October 4, 2013


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
West Point, NE
4 miles SSE of Percival, IA 9:28 AM 10/4/2013
Springfield, IL 4:09 PM 10/5/2013
Wayne, NE Moville, IA
0 mph
Wedge tornado, RFD clear slot, HP supercell


Fall warm front setup across northeast Nebraska. Played near surface low east of Norfolk for early evening tornadic supercells. Intercepted violent, wedge tornado south of Wayne, NE as it impacted town. Encountered damage path on SE side of town. Left area after seeing if assistance was needed, targeting new supercell in western Iowa. Intercepted striated HP with green core east of Moville, IA noting rain wrapped wedge tornado. In path of tornado, so executed north and east escape route noting large bear’s cage region and powerflashes. Tracked structured HP to the east until after dark before stopping for dinner with other chasers in Fort Dodge, IA.

Crew and Equipment

Solo chase. Equipment: Canon 60D, Canon t2i, Canon EFS 10-22, Canon EF 50mm, Sony HDR-xr500v..




October 4 was looking like a huge chase day in the northern plains, advertised well in advance on the forecast models. A very deep surface low was forecast to track north through eastern Nebraska, lifting a warm front with very rich moisture behind it. A deep trough would provide ample shear and lift across the warm sector as well. It was a great setup for tornadoes, and the Storm Prediction center highlighted the area for potentially violent tornadoes. A few questions remained about the best target including how far north the warm front would make it, and whether or not the area on the warm front and near the surface low would be clear of cloud cover and destabilize enough to support supercells and tornadoes. The morning model runs were showing the highest instability down in southeast Nebraska where there was the most clearing and where the warm front was situated. I stuck to my original target, however, and opted for northeast Nebraska where the warm front was forecast to lift and where the lift and directional shear would be greatest for tornadoes, despite the lower instability.

I started the day just east of Nebraska City, where Brad Goddard and I had split a room after the chase the day before. We caravanned with Jon Williamson and Alec Scholten up I-29 toward our target, crossing the Missouri River at Onawa/Decatur into Nebraska. We stopped outside of Bancroft, hoping to get data, but the town has no services or signal and we wound up downwind from a pig farm, so we quickly left and headed south to West Point. We were well north of the warm front at this point. The air was cool, moist and low clouds streamed past making for overcast skies. The warm front wasn’t too far to our south, however, and it was surging north toward us. Sunny skies and cumulus bubbled to our south. We were joined by a few other chasers including Chris Allington and Jeff Piotrowski. We swapped chase stories from earlier in the season while we awaited storm initiation.

Blips on the Radar
8 miles NNW of Howells, NE
3:20 PM
We didn’t have to wait long. Two tiny blips popped up on the radar to our southwest tracking almost due north, the first sign of storm initiation. Piotrowski bolted from the gas station parking lot to go after them, while the rest of us held our ground for a couple minutes to let the fledgling updrafts mature a bit. We caravanned west to meet the north moving cells, but we realized we had jumped the gun. Directly downstream from the cells, they appeared to be growing on the radar but were still barely even rain showers. We hung around for a few minutes before retreating back east to get further downstream.

Corn and Cumulus
11 miles WSW of West Point, NE
3:36 PM
Goddard and I hung out on the side of a paved north/south county highway waiting for the storms to mature and come to us. Williamson and Scholten had already gone in for the intercept. Tall fields of corn awaiting harvest waved in the wind, and looking east, cumulus streamed northwest under blue skies.

A Storm is Born
11 miles WSW of West Point, NE
3:52 PM
Finally our little blips on the radar took off into big thunderstorms. The updraft tower and anvil stretched far overhead, casting us in shadow, as rows of cumulus streamed northwest feeding into the building storm. Not even warned yet, these storms would still need time to mature, so we headed north to Wisner to wait a bit. An arc of storms was going up in the warm sector south of the warm front. Brad and I were caught between a couple of the stronger looking cells, and we were deciding which one to go after. Our original blips were to our west now and closer to the surface low, but storms to the east might be working with better instability. A funnel cloud report and a tornado warning kicked us into action and committed us to the western storm cells. We headed down a west highway for the intercept, only to immediately get stuck at a dreaded one lane closed construction site. We were caught in a long line of cars stopped by a flagger awaiting a pilot car to lead us through the construction. The storm continued to build, tracking north while tornado warned, just out of view while were stopped on the highway. It was maddening.

