June 12, 2017


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Cheyenne, WY
Rochester, MN 11:23 AM 6/11/2017
North Platte, NE 10:55 PM 6/12/2017
Carpenter, WY; Kimball, NE
0 mph
Tornado, Funnel, Ring Vortex, Wall Cloud


Targetted Cheyenne area for afternoon tornadic supercells. Intercepted tornado warned supercell south of Cheyenne in Colorado, and tracked to Carpenter, WY noting stovepipe tornado. Pursued line of cyclical supercells into Nebraska noting funnels, small ring vortex, and two additional cone tornadoes on seperate supercells. Tracked storm to Bridgeport, NE as it dissipated before calling chase and heading for North Platte for the night.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley Ubl, Anton Seimon. Equipment: Sony FDR-AX100, Canon 60D with EFS 10-22.




Monday, June 12, was shaping up to be the chase event of the year. Upper 60s dews were forecast to advect into the High Plains of Wyoming and Colorado making for an extremely unstable atmosphere with upwards of 4000 J/kg of CAPE, on top of a strongly sheared environment as well. These conditions are rarely seen at this elevation and indeed SPC issued a super rare Moderate risk of tornadoes for Wyoming. The pressure was on now and expectations were running high.

Anton Seimon flew out from New York and rented a car, planning to meet up with Brindley and me as we made our way west across the Northern Plains. We had struck out, dinking around with a super marginal play a couple days earlier in western Wisconsin, and were looking at playing the Dakotas the following days initially. But the prospect of big tornadoes in the High Plains was too good to pass up, especially for our research mission which requires high contrast shots of significant tornadoes. We skipped any plans for chasing on June 11 and made our way due west across Minnesota and South Dakota, stopping in Rapid City for the night.

I liked east central Wyoming for an initial target, fearing the southern end of the target into Colorado might have too high a spread between the temperature and dewpoint, and issues with capping. Fortunately Anton was calling the shots for the day and his expertise is in the High Plains. He noted rich moisture already streaming into northern Colorado, and setting the stage on the Front Range and Cheyenne Ridge. We set an initial target of Cheyenne to Chugwater, WY and planned to rendezvous along the way.
We snaked our way down through eastern Wyoming in the morning. The air was rich with moisture and cumulus streamed overhead. Approaching Colorado, however, the cumulus dissipated. Not a great sign as I like to see a lot of “feeder cu” fueling storm updrafts and as a marker that we’ve got favorably deep moisture. We met up with Anton at a dingy truck stop just east of Cheyenne on I-80. Discrete supercells rapidly developed on the Front Range in northern Colorado on the I-25 corridor. We paused briefly to make sure storms were established and moving off the slopes, but then wasted little time moving in. Given the explosive parameters, we thought the tornado show might kick off sooner than later. A strongly worded PDS tornado watch and severe thunderstorm warnings were quickly issued.

Updraft Base
8 miles NE of Nunn, CO
4:31 PM
We picked up our storm on an unpaved road in rural Weld County, Colorado. It featured a striated base with and RFD clear slot, but it was compact and high too. It wasn’t ready to produce a tornado yet and skies were severe clear to the southeast. We were early. That sounds like it should be a good thing, but trying to stay downstream the storm was raining on our sandy gravel roads and beginning to pitch hail at us, stones starting to exceed the severe threshold of an inch. The last thing we needed was to get on the storm too early, get bogged down and fall behind as it produces a tornado, or worse get stuck out in the middle of nowhere as our road turns to slop. That's exactly what happened to us in Quinter, KS in 2008, and we missed all the big tornadoes that day.
We stair stepped on the rural roads heading toward the town of Grover. The base lowered and a robust wall cloud developed. The storm picked up a tornado warning. Billowing plumes of dust surged into the base with strong inflow winds. The storm was inhaling. We hoped the exhale would be the big RFD surge that kicked off our tornado. We were in a prime position, lined up with our cameras and ready to go, but the storm still wasn’t ready, drifting off to the north northeast without a tornado. We had to leave to pursue it.
A huge block wall cloud twisted ahead of us. I was making the navigational calls now. We could go north toward the wall cloud or cut east toward Grover to get ahead of the storm. Since it wasn’t producing yet, I wanted to stay ahead of the storm and be ready if it cycled to the east. I also thought we might run out of roads and east options at the Wyoming border if we headed north. I turned us east toward Grover
We hit a huge chaser convergence in Grover. Nerves were momentarily frayed as we negotiated the traffic. The storm cycled with a wall cloud to the east which we vigorously pursued heading north out of town. But it was the wrong call. The old, occluded base was wrapping up with chasers reporting a developing tornado. We turned back west for the intercept. Far to the northwest we could see a stocky low contrast funnel coming into view. We scrambled to get closer.

