My summary of the storm chasing season 2017

sunset with clouds

I am currently sitting at the airport in Dallas on my way home to Sweden, trying to sum up the season of 2017 for myself. For many this was the worst season for a long time and it really started off bad for us, with the ridge sitting all over the mid west for the first couple of days. We had an incredible encounter with a tornado at 11.000 ft in Colorado but unfortunately, I did not see it myself.

It was not until we got to North Dakota as we could chase with a chance for tornadoes the first time. The second week, however, was really successful with the amazing tornado outbreak in Colorado/Wyoming/Nebraska on Monday to start the week. After that we chased supercells and had more or less great chase days every day.

In total I saw 10 tornadoes, including one anti-cyclong. This is of course is great but most of them were either at a far distance, not fully condensed or rain wrapped. Still, the tornadoes during Monday’s outbreak were gorgeous, we were just a bit unlucky with our positioning.

This season really was the season of the funnels. I guess I must have seen some 20+ funnel clouds during these two weeks! With lower LCL-heights althroughout the week we would probably had seen over 20 fully condensed tornadoes!

This was the second time I was chasing in June and it really was another type of chasing than my previous May-chases. Chasing and driving in the Northern plains was incredibly beautiful most of the time. The high based storms obviously had a harder time producing tornadoes, which is a bit of a gamble, but if they would – this would have been a 10/10 season!

One noteworthy thing for this season is that I was much more active on social media (mostly Twitter) and had a few tweets going viral (withing the storm chasing community) during these weeks, especially the one below.

It feels really good ending it on a positive note with a really great last week, with some extraordinary experiences. Although, I am not sure when I will be able to come back chasing next time I still crave seeing a tornado at a close, but safe, distance. So, one thing is for sure. I will be back!

Day 15: Incredible storm structure over Greensburg, KS

supercell lightning

Today was our “Well, we can chase if there are any storms around Tulsa”-day, since we were all leaving around noon the day after. Although there was a chance for some sort of thunderstorms in Tulsa, the environment was best in north-east Kansas. We could not, however, risk being so far away from Tulsa so we chose the south central Kansas-target and sat down at Starbucks in Wichita. Oh, the amount of hours we have spent at different Starbucks this trip. Strong coffee and free Wifi attracts storm chasers as moskitos to a pair of legs on a Kansas country road at dusk!

I was quite busy going through all the photos from the day before and did not really mind the wait. Although the environment was not really tornadic I did not have great hopes, but the lesson learned from yesterday was to never give up so…we chased.

Finally, two storm complexes started firing. One around Salina (the northern target) and one around Pratt. The northern one clinged onto a boundary and really felt like the main target but we had no real option due to our flights so we had to choose the southern target and yet again bet on the outlier. I was feeling a bit uncomfortable hearing reports on the northern cell, thinking of the Big Chapman Miss last year.

Our cell looked good though but seemed to die off in an outflow burst some 30 minutes into our stop around between Pratt and Greensburg. It did re-organize and presented an intense lightning show for us, with an amount of positive lightning I have never before seen during daylight. It was impressive! One lightning under the meso started a fire causing smoke to go up into the updraft.

The storm shaped a perfect looking wall cloud with a tail cloud but did not really rotate much. As it was almost stationary we could just stand and watch it, so it was very pleasant. As it finally moved though, we were in for a treat of a lifetime.

We were quite limited to what we could chase since our 4WD was out and it was starting to get dark. We did not want to end up in the same situation as yesterday! So, we went for the structure shots and stopped on Highway 400. And, oh boy, what a structure! The supercell rotated rapidly and presented the most amazing storm structure I have seen in 7 seasons of chasing. It was like out of a photo book! Wow!

We could not follow it south over Greensburg due to the risk of tornadoes, the heavy rain and the dark so we decided to end of a positive note and head back to Tulsa. We drove through the MCS (stemming from the northern target) on our way back there and got back some time after 2 a.m. with a good mood and not too tired. My last thunderstorm of the trip woke me up at 6 a.m. and I spent a couple of minutes looking and listening before I fell back to sleep with a smile on my face.

Edit: More photos will come. My hard drive is full and I have a few hours of editing before I can import the last photos.

