After being skunked a couple times by forecasts for local storms that didn't pan out, Today we have a bit of a surprise. Shear was not especially great south of the warm front. However the best cape and weakest capping were occurring to the south, mostly south of Grand Rapids. Several vigorous updrafts formed early in the afternoon immediately along Lake Michigan. A small window existed where these new storms would stay discrete enough that they perhaps could generate an environment where tornadoes were more likely. A mature storm formed over Ottawa county, and another, newer, much closer storm over Allegan county. We chose the Allegan county target. Chased with my wife this time (really her first time on any serious storm hunt.)
We followed the storm to the Dumont lake area where we witnessed a nice clean rain-free base evolve to produce a boiling wall cloud. Rotation was weak but visible. Later we followed the base a bit further north where the RFD began to really take hold of this storm, as well as precip from a storm to it's south that would eventually merge into our target storm.
At the end of the day a QLCS emerged that was moving very slowly to the west. Giving us a chance to watch a shelf cloud ungulate in a nearly stationary position. The downdraft was a deep green, while the updraft was smooth and fast--much faster than any perceived storm motion. This gave us time to make a great video of the shelf cloud and and a very-wide high-res panorama!
On a local spotter mission I managed to take some pretty impressive video of a wall cloud and updraft complete with striations, in Michigan of all places! What luck. A NWS Skywarn trainer plans to add this footage for the GRR area Skywarn spotter training slides. His mission was to make all of the images and video represent Michigan storms, and this was specifically what he was looking for. Glad to help out!
Another storm that moved over this same area just 45 minutes earlier produced a brief EF-0 tornado touchdown just to the north and west of here in New Salem Twp, MI. Damage occurred to the DeBoer turkey farm there. The storm in my video however produced over 1" hail in northern Allegan county and even right at the GRR NWS office. I also shot video of the same wall cloud, looking rather anemic at that point, passing right over the radar tower there.
Later I was able to snap a few shot of some great updrafts! Here's a weak, rather low topped LP supercell (yet again a rare in Michigan) complete with mammatus forming.
And another much larger storm going on at the same time over in the Lansing area. This one was tornado warned much of the day but did not produce.
Saturday morning looked like a good day for severe weather just to our south and west. Well within a couple hours drive.
A moderate risk was issued for a narrow corridor across hoosier alley. SPC handed the area a 10% risk of tornadoes as well. We decided that our target area for that afternoon would be somewhere in the neighborhood of Dwight, IL. This turned out to be a eerily accurate decision.
Having been burned by using SPC alone to determine a target area several times in May, we decided it was time to look directly at the models, and learn to use them to find the characteristics we needed for a good intercept.
Example of a forecast model for
determining sheer profiles
We made our way to Chicago, then south into Kankakee, IL. Storm initiation had not yet begun, there were however a few small convective rain showers appearing south and west of Davenport, IA. We made our way through small Illinois towns on route 17 and continued to I-39. We arrived at I-39 in Wenona and took another look at the radar. Sunset was less than a couple hours away and only a few modest thundershowers had approached from out of Iowa and were now over the Kenowee, IL area.
At this point is was beginning to look like a bust. We ventured North on I-39 with the intent of closely following a northern tundershower along I-80 and head back home. Just after we had gotten ourselves onto I-80, two of the thundershowers had quickly exploded into some modest severe thunderstorms. Within minutes, rotation appeared in both of them. A 3rd storm near Galesburg had become Tornado warned. We began to slow the car down watching for an exit to pull of and make a decision. Before we could do this, all three storms were now tornado warned, with the southernmost storm already having a tornado report to the NWS.
We rushed back to I-39 as fast as we could. The northern storm was approaching the interchange, however this northern storm was not as healthy as the storm to it's south with clear air near it's hook. Of the three storms to choose from, we decided on the one in that was in the middle with the clear air. That meant punching it's core to make it Lostant before the storm did. By now a very healthy rotation was visible on radar, a tornado looked imminent. The storm was moving ESE, we anticipated the southern component to the storm so we overshot it to the south a tad, believing it might be a little close for comfort, and with darkness beginning to settle in, that would not have been a good thing.
