May 11th 2014 Sutton to Cordova Nebraska HP Monster

May 13, 2014

Summary:

Tracked monster HP supercell for a few hours across southern Nebraska witnessing a number of low contrast, brief tornadoes ranging in size. Tangoed in the bears cage getting clipped with strong inflow winds.

Stats:

Tornadoes: 6 (preliminary count – could change!)
Hail: 1.00″ (quarter)
Wind: est 80mph inflow winds.

The Forecast:

Slow moving trough across central plains/midwest. Rich, deep moisture pooling south of sluggish warm front draped across the KS/NE border into Illinois. Surface low forecast to develop and lift warm front into Nebraska along with favorable airmass ripe with instability and little capping. Mid level shear was a bit on the weak side, and mostly parallel to the approaching cold front. This made storm mode a concern, but with an outflow boundary also draped across the area it seemed likely that any storm that would initiate and utilize it would be capable of strong tornadoes. Given the mediocre shear and very moist low levels, it appeared storms would be HP in nature. SPC began the day with high end SLGT risk tornado probs, but upgraded to MDT risk once storms were initiating.

Detailed Account:

This was a pretty ill timed event for me. For the first time since I began chasing I had a family obligation I could not miss no matter how big a setup would prevent itself. The day before, May 10th, my cousin was getting married. We have been more than cousins and basically best friends our whole lives and I was standing up in the wedding and there was no way I was going to miss it. So when the GFS began showing a couple chase days during the time frame that panic set in, being such a slow, dismal year for tornadoes its hard to think about potentially missing some. The forecast for this day was iffy from the start, and me being busy with wedding stuff I had little time to follow it. However, Joe and I came up with a plan that if he thought it looked good he would pick me up from the reception hotel and drive my truck if need be while I recovered from the nights partying.

That is exactly what happened. He scooped me up around 6am. My head was spinning, I probably couldn’t even walk straight, but we stopped at my house, picked up all my gear and we were off. After some cat naps and a few leftover pain meds from oral surgery, I felt 100% better by about 10am and my game face was back on. We were making good time, but I was nervous we would have a just in time arrival especially if storms initatied a bit sooner than expected…and sure enough, that is exactly what happened. We were hoping for a 4-5pm initation, but instead we got a 245-3pm initiation. The storm initially going up north of the juicy boundary and a bit further west than expected (always happens in a NE setup!!)

We got onto the storm after the first couple tornado reports came in, but it appeared the storm would latch on to this boundary and track along it. As we approached it we realized it infact was a giant HP mess. We had a difficult chase ahead of us.

We were south of Sutton at this point getting into our first position. We noted a “hard left edge” sticking out of the rain from afar. It could have been a wedge, but I hate jumping to conclusions from a distance. We would later learn that in fact a large wedge did occur there.

We turned north to get into the notch but the rear flank gust front was rapidly approaching with multiple gustnadoes and lots of ground circulations evident. Not 100% confident these weren’t tornadic we aborted that plan to blast back east and get more ahead of the storm before turning north again. As we turned back north we got overtaken by gustnado that sent corn stalks and dirt whirling around the vehicle. As we continued stair stepping north and east we witnessed a column of dust that was being sucked straight up from the ground. A lowering then appeared above it. There wasn’t much if any rotation with this and instead it was the most insane rising motion I have ever witnessed. We dubbed this the “vaccum-nado” and I am still not sure what to make of it. A pic of Joe (still piloting my truck) and this interesting feature.

Now we are getting into the notch, just outside the bears cage. Heading north yet another area of rotation with a faint brown dust cloud under it was observed. At this point, it was the most confident thing we saw in terms of an actual tornado. The feature didn’t last long, but it was close. I should have filmed it with my video camera instead of attempting stills while moving at a high rate of speed because I am still learning my new camera and they (as well as most of the photos from this chase) turned out blury, but you can make out the features below.

Repositioning in the notch. The storm was a pure evil HP machine with some very dark black/green skies.

