June 30, 2011


Initial Target: Grand Forks, ND
Departure: Westchester, IL 10:00 am June 29
Arrival: Thief River Falls, MN 10:00 pm
Intercepts: None
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: None
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: None
Miles: 935


Slight risk setup over eastern ND, northwestern MN.  Targeted northeast ND for afternoon initiation of isolated storms.  Cap held so headed north for cooler 700 mb temps in southern Canada.  Attempted to cross into Manitoba at Pembina, ND.  Paperwork did not check out so we turned around and headed into northwest MN to follow drifting trough and hole in cap.  Chase cap busted so stopped for dinner and room in Thief River Falls.

Crew and Equipment:

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley.  Equipment:  Kenwood TH-F6A Tribander, Dell Inspiron Laptop.  Millenicom 760 USB datacard and cradlepoint router, Holux 236 GPS, Canon 60D and EF-S 10-22mm

Photography courtesy: Jennifer Brindley



Thursday, June 30, looked like a marginal shot at some northhern plains supercells and perhaps a tornado.  An instability axis was forecast to develop along the ND/SD/MN border while a shortwave trough arrived from the west.  Cap erosion and timing looked to be the main concern as warm midlevel termperatures looked like they would suppress initiation.  A modest hole was forecast to open in the cap across the northern portion of the target area, and provided that the trough arrived in time, there should have been a window open long enough for initiation.  Uncertainties in initiation, poor height falls, and modest midlevel flow led the Storm Prediction Center to go with only a slight risk. 

I was willing to make the gamble however, as isolated supercells looked more than possible with the hole in the cap and great veering wind profile.  The laid back setups in the northern plains in late spring and early summer are my favorite.  The landscapes are gorgeous, the storms are slow moving and isolated, and you usually have them all to yourself. 

Jennifer Brindley agreed to team up and we left the night before the chase, giving us plenty of time to get to a Grand Forks, ND target.  We took 94 up through Minneapolis and stopped at aquirky barbeque joint with an extreterrestrial theme named "Space Aliens" for dinner.

Outside the diner, some neat little cumulus puffs with what looked like virga wisps underneath:

We spent the night in Albany, MN and were in Fargo, ND by early afternoon the next day.  It was hot and humid and clear.  The lack of cumulus was a bad sign, but the models still indicated a hole in the cap and evening initiation.

We drifted north toward Grand Forks.  With each new run, the models plotted the hole in the cap smaller and open for a shorter amount of time.  It wasn't a good trend, and I realized we were probably looking at a cap bust.  After 7pm the cap was forecast to strengthen.  If we didn't have storm initiation by early evening, we wouldn't see any surface based thunderstorms at all.

The coolest 700 mb temperatures were plotted up in Manitoba.  If we had a chance at a chase, it was in Canada.  We brought our passports in case we wanted to chase Canada and I thought it might be a good idea to see how the border crossings work and what chasing up there is like in case we wanted to do it on a bigger chase day.  We made for the Pembina border crossing on I-29.  "What is your purpose for visiting Canada?" the customs officer at the border asked.  "We're storm chasing." 

There was a long pause.  The officer was not impressed with the unusual response, which was made suspicious by the fact that there wasn't a cloud in the sky either.  "Where in Canada are you going?"  I had no idea.  The hole in the cap was forecast to drift east with the midlevel flow.  "East...ish," I said.  The officer was less impressed.  After killing an hour at the crossing and getting the 20 questions from three different, yet quite friendly, Canadian customs officers, we soon found it was all for nought.  Our passports didn't check out for miscellaneous reasona and we were turned away.

After crossing back through US customs, we were back in North Dakota.  A thin line of cumulus had formed in a southwest to northeast fashion extending from the center of ND up into Canada.  We drifted with it into northwest Minnesota, knowing that was our only shot at a storm.  There was no lift and no vertical growth to the clouds.  The cap would win.  We hung out and got some gorgeous sunset shots before heading into Thief River Falls for dinner and drinks to drown our sorrows after our failed border crossing attempt and cap bust.




A classic summer cap bust, we failed to catch anything more than a pretty sunset way up in the northeast North Dakota, northwest Minnesota corner.  Our experiment crossing the Canadian border to see what chasing Canada is like was also a bust.  We didn't have data to find out what happened in Manitoba and Ontario but I believe the entire region cap busted with no storms initiating at all.  Brindley and I still had a great time and got some gorgeous sunset shots, however.  I chase for fun and to enjoy the sights of the sky, so in that respect the chase was a success.

Lessons Learned: 

  • Make sure everything checks out before you enter Canada. You need more than a passport!