First chase to the state of North Dakota turns out how most chases in 2012 did. Under performing storms with mediocre structure and barely severe weather.
A weak yet deepening surface low in Canada left a trailing cold front across the Dakotas. Favorable speed and directional shear in the warm sector linked up with meager moisture under a stout cap. It was another “if a storm can form” type of day. The big question was if sufficient moisture would arrive as models were being quite generous with predicted values. Still, it looked like the cap would break before dark and there would at least be storms to chase. Bulk shear values on the lower side [40kts] meant if too much cap broke, there would be storm clusters as opposed to more isolated development, but with backed surface winds around 20kts there was sufficient turning for supercell potential, and in the Dakotas, the normal rules don’t always apply.
Hail: 1.00″ [quarter]
Wind: < 58mph
Firsts: First chase to North Dakota
New Milestone: Furthest north I have chased.
Being a week into June (my favorite chasing month) and with 2012 being a very tough and challenging year with sub par results I was desperate for any straw to grasp. So a Saturday setup, albeit a marginal one probably looked better than it should have, still, I was itching to get out there bad so I put together a group with the usual Alec Schoelten, along with Billie Marcum and for the first time, Tom Purdy. We set sail around 4am Saturday morning for the marathon drive to North Dakota with a destination of Fargo in mind. As far as that sounds, from Chicago it actually takes about the same amount of time to drive to Fargo as it does to Wichita. So this was nothing new for me. After the long drive we arrived at our destination in great time and met up with Ben Holcomb with his chase crew Jari (from Finland!) along with a graphics specialist for Fox news. We looked over the forecast and decided to head west then north.
One of the forecast concerns is the better storms would form in Canada, and me without a passport was hoping this would not be the case. As the day went on though it became clear the storms would at least initiate in the US as the warm front got re-enforced farther south than models were showing and Canada remained socked in clouds. Many chasers went into Canada just to say they did, but we stuck to our forecast and remained further south than most. It was another long wait for storms. We ran into friendly faces such as Bob Hartig and Robert Forry from MI as well as the great Jesse Risley. We were pulled over on the side of the road getting attacked by crazy flies for a couple hours.
We began to lose hope, and Billie, being a man born and raised in the Chicago lifestyle was starting to get resltess being stuck outside in the hot air being attacked by flies, but I had to remind him this was the unfortunate downside to chasing. The wait. 7pm rolled around and hope was almost lost when suddenly I looked through the low clouds and saw a rapidly growing tower.
Soon after this, GR3 confirmed it as a developing storm with the first blip on radar. We watched the tower shoot up into the sky with our eyes, and the storm pick up strength on radar. Finally the chase was on, but oops we forgot to get gas. Being in the middle of nowhere we had to make a pretty lengthy detour to top off the tanks, but it wasn’t one that would cost us any valuable positioning time. Still though in the future it would probably be a good idea to make sure this is taken care of ahead of time. The storm on radar looked great for a few scans, but not long after other storms began going up around it. I knew right then it would be a cluster fumble of grunge, but we moved to get into the notch by core punching from the north. This brought on some pretty intense and close CG along with hail reaching quarter size.
We pulled over to watch the storm for a bit. The base was pretty elevated and any tornadic signatures were non existent. The storm remained the same strength on radar and we moved to keep up with it. A cool looking rain/hail shaft was about the neatest thing structure wise the storm had to offer.
It was a pretty small core. We attempted another core punch, but literally missed it by seconds as we watched the edge of the core slide off the road about 1/2 mile from us. Soon we were driving on a road covered with hail up to golfball size. It would have been nice to get into that but we were so close yet so far. In chasing, SECONDS MATTER! Since the storm was elevated it was moving faster than we had hoped and would soon cross the border. A line of storms was now forming to the south so we moved to drop down to the next but it was the same story. We moved to cross back into MN and wait for a new batch of storms to come to us. As this occurred we were treated to a nice fiery sunset next to the storms.
It was actually a very nice scene. The area was desolate and we were the only ones there, the only sound being the thunder from the departing storms while watching the nice sunset. Part of storm chasing is enjoying nature, and we certainly were, minus those damn vampire flies that still had a thing for us. We finally called the chase, and headed back to Fargo for the night to have dinner and room up where we hung out in the hotel room for a couple hours before falling asleep only to be awoken that morning to a storm rolling over the hotel.
2012 continues to test my commitment. It is easy to be frustrated, and certainly I am. Billie, however was ecstatic to capture photos from the storm as he as always wanted to experience storm chasing. Last time was a blue sky bust, so this time we at least got into some hail and saw SOME structure. I was a little jealous of his level of satisfaction, as I certainly have become spoiled over the years by the amazing things I’ve seen. We had a good talk about that and it sort of put things back into perspective for me as to what storm chasing is really about. Yes the ultimate goal is the great tornado shot and extreme weather video, but there is so much more that can be taken from a chase and thats what matters. It reminded me of how I was when I first started, and how excited I got over the littlest things. Over the years I have lost some of that appreciation, and if one good thing came from this chase, its that some of that appreciation was restored. I am out there where I belong, doing what I love. While this crazy hate filled world keeps spiraling into madness I am glad I have a passionate escape and a way to experience life.
Still, I am desperate for that amazing shot that makes my year, and slowly slipping into panic mode that it won’t happen.
Photo by Billie: