June 16, 2017


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Norfolk, NE
Hot Springs, SD 10:18 AM 6/16/2017
Springfield, IL 6:44 PM 6/17/2017
Meadow Grove, NE; Albion, NE; Cordova, NE
0 mph
Funnel, Wall Cloud


Badlands trip and low expectations supercell chase in northeast Nebraska. Caught a classic supercell and robust wall cloud with likely dust whirl tornado west of Norfolk, NE. Chased photogenic storms until sunset before damaging my camera and calling it a chase.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley Ubl. Equipment: Canon 60D and EFS 10-22, Sony AX100, Brindley's D3S.




3 miles NNE of Interior, SD
5:45 PM
Brindley and I ended a two day run in the High and Northern Plains, and we had a couple days to kill before the next chase. We decided to hang out in a couple of our all time favorite places: Hot Springs and the Badlands.
We hiked the outer rim trail. Bighorn sheep greeted us along the way. A distant storm graced the western horizon, but we didn't think much of it. "It's gotta be all the way out in Montana" I thought.

Approaching Storm
3 miles NNE of Interior, SD
7:15 PM
The storm overspread the western and northern sky with dark clouds. It approached swiftly, much closer than I had originally thought. At first I thought it might miss to the north, but it was soon apparent, we were going to get hit, on foot in the wild, by a rapidly approaching thunderstorm. Brindley and I hustled that last few miles back to the car to try and beat the storm.
We made it back just as the gust front hit. A blast of cool refreshing air, blowing dust, and a smattering of rain drops greeted us. I scrambled to get my DSLR setup for some time lapse against the spectacular Badlands scenery.
Most of the rain evaporated in the dry Badlands air before it hit the ground. The sky was a mesmerizing mix of swirling cloud and evening light filtered through streaks of virga. I stood atop one of the clay outcroppings manning my camera and taking it in.
The receding storm made for a spectacular sunset. I was filled with awe being able to stand outside in such a majestic place and take in the experience with all of my senses. It was as rewarding as any chase we had that year, and it's encounters like this that make me hold South Dakota in a special place in my heart.
Two days later, a real chase opportunity. Huge CAPE was forecast but the shear just wasn't there, so a robust tornado threat was not expected. Surprises happen all the time in big CAPE setups in the Northern Plains in June, however, so we were all over this one. We made for Norfolk for an afternoon supercell intercept.
We caught our storm just a few miles west of Norfolk near the town of Meadow Grove. It was a big, beastly but classic supercell sporting a prominent wall cloud.
The structure was better than we had hoped for on the low expectations day. Plumes of dust churned beneath the base.

Likely Tornado
3 miles NNW of Meadow Grove, NE
4:42 PM
One of the plumes was indeed rotating, parked beneath a rotating bowl lowering. Chasers to the west reported it as a tornado, and indeed it most likely was a weak, supercellular tornado. We had trouble discerning the connection to the base and it from the rest of the blowing outflow dust, so we decided not to count it for our own personal stats.

4:43 PM

4:45 PM
The wall cloud appeared to dip to the ground. It sured looked good from our vantage and we strained to make out tornadic rotation near the ground.
There was none that we could make out, however. It appeared to be a very convincing look-a-like, probably the tail cloud viewed on end appearing to reach the ground. A giant plume of dust shot out and away from the storm as it dumped outflow.

Low Wall Cloud
3 miles NNW of Meadow Grove, NE
4:53 PM
A telephoto shot shows a very low wall cloud, not a tornado.
The gust front went overhead, blasting us with outflow and churning clouds overhead. We ducked through the core briefly, and chased what was turning into a cluster of storms. I thought I had a brief rope funnel at one point from a wall cloud, but it appeared to just be a momentary wisp of scud.
Brindley called it "The Dirt Machine".
An east west line of storms was congealing into a glob, so we decided to duck south for more discrete activity along I-80.

Rainbow, Hail Shaft, Storm
6 miles W of York, NE
7:52 PM
We were greeted by a spectacular cylindrical updraft with brilliant white, tumultuous hail shafts and rainbow.
A small wall cloud form on the back end of one of the cells. A tornado in this sky and light would have been exquisite.
It wasn't to be, however. The storm attempted what looked like a scuddy cone funnel for about a minute, but this is about as good as it looked.
I let me camera shoot time lapse on the tripod outside the vehicle. I used the vehicle to shelter the camera from the wind, but another storm approached from the northwest. When the gust front hit, the wind shifted and my tripod blew over. The camera came crashing down, lens first. The impact busted the lens housing. My beloved EFS 10-22, my first and most used DSLR lens, was ruined.
The sky was nothing but spectacular wonders after that point. I was upset about the broken lens, and not being able to shoot the beautiful sights with my wide angle. I let it ruin the chase. I wish I could have let it go and just enjoyed the last night of the trip chasing with Brindley.
Beautiful mammatus stretched overhead on the way back to the hotel in Lincoln. A big flag pole had been blown over into the parking lot by the storm when we arrived. We caught up Victor, Laura, and Walker at the hotel and I tried to kill my sorrows and recover with a huge pizza.


Apart from the mishap with my camera, this is what chasing is all about to me: taking in the beautiful sights and experiences of the Great Plains. There's no better time than the Northern Plains in June. We didn't need a tornado, even though post analysis of our footage showed we probably could have counted one if we wanted to pad our stats. The dust whirl and structure above it were indeed both rotating, plainly visible in my time lapse shot. We decided to let it go, however. The chase was awe inspiring and exhilerating as it was, and we didn't need the bird fart spin-up to justify it. My camera wound up being no big deal. I shipped the lens to Canon and had it back less than a week later, good as new, for about a $200 repair.

Lessons Learned

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