June 23: Fri - Day 1 - Travel Day:
June 24: Sat - Day 2 - Travel Day, BUST Day:
I had a three day training scheduled in Waterloo, Iowa on the 27, 28, & 29 of June and figured the central or northern plains area would be a good place to chase the weekend before and after if the set up was right. Prospects looked good for Supercell development on Saturday the 24th in Nebraska, so I slowly starting getting my things ready on Friday morning. Bill Reid indicated via cell phone that he was planning to chase. By 5:00 PM I was on the road! I drove 22 hours straight through to Hastings, NE (about 1350 miles), checking data several times on Saturday. Prospects looked good for western NE...that is right up until the time I reached Hastings!
I hooked up my dish at 4:30 PM and the only radar returns were in eastern CO, and they looked rather weak. Bill Reid was west of me near LBF and Martin Lisius was south of me near Concordia, KS. We were all heading to south central NE. I toyed with the idea of driving another 3 or 4 hours towards the borders of NE/KS/CO with the idea that storms may explode and move eastward, but I didn’t. I watched TWC and saw one nice cell moving across this region just after sunset and Bill was there to capture a nice light show. I fell asleep at 10:00 PM watching TWC with remote in hand and didn’t wake up until the next morning at 9:00 AM...the remote still in hand.
June 25: Sun - Day 3 - Eastern Nebraska Squall Line:
I drifted east towards INK (Lincoln) and kept my eye on some large anvils off to my north until about 1:30 CDT. There was a NE/SE oriented cold front moving down from my northwest, and storms were already forming in north central NE. As usual, the best chance for tornadoes would be early on with the first storms forming ahead of this boundary prior to multiple storms joining forces in a linear fashion. Best instabilities were south of the boundary with the best upper level support being to the north, so dynamics again were not in phase. NWS radio indicated that the storms to my north should be weakening, but the FROPA would generate severe storms by late afternoon. Then why were those storms looking stronger? I finally switched on AM 1110 from OMA and immediately heard about a tornado warning for both Wayne and Nance Counties just to my north. That's it!, I plotted an intercept straight north. I figured this was going to be the main event, and I could intercept the storm moving east at 30 MPH from Nance County somewhere between Wahoo and Fremont. North of Wahoo I could see a featureless and seemingly endless shelf cloud to my north with an intense blue/green rain band below lit up by an occasional CG. I wanted to get through Fremont and meet this line head on via Route 30 west, as the tornado warning (TVS) was still valid. The tornado sirens were going off as I went through Fremont, and of course I had to hit every stop light. NO ONE in this town had any sense of urgency!! Once north of town I blasted west towards the line, but never did see any rotation. I gave up the chase near North Bend. I was parked in the middle of some of the most intense CG activity I have ever encountered. Several times I was blinded by a nearby bolt as the exploding thunder crack rocked the truck. Afterwards I filmed some weak towers forming to my west behind the main squall line.
June 26: Mon - Day 4 - Travel Day:
There were no storms to chase today, so I had an easy 7 hour drive from Columbus, NE to Waterloo, IA. Time to get ready for my meeting.
June 27, 28: Tue, Wed - Day 5 & 6 - Training Meeting...No Chase.
June 29: Thu - Day 7 - Training to Chasing Day:
I left Waterloo, IA around 4:30 PM heading for Nebraska. Prior to my departure I noticed on WX-TAP that there was a rather large and impressive severe thunderstorm complex located over central NE and moving to the southeast towards Kansas. There were also a couple of smaller isolated cells forming over extreme northwestern Kansas, and one of these would soon be producing the “Byrd City Tornado”. I knew I could not make it to any of this activity, but I calculated that I might just be able to intercept the northern edge of that monster storm complex heading into northeast Kansas around sunset if I blasted west on I-80. I was able to do just that and I was not disappointed! I missed many good opportunities in the past by not getting off the interstate at the crucial time for capturing sunset views of storms, lessons learned. This time when I could see the distant mammatus and cloud structure taking on the first colors of the setting sun I immediately got off the interstate and onto a remote gravel road. The colors were incredible...purples, pinks, reds, and golds, all set against a deep blue sky and scattered low level black clouds. I had just 15 minutes to capture it all between 9:10 and 9:25 PM CDT. AND...I only had to drive a mere 295 miles today, a mere walk in the park.