We arrived in Lostant and looked for a good spot to watch the wall cloud form. We began recording video. A lowering was visible to our North and West and it appeared to be rotating. We followed the rotation with the cameras as it crossed I-39. No distinct tornado or funnel was visible. We crossed I-39 and chose a lonely east-west road a mile south of route-17. The idea being that there would be less interruption from oncoming or following traffic than on 17. We also though the storm was continuing to nudge south. That was not the case. We had a LEFT mover on our hands! That can mean only one thing, There must be a tornado on the ground right now.
We pulled over breifly at 179 and 8th road. By this point it was very dark. However each stroke of lightning revealed a classic mothership supercell was now in progress. Suddenly power flashes were visible. Time to move! We continued east, still expecting the storm to cross ahead of us drifting south. We paced the meso continuing down 8th road, continuing to film. Suddenly it became apparent that there was definitely a tornado in progress, and it was hitting structures. Power flashes were frequent. the power in fact went out around us in unison with a larger power flash, indicating a main feed wire must have been cut to the area. Since it was dark, our only indication of what was happening was numerous lightning strikes illuminating the funnel the Meso and power flashes at the ground.
See below for a map of the Steator, IL EF2 tornado path and damage.
We continued to follow the Storm east. However now it appeared the there was no longer a tornado. Radar images continued to show a healthy storm with plenty of Rotation. But now it was headed right for the town of Dwight, IL. Moments later, more power flashes appeared. This time it seemed much closer to us. We couldn't see anything, but the camera was still taking video. Whatever was happening was getting recorded, we could only hope there was something to see in the footage later on.
We approached the town of Dwight, only now it appeared that the Tornado and Meso must be ahead of us. The power was out in town and there was significant damage. Scary enough, it appeared that the tornado had gone through the very town we stopped at for some subway just a few hours earlier! Needless to say now, our forecasting had gotten much better this time around. We discovered that, by using maps from models such as the RUC and NAM, we were now able to put ourselves more accurately in the zone than just using spc's forecasts.
The supercell we were following turned very High Precip and was becoming incorporated into a newly formed Derecho from behind. After encountering extensive flooding in the Kankakee area, we headed north. June 5th turned out to be a major tornado outbreak. Overnight fatalities were reported in Ohio due to the same storm system. Tornadoes were also confirmed overnight just a county away from our homes. The supercell we abandoned in Kankakee went on to spawn an EF3 tornado in St. Anne, IL as well.
We woke up Monday morning to what looks like could be a significant Tornado outbreak over western, SD. SPC initially foretasted a 10% Risk of Tornadoes over the area. We decided to leave North Platte and head north with no particular target in mind, but definitely in South Dakota.
As we approached South Dakota, the Tornado risk was upgraded to a 15%. Now with a risk of strong tornadoes as well and even included North Platte, the town we left just a few hours earlier! Driving as quickly as we could, we arrived in Murdo, SD early in the afternoon. Storm initiation was fast and furious at this point. Storm motion was again south to north as with the day before, and even faster that before. A few healthy storms began to form just to our North, we made the call to head north to Pierre and then west. The road networks in western South Dakota are a bit tricky, often requiring doubling back. The storms to our North had picked up in intensity and were now Tornado warned over Faith, SD. However at the same time, they had picked up significant speed as well. We were way out of position to reach the line of supercells to our North. However, there were supercells to our South as well. all of which were moving north and within our reach. We arrived in Hayes, SD. Once again to a beautiful blue sky! theme of the week we suppose. After watching the storms to our South approach we decided to double back and head toward Miller to intercept a supercell that looked poised to arrive at the same we would.
