March 5, 2022


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Atlantic, IA
Springfield, IL 6:54 AM 3/5/2022
Springfield, IL 1:55 PM 3/6/2022
Red Oak, IA; Tama, IA
65 mph
Nocturnal Tornado, Wall Cloud, RFD Clear Slot, Rainbow


Low CAPE, strong shear, dryline setup in sw to central IA with cold air aloft. Targeted Atlantic for afternoon supercells. Intercepted developing supercells near Red Oak noting brief funnel at distance and sig. severe hail in Orient. Could not keep up as EF4 formed sw of Winterset. Turned around at Winterset due to damage. Re-intercepted same supercell near Kellogg noting dramatic structure followed by nocturnal tornado near Tama.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley Ubl. Equipment: Sony AX100, Samsung S9, Additional photography courtesy Jennifer Brindley Ubl shooting on a Nikon Z7 II.




The first chase of 2022 came around fairly early with a high shear, low CAPE play setting up in southwest Iowa on Saturday, March 5. I was watching the setup, but not very optimistic about it when it first presented on the models. CAPE looked meager even for a cold air aloft, early season setup, the NAM and GFS initially showing capping problems as well. I wrote it off as what would likely materialize into a junky line of cold front storms, a classic Iowa sucker play to bait desperate chasers.
However, as the event approached, it started to trend very favorably on the models. Despite surface temps in the low 60s F, dewpoints in the 50s F, and CAPE values at barely 1,000 J/Kg, very cold air aloft was forecast to overspread the modest warm sector making for strong low level instability and steep lapse rates. By the time the HRRR was in range, 200-300 J/Kg of 0-3km CAPE was forecast with Significant Tornado values increasing through evening. Supercells were forecast to initiate in far southwest Iowa and track rapidly northeast into the Des Moines area, weakening by evening.
I wasn’t going to bite on an early, low-end setup, but then I realized I had no good reason not to chase this setup. It was a Saturday, and it was a cold air aloft play, which often results in very photogenic storms and nice surprises even in marginal surface conditions. I was also initially going to go solo, but at the last minute, Jennifer Brindley Ubl was free from obligations and able to hop on the chase. Brindley left the night before to avoid an early morning start. I departed Springfield at 7am and we rendezvoused in Davenport at 10am with a 2pm target of Atlantic, Iowa.
Westbound on I-80 we noticed people congregating on the overpasses. We didn’t think much of it at first, but it was every bridge. They were waving Trump and American flags and holding anti-Biden signs. We finally started checking social media to see what was up, anticipating some kind of impact on the day’s chase. Apparently a convoy of trucks was on its way to Washington D.C. for a protest. Fortunately for us, the convoy was eastbound and well east of the target area by morning, so the traffic wouldn’t impact us.

Cattle Drive
7 miles SSE of Red Oak, IA
2:58 PM
We made it to Atlantic by early afternoon, stopping for gas and to eat some take-out Thai for lunch. Skies were misty, temps hanging in the mid-50s. Visible satellite showed clearing well to our southwest and an agitated line of towering cumulus on the dryline extending from far southeast Nebraska into eastern Kansas. A 40-50 dbz radar return in extreme northeastern Kansas grabbed my attention, and I cut our stop short. Anticipating that the warm sector play was further southwest than initially forecast (typical with overly progressive model solutions), that this was an early and limited show due to it being an early season, cold air play, I decided we better intercept sooner than later. We moved south to head off developing storms near Red Oak. Much of the warm sector started to erupt. We passed several updraft bases on the way south, noting prominent lowerings beneath well-defined updraft bases. However, they also looked “strung out” as if there was too much shear and outflow.

South of Red Oak, we headed off the initial cell I had seen on radar in Kansas, which was still the dominant storm. It looked like it still needed quite a bit of time to mature, however. We stopped on an unpaved side road to watch the base from well downstream. There were some cattle down the road, and I soon realized a large group was heading our way. A pickup with a hay bale lead the parade, riders on horseback wearing cowboy hats, chaps, and boots flanked the group of cattle. It was a cattle drive, in Iowa no less.
We were soon totally surrounded by cows, Brindley standing behind the trunk getting her cameras ready. I killed the engine as the animals looked pretty spooked by the car. One of the riders stopped to ask Brindley about the weather. The precipitation core on the cell we were chasing would miss to their north, but other storms were erupting all around, and there was a tornado watch in effect. Probably not the best time to move a herd of animals. The cowboys waved as they rode past and continued south.