June 30: Fri - Day 8 - North to North Dakota:
Today I was fairly certain I would head south towards east central Kansas. This would be an easy two or three hour drive and severe storms were likely to erupt in the juicy air left over from the previous nights convection. In fact, I could already see some mushy towers from on-going storms to my south as I left the motel. I wasn’t fully convinced that the atmosphere would have enough time to fully recover for late day storms, and the northern plains looked more promising for the next couple of days. I opted to make the long drive north to the Dakota’s. I was hopeful that one of the impulses in Canada might rotate south during the late afternoon which would help ignite storms across North Dakota. Data updates along the way kept me moving north along I-29.
By 6:00 PM I could see a large dome on a storm top located at least 100 miles to my east in MN. A severe warning was soon issued for this storm...it was located near International Falls, MN. Later, near sunset, there was a long line of storms to my north over the International Border in Canada, and these were slowly drifting to the southeast.
I set up to film the back edge of this line just 14 miles south of the border and again the colors were just awesome on the updraft towers. Yikes, it was almost 10:00 PM and the sun had just set! I headed back south 37 miles to Grafton for the night, and to grab a bite to eat. Just as I pulled out of the Hardees in Grafton, my pretty storm back to the north began to put on an incredible IC & CG display, and I could still see a glow above the storm! Okay, back north 37 miles and what a show along the way.
I set up my cameras and of course, the show immediately was over! And worse, I was getting eaten alive by millions...no, make that billions of mosquitoes or what ever the heck they were (bug repellent seemed to have little effect). No luck hiding in my truck either, the dome lights had drawn in thousands and the buzzing was deafening, it would take days to get rid of all these flying insects. Total distance for today at 635 + 74 miles. Tomorrow looked good for south-central or southeastern North Dakota (best moisture convergence and instabilities ahead of swd moving cold front), then maybe further west on Sunday.
July 1: Sat - Day 9 - ND Lightning!
My initial target was somewhere south of a line from JMS to FAR on south to the ND/SD border. A heavy cirrus shield and some elevated showers were saturating the northern skies of ND by 3:00 PM CDT. I checked data at 4:15 in Valley City where clearer skies prevailed, temp was 88 and the DP was 69! Radar images indicated storms were forming in southwestern ND and moving slowly to the northeast. Decision time again, do I stick with my forecast and head south on Rt. 281 towards the ND/SD and wait, or blast west and try for an intercept. I blasted west! By the time I got to BIS (Bismarck) I could see the storms off to my southwest and there was now a severe warning on two of these storms. Also, a SEV watch box had just been issued for the southwestern corner of ND including BIS! I was feeling pretty good about my decision.
Soon I was set up on a hill 20 miles west of Mandan and could see several rain shafts with imbedded CG’s off to my southwest. These storms did not appear severe, however they did put on a semi decent light show for about an hour. But what was that mass of convection back to my ESE!? I hooked up the dish and yes, there it was, a HUGE RED blob sitting in place on the ND/SD border straight south of JMS. What the HEY...that was my original target! Now it was after 8:00 PM and I didn’t have a prayer of getting to this storm until after dark, but I was going to try anyway. Near Steele (about 25 miles east of BIS) I became torn between the massive colorful towers to my east and the intensifying light show behind me to my west. I pulled off I-94 and filmed the last few minutes of the colorful towers, which now looked multi cellular, until their tops were hidden by the anvil from the storm behind me. Now it was time to re-position a few miles north for the approaching storm back to my west.
I set up my cameras and was already frustrated that I had missed several intense blue staccato bolts in a narrow dark rain shaft that was framed by a deep pink glow on one side and the golden glow of the setting sun shining through the opposite side. I was soon in business though, capturing my best (although few) CG’s to date with the most awesome colors in the background that I have ever seen. The bugs were still annoying, but this time I was wearing long pants and a long sleeve shirt along with gobs of bug repellent (but not DEET!). Everything was perfect except for this darn annoying barking dog that kept circling the area. It kept running around and around, back and forth, like a maniac barking every time it thundered and ruining my recorded thunder rumbles! Last night the bugs, tonight the dog....what’s next?! I got the last room available in BIS for the night in a high rise Holiday Inn with attached parking garage (had to strip all the antennae).