8 miles NNW of Grover, CO
5:01 PM
The funnel condensed as a pretty elephant truck with a big debris cloud. It was a gorgeous tornado, but it killed me how far away from it we were. Had we gone north instead of east to Grover we would have been right next to it.
We raced north trying to get closer to the tornado so we could get a usable 4k video shot for our research application, but we were basically just paralleling the tornado’s motion from a few miles to the southeast. We probably should have just stopped, gone full zoom and enjoyed it. But we drove on. Brindley was able to get some nice telephoto stills through the windshield, but I would have to settle with some back row view (pictured).

Carpenter Tornado
8 miles NNW of Grover, CO
6:01 PM
The tornado was tracking into Wyoming as we raced north from Colorado. It was a textbook supercell tornado and a chaser dream catch. Instead of just being happy to witness such a spectacle, I couldn’t help but feel a bit frustrated that we were a ways out of position.
We were getting a bit closer, but we were still miles away. The funnel widened as a big brown debris cloud churned at the ground. Given the volatile parameters, I hoped for a long track, significant tornado that would stay on the ground long enough for us to drive up to it.
It wasn’t to be, however, and we would not be able to correct our navigation error. The funnel started to take on a knobby appearance and extended out away from the base. The first telltale sign that it was about to rope out and dissipate.
Sure enough, the tornado started to contract into a long, arching rope. It was a beautiful sight, teasing us on the western horizon.

Rope Out
6 miles E of Carpenter, WY
5:05 PM
We crossed back into Wyoming and stopped at a T to watch the last bit of the tornado dwindle away beneath the dying updraft.
We raced northeast, wasting no time so that we would be in position for the next cycle. We avoided I-80, not wanting to get stuck on the interstate, and instead took US-30 east out of Pine Bluffs. A prominent RFD clear slot filled the northern sky. To the southeast, Anton spotted a brief spin-up that may have been a brief anticyclonic tornado. I couldn’t get a shot of it, however, so didn’t count it. Some very interesting vortices were forming to the north, however.

Ring Vortex
1 miles S of North Platte, NE
1:45 PM
On the left there was a point funnel cloud, but much more impressively there also appeared to be a ring vortex jutting out of the storm as if the cloud had a coffee mug handle. The feature is likely the result of a horizontal tube of vorticity getting pulled up by the updraft, or a toroidal vortex that forms like a donut around a strong updraft column. It was neat to see, but unfortunately we had to hassle with parking on a busy two lane highway with limited pull off options.
A cluster of three supercells had formed now, with one storm going up ahead of and one behind of the storm we were tracking. All three picked up tornado warnings, sporting large hook echoes and velocity couplets. We moved toward Kimball Nebraska as the storm cycled again. A super photogenic mesocyclone churned in the foreground and I setup for a timelapse shot once we were in position to stop.

