2001 Chase Summaries

June 28 - July 9:  Trip Two

Brian & Nancy Morganti

JUN 28:    Thu – Day 1 - Travel Day:   

Severe Storms were occurring in Montana and the western Dakotas as we departed from home at 6:00 PM EDT.  This would be the pattern for at least the next few days, so every hour counted if we were to be in position for any storms that formed later on Saturday.  The thermometer read 92 degrees and the odometer read 172,465 as we pulled out of the driveway.  The night was spent in Elyria, Ohio after driving the first 380 miles. 

JUN 29:     Fri – Day 2 - Travel Day:     

Severe Storms were again forecast for our target region in western NE northward to eastern MT, but again there would be no chance of getting that far west before dark.  However, this same region looked good for the next several days, so the plan was to continue as far west as possible so that storm interception could be possible later on Saturday.  We drove 862 miles west to Seward, NE which was in the news just three weeks prior when a tornado touched down a little east of town.  Tempest Tours captured their best video to date as this tornado churned up the countryside just to the north of their location, near Seward.


JUN 30:     Sat – Day 3 - Chase Day Western NE PH:  

We decided to stick with our target area somewhere in the west/central NE Panhandle region.  There was a cold front approaching from the north, and we could already see distant storm development  well off too our north along the north-central NE/SD border.  These would likely become severe as they moved into more unstable air, but we were interested in intercepting the more isolated severe storms that were likely to initiate to our west.   These should prove to be more photogenic.  As we were approaching Alliance via Highway 2 we were able to view an impressive Cb off to our southwest.  This cell was located near CYS and exhibited a beautiful circular anvil and a very pronounced dome for a short time.  By the time we arrived in AIA the updraft had lost it’s punch and the whole thing looked rather weak.  We hung out around the AIA water tower for over an hour keeping an eye on the weak updrafts that continued to form on the "north" side of this storm as well as some bubbling Cu to our north and NW.

Around 5PM MDT I hooked up with Bill Reid who was heading north from the now dead storm to our south, and we decided to continue north towards better moisture, dp's had dropped several degrees in AIA and the air seemed to be mixing out.  It was also at this time that a tornado box had been issued for eastern WY and SW SD just north of the NE border.  A quick look at wx-tap
radar indicated a cell had gone severe north of the Hotsprings, SD area near Custer.  The plan was to head north to CDR, take a look at things, and more than likely continue north towards the Black Hills region. We continued blasting north as we heard the severe warnings coming out of the Hotsprings region, but kept our eyes on what appeared to be a nicely developing updraft tower partially hidden by some low clouds back to our south.  We could only see some struggling towers to our north, so a decision would soon need to be made.

I looked in my mirrors and noticed that this thing was really starting to explode!  Bill and I both kicked ourselves a few times for not hanging around back where we just came from, then turned around and blasted back after this beauty.  We were treated to gorgeous updraft towers along the way, and these  continued to change colors as the sun began to set.  We knew there was no chance of ever getting in front of this beast and finally gave up the chase about 10 miles east of Chadron, NE along Highway 20.
There was a nice vault area illuminated by occasional IC/CG activity, but the base was shrinking fast and the whole thing seemed to be moving away from us a "warp" speed.  A somewhat frustrating chase day, but a very pretty storm indeed!  Spent the night in Chadron, NE.  Total miles for today: 585


JUL 1:    Sun - Day 4  Chase Day – Nebraska to NE Colorado:  

As we digested data in Chadron Sunday morning it became more and more apparent that we had to head south.  Temps and dp's were hovering around 58 degrees, and I had the feeling the overcast and drizzle would hang around well into the afternoon.  Conditions were no better to our north, and there was still on-going convection from the night before not too far to our east. But just to our south good insolation was occurring and winds were screaming out of the ESE.

We (Bill Reid, Nancy and myself) hung out near the Alliance water tower for the second day in a row and watched the skies to our west and south.  It didn't take long, we soon spotted decent vertical development in the Cu field to our south.  As we headed south on RT 385 there were hard updraft towers visible to our SSE, but they had very small and high bases.  I noticed we were under some decent looking bases and wanted to get a look at their updraft towers.  These looked decent so we decided to head SE on RT 26 where we could keep an eye on this developing storm.  It soon formed a decent rain free base and a small lowering with rising scud developing right below this feature.  We set the tripods up just in case, but soon decided to head farther east. 


At Broadwater we turned north on a gravel road where we had a good look at a nice dark circular base and vault region just to the east of the base.  There were also some nice bulbous gray mammatus and CC's to our east.  The storm was coming south right at us so we moved a bit south for another photo stop which was cut short as a hail core was rapidly approaching.  We were lucky to make it back to Broadwater before the really big stones caught up to us, but we did get pelted with a few 1"+ hailstones.


