June 13, 2014


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Devil's Tower, WY
Aberdeen, SD 12:07 PM 6/12/2014
Kadoka, SD 12:02 AM 6/14/2014
Aladdin, WY
0 mph
Rain Wrapped Tornado, Wall Cloud, RFD Clear Slot, Heatburst


Upslope setup in northeast Wyoming. Targeted afternoon supercells coming off terrain rises in northeast Wyoming hoping for an intercept near Devil's Tower. Departed Deadwood, SD heading for Devil's Tower and some brief sightseeing before storms initiated to west. Detoured around Black Hills before intercepting supercell to the east near Aladdin, WY. Noted rain wrapped tornado from within RFD clear slot with audible roar, tornadic motion, and heatbursts. Lost weakening storm in Black Hills so called chase and headed to Rapid City for dinner.

Crew and Equipment

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




Jennifer Brindley Ubl, Phil Bates, and I were on an extended chase trip in the northern plains. June 13 found us reaching for more marginal plays while awaiting more classic and potential outbreak setups forecast in the days to come. Easterly surface winds brought moisture and lift into the higher terrain of the northern high plains, while the upper level winds lagged to the west, a common pattern before more robust storm systems move into the plains. With modest to moderate instability, moisture forecast to pool around the Black Hills and northeast Wyoming, and decent westerly flow aloft, it looked like we had a good shot at supercells and perhaps a tornado. We targeted the Devil's Tower area, hoping to catch storms coming off the upslope flow around the mountains and foothills of north central Wyoming. The tornado play was more modest compared to other days we were looking to chase, but upslope storms can be some of the most photogenic, and Devil's Tower would make an awesome foreground element.

The Black Hills and Deadwood
Deadwood, SD
12:06 PM
The three of us had been slowly drifting toward the target area, having toured the grasslands and badlands of South Dakota the previous day before winding up in the Black Hills. We spent the night in Deadwood after getting a great deal on a suite at a casinon/resort and met up with friends and fellow chasers Victor Gensini, Walker Ashley, and Laura Hedien. We had some time to kill the next morning so we did some touristy stuff and got some exercise in. Phil and I hiked past Wild Bill's grave and up a small mountain overlooking the Black Hills and Deadwood. From our vantage point we could see some elevated showers coming off the hills with even some faint mammatus.
Meanwhile, Brindley decided to tour the town of Deadwood where the largest potato on tour happened to be stopped.
We were rolling west down 90 into Wyoming by early afternoon. Phil posing "What The Duck":
We had some time yet to kill before initation so we headed up to tour and shoot Devil's Tower. Phil gets a static shot from afar:
The huge, monolithic formation dominates the landscape and can be seen from miles around. Sacred to the natives, it was also featured in the film "Close Encounters", and is a favorite stop for storm chasers. It was our first time visiting the landmark for the three of us though. We hoped to frame the tower in front of a storm later on.

11 miles W of Aladdin, WY
5:26 PM
After a very brief hike up to the base of the tower, we had storm initiation to our southwest and northwest and decided to depart for the interstate where we had some road options to work with instead of the meandering Black Hills highway that snakes its way around Devil's Tower. It was a scramble south for a couple cells that would be an easier intercept, but which failed to organize, before another mad dash around and north through the Black Hills to catch what was becoming the dominant supercell. It drifted east-southeast out of Montana and we had limited options for the intercept, finally opting to catch it between Aladdin and Hulett. The storm matured, developed a hook, and went tornado warned as we wound though the hills at what seemed to be a maddeningly slow place. Some mammatus overhead from another small cell as we head north and west for the intercept:

First Glimpse
11 miles W of Aladdin, WY
5:30 PM
Our west highway wound through hills lined with dark forest. We had no view of the sky except for directly overhead, and we wondered if we would ever get a view of the horizon before we hit the storm. Then, around a bend, the terrain opened up into a large, open valley. There was a wide gravel pull off and the storm looked to track right through the pass. It was perfect. A large high plains supercell updraft tower and wall cloud came into view, not nearly as high precipitation as I thought it was going to be judging from the radar.

Classic Supercell
11 miles W of Aladdin, WY
5:35 PM
The supercell spun like a top with classic structure.

Structure Identification
11 miles W of Aladdin, WY
5:39 PM
Pointing out structure to Phil: striated updraft tower at top, prominent RFD clear slot, and tail cloud feeding into a wall cloud with its pointy end hidden by the trees on the horizon.

We spotted Walker, Victor, and Laura heading east down the highway. We figured they were ducking out of the way of some large hail and heading for a perch with a view.

The Roar
11 miles W of Aladdin, WY
5:57 PM
The wall cloud passed to our north, wrapped in rain. The inflow gave way to blasts of cooler outflow and a smattering of rain drops as the huge notch carved out of the storm's base by descending air moved overhead. Then we heard it. A rushing, roaring noise. It sounded like there was a large waterfall on the other side of the hill to our northwest. What was it? A hail roar? Straight line winds? We strained to peer through the murky mass. The source of the roaring was coming from a point, moving past us to the north. "That sounds like a rain wrapped tornado!" I called out. White fragments of cloud whipped around the shaggy, rainy mass at speeds probably in excess of 100 mph while convection boiled above it. We scrambled to get cameras pointed at the feature.

Rain Wrapped Tornado
11 miles W of Aladdin, WY
5:57 PM
I hoped the rain would clear out and give us a glimpse of what lurked inside, but the feature stayed mostly hidden in rain. Brindley was able to capture what looked like a large cone funnel buried within the rain. It was barely visible, but there was no doubt there was a tornado given the roar and motion in the clouds. The National Weather Service would later survey the damage path of an EF2 tornado over the location.

Then a phenomenom I had never experienced happened: a heat burst. The temperature seemed to rise by about 10 to 15 degrees almost instantly. Heat bursts are caused by the warming of downdrafts under special conditions and have been reported in the vicinity of tornadoes.

Storms Over Rapid City
Piedmont, SD
7:12 PM
We moved east to keep up with the rain wrapped tornado, but we never had a good north option to get closer for a better view, and the storm quickly fell apart, the heat bursts probably marking the storm's collapse. Storms were popping up all over, but they were high based and/or elevated, kicked up by expanding cold pools. Supercells and tornadoes looked unlikely so we decided to call it a chase and head to Rapid City for some dinner.
Camera collection at the Firehouse Brewing Company. Dinner at the microbrew was a great end to a great chase day.
Meeting up with our friend, Melissa, before heading toward the next day's target in Nebraska and a room in Kadoka.


This was a great and well rounded chase from start to finish between the beautiful high plains and Black Hills sight seeing, our storm and tornado intercept, and dinner and drinks with friends afterwards. This was not a photogenic tornado, but instead a tornado you "experienced" with different senses. We could see the tornadic motion of the clouds rotating around the circulation, feel the winds and heat bursts of the downdrafts, and hear the waterfall like roar. This was technically the first tornado I've documented from within Wyoming, even though the Goshen Co. tornado of 2009 occurred inside Wyoming, I was in Nebraska when I filmed it. Despite the lack of a distinct and easily visible condensation funnel, we were able to identify the tornado, which turned out to be a significant one with a rating of EF2. It was a small taste of bigger and better intercepts to come.

Lessons Learned

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