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 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.

Day 4: Tornado at 11.000 ft!

Lightning from the mountain storm that spun the tornado

After the morning’s forecast we had the option of going some 3 hours east to chase really bad storms or going down almost all the way to New Mexico to, most likely, miss some slightly better looking storms. Instead, we went up the mountains again to hike and drive Mount Evens road, the highest located road in North America.

Our hike around a lake had to be cancelled after only some 10 minutes due to thunder. We weren’t too disappointed though, after all we are on a storm chasing trip! Instead we continued up Mount Evens road and realized we had a decent looking thunderstorm just next to us.

It was not very active but I managed to get a fluke shot of a lightning while driving. This was quite cool since there was only one lightning every 10 seconds or so. We continued to go further up ahead, stopping once in a while to look at the storm and take photos. 

We continued up to Summit Lake and went back down again to continue our drive to Cheyenne, WY, when we stopped at Starbucks and went through our photos. David came up to us with a big smile and said, look at this!! This is the photo he showed:

At first, we didn’t believe him and thought he had taken a photo of a photo of a tornado or something but suddenly realized he had actually caught a tornado on his camera! At 11.000 ft!! It was absolutely crazy! He made the tweet, as seen above, and it went viral instantly – causing numerous TV-channels wanting to show it etc. 

I didn’t see it myself so I had mixed feelings about the whole thing. Our chase team had caught a record tornado (in terms of altitude) on camera and we had been there – but I had missed it, even though I had been looking at the storm for much of the time. No matter what, it was a really cool catch and it taught us that you never really know when a storm will produce a tornado. Even high up in the Colorado mountains!

chipmunk

 

mountain storm
Beautiful shades of blue and gray. This was (obviously) not the tornado, just some scud.

 

stormtrooper chase vehicle
“The Stormtrooper” – our chase vehicle at Summit lake

 

Mountain storm lightning
Lightning from the mountain storm that spun the tornado

 

tornado debris
This COULD be the debris from the tornado (compare it to David’s photo) but I have no real idea.

 

whole storm
This is the whole photo of the storm from which the possible tornado pic was taken from (look at the left side).

 

Weather Nation with another view of our narrow tornado escape in Leoti, KS

I just found this amazing video that shows fully how close we come to the Leoti, KS, tornado last week. Apparently Weather Nation was filming the tornado from an angle facing us as well, showing even better how close we came to the (small) tornado! Check it out:

As previously showed, this is my video of the event:

and Tim Purington’s view from behind us (you can see his vehicle in Weather Nations footage as well):

Day 5: Dodge City, KS. The Perfect Storm.

As of the morning on Day 5 I had seen 13 tornadoes in total. I was about to double that number today. Day 5 was an epic storm chase day and many seasoned storm chasers have mentioned this was their best day ever. I was fortunate enough to experience the Dodge City-tornado outbreak of 2016.

We knew today was going to be a major chase day but the target area was not 100% clear. Some things pointed towards the Texas or Oklahoma Panhandle and other further up in Kansas. We positioned ourselves in the heat in Woodward, Oklahoma, in the early afternoon.

Around 4 p.m. cells started firing up near Minneola in South west Kansas. Erik noticed a subtle low pressure in that area and was convinced that would definitely be a major event – “I have seen this before, this storm will go nuts!” he mentioned to his two chase partners who was more convinced of staying in our area. They discussed for quite a while until Erik convinced them and we blasted north.

Erik was right. The storm positioned itself on that boundary and just grew bigger and bigger and for us it was a race against the clock and I was super stressed in the back seat worrying we would miss the show.

When we arrived the storm was south west of Dodge City and was showing an impressive wall cloud. At this point we knew it was just a matter of when the storm would fire a tornado. We got a little bit closer but when the storm started producing a funnel we stopped and looked.

The show of the decade was about to begin.

There was not long until a tornado started to form. After that everything was just going crazy. The first tornado stayed on the ground for about 30 minutes. The storm generated a second wall cloud which started spitting out secondary tornadoes as well. At one point there was four tornadoes At The Same Time!

four tornados on the ground
At this brief point, the Dodge City supercell actually had four tornadoes on the ground at the same time!

 

two tornadoes
Many times the cell had two tornadoes on the ground at the same time.

 

supercell with tornado
Structure shot of the supercell with a rope tornado on the ground. This is one of my all time photos!