We continued straight south on another gravel road south of Broadwater and stopped again just east of Dalton to discuss our next move.  The time was 4:46 MDT when Bill noticed a semi-transparent condensation funnel on the ground a few miles to our SW.  This thing had somewhat of a "landspout look" to it as the broad whirl was being pushed out at the base to the west, apparently by the strong outflow from the parent storm to it's east. The top of the circulation curved toward some flanking line towers to the East, but disappeared well below the cloud base level.  I'm not sure if I should call this short-lived two minute event a weak tornado or not, but I guess that is what it was.  While filming this thing we also got sand blasted by 50+ MPH winds hitting our backs and heading SW directly towards the funnel!

From there we continued South and East and South again (Sydney to Julesburg to Wray) trying to get in front of a series of severe and tornado warned storms that were moving "slowly" to the South.  We went through several strong rain cores with strong east winds, but only had to hold up once for increasingly larger hailstones near Sunol, NE.  There was also a large grass
fire in progress a couple miles off to our west as we approached Burlington, CO, no doubt set off by lightning.  Overall, a very active and fun chase day!  Miles today logged at Burlington, Co…325.

JUL  2:     Mon – Day 5 - Nebraska Panhandle Sunset:   

My target for today was somewhere north of AIA in the Nebraska Panhandle, just north of the boundary that was progged to be in position more or less along NE Highway 2 by early afternoon.  On my way to this area from CO, I encountered the first convective towers just west and south of Sydney.  I toyed with the idea of seeing what would develop with these, but didn't want to "waste" any time on what I thought may only yield multi-cell  severe...not if there was a chance of Supercells further north anyway!

I later took a look at data in AIA (yes, next to the Alliance water tower for the third day in a row:-)) and saw SPC now had a MD for the area near Fort Peck Dam in MT (too far) and another MD for northeast NE which was also a bit too far.  I continued north toward Chadron but became increasingly disturbed by the large cirrus canopy overhead that stretched all the way back to WY created by early convection coming off the front range.  Around this time (3:00 PM MDT) a SEV watch box was issued for the entire NE PH region.  Soon a large multi looking cell was visible through the mid level clouds back too my SW in Garden County.  A SEV was issued, but it was moving away from me at 35 MPH.  To my north was one decent, but high based, tower
beginning to explode in clear air, but I soon gave up on this cell too since it died quickly after moving off the Black Hills.  What else could I do but go back to that dang AIA water tower for another look at data (I think the tower actually aids cell phone retrieval rates:-).  Three cells were now showing up on radar lined up west to east along Highway 2.  I could see the tower of the closest cell, but the most distant cell in Blaine County had a severe warning, and all were moving east at 20 MPH.  I still had about 2 hours of daylight left so I blasted east on Highway 2. 

An hour later I almost caught up with the closest storm, but unfortunately it was now quite dead.  Another tower located to its NW was trying to punch through some old anvil debris, but looked rather mushy.  I decided to head back west to AIA so I would be in better position for where I would like to be on Tuesday (NE WY/SE MT).  I was able to film some struggling, but very pretty towers at sunset back to my east, and the setting sun was now colorizing that annoying cirrus canopy, so the day was not a TOTAL waste.


A very frustrating chase day for me for the 550 miles driven.  Lodging  -  Alliance, NE.

JUL 3:    Tue – Day 6 - Toadstools & Ardmore, SD:  

We hung out around the west central Nebraska Panhandle until early afternoon watching the skies and the data to point us in the right direction.  Severe storms, possibly Supercells, were likely to initiate anywhere within a 150 mile radius of that location.  Once the ugly system that brought clouds and weak convection across most of SD and central NE moved off to the southeast, the NE PH region warmed nicely and dp's remained in the low 60's, but dropped off to the low to mid 50's around 3:00 PM MDT.  NWS reports indicated much higher dewpoints to our north, no doubt due to moisture pooling.  North we went!


Nancy and I hung out at the Toadstool Geological Park in extreme NW NE while keeping an eye on some anvils located off to our NW.  These storms looked rather weak on radar, but were moving into richer Theta-E air, so I figured it was only a matter of time until they gained strength.  Some bubbling Cu started forming directly ahead of the best looking anvil (I couldn't see the
base) to our NW, so we headed in that direction. 


