July 1, 2011


Initial Target: Montevideo, MN
Departure: Thief River Falls, MN, IL 12:00 pm CDT
Arrival: Austin, MN 11:45 pm CDT
Intercepts: Sacred Heart, MN
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: Severe (1.0 inch estimated)
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: HP Supercell core
Miles: 575


Cold front setup in the eastern Dakotas, western MN.  Intercepts tornado warned supercell moving out of Brookings, SD south of Montevideo, MN.  Storm morphed into tornadic MCS "landcane."  Attempted to stay north of storm and play inflow notch, but cell was too rain wrapped and too fast to play.  Followed complex to Willmar before letting it pass and dropping south behind the complex.  Intercepted severe warned squall line for self cloud shots noting wide swatch of wind damage around Olivia, MN.  Stopped for lightning shots after dark before spending the night in Austin, MN.

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, Sony XR-520V. Canon 60D and EF-S 10-22mm

Photography by Jennifer Brindley Ubl



After our failed attempt at chasing Canada the day before, July 1 gave Jennifer Brindley and I another shot at a summer northern plains setup.  Directional shear and focus for initiation was weak so the tornado probabilities were forecast to be fairly limited.  Ample instability, some speed shear, and a weak cap still suggested a volatile setup with some severe thunderstorms, however.  We rolled out of Thief River Falls late and started making for a target on the SD/MN border to our south. 

Well before we could make it down there, the weak capping led to an early initiation.  A cell went up in eastern South Dakota and quickly went supercellular developing a pronounced inflow notch, an HP hook, and a tornado warning. We cut southeast out of Appleton and south from Montevideo trying to get out ahead of the storm for the intercept. 

By now the lone supercell had morphed into a tornado warned, fast moving MCS.  We struggled to get a good view of the base through the hazy summer air.  South of Clarkfield, as we approached the storm, we started to get a feel for how large it had become and how fast it was moving.  We watched the northern flank briefly before racing east to try and get out ahead of the storm. 

We couldn't get ahead of the fast, northeast moving storm.  It caught us near Belview.  The core trashed us with winds well over severe limits and blinding rain.  More troublesome was that the radar indicated an embedded tornado vortex signature embedded within the storm as well.  As if the core wasn't bad enough, there was probably a tornado lurking somewhere close by.  We aborted and turned north, taking the shortest route out of the core and away from the potential tornado. 

Clear of the core, we got dramatic views of the monster core.  The clouds above the core took on a purplish hue, the core a sickly green. 

The boundary between the clear air and precipitation was so sharp it looked like some sort of membrane, like the storm was a giant expanding amoeba or jellyfish, racing northeast and consuming everything in its sight.

The radar looked impressive.  The MCS had developed a circulation in the center with two defined arms spiraling around the center of low pressure, a well defined inflow notch on the forward flank, and a channel of precipitation feeding into the back end of the storm.  The ying and yang spiraling arms and vortex embedded in the core remind me of a small land based hurricane, and we dubbed it the landcane afterwards.

We made a couple more vain attempts to get ahead of the screaming MCS, cutting north and east to Wilmar.  I finally gave in and decided to let the storm pass.  We waited a few minutes for the bulk of the core to pass by us to the south, before taking highway 71 south for a play on the southern flank or new development to the south. 

We cut through the tail of the landcane, and I expected some moderate rain but was surprised to encounter a very powerful jet of wind out of the west.  It was like the tail of the landcane was a gigantic rear flanking downdraft feeding into the center of the circulation. 


As we cut south we started to see damage: trees down, structural damage to outbuildings.  We passed a farmstead that looked like it was hit fairly hard so we pulled in to make sure the occupants were alright.  It was just a large shed that had taken the brunt of the damage, the house looked to be alright.  The occupants were alright and we gave them an update on what was happening with the weather. 

We reported the wind damage on Spotter Network.  It was a wide swath of lower end damage so it looked like straight line winds, not a tornado. 
A squall line went up to our south and we decided to make a play on that to get some shelf cloud shots.  He headed down to Olivia and then east to Hector.  We encountered a large amount of tree damage in each of the towns we passed.  Large trees were down, and some looked like they had fallen on parked cars and houses.

We went south to Fairfax, gassed up, and waited for the squall line.  The line was hauling so we didn't have to wait long.  We went east out of town to get a clear view of the western sky.  An amazing shelf cloud came into view with dramatic structure and contrast.  The green core was ominous.


Jenn captured an amazing shot of a bolt of cloud to ground lightning striking ahead of the shelf cloud, illuminating the base of the storm.

We ran east to stay ahead of the storm.  Stopping briefly along the way to snap a picture every now and then.  I had to speed to put some space between us and the line to give us little more than a minute to stop and get a picture.  The line was moving at speeds close to 60 mph probably.

The structure never got any better than when we first spotted the shelf  We aborted the race to keep ahead of the fast moving squall line and let the line overtake us at Le Sueur.  Winds in the gust front were subsevere, and once the heaviest of the line passed we trailed behind it, making for home. 

We were treated to a photogenic sunset, and had to stop to shoot it of course.
What a great hour to be out in your boat fishing:
Gorgeous sunset mammatus with mesmerizing color:
We stopped to north of Albert Lea, MN to shoot some lightning. Jenn captured a field of fireflies with a long exposure shot:
Anvil crawlers arcing overhead:
More fireflies:
Mother nature's fireworks and some man made ones as well:
Anvil crawlers, "anvil zits", and a few cloud to ground strikes thrown in for good measure:
It got pretty late so we stopped for the night in Austin, MN and picked up the long drive home in the morning.

Our two day trip out to the northern plains didn't yield any tornadoes.  Jenn and I had a great time, however, and got some great pictures, and we did see an incredible storm.  Good times and a photogenic storm are good enough for me any day.  The trip was a success despite the lack of tornadoes.  Jenn also got one of her best storm shots ever.  There was a tornado embedded within the landcane.  The National Weather Service surveyed an EF2 several miles from where we aborted the chase.


Lessons Learned: 

  • Arrive early on days featuring a potential MCS.
  • Don't core punch a "landcane" as the tornado will be heavily rain wrapped in the center of the circulation.