March 22nd Iowa Tornado and Hail

Feb 21, 2012

The Iowa curse is broken…or is it?

Summary:

First chase of the year in Iowa was a difficult one. Intercepted a pair of tornado warned supercells with a barrage of hail, some grungy HP structure and a tornado which I failed to document.

Stats:

Tornadoes: 1 [nothing to be proud of though.]

Hail: 1.25″ [Half dollar size]

Wind: est 45mph thunderstorm gust.

Firsts: First Iowa tornado. First March tornado. First tornado on a first chase of the season. First fail documenting a first tornado on the first chase of the season.
Do I still hate Iowa? Yes.
Detailed Account:
March 22nd. The latest I have ever set out on the first chase of the season. I was dying to get out there. Amidst pessimism and even criticism for wanting to chase the day, I knew it had the potential. I wasn’t too thrilled about targeting Iowa as it seems to have this curse about it that anyone who has been involved with chasing for more than 2 years knows but alas, everything seemed to be coming together for at least some good supercells. Lack of quality moisture was the main concern as well as an EML moving in from the west. Still though, no setup is perfect. Another reason I was dying to get out was I needed to put my new data setup to the test. I have dumped AT&T and switched over to Millenicom, which offers a great plan on Verizon’s network for cheap. I had to reconfigure everything and get a USB hub to acocunt for the new modem. PLUS my stream camera stopped outputting via USB so I have to now use the A/V out option with EasyCAP. Needless to say, this new setup is a nightmare of cords.
Despite how ugly it looks it all managed to function great. Other than a couple quirks that were easily fixed, I had data the entire time and streamed the entire chase. Hoping it works this well for the remainder of the season. Anyways back to the chase.
I had an initial target of Red Oak in mind, but en route storms had initiated in NC Kansas and were quickly moving my direction, so I decided to meet up with everyone in Nebraska City. Upon arrival I was greeted with 80 degree temps, brisk southerly winds and a storm blowing up in the distance. It was at that moment I realized how much I missed doing this.
The surface ob showed a disgusting 82/49 reading. No way were we going to get a tornado out of that. I debated about core punching then but decided to sit and let the storm come to me. Conditions further east were better for tornadoes at 72/55 plus I would have been hindered by the river crossing if I attempted to chase this into Nebraska. So I held my ground and watched the storm come in with everyone else. Radar Image showing storm and my position.
Us in the parking lot watching the storm.

As it got closer it had a decent and photogenic appearance, with some mammatus as well.

As it was getting ready to cross the river into Iowa I made my move. Given the large temp/dewpoint spread this thing was indeed high based. No tornado was going to come out of this but I was now on a large hail mission to put the guards to the test.
Not bad looking, too bad it had gone outflow dominant by now. Core punching dealt some small hail that covered the ground and some intense winds that sent leaves and sticks flying about.
By now a whole string of storms had begun developing. I had been keeping pace with the north storm on rt 34 as I approached Red Oak, but when I got to the main intersection after battling slow moving traffic, 2 wide load semis turned down ahead of me. Deciding those would greatly slow me down I darted north and figured I would take a better east option. A storm had blown up heading towards Creston and that was the storm I wanted to be on but was almost due north of it. My plan was to try and blast east far enough to drop down south without getting stuck on the backside of it, where normally you cannot see any tornadoes. The developing storm to my south.
Doing so I kept ahead of the storm I was already on, which was very scuddy and HP. I had to come up from behind at first.
I did get through the core and ahead of it though, the core brought on an intense barrage of hail up to half dollar size. I shot some brief video of that and kept heading east as fast I could. Storm speeds were 65mph meaning I had little time to stop and look. I kept looking in my mirrors and seeing pointy lowerings, even stopping out to take a brief look when one was very suspicious looking, but my plan was still to get to the southern storm. It turns out one of those suspicious, pointy, scuddy lowerings was in fact a confirmed tornado and I had failed to document it. The reports were coming in at the time but I was not sold, though my radar position showed me in the hook and the location was right where I was.
I was trying to get to Winterset to drop south, hoping the storm would wait for me. I didn’t want to drop south sooner given the 65mph storm motions and end up on the back side. It turns out the storm didn’t wait for me and produced a highly photogenic, snakey tornado. To add insult to injury, in a rare twist it was highly visible from the back side. The reports exploded on my Gr3 and my heart sunk into my stomach. If only I had kept east on 34 and those damn semis not turned infront of me. If only I had risked dropping south sooner and ended up on the back side. If only I had filmed the tornadoes where I was at. Oh well…
By the time I caught the storm there was nothing left but a big clear slot, and it didn’t want to wrap up just one more time for me. The chase was over as storms began to line out.
I pulled over to do a quick video edit, if I could at least make a sale to recoup the cost I would feel better. Luckily I was able to thanks to my wonderful broker, so I still left for home a happy man. A look at some nice anvils as I chopped video.
Here is the video for the day. At the end you can see a pointy scud-nado on the southern storms.
Conclusion:
Missing the main tornado always stings, but failing to document the one you DID see stings even more. Other than that it was a fun chase that kept me on the move. It was a difficult chase given storm speeds. Selling the video to recoup the cost saved the day from being a total failure and overall it really was a good way to kick off a new season, the best I have had so far. The “technical” nature of seeing one of the tornadoes set a few new personal milestones, but the fact I didn’t document for rock solid confirmation still leaves me feeling like I came away empty handed. It felt great to be out there again though, especially since we are about to enter a relatively boring pattern and I had to get out there while there was a chance.
Map:
SPC Storm reports:
The season has begun!!!

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