Developing Storm
3 miles NNW of Nodaway, IA
3:28 PM
We ran east, north, and east to stay ahead of what was still the dominant storm, although new cells were firing to the southeast as well. We found a nice view atop a hill, positioned between cells, trying to keep both in play.

Strung Out Updraft Base
3 miles NNW of Nodaway, IA
3:35 PM
This storm started to look strung out as well, dragging its lowerings behind rather than the feeder tails leading the storm. The cell to our southeast was really taking off. I suspected we could easily just scoot east on it, or even maintain our view from behind it, but it appeared to already be dumping a big white hail core in its rear flank. The cold outflow would no doubt interfere with this cell and cut off our view of the notch. We might have been able to realize this sooner and position downstream from all the activity, but we were already out of position and falling behind the storm of the day. We just had no idea that this eastern most cell would take off when and where it did, and that it would become so prolifically tornadic over the next couple hours.

Flanking Line and Rainbow
3 miles NNW of Nodaway, IA
3:35 PM
The urge to flee east came suddenly, and we were rolling. The storm ahead of us was gorgeous with a brilliant, billowing white flanking line and rainbow right on the road. The cell behind us was tornado warned, and we tried to keep an eye on it while running east to get a view on the base of the next cell.
A dark lowering under the base came into view through the hills and trees of southwest Iowa. Brindley spotted a small, snaky funnel underneath. It was gone before we could get a good shot of it, however.
The cell ahead of us picked up a tornado warning. The sirens wailed loudly as we passed Corning. A brilliant double rainbow seemed to emanate out of a tanker truck, but it meant that we were caught in the storm’s wake, and would unknowingly never make it out in front.

Supercell Gust Front
1 miles WNW of Creston, IA
4:10 PM
The traffic on the highway, a smattering of locals and chasers, was moving well enough, but the storm was moving faster still. At one point we got about even with the base of the storm. I could see a well-defined cyclonic structure below the base off my left shoulder to the north, but no tornado. Then the storm looked like it produced a big cold dump of outflow. I actually thought the chase might be over at this point, the briefly supercellular storms starting to weaken as they outran the meager instability axis and gusted out. The combination of traffic and small town speed limits were compounding now and we were solidly behind, not that I thought it really mattered though. I never guessed the storm was about to produce a violent tornado.

Significantly Severe Hail
Orient, IA
4:19 PM
We crossed the hail swath as we came into the town of Orient. Lots of golf balls and a few stones approaching the size of tennis balls were strewn about. The hail was much more significant than I suspected given the modest CAPE values, but the combination of robust low level updrafts, dynamic forcing, and low freezing level must have easily made up for that.
The ground in town was white with hail as if it were blanketed by a winter snow. Then I started to notice the parked cars were missing their windows, smashed out by the huge hail.
Our position behind what I thought was a rather junky, outflow dominant tornado warned supercell, but in reality was gearing up to be a long track, cyclical tornado producer:

EF4 Tornado Forms
10 miles N of Creston, IA
4:26 PM
At 4:26, a tornado formed that would go on to inflict EF4 damage along parts of a 69.5 mile long path. I had the camera trained on the business end of the supercell at the time, but the rear flank was already heavily rain wrapped and we had no idea a major tornado was in progress. There was no way we could possibly catch up at this point, the northeast motion of 40-50 mph would require us to average a speed in excess of 70 mph east and north just to keep up, and that wasn't going to happen given the traffic and towns.
Extremely contrast enhanced view looking northeast just before we turned north toward Winterset:

Dark Shape Looming in Rain
6 miles NNW of Lorimor, IA
4:39 PM
A dark shape looks like it could be hiding within the rain wrapped core in this enhanced video grab. We would never get eyes on the EF4 tornado though.
We rounded the bend at Winterset heading east. We were far enough back now that we could see above the low-topped storm, lacking a big anvil in the low CAPE environment. The height of the storm made it all the more impressive that it was producing hail and tornadoes of such magnitude. Brindley started getting reports of damage on her phone. I thought they might have even been straight line wind caused give how outflow dominant the storm appeared to us.