Day 14: High winds and almost the perfect tornado

funnel nebraska

We had a vote at lunch about whether we should go home to Tulsa or chase up north. Since we were driving on our spare tire and the setup did not look to good my vote was on going home. Akos, the constantly positive Hungarian, convinced us on chasing so we went up to chase northern Kansas. Since we had a long sleep in and had a relaxed lunch, we were getting up quite late. So, when a good looking storm started firing in central Nebraska and a brief tornado was reported it felt a bit bad that we were too late for the show.

There was, however, a smaller storm to our west within reach so we went for this outlier storm. It had quite a bit of interference with other storms in the beginning but once it got re-organized it really started cranking! It rather quickly got a rotating wall cloud and had small funnels going on when we got off the highway into the smaller roads between York and Grand Island.

At this time it was about 7 p.m. and the setting was perfect. We had the sun in our back, lighting the clouds up in perfect white. This LP storm was over green corn fields with blue skies here and there. The storm produced several small funnels and finally started pushing one towards the ground. It came as far as a third towards the ground before it dissipated. We would have been able to intercept a white small tornado, from a close distance with this beautiful surrounding – something that is at the the top of my storm chasing bucket list!

Instead, our storm was about to clash into the northern storm complex (that had a few brief tornadoes). We expected this to kill the storm but maybe, with a bit of luck, give it one last push and provide some extra moisture. That is exactly what happened.

The storm got into another gear just as the sun had set and it felt like it had rotation all over. Nothing that touched the ground though. Just as this happened our 4WD started malfunctioning as we drove on a muddy road. We managed to get onto a paved road with the 4WD still on as it was not able to turn off. At this point, it was starting to get dark and we started to drive out of the storm.

We got into the precipitation while driving and that’s when the storm got tornado warned, right where we were heading. We drove east towards Wilber to get south and out of the storm, in which we had no real visibility any longer outside of the frequent lightning strikes. There had been strong, radar indicated, rotation over Wilber so we were not sure if the town would even be there when we arrived! We had to go on the south road from Wilber to get on a west option. Everywhere the road network made it difficult for us to get south and out, and we had storms both to our east and west.

I am bit uncertain of the chronology here but somewhere at this point, we ended up in either an inflow jet or the RFD. The winds could have been as much as 100 mph when we turned the car to drive towards the wind. David (who was inside the El Reno-tornado) was an Ace in keeping calm and making good decisions together with Devin helping out with the navigation and Akos interpreting the weather.

Finally, we managed to get out of the storm, a bit shook up but nothing too bad. The storm never had a reported tornado but it could not have been far away.

We kept south and managed to stay ahead of the storm while making brief stops to take photos, even though it was almost keeping pace with us. The storm eventually became a strong MCS and turned south east towards Kansas City causing havoc. On our way in to Kansas, we saw some absolutely insane lightning, especially anvil crawlers in the mammatus. It was absolutely stunning!

Edit: I have some 200+ photos from this day. I will upload these photos as soon as I am done.

Day 13: Gustnado outside Hays, KS

gustnado

I woke up with a nice, peaceful feeling from the day before. Storm chasing is at its best when you can stand and watch a slow moving storm and take good time to take photos, enjoy and plan ahead. I really loved that!

That nice, peaceful feeling came to an abrupt halt when we realized we were a bit behind schedule and the storms firing up near Hays, KS, was instead ahead of schedule. We were about 2.5 hours away from Hays when we saw the first signs of towers going up there and we had to put a speed on. Although the chase terrain in south central is remarkably flat, the haze in the air made it difficult to see more than 20 miles ahead. The first cell stood isolated and rotating for quite a while and was tornado warned as well during its first hour, while we were speeding towards Hays. At this point it was really exciting and we were super focused on getting there in time.

Once we finally reached the storm, however, it seemed to have become weaker and we chose to go with a cell that was popping up to its west. As we drove by the storm a really cool gustnado appeared at the leading edge of the storm, more or less a few hundred meters right of us.

That turned out to be the best thing of the day. The next storm did not do anything and we decided to core punch the storm to see some large hail but found only rain. We considered going back to the front end of the first storm to at least see some nice shelf clouds and possibly a bow echo tornado but decided to play the odds of the dryline having storms popping up.

