June 19, 2012


Initial Target: Watertown, SD
Departure: 10:00 am Watertown, SD
Arrival: 9:00 pm Watertown, SD
Intercepts: None
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: None
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: Updraft tower, Roll Cloud
Miles: 1


Second chase day in multi day plains run with Jennifer Brindley Ubl. Targeted east central South Dakota for afternoon/evening supercell initiation. Initiation held off until sunset but updrafts failed to organize and quickly gusted out leaving remnant roll cloud.

Crew and Equipment:

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley Ubl.  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

Additional photography courtesy: Jennifer Brindley Ubl




Tuesday looked like our second shot at a chase on my northern plains chasecation with Jennifer Brindley Ubl. We had a disastrous technical failure on June 17 when we flooded my laptop with water. We spent the 18th getting the laptop repaired at a PC repair shop in Watertown, SD. I had toasted the motherboard, but luckily Jenn had the same make and model of laptop. We were able to swap the hard drives and I was up and running with essentially the same machine, which had all of our chase software and hardware drivers on it.

A favorable mix of ingredients was coming together across portions of South Dakota and Minnesota. A warm front extended from eastern South Dakota, arcing up toward northern Wisconsin. A trailing dryline extended south from eastern South Dakota to Nebraska. Although the higher tornado probabilities were on the warm front in Minnesota. Jenn and I agreed that the play near the triple point looked pretty decent so we decided to hold our ground in Watertown. The plan was to get storms initiating off the dryline by late afternoon or early evening and hopefully they would mature and perhaps produce a tornado or two as they approached the warm front. Capping and modest deep layer shear looked detrimental to the setup, but we hoped convergence on the dryline and enhanced shear near the boundaries would be enough to get the job done.

Rolling out of the hotel in the morning, we headed to the Starbucks across the street to grab some coffee and check data. We were soon joined by Tony Laubach and Brian Barnes who were running a storm chasing tour. Tony and Jenn were chase partners before Jenn moved from Denver to Milwaukee. It was great hanging out with friends, and the Starbucks was an excellent hang out spot with drinks, snacks, bathrooms, places to lounge about, and free wifi.

Tony and Jenn checking out data and drinking some coffee:

Brian and Tony's tour getting restless in the parking lot:

Hours went by. Hopes remained high initially while we still had plenty of time. A nice cumulus field extended down the dryline which looked promising and convective models initiating storms by evening, but mesoanalysis showed a stout capping inversion.

Brian watches the sky:

More hours pass. We had quite the bunch to spend the day with. Two of the tour guests were animators trying to gain inspiration for a film project involving tornadoes, and the others were tourists from New York. Locals interested in what we were up to stopped by as well, and they were colorful characters.

Since we had basically moved into the Starbucks, they were gracious enough to give us a round of free espresso shots!

As evening set in and the sun started getting low, I feared a cap bust. Then we had a blip on the radar. A storm going up about 60 miles to our south on the dryline. The blip staggered for several scans and then fizzled, but other blips were popping up nearby, in the warm sector, and by the warm front in Minnesota. The chase would soon be on I thought. We waited until we had a decent cell to go after. This turned into more waiting, however. The chase was still in question.

A tower attempting to go up on the dryline to our west that looked something of a cartoon alligator or mouse:

Pretty sunset convection:
Cumulus lit up gold in the setting sun, I thought this tower looked like an angry toad:

The dryline passed overhead with a blast of westerly winds, but we held our ground in Watertown. Towers drifted past us to the east. They failed to mature into storms and were already gusting out, leaving behind a cold pool of outflow. A roll cloud kicked up. The chase looked like it was doomed.

Brian hangs his head in disappointment or boredom as the day starts to wind down.

Glowing, backlit convection:
More cumulus, now starting to topple and fizzle as the updrafts on the dryline fail:

This wound up being our catch of the day, a roll cloud:

The tour guests shot a bunch of pictures of it. They were impressed by the different cloud types they were seeing, even if they weren't massive supercells or tornadoes. The chase experience was exciting for them even if it was a bust day, and the weather, while mundane to me, was still unique to the guests from New York and California. The roll cloud moved over ahead with a blast of cold outflow and that was the last nail in the coffin of our chase.

At sundown we walked across the street to the Applebee's and grabbed dinner, sharing stories, before splitting up for the night.


This was one of the biggest cap busts of the 2012 season. While some updrafts did attempt to go up, none of them could ever organize. A few storms got off the ground in Minnesota after dark, but they posed just an isolated wind and hail threat. There were no tornadoes anywhere. A bust, but it was a fun day seeing friends and meeting interesting people.


Lessons Learned: 

  • It's never a bust when you have fun busting with friends.

  • Starbucks makes for a great place to spend the day awaiting initiation.