June 21, 2013


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Salem, SD
3 miles W of Springfield, IL 5:48 PM 6/20/2013
6 miles NW of Elkton, SD 9:56 PM 6/21/2013
Huron, SD Lake Benton, MN
0 mph
Updraft Base


Warm front play in east central SD. Caravanned with TIV crew. Intercepted tornado warned supercell near Huron, but noted only low contrast HP structure. Caught in HP core and torrential rain for remainder of chase. Crossed damage path from likely weak tornado noting debris in the road. Aborted chase and stopped in Brookings for the night, but was surprised by sunset supercell passing nearby. Chased severe warned storm into Minnesota noting photogenic yet probably slightly elevated structure. Ended chase at dusk returning to Brookings.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Sean Casey, Nick Nolte, Jonathan Williamson. Equipment: Canon 60D, Canon t2i, Canon EFS 10-22, Canon EF 50mm, Sony HDR-xr500v..




This was my first day out on a multi day run to the plains chasing with Sean Casey in the Tornado Intercept Vehicle, Nick Nolte, and Jonathan Williamson. We agreed to team up for the chase and caravan with me acting as navigator in the TIV with Sean driving and Jon and Nick driving my van in caravan behind us. Return of southwest flow and moisture looked to provide several days of chasing in the northern plains. Our first day out featured a warm front, moderate instability, and modest but adequate flow to support supercells. Our initial target was east central SD where moisture was best along the boundary. Nolte and Williamson and I met up in Madison and took the van out to Sioux Falls where we got a few crappy hours of sleep the night before the chase. We met up with Sean in Salem, SD by late morning.

Westbound on 90
Alexandria, SD
12:40 PM
This was my second chase trip in the TIV, and I had yet to intercept a tornado with the TIV crew. I was hopeful for this trip, however. A cu field was developing to our west so we headed west down 90 to get closer to the initiation point.

Plankinton, SD
1:19 PM
We stopped briefly in Plankinton to check data, while locals and travelered clustered around the TIV to see what we were up to. Storms fired to our west and north, so we didn't stay long, opting for the cells to the north closer to the warm front.

Grungy Skies
4 miles SSW of Virgil, SD
2:01 PM
Heading north our skies were filled with grungy low cumulus, obstructing any view of the storms we were approaching. A cell to our northeast went tornado warned and we picked up the pace for the intercept, hoping to catch it near Huron.

Tornado Warned
4 miles W of Huron, SD
2:14 PM
Heading toward Huron we had somewhat of a view of the tornado warned storm to the north. We could make the dark preiciptiation core and large amounts of scud being kicked up by the outflow in the wake of the storm. There didn't appear to be much structure otherwise as the distant storm was in a high preiciptiation state.

Approaching Gust Front
15 miles NNW of Huron, SD
2:35 PM
Behind us, a severe warned storm with a massive gust front was approaching from the west. The core looked pretty mean so we did our best to stay ahead of it. We hit a road closure, however, and had to divert a few miles around on gravel roads. The storm caught us in the process and we were hit with a barrage of torrential range and marginally severe hail.

Tornado Warned
13 miles ENE of Hitchcock, SD
2:50 PM
We were able to get out of the core of the storm and briefly in line with the tornado warned storm to our northeast. Jeff Piotrowski reported a rain wrapped tornado on the storm so we figured we were missing some sort of show. Our roads and the torrential rains prevented us from getting into position or obtaining a view, however. It was about this time that I started to notice just how badly the TIV leaks. A homemade vehicle of palte welded steel, there are lots of gaps and crevices in the body that the water can get into. It started as a few drops and brief trickles. Meanwhile the tornado gust front was churning to our north. We could make out some lowerings but had no view otherwise or anyway to stay ahead of the core. We turned around and went east to stay ahead of what was now becoming a solid storm complex.
We were soon caught in the core again. The sky was a pea soup green and the rest of our chase was done in torrential rains. The TIV leaked progressively more as we went, and not in a steady amount. There would be no water one minute, but the next an entire cup of water would pour onto my head. I shifted the laptop around trying to keep it from being soaked, but it was a losing battle. The leaks and the pea green color outside came to characterize the chase.
We were ahead of the line briefly as I noticed a hook shape appendage sticking out of the line on our radar scan. It appeared to be a mesovortex, a feature that can spawn tornadoes on the leading edges of squall lines. I called out on the feature and we appeared to have a low base in front of us, but alas no tornado that we could make out. Our roads took us back into the pea soup core again, and we tried to catch up to the now embedded circulation from the west in low visiblity. We started to see some damage. Trees were down and strewn across the road caused by what more than likely a weak tornado.
Something was laying in the road up ahead. The TIV has a very long stopping distance due to its enormous weight and through the rain we couldn't see the object in time to stop. Sean hit the brakes but we wound up rolling right over it. It appeared to be a flatted trailer that was blown into the road. The TIV drove over it without issue and Sean radioed back to the van to warn them about it.

Sunset Surprise
4 miles S of Elkton, SD
9:03 PM
We fell behind the line which now looked like a solid mess. Chances for catching a tornado were nil so we decided to call off the chase and get a room and dinner in Brookings, SD. We headed south into town and stopped a gas station for gas. The sky had turned from pea soup green to a weird sepia tone as the sun was setting. By this time I was completely soaked through, my shirt saturated with water from the leaking TIV. I looked like a drowned rat as I sauntered into the gas station. We were hit by another barrage of questions from interested locals, but I was unable to stay focused for long, in a complete zombie mode after the stressful chase.

We got a room across the street and started to unwind for the evening and get some dinner. However, discrete supercells soon initiated just to our south. We decided to not let the opportunity pass us by so we jumped back into the TIV and van and picked the chase up again. We were greeted by a beautiful supercell storm southeast of town. The best looking storm we had seen all day.

TIV and Van
4 miles S of Elkton, SD
9:05 PM
The storm developed a nice pendant shape with inflow notch and picked up a severe warning. For awhile I thought we might actually get a sunset tornado, but the storm appeared to be slightly elevated, pulling in cool, stable air.

Fading colors
16 miles W of Ruthton, MN
9:11 PM
The structure was photogenic nevertheless. We pursued the storm east into Minnesota, Sean stopping to shoot some IMAX footage from the TIV turret.
As our twilight faded and the storm started to dwindle, we called it a chase once more and decided to head back to Brookings.


A fun yet frustrating day out with the TIV crew. We were unable to get a shot of a tornado, despite being on tornado warned supercells and close to circulations. The pea soup visibility and torrential rains made it just impossible to see anything. Our sunset surprise made the day, however, and was a nice treat even if it didn't produce a tornado. The complex of storms did produce several tornadoes across the region, but they were difficult for chasers to intercept and I don't recall seeing much in the way of decent footage from this event.

Lessons Learned

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