Blocked by Damage
3 miles ENE of Winterset, IA
4:54 PM
We hit the damage path. A hissing sound meant a gas leak from somewhere nearby. There were flashing lights and vehicles stopped ahead. A tree had come down on a nearby farm house, debris strewn about the yard. Numerous reports of significant structural damage were coming in and it was now apparent a major tornado was in progress. Highway 92 was impassable. We turned around with the rest of the traffic. We decided to continue on with the chase, however. I didn’t think we’d ever get back on a play, but we had to head that direction to get home anyway. We backtracked to Winterset and went north to I-80. A trailing squall line caught us just before we hit the interstate. Being stuck in slow I-80 traffic that’s matching the forward speed of the storm and forever doomed to stay in the core all the way back to Illinois is one of the things I loathe most about chasing Iowa. Traffic on the highway was light, however, and we were soon able to break free.
The EF4 tornado was still in progress, but we were getting reports that it was heavily rain wrapped. I opted to take 235 directly through Des Moines, hoping we might get a view of something from behind the storm, but all we saw were the eerie colors of light filtered through rain.
Ominous looking Whale's Mouth type structure in the wake of the storm:

We continued on, following I-80 east behind the storm.
Traffic was remarkably light on the interstate and we were actually able to gain quite a bit of ground on the storm. A cylindrical mass was carved out of the clouds ahead of us, and we suspected it might be the main updraft of the storm. The tornado was still completely rain wrapped from our vantage, but we could see on Doppler velocity that it was about to cross the highway about 4 miles ahead of us. A couple of travelers had wisely pulled off to the shoulder, but a few minutes later traffic slowed as we passed an unfortunate semi that had been flipped in the oncoming lanes.
The circulation was solidly across the interstate, so we continued east, the traffic moving fast again once past the wreck.

Supercell Structure
2 miles SSE of Kellogg, IA
6:09 PM
The interstate allowed us to get even with the storm’s longitude for the first time in hours. The structure to the north was spectacular with a billowing low topped updraft and striated bands. We exited at Kellogg to go after it, anticipating we might get a few pretty picture as the chase wrapped up at dusk.
Tornado warnings for the storm continued, our phones going off, and the sirens in town blasting our ears. We pushed north underneath the storm. It looked like it was falling apart on radar, of course just as we were finally caught up with it, but we suspected as much at this point. Local traffic was stopped in the middle of the road, and we had to maneuver around them to continue. In hindsight, they had probably seen the Grinnell tornado pass nearby.

Tornadic Supercell Structure
7 miles NNE of Oakland Acres, IA
6:26 PM
Given the radar presentation and that night was rapidly descending upon us, I almost decided to call the chase and break off the storm for I-80. However, we decided to give it one more north and east stair step. We were making good time on the rural highways and didn’t have to rush back for any particular reason, so why not? Trailing just southwest of the business end of the supercell, the structure became quite prominent even in the last bit of twilight. A large horseshoe shaped updraft extended in front of us along with a dramatic occluded updraft.
Annotated Structure:
The bell shaped updraft was carved out of the base. The last bit of light was gone and now we were relying entirely on lightning flashes to get glimpses of the storm.
A huge horseshoe shaped updraft extended to our north as we got even with the storm once more, a suspicious pointy shape right on northern end of it where you’d expect.

Developing Tornado
9 miles NNE of Oakland Acres, IA
6:29 PM
We stair stepped again. Driving north toward the storm, the dashcam captured what was very clearly a funnel cloud and developing tornado.

