May 30th Nebraska Large Hail and Gustnado

Feb 26, 2012

Gust, dust, bust!

Summary:
Intercepted best isolated supercell to be had on a day that saw storms quickly line out. Noted several gustnadoes and some rotating cloud bases and then very large hail in storm. Sampled several hail cores before calling chase and heading home.
Stats:
Tornadoes: 0
Gustnadoes: 2
Hail: 3.00″ [tea cup]
Wind: est 65mph gustnado gust.
Detailed Account:
I debated for awhile on chasing this setup. The forecast called for a very quick transition to a linear storm mode but I saw some potential for a tornado near the surface low originally forecast to be along the SD/ND border. I decided to pull the trigger knowing I would beat myself up if I missed something up in that gorgeous terrain. I set out again with Jonathan Williamson where we drove out to Rochester, MN for the night. The plan was to leave early and finish the drive as the setup also looked like it would have late initiation. We arrived at our hotel and I began to look over new data and quickly realized we had made a mistake and that the main play would now be in central Nebraska. Slightly disgusted by the late game plan change we went to sleep, awoke and made the change.
Our timing was good as by the time we got down there storms began to initiate which meant we wouldn’t have to be sitting around and waiting. Things took a turn for the worse when we stopped to top off the gas tank. Surface flow was pretty strong around 25-30kts and when Jon opened the door a gust of wind flung it open, bending it backwards and causing the door to mis-align. It now catches the fender and makes a loud pop noise when opened. It took every ounce of willpower in my body to not go on a rampage and destroy everything in sight but alas, its just one of those things that happens.
My mood was ruined though, and at that point I honestly didnt care or even pay attention to the storms. They indeed had gone linear in a hurry but there were 2 closely embedded supercells heading for our general area so I just positioned ourselves to let them come to us. The area we were in was severely lacking any decent roads to plan a close intercept. I searched the map as hard as I could and found none. I got into good position early as shown in the radar image below.
I fired up the stream and let the storm approach. The structure was surprisingly good and I could see an obvious inflow tail feeding into an area that met with an RFD clear slot. Rotation was very evident and I thought maybe it would happen.
The inflow however was a bit chilly and I began to realize we probably wouldn’t get a good tornado out of this. Still though, the area of rotation was quite pronounced as it passed just to our south.
We moved to stay ahead of the storm and thats when dust began being kicked up under the base. Nothing more than a gustnado, but reported as a tornado. Not wanting to waste time with gustnadoes and miss a potential significant tornado like in Mapleton, IA I took us north to the nearby town of Atkinson. While in town I notice large white things rolling across the street, at first we thought this was debris blowing in the wind but it soon became obvious these were massive hailstones. A loud thud [and a new trophy dent] confirmed this. I quickly pulled over. I was excited to finally test out the hail guards and get some massive hail video but sure enough the moment I turned on my camera it stopped. The hail was indeed very large, over 3 inches, but fell for only a brief moment at our location. We drove back through town where the brunt of the hail occurred and noted very large stones laying about.
The storm had now moved on to where we couldn’t get back ahead of it, and a whole train of linear storms behind it looked to move over the same area so I decided to sample hail cores the rest of the day. Most chasers stayed ahead of the storms and noted more gustnadoes and a possible landspout but I was not concerned with any of that. I was looking for large hail. In hindsight I probably should have kept ahead of the storms in case an actual decent tornado happened, but whatever. I was not sold on any of the linear blobs producing anything meaningful, and I wanted to test my guards.
As we observed more of the storms we did note lots of chaotic motion, and at one point some very convincing scud funnel type touchdowns, but nothing I am willing to definitively call a tornado.
Jons video sums the events up nicely.

Once we had our fill and all the storms transformed into a non severe squall line we called the chase and turned around for home. I was in a bit better mood the chase turned out better than expected with the good rotation and the very large hail. A call from my broker informing me of a very generous payment from National Geographic for use of my footage in a recent documentary completely turned my frown upside down. I drove us straight home and was in Chicago by 7am ready for sleep.
Conclusion:

A good chase. Gustnado action and very large hail along with mean supercell structure can justify any chase. Gustnadoes were the name of the game today and no good looking tornadoes ever came of it. My stream managed a high number of viewers which also netted me some good change as well as setting a new personal record for most consecutive viewers at once, topping out around 610 at once. We did miss some better gustnado action further down the line, but nothing worth getting upset over.

Map, red circle is where we encountered the gustnado, green circle is where we encountered the very large hail:
SPC Storm Reports, the red should really mean gustnado instead of tornado.

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