Pilger Nebraska Twin EF-4 Tornadoes June 16th 2014

Jul 16, 2014

Summary:

Witnessed the most incredible single tornadic event in my chase career. Two violent tornadoes churning side by side for 20+ minutes. Also witnessed several other tornadoes in what will undoubtedly be THE chase of 2014.

Stats:
Tornadoes: 5 +2 maybe’s
Hail: 1.00″ (quarter)
Wind: est 55-60mph RFD
Milestone: Most violent tornadoes witnessed in a single chase.

The Forecast:

Strong instability, insane speed and directional shear especially for Mid June. Just the right amount of capping. Today actually looked like it had big potential. The only concerns were lingering convection and lack of larger scale forcing. Otherwise, it looked like a classic June tornado setup in the Central/Northern plains. SPC Began the day with 10% tornado probs, but upgraded to MDT risk probs along with a PDS tornado watch once it became clear all the ingredients were coming together for something big.

Detailed Account:

After a hectic previous day driving back and forth across all of Iowa, we (Danny and I) met up with Stephen Jones and Kim Howell at their hotel in North Sioux City, SD to be in position for what looked like a potential big day, but the pessimism from it still being 2014 lingered in all our minds. I have chased this state over and over and over again and was starting to get sick of it. What was going to ruin today? More surging outflow boundaries, a stronger cap than forecast, dewpoints mixing out? After enduring some severe morning storms, we grabbed brunch at a nearby Perkins and met up with several other chasers including Jonathan Williamson and Aaron Rigsby to share thoughts on the day.

The forecast looked like it was coming together nicely with the early storms departing, ample clearing to the south and rapidly recovering atmosphere loaded with rich moisture and strong flow. The wind outside was howling, the air was sticky, juicy, somewhat hazy with low level clouds screaming out of the south. For the first time all season, it really felt like a chase day. A few tiny blips went up on radar in Central Nebraska that grabbed our attention, and knowing the environment they were heading into, it was time to make our move. En route the PDS tornado watch went up and Danny commented how the radar presentation looked eerily similar to the El Reno day last year with 3 distinct, sickle shaped cores nestled closely together. Visually, it looked like one solid atomic bomb updraft as we approached. (Danny’s photo posted to facebook)

The storm began to rapidly intensify on radar, and soon a tornado warning with a reported large tornado came in. It was time to floor it and fast. A river cut off many of our east options and the ideal approach so we briefly debated on going south first, then west, or west first, then south. I chose to go south first then west which took us through the tiny town of Pilger (remember that name.) Heading west out of town the business area of the storm was beginning to come into view. We were now being blasted by what is, without a doubt, the most intense lightning onslaught I have ever experienced. For the first time in my entire chasing career, the lightning made me nervous, and I was INSIDE the vehicle. It was like every 2 seconds someone snapped their fingers and a bolt of lightning would zap infront of us at very close range, such as this one.

I’ve experienced similar, but less intense type of lightning before, especially during this time of year, and in most cases, tornadoes followed. Sure enough, through the rain we caught a glimpse of what I believed was a tornado.

It was low contrast due to our position, but this in fact was the Stanton, NE EF-4 tornado. Our first of the day. The tornado would soon dissipate as we continued our approach. Suddenly we were dealt a strong north wind and right away we knew that meso was occluding a new one would be forming to our south, east or even overhead. We quickly turned back east, now on the main highway (275.) It wouldn’t take long for a pronounced lowering to develop. “Thats going to be a tornado” Danny exclaimed, and sure enough, only a few seconds after that statement the dust cloud appeared on the ground. I quickly stopped to film the developing tornado, which displayed chaotic verticle and horizontal motions. With this kind of chaos in the developing stages, I knew something big was about to get underway.

We watched the tornado for a few moments. Finally, something of QUALITY in this dreadful season. It appeared the tornado would move ahead of us to the east so I moved us in for a closer look. This part of Nebraska is quite hilly so finding one was a bit difficult at first, and during our re-positioning the tornado fully condensed as a stout cone. Finally I noted a road with a high elevation that allowed for a clear view. I pulled us down this road and watched the show…and little did I know just what this show had in store. The contrast improved as we were well entrenched within the hook and we had an awesome view of a strong tornado churning through the Nebraska hillside.

As if that wasn’t amazing enough, a satellite tornado formed.

Rain from the RFD began to overtake, and normaly this is a cue for me to move, but I was so entranced by what I was seeing I didn’t want to give up my seat, especially for the first truly awesome tornado of 2014. I didn’t want to miss recording another second of it. We continued to watch the 2 tornadoes when suddenly the tornado began roaring loudly “Huh, thats odd, Ive heard that roar before” I thought, then there was a powerflash, and a piece of debris, then a larger piece of debris, then a whole bunch of large debris chunks being hurled through the air. The town of Pilger, NE was taking a direct hit. The town we drove through not more than 20 minutes ago. We watched from our hilltop view as the tornado moved through the town.  You can see the town’s water tower in the foreground.

