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 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 13 – Chasing hatched 10% tornado risk in Nebraska

Yesterday we (well, mostly David) did a thorough forecast for today and, just like most others, came up with eastern or northeastern Nebraska as our target area for the day. The moisture was excellent, the shear was good, the CAPE was ok and there seemed to be enough lift. Our only worry was the lack of cap. Our hopes were moderate for the chase but it definitely showed great potential. SPC had an Enhanced Risk with 5% tornado risk in the morning when we got up early at 5.00 A.M..

While driving north our target area started to look better and better in terms of reports from SPC. We suddenly found ourselves going for a Tornado Watched area with a 10% hatched tornado risk! It felt like we could be going for a tornado outbreak day! Once again (lesson not learned) I started thinking about whether it was merely a question of how many tornadoes that would touch down in the area rather than if there would be tornadoes.

anvil
Getting in under the storm

storm

We arrived perfect in time at Norfolk, NE, to see the first storms appear on radar at around 4.45 P.M.. The first one was only some 20 minutes away so we headed there quickly. Since our worry was the lack of cap we were glad to see there were hardly any other storms around. We got under the storm, which already had a wall cloud. The wall cloud showed slight rotation and some signs of starting to form a funnel. We were perfect in timing and position!

Just as too many days this season for me, that turned out to be the highlight of the day. The storm did not produce a tornado and soon there were storms starting everywhere around us into a cluster. Although we stayed with our primary target for a while it was getting its inflow cut off by southerly storms and started to die off.

horseshoe storm
If I am not mistaken we see the horseshoe made from the RFD and a wall cloud in just the right position for a tornado.
storm
As close as it got to get an organized, rotating wall cloud.

We regrouped, went through some torrential rain but found ourselves nowhere near anything interesting. The reports from SPC said that the shear would increase a lot around 9 P.M. so even though that was just after sunset we stayed to see if it would help the storms, but it did not.

So, for the 598th time this season I experienced the emotional roller coaster based on exciting SPC forecasts turning into nothing. One would think that I learned my lesson in Wyoming but obviously not. Hopefully, with two failed 10% risk days I will not get to jacked up next time. With great help from David I will hopefully become better at forecasting and create my own opinion about the outlook of the day! After all, the day turned out pretty much according to our forecast.

storm cloud
One of many competing storms this day. At least they were beautiful with some really cool structure.

Even though the storms proved to be bad for chasing we actually had quite a fun day in the car. While chasing on tours paying several hundred of dollars per day I was often really stressed and frustrated these kind of days. Chasing with David, however, was simply fun with good conversations, goofing around and laughing about the situation instead.

After we were done chasing, we were not very happy to hear that the entire region was booked out due to some ballgame tournament, weekend visitors, and storm chasers. We had to drive two more hours to Omaha before we could find a room, some 17 hours after we got up this morning – driving almost constantly!

 

Day 8 – Hail

Can hail really be exciting? Yes!

This promising Sunday started out slow and it was not until 4 in the afternoon when we actually landed at our first prospect. A very beautiful storm that seemed promising, but above all gave us a…sense of hail. At first, we heard a constant and fairly loud rumbling above us while we observed the storm. It was like thunder in the distance but the noise came from hail inside the storm. This “hail roar” was caused by hail falling down, getting caught by the updraft and tumbling around on each other. But, how could small bits of hail make a noise like that? I will get back to that at a later point.

This first storm fairly quickly turned uninteresting. Fortunately though, we just needed to turn 180 degrees around to find another storm cloud. It was just one of those days. We began to chase it but since we had positioned ourselves for the first cloud, we were completely wrong for the other. As a result, we had to make a so-called core punch, i.e. go straight through the storm to reach the right place.

This core punch was a long and tedious process of constant rain and at constant risk of hail. It was also pretty exciting to constantly be driving in the storm’s immediate trace. The rain, however, makes it very hard to discover a tornado, so we were quite keen to get out of the core.

After chasing through Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, we finally reached the edge of the storm and passed it. By then it was sunset, which gave the whole cloud, a very eery looking color. Everyone hoped for a tornado right there and then. It would have give us some quite wonderful photos…but we were to see no tornado today. The storm did apparently produce a tornado later on that night, but tornado chasing at night is quite another matter which we did not attempt.

Today’s big adventure nevertheless was hail. First, the unspeakable hail rumble in the afternoon, secondly when we were once again gunned with golf ball sized hail on the way from there. The worst, however, was when we drove past the small village of Oregon, Missouri, arriving a few minutes after the storm had passed. Their tornado siren was on which created an even more dramatic dimension to what we saw on the ground. Hail the size of oranges! Oranges!

I realized then that we had previously been standing under a storm cloud in which tens of thousands of orange-sized spiky ice balls defy gravity only because of upward flowing air, tumbling upside down and constantly getting bigger and bigger…Wow!

Can you imagine the people who live there? You hear on the radio in the morning that there are tornado warnings in your county and that you should keep your eyes open. You continue to hear reports as the storm seems to be heading straight at your village. At 5.43 p.m. a tornado siren is starting and the sound drowns everything in the village. You go down into the basement with your family and just wait for a possible tornado to rip your house apart. First, the wind start to roar, then an artillery of hail roars against the ceiling, walls and windows.

When the storm have passed you go out into your garden or farm and realize that you are standing in Mother Nature’s driving range. You also realize that you are very happy not to have been caught outdoors. The punishment for being outdoors during a storm is Stoning with Ice Rocks!

Move to the Midwest anyone? 🙂

wheat
Wheat is beautiful. I just want to lie down and sleep on this bed of wheat.
radar echo with hook
A perfect storm structure as it looks on radar. An important little detail is the little hook on the bottom of the cloud, saying that the cloud rotates – a lot.
storm structure
An amazing perfect storm structure, that unfortunately did not turn out to be very interesting.
storm chaser caravan
A ridiculously long caravan of storm chasers, scientists, etc. following the storm. We are, however, first in line! 🙂 This season has not been a particularly good storm season and the creations of specific storm zones tend to attract everyone!
rain
Our long drive in core punch was during massive rain at times. Here a few cars are waiting for the storm to pass, under a bridge. A very bad protection for possible tornadoes, since you are at risk being crushed under the bridge.
softball sized hail
One of the larger hail we found. It had already started to melt away and was probably a bit more spiny before.
hail with ruler
Most of the hail was not orange sized – this was more the normal size.
hail core
Hail core – seeing this one can understand a little better how the hail is created. Freezing rain lands on small hail grains and builds layer upon layer and gets bigger and bigger.
eerie skies
Imagine hearing a tornado siren, you look out and up at the sky and it looks like this.
scud
The closest we got to a tornado this day. It was not even a funnel, just a bit low altitude clouds – Scud.
sunset in missouri
The relatively difficult storm hunting in Missouri (traffic, many hills, many trees, bad roads) ends with a wonderful sunset which is also lit up by a nearby field full of fireflies.