Nebraska Storm Chase and Tornadoes June 14th 2014

Jun 22, 2014

Summary:

Intercepted several storms catching far away glimpse of landspout tornado as well as a pair of after-dark tornadoes. Saw some decent structure along the way as numerous storms went up in south central Nebraska.

Stats:

Tornadoes: 3
Hail: 1.25″ (Half dollar)
Wind: n/a

The Forecast: 

Ample instability under moderate capping ahead of surface triple point. Forecast concerns were that surging cold front along with weak mid level flow would undercut storms before they had a chance to move off the boundary and utilize beautiful directional shear in the unstable warm sector, especially as a developing surface low was forecast to deepen and further enhance these parameters. If storms could move into this environment, tornadoes seemed a good bet. Dryline was also pretty diffuse, with the best moisture being disjointed east of the greater forcing. Setup overall looked sloppy, but given the favorable directional shear and instability, its the type of setup you chase in June. SPC went high end SLGT for tornado probs, but MDT risk for large hail/damaging winds.

Detailed Account:

I had originally written this day off in my mind, thinking it would be a cap bust since the models were originally showing that, but as the event approached that became less of a concern. None of my usual partners seemed to be down for the chase, so I was prepared for my first solo adventure in awhile, but at the last second I roped in Danny Neal, who was short on funds but I offered to loan him what he needed and just be paid back later. Lorraine Mahoney also wanted to tag along, but both he and her had commitments for Monday, and Monday was on my radar so I had her follow us out in her car so they could head back home and I could continue on should I choose to do so.

I had to begin the trip by breaking into Danny’s house to get his camera, since he was currently at a friends house and left it back there. Luckily the cops didnt get called on me as Im sure any neighbor seeing a guy climbing through a back window of a house at 3am would have assumed suspicion. Finally hitting the road around 4am we made good time to the usual target area in South Central Nebraska, an area I am sick of targeting by now, but thats where all the setups seem to be coming together this year. We stopped at a Pizza Hut for lunch that had pretty awful service, and Im not even sure the pizza was made with dough, but instead paper. Stephen Jones and Kim Howell joined us at our location as we awaited for signs of life from the atmosphere. Finally those signs came as the first storms of the day began going up nearly overhead.

We stayed in pursuit of these storms, but the cold front was indeed surging south and overtaking the boundary that fired them. We stayed with them for a little while but it became apparent they would soon be undercut and displayed pretty linear base structure. These were not going to do it, but were the only game in town minus a storm way south in Northern Kansas that had a reported landspout tornado.

Stephen and Kim raced off after the Kansas storm and we hung back a little while longer pondering our next move. New storms were going up so we wanted to see if any of them held potential, but it appeared they would all suffer the same fate. We too decided to start heading south towards the Kansas storm, which was coming our direction but had no new tornado potential. It likely stood the best chance though, and we could sample new storms on our way. En route, colliding outflow boundaries caused a storm complex to explode to our west. Danny and Lorraine wanted to attempt lightning shots. I was hesitant to pull over because I would rather make for tail end charlie storm that stands the best chance at producing a tornado as opposed to wasting time taking dime a dozen lightning photos, but I ablidged since I could at least pick their brains about camera settings (since Im still learning my new DSLR) and get some practice in.

The storms were pretty to look at though and I did manage some neat photos, so it wasn’t a total loss, and tail end charlie still wasn’t producing any new tornadoes, but I kept a close eye on the radar the whole time.

Suddenly, Danny and I noticed this odd highlight way back in the rain. Puzzled, we wondered what that was. It definitely stood out in the rain and didnt look like a C-ray. I made a joke that it was a distant landspout tornado. It turns out, IT WAS. Later pictures and storm reports confirmed this for us. It was also extremely photogenic for those who were closer to it. Though we weren’t totally convinced at the time becuase we were so far away, we were looking at a tornado that occured near the town of Wilcox. You can barely see it in my wide angle shot, but its there.

Danny, who was using a zoom lense, was able to better pick it up in his shot.

The storm coming out Kansas began showing a hook echo on radar, and I made them jump back in the truck to get in position. On our way we witnessed a pretty neat rainbow on the backside of a departing storm. The broken rays beneath it made for a really neat picture. One I may put up for sale once I clean it up a bit.

Our new storm’s hook echo was short lived, and appeared to be in a weakening state, so we found a hill with a view and decided to let it core us before getting a view of the base. We found a hill, and endured the hail barrage, which was pretty short lived and only dealt Half Dollar size hail at largest.  Radar Image.

The storms base came into view as a flat, rounded mothership, which was really neat.

The adjacent domdraft structure was ragged and evil looking, which provided some neat views as well. I attempted a pano, but forgot to change my settings from lightning shots and most of the shots were too blury to work with. I still need to get faster at switching settings mid-chase. This was the only in-focus one I was able to pull off.

Ben Holcomb, Jeff Duda, Rachel Sager, Andrew Newcomb and Robin Lorenson joined us on our hilltop and we shared a chat under the storm for about 20 minutes as it began to slip away and further weaken, the once giant motherships slowly shrinking into nothing.

We deemed the chase pretty much over at this point, said our goodbyes and parted ways. New development was occuring to the west, and now I was game for some lightning shots since it seemed like the tornado threat was zero. We found a spot near the Hastings, NE weather radar where we were assaulted by vicious mosquitos and shot some lightning for the next 30 minutes or so. The storm was encountering a boundary and starting to display some pretty textbook structure that we could pick up in between the flashes.

I was starting to wonder if I made a mistake letting the storm slip away when sure enough a new tornado warning comes out along with impressive radar signatures. Son of a…While attempting to gain ground on the storm, it happened. In between flashes of lightning a trunk tornado touched down. Again I was ordered to stop, but kept going since it seems I keep getting burned everytime I stop. Unfortunately my decision to keep us going found us in a brief area of bad terrain (of course) and it was hard to even pull a decent video still of this tornado. While moving north we noticed another skinny funnel looking thing to the left of where the first tornado was. Chasers who were closer were able to snag pictures of this thin, snakey rope tornado as confirmation of our 3rd for the day.

After following the storms a little while we finally called the chase and made our way to York, NE for the night. There we found a room at the Motel 6 just as an incredible straight line wind event impacted the area. 60-70mph winds slammed the area for about an hour straight. The power in the hotel ended up going out and we spent the night in the dark. The last time I spent the night in a dark hotel on a chase was April 4th 2010.

Conclusion:

I was pleased with the way this chase turned out. It was pretty much what I expected so there were no major letdowns. I need to not let storms slip away from me though. Lightning shots can wait, especially since I have non tornadic storms all summer in which to photograph lightning. The tornadoes we caught were far away and after dark, so they do little to cure my need for something incredible  and do nothing more than up my official life tally. I really need something amazing this year, or is going to be rough off-season plauged by SDS. Monday has potential, and little did I know just how incredible this chase would turn out…

Map: Red star/arrow shows location and viewing point of landspout tornado. Green star/arrow shows location and viewing point of night time tornadoes. Click for full view.

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