May 26, 2012


Initial Target: Yankton, SD
Departure: St. Joseph, MO 12:00 pm
Arrival: Olathe, KS 1:00 am
Intercepts: Niobrara, NE
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: Non-Severe (not measured)
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: Tornado, HP Gust Front
Miles: 773


Ground day on aerial chase trip with Phil Bates. Targeted Yankton, SD for outside chance at tornadic supercell. Intercepted high based, LP cell southwest of Yankton, SD by late afternoon. Cell failed to organize or lower due to weak lapse lapse rates, capping issues, and lack of lift. Abandoned storm at Yankton and drove back to Olathe, for planned aerial chase the next day.

Crew and Equipment:

Chase partners: Phil Bates.  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




Saturday was originally scheduled to be our fourth aerial storm chase in the Cessna, but our pilot, Caleb, had some last minute obligations so Phil and I were grounded for the day. The day's setup looked marginal, but potentially a good one for the plane with isolated storms in clear air and the shot at an isolated tornado. While the tornado parameters were spiking on the SD/NE/IA corner, SPC did not like the general pattern as there was a bit of a ridge, weak lapse rates, some capping issues, and not much upper level support. Phil and I decided to give it a go though since we were out, and it takes just one isolated storm with a photogenic rope tornado to make a fantastic chase. We knew there wouldn't be an outbreak and didn't need one.

Phil and I packed it up at the hotel in Olathe and decided to drive up to St. Joseph for some lunch and see if we could get Caleb at the last minute for an aerial chase. We wanted to be on our way to the target, but if Caleb decided we could fly then we'd all make it back to the airport at the same time. We ate a greasy truck stop diner off of I-35. Caleb was out so we decided to commit to a land chase. Yankton to Sioux City was the initial target as I hoped we'd get a couple isolated cells to fire off the triple point and interact with the warm front draped across southern South Dakota.

We made it up to Yankton in good time taking 29 along western IA. Phil and I had been there just days earlier, when we stopped in Yankton for our initial fuel stop on our first aerial storm chase. A cumulus field was developing in northern Nebraska and I hoped we wouldn't have a repeat of May 5th's cap bust. Cells initiated by late afternoon and the chase was on. We caught up with the initially very high based cell near Niobrara, Nebraska, stopping atop a hill to watch it. I hoped it would organize and the base lower as it approached the warm front.

Turning around in Niobrara, a local woman in an old beater car spotted the camera dome on top of the van and called it through the window, "What's that on your roof? Is that for women!?" "Yes," I said and she drove off surprised while Phil and I had a chuckle. We paralleled the storm driving along the NE/SD border. The storm stayed high based but occasionally had a strike of cloud to ground lightning. This was about as photogenic as it got:

Phil setup his tripod to get a few shots of the updraft. You can see a bit of an inflow band here feeding the updraft, which is behind me. The cell crapped out as it passed Yankton. Phil and I let it go there, and stopped at the Subway to grab some dinner. It was the third time I had eaten at the Subway in Yankton, SD on three separate days in 2012.

Phil and I hopped on 29 south heading home, hoping for one last aerial chase the following day, arriving after midnight back in Olathe, KS. The drive back was smooth except for a tripped speed camera I never received the ticket from and some driver who wouldn't get off my tail on the interstate no matter what speed I drove at.


The setup busted in South Dakota, so it was actually a good thing we didn't waste a lot of money flying the plane up there. As SPC suspected, the setup was a dud, but the tornado parameters still lured numerous chasers out to chase. The storms could just not get going with the lack of lift, shear, and weak lapse rates.


Lessons Learned: 

  • Sometimes it's better to skip an expensive chase and not waste a lot of money on a setup that probably won't justify the cost.