May 28, 2015


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Tribune, KS
Limon, CO 10:00 AM 5/28/2015
Springfield, IL 2:00 AM 5/29/2015
Tribune, KS
0 mph
Funnel, Debris Cloud, Wall Cloud, Shelf Cloud


Dryline setup in western Kansas. Targeted nose of thermal axis/low level lapse rates. Caught storm over Tribune, KS with rotating wall cloud followed by brief spin up tornado and rope funnel. Storm soon dissipated. Targeted HP supercell to the south but cell quickly gusted out in weakly sheared environment.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley Ubl, Sean Casey, Herb Stein. Equipment: Canon 60D, Canon t2i, Canon EFS 10-22, Canon EF 50mm, Sony HDR-xr500v.




Thursday, May 28, was our last chase on this run with Sean Casey and crew shooting an IMAX movie. The Tornado Intercept Vehicle had been sent back to Tulsa with Justin Walker, Mike Browne had departed the previous day, and the rest of the crew would be disbanding out of the Denver Airport the following day. Sean Casey and Herb Stein would be manning Doghouse as the lead, usually the support vehicle. Brindley and I were in my van, “Bubbles”, calling the chase target, handling the forecast, and running the support vehicle.

Breakfast Forecast
Limon, CO
8:29 AM
We had a modest chance at tornadoes. Moderate to strong instability in western Kansas, but the shear was going to be the limiting factor on this chase. The target seemed pretty clear cut to me. We’d play off the nose of the thermal axis and low level lapse rates, expecting robust early afternoon storm initiation on the CO/KS border. Storms would then track into western Kansas and hopefully mature into supercells in the backing surface winds and better directional shear in western Kansas, and, if we were lucky, spin up a tornado for us too. After coffee, hotel continental breakfast, and a quick briefing the target was set: Tribune, KS.

Approaching Wall Cloud
Tribune, KS
1:53 PM
Doghouse, a Ram truck, and my Town and Country van rolled east for Tribune. With early initiation, there was no time to stop for lunch. We arrived in Tribune just in time. A storm went up just west of town and rapidly started to take on supercellular characteristics. We waited at a crossroads gas stop for the storm to come to us and finished prepping the vehicles as a wall cloud started to take shape just southwest of the town center:
The rear flank downdraft started to cut a clear slot notch in the wall cloud. We were minutes out from show time hopefully and repositioned slightly west for the intercept.

Dust Whirl Spin-up Tornado
Tribune, KS
2:04 PM
The backlit storm loomed to our immediate west. The wall cloud started to spin, taking on a beautiful round shape. Tribune’s sirens sounded, a loud, mournful wail. The forecaster at the Goodland National Weather Service office called us for a report seeing our position on his Spotter Network map, and we relayed details on the wall cloud. I felt like I had nailed the day’s chase forecast, calling out the town that morning and now watching the storm wrap up right in front of us from the center of that town. Now it just up to nature to give us a shot. Just over the roof in the center of this shot, dust started to kick up from the ground, rising upwards and twisting. A circulation at the ground, and a rotating wall cloud above it, we had a developing tornado. I called the Goodland forecast office back to update them and they were already in the process of issuing a tornado warning on the storm. We moved even further west to get Sean a close shot of the developing tornado.

Rope Funnel
Tribune, KS
2:09 PM
We drove underneath the storm’s rear flanking downdraft clear slot, a hazardous part of the storm. Outside of the van, the clouds were swirling and churning all around us and in all directions. Almost immediately overhead a long, snaky rope funnel was hanging out of the storm, possibly connected to the same dust whirl spin-up tornado we had just witnessed. Our precarious position had Brindley rattled and it was a tense several moments as we assessed whether we were safe at our spot under the storm or in the path of a developing tornado. We got on the radio and told Doghouse we were heading a little further west to make sure we were clear of and behind the circulation. Meanwhile, Doghouse held its ground and shot the funnel and rotating clouds over the rooftops of Tribune. We were out there to get a shot of a tornado for the film, but one thing I never want to see is destruction and disaster. It’s my dream that all the tornadoes I document stay out over open terrain without any human impact. The funnel and rotation in the storm dissipated, the tornado never amounting to much of anything. It was bad news for us, but really great news for the town of Tribune as the circulation was moving over the center of town at the time. Outflow from the storm and others to the south was killing our storm so we decided to bail on it as it moved northeast of town. We targeted another, beefy HP supercell coming up from the south.
We had no good route to get in front of and under the storm’s updraft base without a core punch and the storm was dumping huge hail and over bad, unpaved roads. We decided to shoot way east and drop south and wait for the storm. Doghouse, with its hail guards and four wheel drive, went for the core punch. The storm had some dramatic structure but the tornado shot eluded us yet again. The storm soon quickly gusted out in the weak wind shear environment, fanning out with a dramatic shelf cloud. With that our chase was over. We linked back up with Doghouse, handed radios over in the pouring rain, said our farewells, and split, making the long drive for Illinois.


We technically caught a tornado on this chase, but it failed to put on much of a show or give us a usable shot for the IMAX film. I still felt great about the chase. It was my job to handle our forecast and targeting on this event and I felt like I had nailed it, calling out the town that morning and putting us there just in time to see a funnel go right overhead. But sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate even if you can anticipate and forecast it to the best of your abilities. We had caught a few tornadoes on our trip with the TIV and Doghouse crews, but it turned out to be a lot of miles, some high stress, tense even dangerous moments, and our photogenic tornado shots eluded us. The trip was kind of a long slog and a bit of a bummer as result. Brindley was totally frayed from the ordeal, especially after we were impacted by a weak tornado, and it would be her last venture out with the group. That was it for May. We were still hoping June would give us some redemption and that coveted IMAX shot.

Lessons Learned

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