Storm Chase Log: "Nebraska Outbreak" 6/20/2011-2145 Miles
Wow...what an adventure this was.
I had been monitoring the potential for a tornado outbreak in South Central NE/Northern Kansas for a few days, and made the decision early on that I was going to chase this storm. All of the important numbers were pointing towards a major out break on June 20th. As I have done in the past, I decided I would ask Mrs Twister if she wanted to make a vacation out of it. In her sarcastic voice "Sure Mr Twister". So, on June 17th we gathered all of the necessary equipment for a vacation and a storm chase. Having to gather all of the required road trip items for a four and a eleven year is never easy. We managed to get everything done and headed out the door at 7am June 18th.
The first stop on our adventure was Mt Rushmore. I had not been since I was a kid, and Mrs Twister and the kids had never been. We arrived to great weather, and a wonderful environment for viewing one of our countries amazing feats. If you have not been, or you have not been for awhile, some major improvements have been made to the area surrounding Mt Rushmore. The addition of a museum, a trail that allows you to walk to the base of the mountain and a walkway with every state's flag hung high. After a fun day, we headed into Rapid City for dinner, and some rest. I needed to look at the new outlook for the chase target. To my excitement the outlook had become even more favorable for tornadoes, and my target would be Grand Island Nebraska. My original target had been farther to the North and East, so I had some ground to cover.
After a nights sleep, some swimming for the kids and few more local attractions, we were on the road to Sioux Falls South Dakota. We arrived in Sioux Falls late the evening of June 19th. I again reviewed the data for moisture, shear, front position, CAPE values and some other items, and was happy to see that my target was still Grand Island.
As always, it was like Christmas Eve for a ten year old, and I could not sleep very well. I woke up bright and early on June 20th, kissed the family goodbye, and I was out the door. I tend to avoid bringing family members on chases that pose great danger.
Heading south towards Omaha and Lincoln, I encountered major flooding. This particular area had been under flash flood warnings for the majority of the summer, and now I was seeing this first hand. The flooding caused some detours for my route, but I eventually made my way to Grand Island at 12pm CDT.
I pulled into Grand Island, as I have many times, grabbed some lunch and reviewed the numbers again. To my surprise the SPC had issued a PDS "Particularly Dangerous Situation" for South Central Nebraska. This is the grand daddy of watch's, and typically will be issued when their is the potential for a significant tornado outbreak with the possibility for large and long track tornadoes. My feelings were mixed. This could be very dangerous, and I am a little nervous. This could be an epic outbreak, and I am excited. This could be deadly, and maybe I can save some lives. I called Mrs. Twister to give her the latest information, and I took my dog Bella out for a bathroom break. As I return to the car, warnings were starting to light up on a few storms in Northern Kansas. Shoot was I to far to the North East.
I watched these initial storms in North Kansas, and they began to spin tornadoes. I reviewed the maps, and made the decision that I was to far East, and as the front crossed into Nebraska it would initiate storms near Kearney Nebraska. I collected my thoughts, and started heading West. The reports were arriving fast and furious, large tornado on the ground in Kansas. I was happy, and I figured I had snuffed out a near miss. Towers began to form along I-80, and I knew that it would not be much longer.
I arrived in Kearney, and almost immediately storms initiated...went severe....and went tornado warned. I noticed that a group of chasers were even further West than I was, and they were reporting a tornado on the ground in Nebraska. I maintained my position, and followed my strategy of tracking the cells furthest to the South of initiation.
Storms began to billow up directly over my head, and the structure of these cell's was incredible. These cells immediately began to drop pea to marble size hail. Hail was bombing my Impalla, and knew I needed to get out of the hail core and move towards any developing wall clouds. As I viewed radar, I notice that just East of Kearney the current cell was forming a hook echo. I made my way to a county road that would allow access to the East and Southern portion of the storm. As I emerged from the hail core, the wall cloud nearly dropped on my hood. The clouds were dancing and spinning, and the color was an ominous green. This storm was moving North East, and it was moving fast.
I made my way to a clearing where I had clear visual of the wall cloud, and almost on cue the storm begins to lower and a funnel emerges. My excitement is boiling over, and I grab my camcorder. As I turn back to the funnel, it reaches the ground and I have an official tornado. I call the siting into the local authorities and position myself on the dirt road to get the best. shot. A beautiful picturesque, white, elephant trunk tornado quickly develops. I capture the beast, as it arches from the base of the super cell, and lumbers for a few hundred yards. As quickly as it grew into a text book cone, it begins to evolve into a rope and dissipates before my eyes.
Wow, that was a great start. I have a feeling that this cell is not done producing, so I start to head North in pursuit. I travel no more than half a mile, and directly in front of me is a serpent like rope tornado skimming across the dirt road. As it snakes back and forth, I grab my camcorder, and I am able to capture my 2nd tornado. Two tornadoes in a matter of ten minutes. Sadly to say, this would be the end of my tornado captures for the day. I would pursue the same storm for fifty miles, and it did produce some amazing photos, but no more tornadoes.
What a day, I was as happy as a clam. Turns out I did miss two very nice tornadoes near Grand Island. Yes, my original position. Storm chasing is such an inexact science, and one miscalculation can cause your day to become a bust. Luckily, this event produced many tornadoes, and I was able to document two of them.
Overjoyed with my chase day, I made my way back to the hotel in Sioux Falls. I had no choice but to follow the front as it marched North East towards Iowa and South Dakota. On my way back, I encountered major hail, lightning, wind, flooding, and a speeding ticket. Crap, another risk of storm chasing.