March 19, 2020


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Clarinda, IA
Springfield, IL 10:18 AM 3/19/2020
Springfield, IL 5:30 AM 3/20/2020
Lenox, IA
0 mph
Gust Front, Roll Cloud, Hail Fog


Early season high shear low CAPE cold front play in southwest Iowa. Targeted Clarinda for afternoon supercells. Noted low topped storm with lowerings and hail followed by multiple photogenic yet nontornadic gust fronts and roll clouds.

Crew and Equipment

Solo chase. Equipment: Sony AX100.




From my morning chasecast storm chasing forecast email discussion:

"Day 1 Today: Not an ideal pattern, but when is it ever perfect?

Target 1: Kearney, NE noon to 2pm

I wanted the more classic cold core end of this pattern to work. The occluded section of boundary looks like it's jammed between the cold front and dry punch/dryline and there's only a thin ribbon of moisture and instability now forecast to be running just south of I-80 in Nebraska. Storms are ongoing, and redevelopment off the tail of this continuing activity looks likely, or off the nose of the center of the low or low level dry punch. Storms will lift north rapidly and cross into stable air and go elevated. There is a brief window for a tornado near Kearney, NE. You'll be to be on the back end of these storms looking north from the sunny side probably, so you can get that white rope/funnel. Worried there just isn't a large enough window of opportunity to make this target work, however. I couldn't pull the trigger on it myself and now I'm out of range.

Target 2: Beatrice, NE to Clarinda, IA and points south toward St. Joe, MO late afternoon to evening.

Off the nose of what looks like a surge in the dryline/drypunch expect an arc of storms to form in se NE by mid to late afternoon. This is going to be the more conventional play of the day. Ongoing rain through the morning will likely inhibit instability here, still with the moisture advection and decently steep rates we could see 1000 J/Kg and pockets of more. I don't like the elongated surface low pattern here or that the cold front is razor sharp and threateningly close. Still, some hint of a backed wind on HRRR surface plot and shear vectors will send storms through the warm sector, not immediately across the boundary to the north, so that's a positive at least. Not quite a cold core, you're not getting those super steep lapse rates aloft because the cold pool hangs out to the west. Just tons and tons of shear in the warm sector. The result may be a classic Iowa bust with fast moving storms that fail to organize adequately, which I am more than likely about to experience for the 1000th time.

Elsewhere to the south: Sporadic development across the warm sector down through Missouri although HRRR is holding off robust stuff until after dark, at which point it might go elevated due to waning instability and mounting inhibition. It's a bit of a crapshoot targeting this I think as I can't pinpoint locations here. HRRR also indicating redevelopment off tail end of ongoing activity in southern IL. Long track supercell makes it into Indiana even. The terrain down there is just gnarly and the storm more may be messy. NAM runs were showing 0-3km CAPE waning to the east. Round two after dark as the fronts start to really move.So even though southern IL is a lot closer for me, I likely won't play that one.

Try to pick up a Tail End Charlie in northeast Texas where instability is stronger and winds are a bit more backed at the surface. However, you're getting further away from those upper level dynamics so maybe a little mushier convection and warning tornado potential.

Overall, anticipating a few tornadoes today but they may be difficult to catch and the chase frustrating as a result. I don't have my hopes up, but I will likely give this one a shot before I get stuck in quarantine or winter returns to the Midwest."
That first crisp convection of Spring blowing up on the horizon. Ah, chase season is here.

Reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic was just really getting started in the United States at this point. I had just given a talk at an AMS meeting to a crowded room, but public spaces were about to shut down, and remain altered for years. There was much uncertainty about how the pandemic was going to affect everyday life including storm chasing. My first encounter with the impending upheaval was a stop for lunch at a Burger King in Cameron, MO. The place was deserted, the bathrooms closed, but the counter open for ordering. It was probably the last restaurant I went inside for months, and I'd be making due with the outdoors for pit stops until late in the season.

Low Topped Convection
5 miles ENE of Essex, IA
4:41 PM
Heading into Iowa I was greeted with photogenic low topped storms, distant low contrast lowerings under the base, brilliant white hail shafts, and rainbows.
Spooky hail fog:

Roll Cloud
7 miles N of Lenox, IA
5:42 PM
Storms were going multicellular and gusting out with detached roll clouds.
I rran from cell to cell along southern Iowa for the rest of the afternoon and evening noting some photogenic gust fronts, but the tornado show never materialized.
An Earth eating severe gust front about to swallow me whole:

I was briefly enveloped with some borderline severe gusts and wind driven rain, but able to outrun it and emerge out the south side of the gust front.
The setting sun made for some gorgeous color below the gust front. I bumped into James Wilson and stopped, initially just seeing if it was someone that needed help, but then shook his hand to say hi. The unfolding pandemic was always right there at the forefront of my thoughts. Was I being too risky, taking too much exposure?


This was a nice warm up chase for the 2020 season. Technically a bust in terms of supercell and tornado play, it did have several photogenic and dramatic moments between the hail fog, gust fronts, and roll clouds. It was also the first taste of how the unfolding pandemic was going to affect the storm chasing season, and life in general.

Lessons Learned

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