We approached the base of this developing storm on Rt 471 just to the north of the "town" of Ardmore, which consisted of six deteriorating and abandoned homes…hey-where did everybody go!  We watched the base try to develop directly to our west for about 30 minutes.  A weak two-tier shelf cloud formed on the SE part of the storm, as well as a few inflow fingers.  The base was high and rather ragged, and the yellow sky below the base was interspersed with several dark rain shafts and an a few infrequent CG's. 


We then moved a few miles east on Rt 2/71 and set up our cameras again at a high point in the Oglala Natl. Grasslands.  Here the storm put on a nice show, but never got severe…highest wind gust recorded was only 38 MPH.  However, the storm was becoming stronger and we had a blast filming colorful rain curtains/CG's to our north, a mammatus field, and clear blue skies and the rolling green grasslands to our south, AND a beautiful rainbow to our NE and SE!  The best display of lightning came a few miles further to our east, here I was able to capture on video a large beautiful double CG strike against a red-orange rain shaft that filled the entire sky immediately to our NW.  That show was soon over, but we were then treated to an almost continuous light show on our way to Chadron, NE.  We later filmed a large updraft tower being lit up internally by CC's as well as an occasional, but somewhat distant CG strikes from mid cloud to ground.


We finally got to bed around 1:00 AM, but Nancy and I were soon blasted out of bed by an early morning severe storm (no doubt heralding the 4th of July festivities a bit early at 4:30 AM) that decided to form directly over Chadron!  We both raced to the windows as we heard the roar of severe size hail pounding the Super 8 and the vehicles outside.  The hail core lasted about 7 minutes and featured mostly golf ball size hail that nearly covered everything in sight, there were even "ice flows" running down the drainage creek behind the hotel…awesome!  In fact, the vehicles parked in the shade of the hotel still had pockets of hail in their hood vents the following morning at 8:00 AM! We didn't get much sleep, but at least it looked like we wouldn't have to drive
far today for more severe storms!  313 miles logged.

JUL 4:      Wed – Day 7 - Lusk, WY to Scottsbluff, NE Chase:  

It's always nice to wake up dead center in the middle of SPC's slight risk area, but I still felt compelled to move west and north from CDR. Northeast WY looked primed for initiation, so we headed west to Lusk, WY and then north on Highway 85.  An early afternoon data stop near Lusk still indicated storms would initiate off the Bighorn Mountains and could quickly become Supercells.  All the data and discussions told me to keep going north, but the sky was telling me to turn around and go back...there was a very distinctive line of Cu and TCu forming nearly overhead that stretched out to the horizon in a narrow corridor back to my ESE.  Hmmm...maybe I better check a 1km SAT and radar image.  There it was, an isolated cell right where it should be in SW Campbell County and moving SE into strong SE winds and mid 60 degree dp's.  I had to check this one out, but I kept looking over my shoulder at that agitated Cu field that was looking better with each glance.

I went as far north and west as Lance Creek in Niobrara County. What a disappointment after I cleared all those rolling hills, nothing to see but a large featureless base and no structure what-so-ever!  Now I had to blast back to the NE via the same route I had just used to get to WY (Highway 20). Here was a case when too much knowledge about what is going on over the horizon, or what was progged to be, was NOT a good thing.  Those converging Cu towers painted a big red-X in the sky that should not have been ignored!  I made it back to Crawford, NE in time to hear three severe warnings on the three Cb's I was watching off to my south and east.  I had a shot at intercepting only one of these cells, the one in Southern Sioux County, but it was heading south at 25 MPH and it was now nearly 6:00 PM MDT. We could see the distant base and a pronounced but small wall cloud, but I couldn't confirm any rotation. We were heading south of Crawford via Rt 2/71 just as CYS announced a tornado warning (TVS) for the BFF area.

We could see a powerful updraft tower exhibiting a dark lowered base on the north side of this southward moving storm.  We were finally parallel with this updraft south of Hemingford and had a perfect backlit view if a tornado were to form.  We followed this feature all the way south to Angora east of Scottsbluff, which was now reporting 3" diameter hail causing vehicle damage.  It was now nearly sunset and several other initiating cells killed any chance of this thing ever producing a tornado.  We let the storm go just north of Dalton and enjoyed the countless displays of lightning and fireworks on our way back to BFF for the night.    Hmmm...I needed to get some rest, looked like GGW on Thursday:-)!  Another 453 miles added to the odometer today.

