April 12th 2014 Iowa Hail

Apr 13, 2014


Dashed into Iowa to catch isolated, but elevated storms with prolific hail cores. Got cored with hail up to ping pong ball size before night fell and storms transitioned to linear mode.


Tornadoes: 0
Hail: 1.50″ (Ping Pong)
Wind: n/a

The Forecast:

Strong baroclinic zone setup with quasi-stationary boundary draped across the midwest. Strong surface heating into the upper 70s and low 80s but only meager dewpoints in the upper 50s would create sufficient instability for storms, but the large temp/dewpoint spreads meant the storms would probably be high based and would have low tornado potential. Very cold air aloft and behind the boundary, plus the elevated nature of the storms meant storms would be capable of producing hail and lots of it. SPC went with high end SLGT probs for very large hail, and only minimal tornado probs.

Detailed Account:

The day was a pretty low confidence setup given the conditions mentioned, but being relatively close and on a weekend it looked like a hail/structure/lightning chase was in store. After getting off work at noon I met up with Danny Neal and we set sail for an initial target in Northern Illinois.  A morning complex of storms had laid down a weak outflow boundary inside the unstable warm sector, and we were hoping for a mesoscale accident so we stopped near Rochelle, IL initially, but the higher probabilities of running into hail and storms in Iowa quickly lured us out that way.

We snaked our way up US-20 which goes through one of Illinois’ few rough terrain spots, but is very scenic. Arriving in Iowa just as storms began initiating near Waterloo we pressed west to meet them. A couple cells close to our north were heading towards the MS river and cross into WI which we chose to ignore based on terrain and road availability in that area. We caught up with an isolated storm north of Denver, IA (not Colorado.) The storm was isolated and even trying to show a hook echo on radar, but the bases were 3000 feet high, 2000 feet higher than what you want in a good tornado setup. Additionally, outflow from the storms to our north had sent surface temps plummeting to only 60 degrees. The storm literally had a zero chance at producing a tornado so we opted to sit in its path and let it run us over.

There wasn’t much structure with the storm, just a high base and big hail core.

The storms core eventually overtook us, bombarding us with lots of hail, mostly around quarter size but had a few stones as large as ping pong balls mixed in. We played cat-n-mouse with the storm a couple times, repeatedly letting it hit us and then punching its core from behind to come back out ahead of it.

We let this storm go as a new storm formed on its flank, stopping inbetween them so Danny could get some lightning shots. I had another alterior motive to this chase as well, and that was to meet up with Jonathan Williamson, a former chase partner of mine. He sold me his old DSLR and I was eager to pick it up. Up until now, I was probably one of the only chasers roaming the fields without one of these fancy machines, and I am eager to learn to use it and soon fill these logs with gorgeous pictures!

By this point darkness was falling and the chase was pretty much over. A large and meaty looking storm complex was heading for Waterloo, IA so we decided to backtrack a bit to grab dinner there and let the complex roll us. We found an I-hop and had a quick meal, the complex arriving with a deluge of rain and some embedded pea size hail. We got soaked running back to the truck and headed for home, arriving back in Chicago around 3am. En route I accidentally lost the map for the chase, DOH!


By all accounts this chase met expectations so it is probably the most successful one of the year so far. It was never a tornado chase, just a hail/structure/lightning leasurely Saturday chase. I can’t think of a better way to spend a day. It felt good not to feel the pressure of nabbing the best prize, and to just enjoy the show you get. Acquiring the DSLR is another victory. Over the years extreme tornado video has become my main focus, and it still is, but in the process I have gotten a bit spoiled and my standards for success gone too high. It will be nice to have a way to salvage and appreciate under-performing setups with at least nice lighthing or structure pics. I look forward to being able to get more documentation, and thus enjoyment out these lesser setups, which is all 2014 wants to give us so far…

Map: N/A

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