The Base
1 miles WNW of Pilger, NE
4:52 PM
We were finally through the construction and moving again. The base came into view, and stretched in a long line from north to south with what appeared to be a bit of a lowering just to our west-northwest.

Featureless Base
6 miles NW of Pilger, NE
4:59 PM
We got off the highway and started to chase the cell on the unpaved road grid. A tornado report had come in on the storm, but we had missed whatever it was while stuck in traffic or heading west toward the cell. The base now looked rather unimpressive, just an elongated bank of featureless convection. I was worried that storm had already crossed the warm front and was now entering stable air where it wouldn’t be able to produce anymore tornadoes. We stopped for a couple minutes to watch the base and were joined by Nick Nolte.

HP Supercell
5 miles NNW of Pilger, NE
5:14 PM
We started stair stepping north and east to keep ahead of the base. I wasn’t too optimistic at this point as the storm looked rather junky to me. About a mile from a north highway heading into Wayne, NE, our roads turned to dirt in the east and north directions. A yellow caution sign marked the route to the north as “Minimum Maintenance.” I have all terrain tires on the van, but not all wheel drive, and have had a long history of getting stuck in the mud. I wasn’t about to risk it, so I turned around and started routing a detour toward the highway by heading south. Nolte and Goddard continued on in their all-wheel drive Subarus where they were soon met by Williamson. Heading back south and west I bumped into Adam Lucio and crew and we had a brief exchange before parting ways, as Adam too has a four wheel drive truck. The decision to continue down the minimum maintenance road would prove fateful for some. Nolte wound up getting into a wreck with another chaser that slid on the mud road into him, but everyone was OK, and Adam’s route would put him into a very close position on the large, violent tornado that was about to form. I was already heading south and away from the group, so unaware of the wreck until after the chase. It would cost the group involved their position on the tornado, however, not to mention the headache of dealing with the damage.

Heading east for the highway, the storm moved northeast away from me and started to transition into a high precipitation state. It was looking more supercellular now, but the high precipitation state did not bode well for any sort of tornado viewing chances.

Suspicious Lowering
8 miles NW of Wisner, NE
5:16 PM
I turned north toward Wayne to catch back up with the storm, but the storm had turned right and the rear flanking gust front was beginning to cross the road in front of me. This would normally have forced me to stop as I wouldn’t want to be caught in the rear flanking downdraft, but surprisingly, the precipitation was clearing out from underneath the storm’s base and I could see a well-defined clear slot and an area of interest to the northwest that looked like it could produce a tornado. Instead of stopping or moving more east, I decided to drive underneath the southern base of the storm and clear slot and get a closer look at this area of interest.

Developing Tornado
9 miles S of Wayne, NE
5:17 PM
As I approached, I had a few elevated vantage points. It looked like the lowering was almost scraping the ground with some motion underneath, smaller vortices, or a large, broad circulation. I suspected a likely tornado at this point, but I couldn’t be too certain given the precipitation, ground scraping base, and low visibility. In reality my suspicions were correct and the Wayne tornado was now underway. Chasers closer were getting good shots of the subvortices spinning up underneath.

Wedge or Wall?
5 miles SSE of Wayne, NE
5:22 PM
Before I could get too close, I decided to cut east a mile to put a little more ground between myself and the developing tornado, instead of falling behind it on the highway and losing my view in the RFD precipitation. I turned off the highway onto a gravel road. The RFD had made the roads wet, but the unpaved grid looked OK for travel. I went a mile east and then cut north on another gravel road to get closer. There was a big, dark lowering under the northern edge of the horseshoe shaped updraft base. I suspected it was a tornado, but if it was, it was a wedge, and being the skeptic I thought it may just be a ground scraping wall cloud since low hills blocked my view of the ground underneath it.

The Ghost Train
3 miles SSE of Wayne, NE
5:28 PM
I drove north down the gravel road a couple miles to get closer. At times my view straight ahead was obscured by heavy precipitation and I had no view of what was going on underneath the base of the storm. I was able to maintain situational awareness by looking almost straight up, however. I could peer into the heart of the RFD clear slot which was now directly overhead. A boiling, rotating mass of mesocyclone, glowing brilliant white was still off to my north ahead of me, and I knew as a result the tornado was still off to my northwest and I wasn’t about to drive into it.

