July 22, 2011


Initial Target: Mobridge, SD
Departure: Westchester, IL 7:00 pm CDT July 21
Arrival: Aberdeen, SD 12:00 am CDT
Intercepts: Flasher, ND
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: None
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: Wall cloud
Miles: 1249


Warm front play across north central SD/south central ND.  Targeted Mobridge, SD for late afternoon supercell initiation.  Drove overnight with Jonathan Williamson, arriving in Mobridge by early afternoon. Went north to intercept supercells initiating in south central ND.  Tornado warned supercell exhibited wall cloud, but updraft quickly died.  Headed back to SD for new initiation, but cap strengthened and sun went down so called it a chase.

Crew and Equipment:

Chase partners: Jonathan Williamson.  Equipment:  Kenwood TH-F6A Tribander, Dell Inspiron Laptop.  Millenicom 760 USB datacard and cradlepoint router, Holux 236 GPS, Robotic camera dome with Sony XR-520V. Canon 60D and EF-S 10-22mm



I missed one of the best setups of the year on July 14.  An isolated supercell went up in central North Dakota and put down a string of photogenic tornadoes.  I was ready to chase that day, but blew it off because I thought the parameters looked too marginal to chase a target that far.  It was one of my biggest regrets of the year.  I was eager to make up for it, and another promising setup presented itself in the northern plains a week later.  Jonathan Williamson and I agreed to team up for a two day chase trip to the northern plains.

A warm front was forecast to drape along the North Dakota/South Dakota order, a dryline extending to the south, and a burp of midlevel winds providing just enough wind shear and lift for supercells.  Our initial target for the setup was north central South Dakota where the best shear and instability combination was collocated by the warm front: Mobridge, IL.

Jon and I left the night before the chase after meeting up in Madison and taking 90 across through southern Minnesota.  We drove through the night, stopping to shoot the sunrise and some distant lightning (which turned out to be too distant to capture) near Sioux Falls, SD.

Continuing west across South Dakota, as the sun rose, a morning squall line raced in from the west.  We stopped again to snag a few shots of the gust front.  The sun came out behind the line, and I hope the line, which extended up to our target, would put down some outflow boundaries to aid in lift and directional shear for our storms later.

Turning north toward Pierre we stopped for a few shots of the photogenic grasslands.  This is storm chaser utopia: a huge sky, and endless, deserted green fields allowing you to see forever.

Jon and I made it to Mobridge, with what looked like a few hours to spare before storm initiation.  We found some spots to shoot the scenery before heading into town to grab some grub at the Dairy Queen.

There we met up with Nick Nolte and OU storm chasers Brandon Sullivan, Scott Peake, and others.  An old timer who might want to think about trading in his Cadillac for a Rascal drove over the parking lot curb and took out a potted planter before idling away down the street.


Nick, Jon, and I headed just south of town to catch a nap and await initiation.  We were sitting underneath a nice cumulus field that was draped right along the ND/SD border.  The northern end of the cumulus field initiated way up by the warm front in south central North Dakota nearly 80 miles away.  We went after the cells.  The bridge across the Missouri heading west out of Mobridge was down to one lane.  Luckily we caught the construction signal’s green light instead of having to wait several minutes for our lane’s turn to cross the bridge.

Passing some neat terrain as we head into North Dakota:

One of the cells went dominant and picked up a tornado warning.  I was hoping we’d be on it as soon as we were downstream, but the storm rooted onto the boundary, and would not move off of it, holding nearly stationary if not back building slightly to the west.  It took us forever to make it up there.


I got some use out of my 10-22 as we approached the storm as I could frame the updraft tower and anvil in a single frame.

A wall cloud emerged from under the base of the storm as we approached from the southeast.  A funnel cloud report came in over Spotter Network.  We were quite a ways off from the storm, but thought we could see something pointy moving within the wall cloud.  It might have been a funnel, or it could have been scud.  At our distance we just couldn’t tell.


The wall cloud seemed to fall apart just as we arrived on the storm.  We bumped into Nick Nolte and hung around for awhile getting some structure shots of the base.  It was obvious this storm was dying, however, the base was shriveling up into nothing and soon all that would be left would be an orphaned anvil.


We left the dying storm and decided our best bet for catching a supercell was back in north central South Dakota.  Severe parameters were quite high over this area and a cumulus field persisted over the area.  Jon and I headed back through Mobridge, watching a beautiful sunset.

As the soon slipped below the horizon, the cumulus field thinned out into clear skies, and it became quite obvious that the southern end of the target was going to cap bust.  We headed east along highway 12 in the general direction of tomorrow’s target, driving past Bowdle and the same areas from my May 22, 2010 chase.  The area was now completely flooded.  Several feet of water was pooling up on the sides of the highway.  Jon and I stopped for the night in Aberdeen at what is apparently the oldest and original Super 8 motel.  We bought a pitcher of beer from the desk clerk (how quirky is that?) and chilled in the room before heading to bed.


This was a long chase to not get a tornado, but Jon and I had a great time and got some nice supercell structure and beautiful Dakotas scenery.  Given the modest expectation going into the the chase and its photogenic quality, I’d say this chase wasn’t a bust despite the lack of tornadoes and distance involved.


Lessons Learned: 

  • Cross the bridge first if there’s a better chance of the chase starting on the other side.