White Tornado
7 miles WNW of Kimball, NE
6:05 PM
Just like before, however, it was the old occluded circulation that spun-up a tornado. It was a photogenic white trunk and we weren’t quite expecting it. We setup up and spaced ourselves for a research shot, but again we were quite far from the base. We zigged instead of zagging when we stair stepped out of Pine Bluffs, opting once again to try to get further downstream rather than moving in too close without a tornado.
At full zoom on the AX100 the tornado looked like a ghost on the northern horizon.
We once again wound up with back row seats for the tornado shot. At least this time we had an exquisite structure show to go with it, and I let my still camera snap away with a wide angle lens to capture the whole scene. The tornado lasted a few minutes before roping out. Meanwhile, the rear supercell in the line had a vigorously rotating, backlit wall cloud (left) that we could plainly watch from our position. It was even further away, but the backlighting on it made for a great view. Anton was excited that it was about to produce. I had my doubts, thinking the storm was stuck behind the lead cells’ outflow boundaries and cut off from warm moist inflow. It was probably the opposite situation, however. The environmental inflow was extremely unstable but had a high temperature/dewpoint spread, which isn’t favorable for tornadoes. The lead storms were probably cooling and moistening the inflow air ahead of the trailing cells, making for a much more favorable T/Td spread. This probably took a bit bite out of the instability, but there must have been plenty left over still with which the storms could work. To fulfill our research mission and get research grade shots suitable for photogrammetry purposes, Anton elected to have us move for the rear storm. We packed up quickly and picked a route going north and then west.

Backlit Tornado
10 miles NW of Kimball, NE
6:14 PM
The rear supercell produced a tornado before we had even gone a few miles. It was a dark blue elephant trunk/cone on an orangey western horizon. It was super pretty, but also super far away.
It only lasted a couple minutes before the funnel started to retreat. We had once again missed being in position for the tornado show. Had we simply stayed at our previous location, I could have at least gotten two tornadoes in the same timelapse sequence. Instead I’d have to settle for a distant, moving video shot.
We continued our intercept of the rear supercell. We finally approached the wall cloud, which sported impressive structure as a robust, super low, rotating bowl. I thought this was it. We were finally in the prime position to get a great tornado shot. But the storm was done. It had likely used up the last of the residual surface based instability in the wake of the lead storms and would not produce another tornado. We tracked east with it for a few miles before it started to fall apart.
We got split up from Anton somehow and then wound up in some gnarly hills that surround Scotts Bluff and northwest Nebraska. We snaked around way through them, emerging on the other side to see a funnel cloud, or a big chunk of scud that looked like a funnel, way off to the northwest. Chasers had reported a tornado with the cell just prior, but I’m not sure if this was the associated feature. It was fun to drive through the terrain and see what surprises awaited on the other side.
You always have to watch out for cows wandering the ranchland on those rural unpaved roads out west.

We got back on pavement and tracked the cells east into Bridgeport, NE. By then they had degraded into a messy cluster. Dusk was setting in and we were low on fuel. We decided to call the chase and stopped in town to get gas, bypassing the first couple of stations that were overrun with storm chasers and finding one on the north side of town. We chatted with more chasers there including Jesse Risley, Stephen Barabas, and Charles Edwards. Then we plotted a course for North Platte and a room for the night.


The forecast verified massively and June 12 wound up being one of the biggest tornado events and biggest chase days of the year. We picked the right storm, a long track cyclical supercell that produced multiple tornadoes. Unfortunately, as we zig-zagged on the unpaved grid, we perpetually zigged when we should have zagged. The result was distant shots of each tornado, rather than the front row, high contrast shots we could use for research grade photogrammetry. The Carpenter, WY tornado was the tube of the day and was rated EF2. A larger, partially rain wrapped tornado tracked right through the center of the moderate risk to the north and picked up an EF3 rating. It was less photogenic, lower contrast, and in a spot with few roads so it wound up being a difficult chase catch, however. This was one of my best chases of the year and I got some great shots. However, I couldn’t help be a bit disappointed that we weren’t able to make the best of our positioning, or at least get one exhilarating close encounter experience out of the string of tornadoes. That attitude is something I definitely need to work on.

Lessons Learned

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