Tama Tornado Start
5 miles E of Gilman, IA
6:33 PM
Turning east again, we watched a bowl shaped lowering backlit by lightning. Then Brindley spotted it first. She waited for a couple more flashes to fully confirm it, but there it was. A cone tornado had formed to our northeast.
A few flashes really backlit it well from our vantage, even though it was a few miles away from us. I couldn’t believe it. The storm didn’t look great on radar, and after hopelessly trailing behind it all day, it felt like we had managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
The lightning went slack for a short while and we wondered if the tornado was still in progress. Then a brilliant green power flash lit up the sky as the tornado struck powerlines.
We weren’t going to get appreciably closer to it, but figured we could perhaps stop, get a stable shot and just watch it for a change. I routed us for an unpaved grid road a mile before the north highway into the town of Tama. The road was hilly and the gravel mushy. A power flash of a different color lit up the sky as we cautiously proceeded to the next hilltop.
The lightning continued, illuminating a now trunk shaped tornado in the distance. Stopping gave Brindley the opportunity to hop on Spotter Network and report the tornado, which appeared to be about 4 miles to our north-northeast according to the radar.

Tama Tornado End
6 miles S of Tama, IA
6:41 PM
The storm was pulling away and we opted to go after it. We turned around and headed back for the paved east and north roads into Tama. The camera caught the tornado in its rope-out phase as we started to maneuver to turn around.
We cautiously proceeded north, watching for debris in the road, and spotted a few downed branches in time where the tornado had crossed. We were getting low on fuel, and the Subaru has a tendency to quit at an eighth tank indicated, so we hoped to stop in Tama. It looked like the power was out in much of the town, however. No doubt due to all the power flashes we had seen. We headed east out of town through a pitch black residential area before connecting with highway 30 just as the squall line started to catch us again. The divided highway allowed us to pull ahead of the line once again. The low fuel light came on, and not wanting to chance stalling in the middle of a storm, I decided I better put in the emergency reserve fuel I carry in the back. Once we were ahead of the line by a few miles, we parked facing north to watch the storm while I refueled. The horseshoe cut had still been visible in the distance as we exited Tama, and the velocity couplet was prominent once again. The squall line had caught the supercell, however, and it was now fully embedded. The lightning no longer illuminated any structure. We called the chase and headed into Cedar Rapid for dinner and a room as anvil crawlers raked across the sky. We picked up the drive home the next morning after the cold front passage with temps dropping below freezing.
Surveyed damage paths including the WInterset EF4 in red and the Tama EF2 in yellow.


March 5 vastly exceeded my expectations for the forecast and chase. The Winterset EF4 was the strongest tornado to hit Iowa since the October 4, 2013 Moville EF4 and the deadliest since the May 25, 2008 Parkersburg EF5. I was initially jealous of some of the footage I saw of it, that is until I learned of the reckless and irresponsible driving that it took to capture that footage. I’d never want to risk hurting somebody just to get some video of the weather, but apparently some chasers have stooped to this level, most notably Stas Speransky with an egregious display of reckless driving and a woeful attitude in response to being rightfully called out for it. The Winterset EF4 killed six people, with seven fatalities for the event total. The nocturnal tornado we witnessed was rated EF2 with an eight mile path length but fortunately zero injuries or fatalities were reported on it. I’m not sure what we could have done differently on the chase to get a shot of the Winterset tornado, other than by chance starting a bit further east ahead of the initial development. I thought my forecast was decent, and that the setup did not warrant hanging out way downstream until something major was already in progress. We didn’t dilly dally either, and kept moving as fast as reasonable for most of the day. Storm speeds were just too fast to safely keep up with in that area. I think most people had no idea that this was going to be a major cyclical, tornado event, but were anticipating more of a cold core-esque deal with smaller, quicker afternoon tornadoes (if any). I could have seen this going the other way, with us hanging out way downstream toward Des Moines, and then missing the one quick spin-up tornado just east of Nebraska City. The one tip-off was that the Sig. Tor. plots were increasing through evening and indicated the warm sector lifting with the storms rather the storms overrunning it. Anyway, it was a great warm-up, early season teaser for Spring, and a great feeling to count a tornado right off the bat. Brindley’s Spotter Network report made the Local Storm Reports log too, so it also felt like we were making a useful contribution out there.

Lessons Learned

Follow On The Web!
Storm Chasers Giving Back!

Webpage, graphics, photos, and videos © Skip Talbot or respective owner 2018. Skip's Webzone