It was hard to decide whether or not to pursue this plan of attack or take the safer options to the south, but we pressed on. The skies turning black as night and the clouds churning so low overhead I thought I could reach up and grab them. It was a little nerve racking especially to see all other chasers bailing the other direction and no traffic in sight. It felt like we were all alone with this monster and it was us VS it. We were playing in the “Bears Cage” of a giant HP supercell, the riskiest storm chasing there is. Heading east on Denton Rdout of McCool Junction (where another reported tornado was) looking south towards Cordova, we spotted what certainly looked like a wedge, but it was still at the distance I dont feel comfortable calling it at the time. Situations like this with extremely low bases can play tricks with you when hills are involved. This was later reported and confirmed as another large tornado that did damage. Our 3rd of the day. Here is a video capture.

This tornado, like all of them, was only briefly condensed, but the large area of rotation persisted and began to approach as we continued east. We finally ran into other chasers, and it was Reed Timmer and his Dominators. It made me a bit nervous to see them sitting there appearing to be launghing probes. They have a vehicle built for that type of intense chasing, I dont. The circulation was occluding and swinging back northwest as occlusions do. We stopped as it was passing behind us and Joe spotted a brief rope tornado (#4) nearby out the window while I was watching a new area of interest to try and determine what was going on. I turned around to catch a brief glimpse but was unable to document it. I had him point the truck north so we could see without lookin over our shoulders and we noticed an area of spiraling rain bands to our northwest where this occlusion was taking place. Little vortices whirled up in the field as the bands swirled about (#5 – we think). Suddenly it appeared this was heading directly towards us as I suspect a new RFD surge was pushing it southeast. It was time to bail east. The weak, dying circulation overtook us and we were blasted with severe winds but we emerged unscathed.

A new tornado was forming to our south (#6), and we were starting to feel battered from our tango in the bears cage so we just kept pressing east. Here is another blury photo of this bowl shaped tornado.

This new tornado ended up passing behind us. An inflow jet ramped up dramatically overhead and almost pushed us off the road. Telephone poles (fortunately on the other side) began crashing down in the severe winds. Other chasers weren’t so fortunate though and had similar close calls on different roads. A tour company also had an irrigation system tipped over into their van, but luckily there were no injuries for any of the incidents. This was an example of how fast the environment changes when positioning this way. Since all we were getting were brief, low contrast views of tornadoes we decided to blast out of there and view the overal structure and let the storm approach us.

Well ahead of the storm now and on the outskirts of Lincoln, we were now viewing the beast in whole. It was the awesome mean, green HP structure I love. I wish I would have been paying attention to my camera settings because the pictures could have been amazing. Instead theyre all just a blurry documentation, as if I was still drunk from the night before. Tornadoes were still being reported during this time, but much like the evidence I have presented, theyre all just blury, brief “left edge” type pictures. At this point I was fine just staying ahead and viewing the structure.

By now it was nearing 7pm, the dominant supercell we had been chasing for nearly 4 hours was starting to congeal with a line of storms forming behind it and heading into the Omaha metro area. At this point we decided to call the chase and make our way home, stopping for food at a Perkins in Council Bluffs, IA. The line overtook us while eating and dealt the area quite a blow, with all the power going out except at our restaraunt. I was starving and very thankful for that. We arrived back at the hotel where Joe had dropped his car off around 5am, and that was all she wrote.

Conclusion:

Bittersweet thoughts on this day. The sweet was it was awesome to be on an actual chase again, with a dominant supercell ongoing for a few hours providing many opportunities to witness and document extreme weather. The bitter is the fact that while we can boast 6 tornadoes from the day, there is still very little show for them, and I hate days like that. The ultimate goal is quality tornado video, and in that aspect this day came up way short. A couple out of at least 100 chasers did manage some clear views of brief tornadoes, and part of me wonders just how in the hell they managed those positions. Part of me thinks it was dumb luck with how random and fast this storm was spitting out random brief tornadoes all over the place. I feel silly counting 6, but despite that, if I wanted to count things like the vacuum-nado, or the reported “left edge wedge” near lincoln as well as several other gusnato type spinups that count can just go higher and higher. So I will stick with what I know.

This is probably my best chase of the year though, and it overal met expectations and played out how I thought it would. 2014 is still a year I despise though, and I still long for that chase to turn this dismal year around.

Video:

Map. Click for full res.

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