We drove a little bit closer as the storm progressed and regrouped but never got really close. First of all, we did not want to waste time in the car when there was tornadoes on the ground, second of all the roads to our west (where the tornadoes were) were mud roads not suitable for our car and thirdly, the storm was dropping tornadoes everywhere so it was not safe.

tornado
One of the multiple tornadoes we saw.

 

tornado tour
Another storm chasing tour company enjoying the tornado at a safe distance.

 

tornado rope out
One of the last tornadoes roping out.

 

wall cloud dodge city
The wall cloud of this storm was MASSIVE.

The storm missed Dodge City, KS, by a mile or so and while we were driving into town we saw the last tornado rope out behind the trees and houses. We chased it a bit further and followed another tornado warned storm for a while until we called it a day and headed back to Dodge City.

Like most of these amazing days you don’t just get tornadoes but we also saw some amazing (anvil) lightning, some while there was a rainbow. On our way back we also stopped to photograph the most amazing mammatus field I have ever seen (even better than Leoti, KS, last Saturday).

anvil lightning
Powerful lightning from the dying anvil above us.

 

mammtus clouds and wind mills
Mammatus clouds at sunset by a wind mill farm. This is one of the best photos I have ever taken, I think. Just love this one.

I feel so grateful to have experienced this day since it surely will be a day I will remember for the rest of my life. I don’t know how many tornadoes we saw today but it was somewhere around 15. Not only did we see many tornadoes but they were all unobscured, good contrast and high based. We saw all ranges of tornadoes, from wedges to drill bit-tornadoes. Thankfully, the tornadoes never hit Dodge City either and there were no casualties. In other words – it was the perfect storm.

We finished the day at Applebee’s in Dodge City that was full of storm chasers. I got to meet storm chaser legend Reed Timmer (from the Storm Chasers TV-series) and had a well deserved beer.

Update: I will probably continue to update this blog post with more photos and videos as I am getting them edited.

Chase day: May 24th 2016.

Day 3: Tornadoes, lightning and flooding in Texas

Yesterday was an amazing chase day but the setup for Day 3 was looking even better! Our target area was the dryline in the eastern panhandle of Texas where we ended up in the early afternoon. The bases of the storms, however, looked ragged and dry while storms an hour to our east were showing much better potential so after some 30 minutes we decided to give up the dryline and chase those.

We caught up with the storms around 5 p.m. and picked the south end charlie over the northern storm that had already had a funnel cloud, according to reports. It was a rather wet chase where we often ended up in the strong forward flank downdraft that was rocking our van.

hail
Quarter sized hail from the day. One hit me straight on top of my head!

The lightning at this point was IMMENSE. I have never experienced any lightning like this before, it was striking down left and right and literally shook the van when it did. It was incredibly powerful and I loved it!

When we stopped the second time it did not take much time before the storm was wrapping up and started to look more and more tornadic. We made a stop when the storm reorganized and creating a new base and that’s when we saw the first tornado of the day.

I really did not see it until Erik shouted “Tornado!” again. It was not fully condensed to the ground but rather a bowl with multiple vortices underneath. Those vortices wrapped up to become a wedge tornado that rather quickly disappeared into the rain where we could not see it any more.

plaska texas tornado
The tornado in the beginning when it was multivortex (having more than one ‘tornadoes’ on the ground).

 

plaska texas tornado
The tornado as it matured into a wedge. As you can see it is not fully condensed to the ground but there were constant fingers dancing on the ground.

At the time of the tornado I was expecting it at another place and had my wide angle lens on so my photos and video of the camera is a bit wider than I would have liked, especially since there was so much fine detail action going on underneath.

We regrouped and drove through some intense rain before we got up on a hill and saw the cell spawning a brief needle tornado for about 5-10 seconds. I did not have time to bring up my camera so I never caught it on camera.

The third tornado was at the same spot. I had some issue with my telescope lens not being able to focus on the low contrast targets so I was still using my wide angle to that distant tornado. It was cool to see a tornado, especially with all the lightning going though.

tornado plaska texas
The third tornado of the day. It was far away and shot with a wide angle lens so the image quality is not great.

 

lightning and funnel cloud
Lightning just when the tornado was just a funnel.