JUL 5:     Thu – Day 8 - Montana Micro Bursts, Bad Roads, & No Rooms:   

I wanted to get back to Montana at least once during this trip, so I guess I got my wish today.  Along the way we experienced incredible temperatures (verified on two instruments).  Temps between Broadus and Miles City ranged between 99 and 103 with dp's in the mid 60's!!! We arrived in Miles City about 4:30 pm MDT and a quick look at the radar indicated cells were beginning to initiate to my west and north.  Also, SPC had just put out an MD for that same area.  The bad news was that Supercells no longer appeared likely, at least until sometime after dark.  The main threat now appeared to be high-based storms that would yield micro bursts at best.  I decided to continue NW on RT 59 and try to intercept the lead storm that was tracking northeast and just entering northern Rosebud county.  As we approached Angela we could see dark rain curtains and CG's about 20 miles to our WNW. We drove another few miles and stopped at a pull-off at a high point along RT 59 just 1/2 mile north of Rock Springs. 

We were filming lightning at this location when Nancy yelled out "look what's coming"!  We had earlier seen some distant dust plumes, but now a large white one was racing like crazy right at us…I filmed a bit and yelled "jump in the truck"! Tumbleweeds, dust, grass, etc. blasted us from the west as my anemometer soon recorded a peak wind gust of 58 MPH (which I reported to GGW).

We continued another 29 miles north on a gravel road, hoping to see more action to our north.  There was none, and we now had west winds and dropping dp's.  We made our last daylight stand just south of Angela.  Here we had a beautiful view of a nice Cb with a huge back sheared anvil-mammatus-knuckles back to our north that was illuminated red by the setting sun.  This was
framed by dark storm clouds and CG's to the north and east.  I noticed that the best lightning activity had shifted back to our
south…great, I'll just get a room in Miles City and film lightning along the way. After several unsuccessful calls, I finally managed to get a room at the Budget Inn...Christie assured me she would hold the room when I told her we may be still be a couple of hours away.  About 30 miles north of Miles City two cells to our south started putting out an incredible lightning display…the best I had seen to date. We found a decent film spot and I hesitated to set up my tripods in the steady 35 to 40 MPH Northerly winds
feeding into the storm.  No way was I going to miss out on this display however, and spent the next 20 minutes burning up tape and film.


When the best stuff was over, I called my friend Christie to assure her I would soon be there and was promptly told she gave my room away…What the h---.! After much complaining she said she had one other room with "Sewer Problems" that I could have and would hold that if I wanted.  DO IT, I'll be there to check it out (thinking I could find something else, which was totally impossible because of some screaming 60's reunion and little league something or other).  Okay Christie...let's check out that room.  "I gave that one away too"!   I really hate Christie!  As I typed this we were on our way south to Gillette, WY.  This meant we must once again navigate the same 30 mile stretch of bumpy dirt road construction near Broadus, this time at night after flooding rains (Nancy was not happy).  I kept hoping my room would be ready once we got there, since Montana was booked solid.  Oh well, it got me closer to where I want to be for the next day,  and the anvil crawlers sure were pretty.  Hey...maybe that wicked and evil Christie did us a big favor anyway!

JUL 6:     Fri – Day 9 - Nebraska’s Long Lasting Rainbow: 

Since SC and CA were out of reach today when I woke up in Gillette, WY (each had tornadoes) I targeted the area between Douglas, WY and BFF.  A data stop in Douglas just before 3:00 PM MDT indicated SPC had just issued an MD for most of the eastern Plains of WY and parts of the western NE PH.   A Severe Watch Box was issued at 3:00 PM for all of eastern WY extending into the extreme SE NE PH.  Dewpoints were a bit lower than yesterday, but still hovered near 60 degrees.  Radar showed the best cells were already located in southern Albany and Platte County and were moving ENE with very little activity going on to our north.  It was fairly easy to intercept the lead cell just east of I-25 on Highway 26 near Guernsey.  That storm was really struggling to gain strength, but since there was nothing else happening I committed to follow this storm to the east...all the way to NE. This storm was never going to become severe, but it did put on an occasional burst of CG activity.  The best occurred just south of Morrill around 6:00 PM.  The storm underwent sudden death about 20 minutes later and we took off after another non-severe storm to our north. 

We finished up the day just north of Mitchell filming the longest lasting rainbow I have  ever witnessed.  This thing was persistent for over 40 minutes and went thru the various stages as a double rainbow, full arch, and an intensely bright iridescence stage looming above the sunlit Sand Hills with a dark sky beyond.


Today really looked primed for severe storms early on, so I'm not certain what went wrong...timing of the vort max, shallow moisture, weak low level support, I'm just not sure.  Not much excitement from a storm chaser's perspective, but as an avid weather photographer, I was well satisfied!  Only 289 miles logged.