The rain cleared a bit and then something up ahead made me halt in my tracks. There was a grey… wall up ahead, and it was moving at high speed from left to right. The sight was bizarre and disorienting to me, but I knew immediately that I shouldn’t be driving into it. It appeared to be a grey mist a couple dozen feet tall. The top of it was turbulent and churned like waves, and I realized I was looking at a rear inflow jet, a focused jet of wind and mist within the rear flanking downdraft. It appeared to be only tens of feet tall and wide using the trees nearby for scale. Given its size and motion, the moving wall of mist looked like a freight train to me, a ghostly grey freight train. Since this event, several chasers and I have been referring to this feature as the “ghost train.” Unknown to me at the time, Adam Lucio had just been directly impacted by this rear inflow jet, which blew out the back window of his truck.

The Wedge
3 miles SSE of Wayne, NE
5:29 PM
While I was watching the “Ghost Train”, the rain cleared out to my northwest and I looked over and saw that the sky underneath the storm was bisected by a sharp edge, white on the left, and black on the right. It took me a couple moments to realize that I was looking at the left edge of a huge, wedge tornado. The right edge disappeared into the rain to the east making the tornado seem almost infinitely large. As the realization sunk in I became overwhelmed with awe and couldn’t help but swear out loud in disbelief. The storm had gone from a rather junky, elongated base to producing a wedge in just a few minutes.

The Ugly Beast
3 miles SSE of Wayne, NE
5:29 PM
I put the cameras on it, but rain splattered the dome camera enclosure obscuring the shot. I scrambled to grab another camera and got an SLR with a 50mm on it, firing a shot off through the windshield. The shot is one of the most dramatic I’ve captured while chasing, showing the left edge of the tornado, the black wall of The Beast starting to engulf the southern side of Wayne, debris flying through the air, and several inflow jets or ghost trains plowing through the trees in the foreground. The van rocked in the RFD winds, the mists whipped through the fields in front of me, I could see the motion in the tornado as it filled my view through the windshield. I wasn’t a distant observer of this tornado. I could feel it.

Receding Cone Tornado
1 mile ESE of Wayne, NE
5:33 PM
Rain cut off my view as the tornado started to move away to the northeast. The mesocyclone still churned above it in brilliant white, however. I proceeded forward slowly and with caution, hoping to get my view back. I made it a couple miles down the road when I just started to get peaks of a low contrast cone funnel moving north off into the rain, but as soon it started to come into view, another sight grabbed my attention. A power pole was bent at a 45 degree angle. Sheets of metal were strewn about a field up ahead. I was coming into the ugly beast’s wake of destruction and driving into a debris field.

1 mile ENE of Wayne, NE
5:34 PM
I had never experienced fresh tornado damage before. I always go at lengths to avoid it since I’m not trained to act as a first responder. I decided to continue forward, however, since I was still trying to catch the tornado and perhaps I could be of assistance to anyone along my route as I was most likely the first person on the scene. Trees were mangled and strips of metal hung from them.

Building Damage
1 mile ENE of Wayne, NE
5:35 PM
I passed a few buildings, but they appeared to be farm or industrial buildings. They looked mostly intact and there were no cars or people around.

More damage
1 mile ENE of Wayne, NE
5:35 PM
More outbuilding damage:

House Damage
1 miles ENE of Wayne, NE
5:36 PM
I stopped briefly to check out what appeared to be a damaged house, but it was closed up and nobody appeared to be around.

Looking for those who need help
1 miles ENE of Wayne, NE
5:37 PM
Up ahead there were trees down and then an overturned truck trailer completely blocking the road, and more damaged buildings. I got out of the van and ran down the road to see if anybody needed help. The area seemed to be completely deserted, however.

The smell hit me as soon as I got out of the van. I had read about it many times from other chaser accounts, but I had never smelled it myself, the smell in the wake of the tornado. It’s the cumulative mix of the tornado blending everything together: shredded trees and vegetation, natural gas, earth, cracked lumber and bits of smashed houses.