We were already hearing about a wonderful Tornado in the Faith, SD area from the very storm that was out of reach. As we approached Miller, the storm we were targeting began to look less and less tornadic, but maintained severe characteristics. We decided to watch the storm go by from the side of the road near Miller.
The storm we picked had interesting structure but again little rotation. Significant winds came out of the storm along with intense lightning. The storm continued away from us passing to the north. We decided we were too tired and too out of position to try anything else. We followed the storms path back to Rapid City, SD. Only a few miles away from our position in Miller, we came across an 18-wheeler that had flipped due to the high winds on the storm we were watching!
We arrived in Rapid City, SD and watched all of the storms to our west merge into a massive and destructive Derecho. Late in the evening it arrived in Rapid City and we watched and filmed the Derecho pass over us with 50+ mph winds.
Still on a high from the Bowdle, SD storm, We woke up to find that our target area of far eastern, SD was virtually missing. SPC's forecast the night earlier placed Sioux Falls, and Watertown, SD within a 30% severe risk. This morning there was only a 'See Text' area that didn't look even THAT promising. SPC is having a bad week we think. The new area of interest appears to be southern Nebraska.
Union Pacific 6922
That's a long way to go. But with an ever-increasing risk of Tornadoes. As we approached Valentine, NE the 5% risk area was expanded. This could be a really good day for tornadoes again, we think to ourselves. Early in the afternoon and, we think, dead center in the action, we Arrive in North Platte. No storms. Clear blue sky again. Nothing around us yet. It's still early though. We spent a few hours checking out the massive Union Pacific railway hub and the downtown park featuring a couple of historic locomotive oddballs. Still no storms. It was getting late in the afternoon. SPC's forecast continues to suggest storm initiation is imminent.. At the same time, the risk areas keep extending south into Kansas and Oklahoma....areas that earlier in the day had no risk at all.
Storm Approaches from the South
Finally a few storms appear in Central and Southern Kansas all the way back to New Mexico. Storms that in fact went Tornado warned in an area that wasn't even under a 'See Text' at that time. We're starting to really doubt SPC's intuition at this point. We are sitting dead-center in a 5% Tornado/15% Severe risk under a clear blue sky, while New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas all have Tornado warnings. and a 2% risk The NWS even seemed reluctant to issue watch areas for them but finally did. The storms to our South were moving nearly due north however. Racing up toward us, gaining speed.
sunset as the storm approached
Since nothing was happening where we were, and storms were racing in our direction, we decided to meet them halfway. They weren't exactly Tornadic, though a few of them did have Tornado warnings on them. We soon found ourselves in McCook realizing that these storms had gained an incredible amount of forward speed, but sunset is also coming upon as well.
Mammatus on the eastern edge
Taking advantage of the good roads we decided to wait for a large supercell to our south to arrive. It didn't take long at all. We drove to the Western edge of the storm along Highway 83 with the intent of getting some great sunset illuminated Anvils. we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the storm.
We found a spot just outside of the rain and began taking photos and video. It was well worth the trip to North Platte. After exhausting available daylight we headed back to find a Hotel in North Platte with more storms on our heals. And these ones were mean. Merely minutes after checking in, The sirens blared. Lucky us, out Hotel room was only about 30 yards away from the siren. That. was. loud.
Beautiful light-show ensues
The next 2 hours consisted of storm after storm with vigorous rotation training in over top us in North Platte. Each one going tornado warned. The entire time we, and more than a hundred others, were kept in the hotel conference room for safety. We momentarily became celebrities. Everybody wanted to hear the opinions from the chasers with the laptops.
As our first chasing experience of 2010, We had few expectations for a great storm to unfold. We aren't experts. Certainly inexperienced. Quite hopeful though! We had been planning this week long chasing adventure for several months. We paid close attention to each event in April and May leading up to our week.
Friday night, May 21st we made the desicion, based on SPC forecasts, to target northeastern Nebraska. This was, according to SPC, going to be a battelground for supercells late in the afternoon on the 22nd. We made the decision leave at 4 am Saturday morning so that we could arrive in the target area long before storm initiation. Sheer profiles looked good, CAPE looked good. Everything was ready, we just needed to get there.
