfectly good. The surface was dry and flat, but it was a deceptive trap. The top of the ground was a crust of dry silty clay, baked by the sun. Underneath, however, it was soft, wed mud. Doghouse collapsed and sank almost up to the axles in it. Mike tried in vain to get us out, forward and back, but we only dug ourselves in deeper as the spinning tires kicked up a spray of mud.

Doghouse in the Doghouse
24 miles NNE of Arvada, WY
5:39 PM
We radioed back to TIV, warning them not to follow us in to the mud. Sean, Herb, and Justin left the TIV at the gate and hiked in to help us. Meanwhile, a couple of supercells had gone up along I-90 to our south. The billowing white towers and anvils were in plain sight, taunting us as we watched helplessly stuck. Herb grabbed this shot of me as I contemplated our plight, another memory from him that I will cherish.

Filming The Story
24 miles NNE of Arvada, WY
5:53 PM
Justin and Mike worked a shovel to start digging Doghouse out so the axles were clear. We all looked for usable logs to put under the tires for traction, finding some driftwood like pieces on the riverbank. The storms in the region wound up not doing too much in terms of tornadoes, so our pod deployment and dramatic tornado IMAX shot wouldn’t have happened anyway. The misadventure we found ourselves in did give Sean something to shoot, however. He shot the extraction process with his Red camera, hoping to make it part of the movie’s storyline. The day was not a total loss after all.

Chasing Misadventure
24 miles NNE of Arvada, WY
6:04 PM
After Doghouse was dug out, Sean and Herb nosed the TIV in a little closer. So TIV wouldn’t get stuck too, Mike and Justin ran a long rope tied to a chain tied to the back of Doghouse, and the TIV was used to pull Doghouse out of the muck. The Doghouse lurched backwards and started to drag a bit in the mud, and then the chain snapped. It was enough, though. Mike was able to keep the Doghouse rolling backwards to firmer ground and we were free.

Montana Storm
26 miles N of Clearmont, WY
7:47 PM
We made the long trek back the way we came back to the main county road. The mud mishap and our backtracking had cost us any shot at intercepting a chaseable storm. A few elevated storms in the wake of the earlier activity were coming out of Montana, however. We stopped on the Wyoming-Montana border to watch them for a few minutes. Running over the rain cooled, stable air from previous storms, these storms would have no chance at becoming robust surface based supercells and tornado producers. They were gorgeous, however, the scene filled with saturated colors. A scuddy lowering was framed against a deep blue skyscape, the Montana landscape a mix of blue-green brush punctuated by a red gravel road. I had some roasted corn leftover from a previous meal and shared it with the group. Stopping to enjoy that moment made all the day’s ordeals worth it. We called the chase and headed down to Buffalo, Wyoming for lodging.


This chase was a failure in that we didn't get any storm or tornado footage for the IMAX movie. Fortunately we didn't miss much in the way of photogenic tornadoes. The storms did sport some dramatic supercell structure, however. Documenting our misadventure did get us some footage for the IMAX movie and it was fun to step a foot in Montana for the first time.

Lessons Learned

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