Soon thereafter our HP supercell spawned a fourth (!) tornado. This was a cone tornado but also very brief, not fully condensed and low contrast so it was not too impressive. Still, 4 tornadoes in one day! I did not expect that when we left the dryline earlier that afternoon.

tornado plaska texas
The fourth tornado is barely visible in this video grab. It shows as a cone a bit to the right and behind the central portion.

At that point we did not expect to see much more under the rainy conditions we had so we started driving out from the storms passing severely flooded towns. We were lucky to get out of there since many other storm chasers got trapped from fallen power lines and flooded highways!

We stopped at Childress, TX, and let the now congealed storm pass over us while having a late pizza at Pizza Hut. Childress was getting a LOT of rain and the lightning was hitting us hard. I feel asleep, dead tired, to the sound of crashing lightning.

Although I saw a record amount of tornadoes and the first wedge was quite impressive the tornadoes were not very picturesque and we were mostly under rain. This made the “tornado experience” rather mediocre and although that was really cool but what I really loved from this day was the absolutely incredible lightning!

lightning plaska texas
This lightning was the strongest lightning I have ever heard. I quickly got into the van at this point 🙂

There were 32 tornadoes reported that day. David caught a great wedge tornado in the northern storm and there were reports of tornadoes all the way up to South Dakota!

Chase date: May 22nd 2016.

 

 

Day 2: Extremely close to a tornado

One of the most common questions people ask me when I tell them I chase storms is: “How close have you been to a tornado?”. Up until now, my answer has been “I have been underneath one“, but I think I need to update that answer after Saturday’s events.

Day 2 was our first real chase day and the season really started with a bang! We knew the week would be great but Saturday was supposed to be a slow start but it turned out to be one of my best chase days ever!

Our target of the day was south-west Kansas and we set off to Scott City. We had lunch at Subway’s where I bumped into Scott McPartland and Dave Lewison (who took the photo picturing the tornado that used to be my “closest to a tornado”-record). I also met George Kourounis in the same tiny Subway who updated me on some of his amazing adventure stories, like standing next to a lava lake in Kongo. I love the fact that you stop in “random” places and meet up with people you know all over Tornado Alley.

We all preferred to wait for the storms out on a field so we went outside of town and waited. The cumulus sure took their sweet time to come which gave me a suntan while waiting under the blue skies. We had surface winds of something around 20 mph which almost made it feel like we were already in a storm. Crazy!

david williams storm chaserWe regrouped to a rest stop where I saw a familiar car with a hail cage coming in. David! David is my chase partner from last year and although I knew he would chase in the vicinity it was a neat coincidence that he, and his crew, ended up in exactly the same spot.

The storms were struggling and I lost faith in that we would actually see something until one finally started to get organized and quickly turned into a great supercell. The chase was on!

The storm was absolutely stunning already from the start, the structure of it was just amazing and it felt like it would drop a tornado any second. In fact, it did, and we missed it – at least to the point that we could not directly see it from the point we were at and we had a really good view, but it was brief (30 seconds), low contrast and behind a rain curtain.

First tornado Leoti, KS
According to the reported timestamp of the first tornado, this is likely the funnel or the top part of the tornado as it was occuring (see just below the wall cloud, right of the rain curtain).

 

Leoti, KS, supercell
The AMAZING structure of the Leoti, KS, supercell. I lucked out by getting a lightning in this shot.

We regrouped from our structure view to get closer into the base in order to see potential tornadoes better…and got more than we bargained for! While chasing inside the bear’s cage Erik suddenly shouted “Tornado!” but from my side in the car I could not see anything – well, I saw something but I could not tell it was a tornado really.

leoti, ks, tornado
Screen grap from my GoPro dashcam where you can see the tornado. Bare in mind that this is highly wide-angle and this tornado was far closer than it seems.

The tornado was coming closer and we stopped to let it pass in front. I quickly (2-3 seconds at most) got out to shoot the tornado only to realize it had changed its path and was coming right at us. Erik was shouting “We need to go!” and I was back in my seat in milliseconds and we raised away. At that point I could see the circulation on the ground just outside of us and it was really, really close. Less than 100 yards! Erik slammed the gas pedal and drove off as I filmed the tornado passing just behind us!