To be honest, after this point I stopped really paying any attention. The storms were all in a big mess, cutting off each other and I pretty much just stayed in the car playing games on my iPad. Still, we decided to see what happened when four boundaries met but that proved not to create anything special.

To finish off this slow afternoon we got a flat tire while driving back to Dodge City! Outside of the really cool gustnado, this was not one of my best chase days. Off course, you can’t have great chase days all of the time.

Colors of a storm
The classic blue green color of a storm together with the light orange/brown colors of the wheat fields make up for some great colors while chasing.

 

detail of updraft
Part of an explosive updraft

 

storm
The boundary storm we spent a bit too much time looking at.

 

wheat
This is Kansas.

 

flat tire
Fixing a flat tire

 

Day 12: Suprise sunset supercells in Wichita

pink horseshoe supercell

As today was a very marginal day we chose to really sleep in and catch up on some work. We didn’t leave Lincoln, NE, until after a nice lunch at Ihop and headed east towards Topeka, KS, to play the dryline again. The dewpoints and temperatures were super high so it was almost painful to be outside. I also had quite a headache and nausea so I was not too involved in the events of the day. 

Although we had some towers going up just after noon, the subsidence was keeping a lid on all convection throughout the day. For yet another day we played the waiting game and eventually gave up at around 6 p.m. and started heading towards our hotel in Wichita. We knew from the radar images that there was a small storm south of Wichita but it was not a supercell and we did not really expect it to be there when we arrived.

The cell however stayed put so we thought we could core punch it for the fun of it and maybe experience some small hail. As we started nearing Wichita the storm started to grow and started to rotate and eventually became a supercell, to our surprise. Having been too far away from tornadoes on several occasions we decided to head under the meso directly. As it turned out, the structure of this supercell was the best I have ever seen. The pink hue from the sunset, the striations on the mid-levels and the horse shoe shape of it all just made up an incredible structure.

As we were standing underneath the meso the storm produced a small funnel. As the storm was relatively high based it was nowhere near a tornado but we would have had a perfect spot to see a pink tornado from less than a mile away!

When we left, the storm started dissipating but another one grew up just next to it. At this point it was already dark and although we stayed close enough to see any potential tornadoes we mainly went for structure and lightning shots. This storm turned out to be incredible as well, and we continued on dirt roads in the dark to chase it. In fact, we could almost have walked as the storm barely moved.

In the end, we were positioned on a small road outside of Mulvane, KS, that was the scenery of the best tornado photo ever shot (Eric Nguyen). It was one of my best storm chasing experiences ever. It was nice and warm, pitch black and we had the storm producing a spectacular lightning show in front of us. Behind us the skies were clear and filled with stars and on the fields around us there were hundreds of lightning bugs lighting up the fields. In the end I turned off the camera to enjoy the scenery, only looking at the stars and the lightning bug filled fields.

That feeling, right there, was quite the opposite of the adrenalin and excitement filled day in the Nebraska panhandle. Instead, it was such a calm, overwhelmingly peaceful experience that I will never forget. 

pink supercell
Just look at this thing!
pink funnel cloud
This pink funnel cloud last only a few seconds. I can only imagine how beautiful it would have been if it had become a tornado!
storm at night
This is how the second storm looked when we stopped the first time.
stars and a storm
I have been wanting to take a photo like this one for a while. A storm together with the stars. You can see the big dipper in it!
fireflies
It was tricky to take photos of fireflies, this was my best shot. Later that night a firefly was smashed on our window, causing a glowing piece of smudge on the window!

Day 11: Low contrast tornado and AMAZING mammatus

mammatus nebraska

This day ended in a way like many other days this trip. We go home after a rather successful day without seeing any tornadoes. David looks at his phone and says: “Wait a minute, I think there was a tornado here”. Today was the 3rd time this happened! 

After the incredible tornado day yesterday we were quite saturated and also very tired so we neither wanted nor had time to chase South Dakota, which may have been the primary target of the day. The setup there was a cold front and it eventually produced several brief tornadoes. We chose to play the dryline instead and positioned ourselves in Grand Island, NE, and waited. We sat at a Starbucks for hours but no storms were able to start. It was some time after 6 p.m. when the first towers really started going up. As two boundaries collided a storm absolutely exploded. It hit 45.000 feet before it even showed up on reflectivity radar (which is quite incredible) and quickly became a rotating supercell near Hastings, Nebraska.

