July 14, 2010


Initial Target: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
Departure: Pelican Rapids, MN 5:30 am CDT July 14
Arrival: Westchester, IL 4:00 pm CDT July 15
Intercepts: Randolph, MN
Tornadoes: 2
Hail: Severe (1" estimated)
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: Tornado, Wall Cloud
Miles: 870


Cold front/triple point play across eastern and southern Minnesota. Targeted triple point near Minneapolis for afternoon initiation of tornadic supercells. Awoke in Otter Trail county to tornado warning, and chased storm at dawn noting interesting look-a-like lowering. Encountered severe hail on the way to Minneapolis. After false alarm car trouble, crossed into WI for lunch before heading south back into MN to get into position. Storms fired to the west, organized and went tornado warned. Intercepted cell just west of Randolph noting well defined wall cloud with tornado debris cloud and funnel aloft. Moved in closer after rain cut off view and noted snaky, trunk tornado emerging from rain. Crossed damage path after tornado roped out, and cell quickly became embedded. Chased rather linear looking storms the rest of the day before heading back to the cabin to spend the night.

Crew and Equipment:

Solo chase.  Equipment:  Kenwood TH-F6A Tribander, Dell Inspiron Laptop.  Kyocera data card and router, Holux 236 GPS, Robotic camera dome with Sony XR-520V.




Wednesday was my second day out on the chase, having chased an HP supercell from North Dakota into Minnesota the day before. This day looked like the main event, with a triple point and cold front, and plenty of shear from a trough moving through the area leading to better chances for tornadoes. I decided to target the triple point even though it looked like it might track rather close to Minneapolis and then the MS river and into Wisconsin, where the city and terrain makes chasing difficult.

I spent the night in Otter Trail county camping out in the van. I awoke at dawn to a thunderstorm rolling in. I hopped out of the van to wash my hair before any of the locals were awake and before the storm got there. There was a strong south wind and I had nearly finished when all of sudden the wind went completely slack. Minnesota is infamous for its mosquitoes, and hundreds of them had been waiting for me in the nearby grass. As soon as the wind died, it was an invasion and I had to dive into the van and kill the few that made it in with me. It was about this time that the storm approaching my location went tornado warned. The chase was on, and it was barely dawn. I followed the storm as best I could around winding lake roads. I caught a glimpse of a big, horizontal finger like lowering, but was unable to discern rotation, so I'm pretty sure it was a scud look-a-like. I wasn't surprised to hear reports of funnels coming in on it though.

The storm started to fall apart and was moving into worse terrain, so I let it go and started heading down to 94 and my target area of Minneapolis. Along the way I encountered a severe warned bow echo and I core punched it getting some one inch hail. I stopped to report the hail. Just barely severe, I hadn't seen hail much bigger than that all year.

I arrived in Minneapolis under gray, drizzling skies. I stopped to check data and realized I had a problem with the van. I had just had the power steering pump fixed days earlier as it was leaking fluid, and now I found the wheel hard to turn. I got out of the van and noticed a trail of liquid behind it. After just having it fixed, it looked like the van was draining all of its power steering fluid. Without power steering, I feared that my chase was over, or worse that I would be stranded in Minneapolis. I found a Meineke nearby and asked if I could have it looked at. They were too busy to check it out anytime soon, but informed me that I could still drive the van without power steering, without doing any damage. I left and started to head for home, noting that the wheel was rather hard to turn at slow speeds during turns. I stopped for lunch just across the river in Wisconsin at a KFC and decided that the handling of the van wasn't that bad and that I could probably attempt the rest of the chase.

I headed south, crossing the river by Hastings and stopped on a farm road outside of Hampton, MN to await initiation just ahead of the triple point. The humidity was absolutely oppressive. It being July, the corn fields were getting tall, and the summer airmass, combined with the evapotranspiration from the crops was leading to dewpoints approaching 80 with temps in the 90's. It was miserable being out of the air conditioning. My glasses and lenses would fog up as soon as I stepped out of the van. I got a call from the weather channel to setup a phone interview for later and they asked me if I had seen anything yet. I told them no but expected to within a couple hours.

A line of storms fired to my west with more discrete activity further south. I stayed put for a bit to wait and see which storms would be dominant. The southern cells failed to get going, while the southern end of the line to my west went supercellular and tornado warned. I moved in for the intercept, having the perfect southwest highway to take me there. Coming in front the northeast, I emerged from some rain just south of Hampton to see a nice wall cloud a few miles to my southwest:

The storm was heading to me, and I had a nice backlit view of the wall cloud so I stayed and let it approach. There was quite a bit of motion under the base:
Although I couldn't confirm it at the time, I checked the timestamp on this photo against photos from other chasers that were closer. This was a tornado. You can see a point funnel amongst the other scraggly points on the bottom of the wall cloud. Below and just to the right of that point is a debris cloud, which you can make out as a dark smudge, darker than the nearby rain bands. Debris cloud and funnel, I had a legitimate tornado:
The wall cloud quickly became rain wrapped and I lost my view, so I continued southwest to get closer and get my view back. I core punched the storm from the north, and emerged west of Randolph, MN to see a snaky looking tube descending. It formed rapidly and I quickly realized I had a developing tornado in front of me. I was trying to drive, work my still camera, and video camera in the dome on the roof of the van at the same time, so my shots turned out rather bad, especially with the rain catching the camera's autofocus.
Another shot through the windshield as I drive towards the tornado:

A close up for the tornado:

Although the trees obscure my view of the ground directly underneath the funnel, you can see a whip like tail extending past the trees. Given the proximity of the funnel to the ground, I could be fairly certain that this was in fact a tornado. I blasted south down the road to get closer to the tornado and out of the rain, knowing that I was fairly safe since the tornado was already east of me and moving away.

Past the trees in the previous shot, I was able to pull off the road and get a couple stills through the window as the tornado roped out. The funnel looked almost like a lion's tail here, stocky at the top and tapering with a tuft at the end.

Looking east south east as the tornado continues to dissipate with varying thickness in the condensation funnel:

I stopped to report the tornado on Spotter Network as a "snaky, tube" and having lasted just a few minutes. When the tornado had vanished I raced down some gravel roads trying to keep up with the storm and a visual on the updraft base. Along the way I encountered some tree damage, the likely damage path from where the tornado had passed. The storm became completely rain wrapped and embedded within a linear line minutes after the tornado roped out, however.

I headed south to try and get on Tail-End-Charlie at the bottom of the line, but it looked quite linear and was heading across the MS into western Wisconsin. I looped around on 90 a few times chasing other newly developing storms, but none of them could stay organized for long. I called it a chase by evening and started heading east to the cabin in Wisconsin to spend the night, before returning home the following day.


Although I could have gotten better stills and video of the tornadoes, I got the needle in the haystack catch of the day. There were other tornadoes reported on this day, but not many, and the ones I saw were the only ones I of which I saw any photos. It was an exciting chase that almost didn't happen after I thought the van was out of commission (the power steering issues turned out to be nothing). These were also my first July tornadoes. Despite having setup a phone interview with the Weather Channel, and then not more than an hour later, streaming a tornado live on the internet through ChaserTV, the phone interview never happened, nor did they use my stream.



Lessons Learned: 

  • Make sure your camera isn't focused on the rain drops on the windshield.
  • Make sure the video camera in the dome is running before intercepting.