July 2: Sun - Day 10 - Montana: Big Skies, Big Storms!
woke up this morning I had two choices, head towards home and maybe catch up
with some severe storms in northern IA late in the day...or head in the opposite
direction for more isolated severe storms that should initiate in northeast
Montana. Of course, I headed to Montana. I liked the area between Williston, ND
and Glasgow, MT. There was good moisture pooling at the surface, strong
Insolation would aid in steep lapse rates, and helicity values indicated
Supercells were likely. Upper winds were strong out of the southwest, while
surface winds remained strong all day screaming in from the east.
I set up my cameras to capture some lightning just as a pronounced shelf cloud was taking shape. Soon this shelf cloud took on an awesome multi tiered laminar look and had several small needle shape funnels rotating around in its turbulent base. I had to blast back east quickly and soon had an even better view of this incredible shelf cloud. There was a large vaulted updraft base that raced ahead of the main shelf cloud to my southeast. This thing was HUGE and had a white/green swirled effect where the vault entered the mid level anvil area. While I was filming this feature the wx-radio issued a TOR warning for this storm! I had to head east again and began to get rocked by 70 MPH outflow winds and rain from the south. Dust plumes were racing across the eastern horizon while I was being attacked by tumbleweeds from the south.
July 3: Mon - Day 11 - Montana Again!
Well, I just could not ignore the potential for rotating storms
that had become apparent for Northeastern Montana and Northwestern ND for the
second day in a row, so I opted to stay one more day (I'll pay for this later
:-))! Hey, I was right there in Williston, ND 1800 miles from home...how often
will that happen?!
Again I targeted somewhere around Glasgow. Dewpoints were higher than Sunday, surface winds were even stronger and coming out of the ESE, and there was still a strong southwesterly flow aloft. I hung out just west of Glasgow for about 4 hours watching the skies and TWC in my truck and waiting. By early afternoon there were plenty of elevated towers going up in advance of the warm front. Once the front passed by to the northeast the skies cleared out and the ESE surface winds increased to 25 MPH with gusts to 33.
By mid afternoon a SEV watch box was issued for all of central MT...I knew the routine, the eastern counties would be next and I could already see the large anvil canopies streaming in from the west. Finally, at 6:00 PM MDT radar indicated it was time for me to get moving. There was a line moving in directly to my west, and a more isolated cell just south of that line (my pick) and a larger isolated cell southwest of Miles City (too far). I figured I could intercept my cell near Jordan in Garfield County, MT. I never quite made it to Jordan as the awesome shelf cloud from this storm was now merging with another ominous shelf cloud from the line of storms to my northwest. This cell had a severe warning and exhibited plenty of rotation beneath the shelf. I played cat and mouse with this storm for well over an hour on Route 200, which was the only way into and away from these storms.
During this time I could see that large cell south of Miles City with it's backsheared anvil and an overshooting dome. I got plenty of great photo ops for shelf cloud structure, outflow dust plumes, and even a brief gustnado. I also got to chat with Dave Hoadley two more times. Dave ran over to me with the his camera running and immediately asked "I thought you were going home today?" I'm not certain why these storms didn't rotate or why they formed into lines so quickly, but I still had another great chase day in Montana! The eastern Dakota's look good for Independence Day...but I really DO have to get home!
July 4, 5: Tue & Wed - Day's 11 & 12 - Marathon Run Home:
Well, I now know it is 1860 miles from Glendive, Montana to Bernville, Pennsylvania (or visa versa) and that the driving time is just over 29 hours if you drive straight through and only stop for gas, snacks, and use of the "facilities". Oh, and a one hour nap is included! Yes, unbelievable that is what I just did...shattering my previous long distance record of 1350 miles in 24 hours just 10 days earlier! I really had no other choice if I wanted that extra chase day in Montana, and BOY am I glad I did, Montana storms are truly awesome!
The Dakota's and Montana seem to offer so much more than is "advertised" to the chaser that I'm surprised many haven't talked about this...in fact I kind of hope it stays that way. My last few days in this region will long be remembered. The incredible beauty of the landscape and the storms that form there are, in my opinion, second to no where else on the Plains. Additionally, the solitude of this region makes the overall storm experience even more enjoyable. Perhaps I was just lucky, but in my short visit I witnessed one of my most colorful sunset/lightning displays ever and the most fantastic shelf cloud structure I had ever seen (first hand or video)...not on one day, but on two consecutive days! Maybe I should become a hard core Northern Plains Chaser!