The structure of the storm was amazing and for the second time this trip I found myself photographing the structure when there was actually a tornado in progress at the time, that I did not see. It was not until David pointed it out in a very low contrast photo we started to realize it may actually have been a brief tornado. The contrast was so low it appeared as a “wishnado” but it had appeared just as the storm peaked in rotation and when the RFD was wrapping the storm – and thus hiding the base with a rain curtain.

Eventually, we heard there was actually a tornado reported on the storm so David was, of course, right again. I had my iPad videotaping the storm at this moment and managed to screen grab a low contrast photo of it as well. Needless to say, if I wouldn’t have known there was a tornado in it I would never have guessed. 

In the end though, I am not too impressed by tornadoes that you can’t see with your naked eye and that takes 30 minutes of photo editing and contrast enhancing to find the actual tornado. My lasting memory of this rather nice chase, was instead the structure of the storm and the absolutely incredible mammatus. These mammatus were the best I have ever seen, better than yesterday and better than Dodge City.

low contrast tornado
This is a screen grab from a dashcam video of the tornado. It has been heavily contrast enhanced.

 

very low contrast tornado
I took a photo of the structure with this photo but got back to it, cropped and enhanced it. It looks like a debris cloud at the surface under the funnel but it is likely to be dirt on the lens.

 

hastings structure
The structure shot I was taking at the time of the tornado. More impressive than the tornado, in my opinion.

 

heart shaped cloud
Heart shaped cloud

 

wall cloud
The storm had a decent wall cloud for a while. I don’t think this was a funnel cloud as it didn’t seem to rotate at the time.

Day 10: Multiple tornadoes in three different states

rope out tornado wyoming

Just like a couple of other days this year, June 12th started off looking really great. All storm related parameters were super high but there was a great risk of all the storms firing at the same time, causing a big mess that would erode the entire day – just like May 26th last year. The season of 2017 has been really bad and many have experienced days like this turn into nothing. We tried to keep our hopes up but expectations low.

We started the morning in Ft Collins, CO, and continued north towards Cheyenne, WY. It did not take long until the storms started firing both in Colorado and north of Cheyenne. We followed a cell 30 minutes to our north but did not stay with it long when we saw the cells exploding close to Ft Collins, so we doubled back.

We core punched the storm (thank you, hail shields) and finally reached the south end, only to notice some sort of dryline moving in from the south, threatening to kill the entire storm. At this point the northern storm had dropped a tornado and it felt like the day would be much shorter than we had anticipated. When David said “We have about 5-10 minutes before this dry air reaches our storm” it felt like the day would bust. Thankfully it didn’t – at all.

Instead the supercell started rotating quickly and became a monster. In fact, when it stopped some 6-7 hours later it had passed 4 states! 

The supercell consistently had three separate meso-cyclones. Funny enough since we had been joking about the quote in the movie “Into the storm” when they are referencing a radar image with: “It’s got 5 or 6 hooks on it”. Our storm actually had three hooks on it!

We chased the first meso which was the strongest but as it turned out, the best tornado came out of the last meso. It had the shape of an elephant trunk most of the time lasted about 15 minutes but we couldn’t really catch up with it since we had to drive on muddy roads. We got to see it’s beautiful rope out stage at about 5 miles. The second tornado was in the middle meso and did not last as long as the first. 

We still kept faith in the first meso which eventually produced a tornado almost in front of us. Unfortunately, the base was hidden by a hill. Apparently, this tornado destroyed a barn as can be seen in this incredible video by Scott Peake. If we had only been a few miles ahead! Instead, at the same time we saw an anti-cyclonic tornado very close (some 100-200 yards) to our right. It never fully condensed but was very nice to see up close. At this point it felt like there were tornadoes and funnels all over the place!

We continued to follow this supercell as it progressed north in the Nebraska panhandle. As the sun was setting we drove by a train and two semi-trucks that had been knocked down by, most likely, a tornado. We continued to chase the supercell some time into the night and I believe we saw it tornado once more but I am not sure as the hills were obscuring our view much of the time.