Moving a Tree
2 miles ESE of Wayne, NE
5:44 PM
Finding nobody around, I returned to the van and started to head back south, where I bumped into a couple chasers who were just arriving on the scene. I turned east, maneuvering to get back on the storm and I came upon a family gathered outside their house. I stopped to check on them and warn them of the damage up in Wayne. Just down the road a tree was down. I got out with another chaser behind me to help clear the way before moving on.

At this point I was completely blown away and a little dazed from my encounter with the damage, but I decided that the chase was very much still on. I could catch up to this storm, or perhaps catch another one coming up from the south as it moved into Iowa. I started to blast east and north to catch back up, hurrying as fast as I could down the highways. The storm that produced the Wayne tornado appeared to fizzle as it moved into Sioux City and South Dakota. I decided to let it go and intercept a supercell coming up from the south, catching it in western Iowa. I rounded the southern end of Sioux City on highway 20, making great time as I crossed into Iowa heading due east.

The forward flank of the supercell was already crossing the highway. I punched through it, however, double checking the radar and my visuals to make sure I was still in a safe position and not at risk of overtaking a potential tornado. The rain hammered the van and the sky was a weird sepia tone in the low light. I started to get a barrage of half inch hail. Cars drove slowly in the right lane, but I was able to pass them in the left. I wasn’t the fastest, however. Jeff Piotrowski came up on my tail and I moved over to let him pass as he zoomed off into the storm.

What Lurks Underneath
9 miles WSW of Correctionville, IA
6:50 PM
The rain cleared and to the south I could see the huge updraft tower of a supercell thunderstorm. I got off the highway and onto the unpaved road grid to move in a bit closer and get away from the traffic. A giant horseshoe shaped updraft base filled the sky to the south. There was something dark lurking underneath it too. The rolling hills of western Iowa prevented me from seeing exactly what it was, however. I turned south for the intercept, a large hill in front me. The storm displayed itself in beautiful strips of color, striated with shades of blue and teal with a glowing green underneath.

Amazing Supercell and Tornado
9 miles WSW of Correctionville, IA
6:51 PM
I cleared the hill with an elevated view. Immediately I realized there was another tornado in progress. A partially rain wrapped wedge was seated underneath the green core of the supercell. The supercell structure above it was mesmerizing. I had an amazing view and moved quickly to take advantage of it. I got out and made sure the camera enclosure was clear of rain drops and set an SLR to start recording raw video, but the light was so low at this point my shots were coming out badly underexposed.
The tornado presented itself as a dark smudge, a black wall on the horizon. The core above it was a glowing green, like something you’d expect to see in a witch’s cauldron. It was a creepy sight.
The green area expanded and started to fill the southwest sky, like the oft cited clichés of the sky turning green ahead of a tornado.
The lip of the RFD gust front was now overhead along with the glowing green core. The motion in it was very, very rapid. I’m not sure why I had delayed until this point, but the scene made me stop what I was doing with the cameras and focus on the motion and direction of the tornado. I watched the dark wall to my southwest, now much larger. It had no apparent motion to the right. There was no motion to the left. The realization sunk in that I was sitting directly in the path of a rapidly approaching wedge tornado. I had to get out of there, and get out of there NOW. I jumped into the van and started a three point turn to execute an escape route north back to the east/west paved road I had come in on. The three point turn took seconds to complete but it felt like an eternity. I started rolling north down the gravel. The van dinged at me and there was loud road noise. I had left the sliding door open. Oh well, I thought at first, but I looked back and saw my camera bag sitting near the edge, ready to fall out at the next bump. Do I stop and save my gear, or do I make sure I get out of there and let my stuff go? I figured I had the second it would take. I halted the van, jumped out, shut the sliding door, and then was tearing off down the gravel once more. Anvil crawlers raked the sky overhead, and the wind seemed to pick up. I made it to the east/west road. The green mass of the storm’s core was now overhead. I stopped at the T intersection to consider my escape route Do I go east or west? Clear skies were to the east, but perhaps I could clear the path of the tornado more quickly heading west into the hook? I decided either way was just as good since I was sitting in the path, so I turned east.

Green Wedge
6 miles E of Moville, IA
6:55 PM
I floored the van’s accelerator. The SLR captured the wedge behind me. At 10mm this ultra wide view filled the entire sky, with the lip of the gust front overhead and the wedge much closer than it appears here.