By late morning, we had reached Davenport, IA. Doubt began to set in. SPC released it's updated morning forecast. But this time, the target area was starting to look better in the Souix Falls, SD area. As the drive down I-80 went on, we made a last-second decision to head north up to I-90 and continue west into eastern South Dakota. By mid afternoon we had arrived in Mitchel. To a cloudless sky, temps in the upper 80s, and high humidity. What storms? The weather was beautiful. The radar was blank. The sattelite imagery showed little if anything.
Watching some justin.tv feeds we noticed that some chasers had positioned themselves in the same general area, while others were positioned further north, in the Aberdeen, SD area. How odd. What were they doing up there? SPC had mentioned storms in that area of SD, but later in the evening. We decided to get some RainX and a new air filter for the car while we waited for something to happen. However it was well after 3 PM and initiation didn't look imminent at all.
Finally a tornado watch was issued. Both for our location, as well as a large area to our north and to our south
Just then. Something began to erupt. We just weren't watching
After performing a quick tune up, and just 20 minutes later, I looked again to the radar screen and noticed that a fairly vigorous, lonely thunderstorm had appeared far to our North near Gettysburg, SD. I looked north through the trees, I couldn't see anything. Not thunderheads, not even a single whispy cloud. Then I saw that everyone on Justin.tv was now headed in the direction of this new storm. Few of them were in good position, but they were clocking very high speeds on SD's generous, long flat roads.
There was no way we were going to get there in time. It's WAY up there. easily a 2.5+ hour drive. We decided to begin trekking north. Hoping that something would initiate further south that we could catch up with. We were well ahead of the front but perhaps we were still too far south.
Quickly the storm moved into the Bowdle area and exploded into a textbook supercell. and was soon tornado warned. The storm was joined by a few weak neighbors to it's south, neither of them as interesting as this storm. We picked up our pace. Unfortunately the storm had a bit of a northerly component that kept it well ahead of us. If anything we'd have to meet up with it in NORTH Dakota. Then we began to realize this storm was becoming a right-mover... heading more east than north. It looked more and more like we could catch the storm in Ipswich within about and hour-and-a-half. If it held together that is!
Then news began to pour in on this storm. "A Large, Dangerous, Violent, Wedge, Epic, Win, Long-lived, storm-of-the-year, Comegetme" Tornado was on the ground. We were hauling as fast as we could. Soon we were under the canopy of the Anvil of the storm. Tornado reports continued to pour in for towns east of Bowdle. We decided on a rendezvous point just west of the town of Ipswich. Unbelievably the storm slowed down, continued moving west, only. And continued to be alone without competition of other storms. What seemed impossible over an hour ago now looked within reach!
Positioned east of Ipswich we waited for the wall cloud to pass over us. No funnel was in sight. As the wall cloud continued overhead we chased it further east several miles as night settled in on us. Just before dark though, a well defined funnel appeared, but never quite reached the ground. Just as we began to get ahead of it, we ran into a road-closed sign, darkness completely fell, and the chase was over. We didn't come away completely empty handed. Not only that, but we found ourselves in Chaser's dream storm. Everyone was there, including the more famous personalities featured in Discovery's Storm Chasers show. We soon learned that Reed Timmer and the Dominator, Tim Samaras, the TIV where all on the same storm and had collected a huge trove of data. And here we were, minutes away from catching up to the same Tornado.
Our whole day was reviewed in our heads...if only we had skipped the stop in Mitchell, if only we had headed North on I-35 instead of west on I-90. So many things we could have done or should have done. In the end we were just happy, and felt lucky, that we had picked the right week, the right day, the right state...and almost the right place at the right time. Check out our video showing the drive up through Redfield and Aberdeen to THE storm of 2010, and what remained of the Bowdle EF4 Tornado.