The tornado was merely a spin-up and was dissipating while it was approaching us only to die off a few seconds after. It would not have made any significant damage to us but it was still an incredible adrenalin rush! Off course, it was too close for comfort and nothing we planned to do although Erik and I were well aware of the risk. 61 year old tour guest Dave was a little bit more concerned about the safety aspects of it though.

tornado 2 leoti, ks
The shot I took while hanging out of the car. It is rather crappy, especially due to the rain drops, but there was no time to be picky at this moment.

 

The morning after Erik found this video, made by Tim Purington. The white van in the video is ours and you can see me get out of the van to photograph and then see the tornado pass a few seconds later:

We continued north only to get our south escape route trapped by a truck who had decided to turn around on this little highway resulting in a perfect block on the road. Our east route was a muddy road we did NOT want to go to and north was the mesocyclone and hail core. We stood in that intersection with 4-5 other vans (including Charles Edwards Cloud 9 tours and, off course, Scott McPartland and his friends – it’s a small chase world).

At that point we started seeing some intense rotation just to our north and I had no doubt the storm would produce a tornado just to the field north of us but it never did. High on adrenaline I was actually a bit dissapointed but it was probably for the best.

The storm started to dissipate a bit as the sun was setting so we went south again to shoot lightning and more structure shots. The storm kept on delivering in terms of beauty when the sun was shining on the most amazing mammatus fields I had ever seen.

mammatus
Fantastic mammatus clouds lit up by the sunset. This just blows my mind!

We photographed lightning for some 30 minutes and then called it a day. And, what a day!

Powerful lightning

 

leoti lightning

 

lightning

Chase date: 2016-05-21

Video of the tornadoes near Canadian, TX, 2015

I went back to the videos I shot at the Canadian, TX, tornado outbreak last year. I did not really have a full look at them at the time and I never took the time to upload any videos to Youtube until now. As always, the footage is a bit shaky since I usually focus on still photography but I managed to cut most of it out. Enjoy! You can also read my blog post about the event here.

Day 3 – Tornado outbreak in Canadian, TX

This was the third day of chasing a Slight Risk-area with a 5% tornado risk (according to SPC). We targeted the Texas panhandle and quite early SPC issued a mesoscale discussion for the area. It turned into a Tornado Watch-area sometime after lunch as we drove into Canadian, TX, that seemed to be the play of the day.

While driving in towards Canadian we saw a wall cloud forming and just outside Canadian we stopped to watch. As on cue the storm spit out some 4-5 funnel clouds in those 15 minutes we were standing there. It was nothing like the funnel we saw yesterday, we were well positioned and ready and it was pure joy to watch the storm while hoping for the funnels to touch down.

funnel cloud

funnel cloud

The funnels never touched down so instead we continued closer to the base of the storm to watch the incredible and highly visible rotation of the storm. It was an amazing and beautiful sight and we were just waiting for it to spin up a new funnel cloud or tornado. We had to wait just a little bit longer though. While regrouping we got reports of a tornado on the ground and sped back through town. We could see the cone shaped tornado between the houses and trees but could not really get a good view of it right away.

cone shaped tornado obstructed

When we found a good spot the tornado was roping out into a beautiful and far stretched snake in the sky. All in all it did not seem like it was on the ground for very long, at most 6-7 minutes. We were glad to catch the first tornado on the tour and to see it at fairly close distance! It was an amazing sight as well, no rain covering it or anything. Wow!

tornado rope out

tornado

We regrouped once again to a veterinary center just out of town overlooking a field over which the storm was slowly, slowly coming in over us. The storm was so slow it was almost stationary. At that location we saw numerous funnel clouds and 2-3 more tornadoes of which one also had a brief satellite tornado. They were all really brief, none lasted longer than 20-30 seconds but it was all in front of us.

tornado with a satellite tornado

cone tornado

A brief tornado actually touched down very close to us as well, swirling up a few tumble weeds into the air. I did not personally see it but at this point we had seen so much it felt like it didn’t even matter! This was my first tornado outbreak and I was happy and satisfied since long. It is not everyday you get to experience a tornado outbreak from a stationary, non-HP-cell!

Up until now our tour guides had been Christopher Howell and Allan Detrich but at this time Lanny joined us for the first time of the tour. He stayed around for our last positioning but at this point the storm had stopped producing funnels and tornadoes. Happy and satisfied we went for the compulsory stake dinner. We celebrated the great day with drinks (Canadian whisky, of course) before finally crashing to bed.