Power Flash
8 miles W of Correctionville, IA
6:55 PM
I raced east, trying to not only beat the tornado, but the rear flanking core and winds spiraling around it. A transformer exploded in the field to my right with a bright blue flash.

The Bear's Cage
8 miles W of Correctionville, IA
6:55 PM
Streaky bands of rain danced around the wedge and the green core circling it like a carousel. They marked the bars of the “Bear’s Cage”, with the bear being the large black mass behind me, now engulfed in rain. I started to have flashbacks to El Reno and Dan Robinson’s video as I fled east hoping to clear the Bear’s Cage before it overtook me and then the tornado itself. The spiraling bands of wind and rain were immediately off to my right in the field.

The road had been completely deserted, but up ahead I saw a car stopped on the oncoming shoulder, facing me. As if they sensed my urgency to get out of there, they started to pull a three point turn in front of me. I was flying at this point, with no time to stop. I sailed around them on the left with the horn down while they were nosed into the shoulder. I passed a pickup truck heading westbound toward the rain wrapped tornado and I had the horn down as I flew past him as well.

Pink Cumulus
4 miles W of Correctionville, IA
6:59 PM
Within moments I was out from underneath the storm and the path of the Bear’s Cage. Pink cumulus streamed overhead into the supercell’s updraft tower with blue skies above them. It was surreal to be in such a different scene having been amidst chaos only moments earlier. I stopped in a turn out to catch my breath and watch the storm for a few moments.
The ugly green core passed harmlessly to the north, the tornado now completely hidden from view. The car I passed had caught up with me and pulled in behind me. It was Jon Williamson and Alec Scholten. We got out of our cars and were hopping up and down and shouting in disbelief. That’s when I realized my escape had sent a massive surge of adrenaline through me. My arms were shaking and I was weak in the knees. This day had entirely too much excitement.

Fall Supercell at Twilight
4 miles NNE of Correctionville, IA
7:12 PM
We decided to caravan for the rest of the chase, and played it safe staying east or ahead of the supercell. We never got another view of a tornado, but the supercell structure in the twilight was mesmerizing. A huge high precipitation supercell filled the sky with a plethora of lightning. The fall leaf colors and sunset shades made for a beautiful scene.

Supercell Vault
3 miles ENE of Quimby, IA
7:28 PM
We tracked the storm well after dark, until it finally started to wind down. The storm would produce a couple more tornadoes, but they were buried within the rain. We turned east and headed for Fort Dodge, making plans to meet up with several other chasers and celebrate the chase with a steak dinner.

Battle Scars
Fort Dodge, IA
Matt Phelps and crew and Adam Lucio and crew joined us for dinner at a popular little pub and grill in the center of town. Adam showed us the damage to his truck. The back window had been blow out by the “ghost train” near Wayne and shards of tinted glass littered the floor in the back of his truck. He taped up the gaping hole with some garbage bags to close it off for the trip home. We traded stories from the day and then said our farewells. I camped comfortably in the van just east of town before making the rest of the drive home in the morning.


This turned out to be one of the most intense and dramatic tornado chases of the year for me. This was the first time I intercepted two wedge tornadoes on different storms, and tornadoes in different states on the same day. This was also my first encounter with fresh damage, as I generally go to lengths to avoid encountering damage. Both tornadoes were rated EF4 and had widths over a mile with Wayne 1.38 miles wide and Moville at 1.5 miles wide at their largest. Miraculously there were no deaths on either, but there were injuries and significant damage. My adrenaline inducing escapes and close encounters on this chase are a stark reminder to me about being vigilant on recognizing when to take escape routes and also in the safest direction. This was the first really big tornado chase since the El Reno tragedy, which resulted in the first storm chaser deaths. While this was a wakeup call to many about chase safety, storm chasers were again impacted by the tornado on this chase. It’s obvious now that despite these deaths, aggressive chase styles will continue as ever, placing chasers extremely close to violent tornadoes. The grim reality is that we will more than likely see more chaser deaths in the future as a result.

Lessons Learned

Follow On The Web!
Storm Chasers Giving Back!

Webpage, graphics, photos, and videos © Skip Talbot or respective owner 2018.
skip.talbot@gmail.com Skip's Webzone