What a day! This was my second best chase day ever (after Dodge City last year).

Edit 2017-06-15: Still more photos to come. It takes some time editing.

sleepy truck

Day 9: Cap bust in Wyoming

wyoming flooded fields

Today’s main target was really Minnesota, although it looked like squall lines and night time chasing. Fortunately, in the morning it turned out SE Wyoming would actually have a chance to produce severe weather. SPC even put a 2% tornado risk in the area where were more or less just prepared to have a down day anyway.

Driving through Wyoming was just as nice as driving through Montana yesterday. The vast fields, hills and mountains make up for scenery that makes you want to stop every 5 minutes to take a new photo. 

We stopped in one of those places and started waiting for the moisture and CAPE to move its way in to the area. We waited…and waited…and waited. At around 7 p.m. we gave up and started driving south towards Ft Collins, CO. At that point there was actually a super-tiny tornado warned storm in Casper, WY, where we did our lunch forecast. 

The main focus of the day was, however, Monday that is starting to look really good. 

colorado road

colorado road

wyoming

wyoming

Day 8: Driving through beautiful Montana

Beautiful Montana

Although Minnesota looked like a better target for Sunday we had to leave for Wyoming to pick up the newest member of our team: Akos from Hungary. To get there we had to drive through Montana, which really was an experience. Green hills, mountains with snow caps in the background and great plains. It was stunning most of the time!

the stormtrooper
Took some new photos of The Stormtrooper. I am not so sure “The Stormtrooper” is such a good name though, as the one thing stormtroopers are famous for is missing everything!

 

roosevelt national park
Theodore Roosevelt national park in North Dakota

Day 7: Supercells & two brief tornadoes in North Dakota

abandoned houses storm

After that 13 hour drive the day before, we sure needed some rest, and got some as well. This was the day we have been looking for, the hodographs showed perfect winds and most parameters were pointing towards a great chase day. SPC had a 5% tornado risk and it seemed liked there would not be too many storms to choose from.

We positioned in Rugby, ND, and had our first bit of chaser convergence. If you may call some 5-6 vehicles a convergence. I bumped into Peter Wharton of StormGroup Chasers at Subway, which was fun! At this point I think I have met every tour company at some point, out on the plains.

The storms took their sweet time to fire and we were waiting at a storm to ride the warm front. At 5 p.m. two cells had popped up and we chose to go for the southern storm (McClusky/Goodrich) even though the northern storm showed signs of riding the boundary layer.

When we arrived under it, we had great rotation, lots of lightning and even saw a small funnel. The only problem was that it was constantly re-cycling and it had a really high base. The moisture wasn’t really there to take that last step towards a tornado. If it would, it would have been a beautiful one with such a high base and the beautiful surroundings!

We saw multiple small funnel clouds but it was not until we were driving passed the mesocyclone  something happened. I was looking outside my window and saw what I thought was just some downburst dust. We passed a small hill and then I realized we were driving passed a small lake and there was rotation on the lake. Technically, a tornado (it was under the meso) but the funnel never condensed into something to write home about.

Not much later David and Alex observed dust being kicked up and yet again, there was another tornado. Just as “impressive”. To be honest, I wouldn’t have known they were actually tornadoes but rather guessed they were dust devils but the circulation was under the meso. The other one had a tiny, tiny condensation funnel, only visible on a photo David took. 

The storm did however produce some great structure at times and we got treated with some really nice views and corkscrew updrafts. All in all, the chase day was a slight disappointment despite two tornadoes and a supercell as the LCL was too high, moisture too low which left both our storm, and the one to the north, one step away from creating a really great day. Still, it was a good chase!

rain free base
The base as it looked early on

 

funnel cloud
A funnel cloud, early on.

 

funnel cloud
One of many small funnel clouds from this storm

 

hail
The largest hail we saw from this storm

 

shaftnado
A “shaftnado” that looked really convincing. This was just rain shafts though.

 

lake tornado
This was our first tornado (water spout) on a lake (!) out in the plains. It had no visible funnel and lasted about 20 seconds.

 

brief tornado
A very brief tornado swirling up some dust. It is virtually impossible to see the funnel in this photo but you can see a darkening above it. I saw no funnel as it happened.