June 11, 2014


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Ortonville, MN
Springfield, IL 4:53 PM 6/10/2014
Aberdeen, SD 9:37 PM 6/11/2014
Agency Village, SD
0 mph
Updraft Base


Warm front/cold front setup across west central MN/east central SD. Targeted Ortonville for afternoon supercells. Warm sector failed to produce organized convection only hazy showers. Retargeted for tornado warned supercell, which was Tail End Charlie of MCS unzipping down cold front. Interceted near Agency Village SD noting thick fog. South of updraft base noted ground scraping updraft base with trubulent motion. Shot sunset skies and stopped in Aberdeen for the night.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Jennifery Brindley Ubl, Phil Bates. Equipment: Canon 60D, Canon t2i, Canon EFS 10-22, Canon EF 50mm, Sony HDR-xr500v..




Brindley and I had set aside time for a June chase trip. We were just waiting for the weather to present a few days on the plains we could go after. Wednesday, June 11 looked like the first potential event of several through the weekend. Most of the setups looked to be more marginal upslope type events, but the longer range GFS was hinting at a trough ejecting at the end of the week. Meanwhile, Phil Bates, a film maker from Oregon that I had been on chase trips with over the past few years was hoping to join us for one of the bigger plains events this year. For the past four years, Phil has been trying to capture some dramatic tornado footage on his IMAX quality Red camera and apart from some distant and brief shots, the shot had thus far eluded him. We didn't have a slam dunk outbreak type setup or string of solid chase days for the entirety of the season, so Phil had yet to come out. This run in mid June looked like the last chase trip of the regular chase season for Brindley and me, as we both had commitments for the latter part of the month. I told Phil we were heading out regardless of the uncertainties of how good the chasing would be and that it would probably be our last chance this year for him to join us. That was good enough for Phil. He caught a last minute flight to Minneapolis, and Brindley and I met him up there at his hotel late on Tuesday night.

Awaiting Storms
6 miles SSE of Wheaton, MN
3:16 PM
Wednesday's target was west central Minnesota, where modest to moderate instability with favorable shear parameters looked to give us a chance at supercells and maybe a tornado near a warm frontal boundary. It wasn't forecast to be a big event, but it was the first in a string of setups giving us multiple chances to score. We were rolling out of the hotel bright and early, stopping in Wheaton, MN for our traditional subway lunch: all the veggies and no cheese or meat for Brindley and me, and only meat and cheese for Phil. We bummed around to the south a few miles to watch several rows of small, developing cells.
Phil sporting his Red camera with 5000 pixels of horizontal resolution. Now we just needed a storm to shoot:

We moved around to a few different cells hoping something would take hold, but the warm sector failed to organize. Only mediocre rain showers were going up. Well to our northwest toward Aberdeen, a line of cells was unzipping down the cold front. We initially ignored this activity as it looked like it was stuck to and undercut by the cold front, which would kill the tornado play. Tail End Charlie on the much more robust, and severe warned lined was developing supercellular characteristics, however, including an inflow notch and the start of a hook echo. We abandoned our warm sector target and decided to go for it, heading up 29 north. The storm quickly gained a tornado warning, but we were still 80 miles out. I stepped on the gas, anxious to get up there. Just before our westbound exit, highway patrol caught us speeding. I was only going a few over, but the limits are more strictly enforced given the high 75 mph speed limit. We got off with a verbal warning and were rolling west toward the storm.

Thick Fog
8 miles WSW of Sisseton, SD
6:35 PM
The tornado warning was dropped before we got close to the storm, but it still looked promising on radar, and we were hopeful the new tail end storm would organize on the eveloping complex. Heading west out of Sisseton, we hit thick, pea soup like fog. The skies were a dark, eerie green. I was hopeful we'd break the fog just before intercepting the storm. Although the tornado warning had been dropped, I watched the radar carefully during our approach so that we wouldn't blindly drive into a potentially dangerous storm. We had zero visual. The fog never broke. Heavy rain abruptly started, and I could see on the radar that we had hit the 50 dbz precipitation core of the storm. I immediately pulled a U-Turn as we were now inside of the storm with zero visual. As we retreated to the east, we came down a hill and actually broke through the bottom of the fog. It wasn't a blanketing ground fog. I realized that we we had actually driven into the cloud mass of the storm. The cool temps along the cold front had saturdated the air, and we were driving through the clouds until we got to a lower valley.

Updraft Base
12 miles NNE of Waubay, SD
7:08 PM
We headed south once we were a few miles east of the storm, hoping to get to Tail End Charlie and break out into clear skies. The base emerged to our south, a churning, turbulent mass of clouds. Perched on a hill we watched it pass overhead. It wasn't tornado warned, but there was what appeared to be an RFD clear slot, and the storm looked like it was mere feet off the ground. It wouldn't take much for a small tornado to spin up underneath. Yet the storm remained quiet, probably held back by cool stable air at the surface.
Some locals stopped to ask if the base of the storm was a tornado. We said no and they continued on their way. The storm passed us heading east with the cold front, and clear skies immediately behind the line. Misting and low clouds quickly gave way to sunny blue skies, lighting up a bright rainbow on the backend of the low topped convection.
A linear MCS fanned out and we decided to call the chase and head to Aberdeen for a room. There were some photogenic skies along the way as the sun was setting and we stopped a couple times to shoot them.


This was a fun first day out on the trip and we figured out some of the logistics of our three man chase team and how we were going to shoot storms. Although the chase was a bust, it was good to have warm up run before our real intercepts. There was tornado report in South Dakota which we missed, but I'm not sure how we would have even seen it given how low the bases were and how thick the fog was. It was as if the storm was actually on the ground already. The motion we saw once we had visibility on the back end was dramatic, althougn not tornadic.

Lessons Learned

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