The tornado finished its rampage and began to move on. I was ready to move on as well, but suddenly, something new happened. What I thought was a simple satellite tornado (pictured below) that had merely been a funnel with debris whirl under it, suddenly condensed (2 pictures below.) This was not a satellite tornado, but a seperate, meso-cyclonic tornado on the same storm. Twins were now underway…

...and not just twins as in two tornadoes on the ground at the same time. Twins as in two, seperate, identical violent tornadoes, churning side by side. I have seen 2, even 3 tornadoes on the ground numerous times, but never like this. Other instanced were always a rope satellite around a larger tornado, one tornado forming just as another finishes dissipating, and even 2 tornadoes some 30 miles apart on seperate storms, but never, have I seen, or thought I would ever see two stout, long lived, side by side tornadoes like this. Incredibly, BOTH of these tornadoes were rated EF-4. Not only twin tornadoes, but twin VIOLENT tornadoes. Jaw dropping is the only way to describe this site. I couldn’t believe it, in this AWFUL and MISERABLE chase season none-the-less.

I had to gather my emotions and get back on the pursuit as the tornadoes moved on. The first tornado dissipated and the second (the tornado on the right in the above image) took over as the main show and grew into a violent, large cone. As we regained ground I could see how fast this beast was churning.

We began to run into other chasers at this point, and the roads were starting to get a bit clogged. While trying to move north we came across a police roadblock just as a new tornado touched down (from the old circulation.) Now as if two twin trunk tornadoes wasn’t amazing enough, we now had what appeared to be twin wedges on the ground. Is this real life?

The Classic Photo:

You’ve all probably seen this photo before.

This is from the “Palm Sunday Outbreak.” A large tornado outbreak that struck Illinois, Indiana, and other parts of the midwest on April 11-12th 1965. This photo shows what appears to be a “double tornado” that struck the midland trailer park in Indiana, killing 14 people. There was much speculation regarding this photo that it was altered, or this was one tornado with different sub-vortices (multi-vortex.) I’ve spent a lot of time in the weather community, and as far as I know, noone, including myself ever knew of another similar image.

Until June 16th 2014…

Back on the chase…the tornadoes continued to move on, with us beginning to struggle to keep pace after falling behind. We now came across the damage path. One of the eeriest things to witness is a fresh damage path with the tornado still looming in the distance. To me, it really gives the tornado an evil, dark personality, as if to say “Ha, look what I just did, bye!”

Once we found a north road that wasn’t blocked by police or damage, we were able to gain some ground. A new surge of RFD began to overtake the tornadoes and they appeared to merge into one before fully vanishing in the rain. The show wasn’t done though. A new lowering was just off to the east, and much like before, it did not take long for this new lowering to become a new tornado. We pulled over to watch the new tornado develop. I decided at this point to attempt some still pictures and put the video camera down, but just as I was doing so. ANOTHER tornado popped out of the rain. It was a thin rope, almost looking like a landspout. I thought it was the rope out of the previous tornado/es but the general consensus is that this was a seperate satellite tornado.

It was being drawn towards its larger counterpart to the east, and grew wider. Our view of the event was spectacular and the images don’t even look real.

The smaller tornado whipped around the larger tornado…

..and appeared to get absorbed into it. We decided to reposition just as the main tornado, morped from a bowly-multi vortext type tornado to a more wedge-like strcuture. Its almost like it get an energy boost from “eating” the smaller tornado.

This tornado wound up to become ANOTHER EF-4 tornado that struck near the town of Wakefield. We follwed it for as long as we could before losing sight of it in the rain. The storm began to weaken and I pulled over to get ahold of myself and watch it slip away. It was nearing Sioux City area, and luckily rapidly weakened or it could have been a major disaster in a large metropolitan area. The chase was over. We decided to meet up with Matthew Cumberland for celebratory dinner at Famous Daves. After dinner, a rotating rain shower went up directly outside. For a tiny rain shower, this thing displayed rapid rotation and true supercell structure. It reminded me of April 27th 2011, where even the wimpiest of rain showers were rotating. Thats how off the charts the parameters were today, but only in such a small area. The shower quickly died. NOW it was over. We roomed up in a nearby hotel, and shot some lightning as more storms passed overhead throughout the night.

Conclusion:

Every cliche word in the book can be used to describe today. Unbelievable, epic, insane…but they all apply. The Pilger twins are without a doubt the most incredible thing I have witnessed in my chasing career. I am not sure how it can be topped, but I look forward to the day something does. Sadly, the town was devastated and a 5 year old girl lost her life, that takes some of the joy out of marveling over the event, but from a meteorological, and chase perspective there is no way I can’t marvel at what I witnessed this day. Top chase #3 for sure. The only reason it does not surpass Bowdle (5-22-10) and Albert Lea (6-17-10) is both those days had higher tornado counts, as well as multiple instances of more than one tornado on the ground on the same time (but not like this!!!) 4 of the tornadoes we witnessed were EF-4 which puts them in the violent category. That is the most violent tornadoes I have seen in a single chase.

As far as the chasing side of the day, I probably could have played it more agressively like I normally do and obtained some even better shots, but in a year that was going as awful as 2014 I just wanted quality shots period. I tend to do that on the first quality tornado day of any season, once I get the shots out of the way, I can then get more agressive, but will this year give me a chance to do so?

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