JUL 7:     Sat – Day 10 - Western Nebraska Panhandle (Again):  

I finished up my 2nd 2001 chase trip to the Plains Saturday in Alliance, NE which coincidently is where I started it last Saturday.  The western PH and a good part of the eastern Plains of WY once again had a slight risk of severe with initiation to occur over the Laramie and Bighorn mountains and subsequently moving ENE onto the high Plains.  I was already in a great position since we woke up in BFF.

Immediately after I typed my chase report for Friday, I took one last look at TWC local radar (around midnight) and noticed a couple of cells would be moving just to the north of Scottsbluff.  I glanced out the window, which was facing NE, and could see some nice CG activity.  I quickly grabbed my camera equipment and headed north on Highway 71 for about 15 miles. Lightning was everywhere…there were CG's and anvil crawlers off to my east and several new clusters of CG activity off to my NW and West making it difficult to decide where to point the cameras.  This show even topped the one (my best to date) north of Miles City, MT the night before!  It was great standing in the middle of "nowhere" at 2:00 AM feeling the warm night air stirring and watching the incredible show, the only sounds being that of the low rumble of thunder and the distant clanging of old windmills…even the bugs cooperated by going into hiding!


Okay, back to Saturday.  Nancy and I hung out until mid-afternoon at the Scottsbluff Natl Mon watching the skies from the top of the bluffs. 


By late afternoon radar showed storms were beginning to move NE off the Laramie Range, so we headed a bit north on Highway 71.  We watched an area of bubbling Cu and turkey towers almost directly overhead about 15 miles north of BFF.  In fact, it was the same elevated area from which I had filmed that lightning show 14 hours earlier. 


As expected, a SEV watch box was issued around 5:00 PM and once again we found ourselves just about in the middle of it.  The strongest storm (confirmed on radar) started moving into the area just to our northeast…an easy intercept on Highway 71.  We had fun filming CG's off to our NW over a broad green valley and an intense wet microburst framed by a deep blue sky just off to our east. 

However, the best show occurred just to the south of the Agate Fossil Beds Natl Mon when a second storm had formed just to our east and developed a tight cylindrical updraft tower on the SW part of the storm.  This tower had a "hard" look to it and exhibited a round and compact base.  Scud tags began to rapidly attach to the base and a small wall cloud took shape, but we where moving into position at this point so I can't confirm any rotation.   A couple of minutes later the whole thing died, but new storms where forming everywhere as sunset approached. Further to our east we were treated to a wet-microburst descending from the base of a developing storm.  Another nighttime MCS was definitely in the making.


We then moved further north and east to an overlook east of Ft. Robinson just after sunset.  From here we could see fantastic pink CG's that ended in brilliant anvil crawlers in the darkened sky off to our east and a partially visible white updraft tower in the fading light to our south that was almost constantly being illuminated by  IC's and CG's.  I got some pretty good video and slide captures, but by far the very best stuff escaped me…WHY does this always seem to happen!? 


The showed continued all
the way back to Alliance, but I still did not have enough.  I was dog tired, but just had to try to capture some more of this great light show.  I told Nancy I would be back in an hour or so (it was just after 11:00 PM)...I came back at 2:30 AM!


As I typed this we were heading back east to PA and turning our backs on yet another SPC slight risk of severe, and what was even worse; the next week looked quite active for western NE.  If I were just arriving today, I would be heading for…you guessed it…Alliance!  284 miles plus another 68 miles after midnight.

JUL 8:      Sun – Day 11 - Departure Day: 

We departed Alliance around 9:00 AM MDT and headed east for the longest one day haul of our trip…961 miles!  Around midnight we were just approaching our motel in Danville, IL when we noticed some nice CG activity just off to our south.  I couldn’t resist and just had to try for a few more lightning captures.  We drove about 12 miles south off the interstate to a nice dark area, but were only able to make a few captures…things died down rather quickly once we were set up. 

JUL 9:      Mon – Day 12 - Arrive Home: 

Just another long boring ride home from Illinois.  The last 683 miles were non-eventful and seemed to drag on forever.  I was able to handle some business calls along the way, so the transition back to reality had already begun. 

Interesting Factoids:

Total Miles Logged for Trip Two:                     6499

Total Miles Logged for Trip One:                      9082

Total Chase Trip Miles for 2001:                    15,581

Average Miles per Day Trip Two:                       541


Total Days on Road Trip One & Two:                  31

Total Days in Chase Mode Trip One & Two:        18

Total Days Severe Storms Intercepted

For Trip One & Two:                                          15

 Weather Set-up during Trip Two

The tail end of the same frontal boundary (a quasi-stationary front) provided a focusing mechanism for storm initiation each day of Trip Two.  Also, the surface flow remained easterly with a NW flow aloft each day.  A slight risk of severe occurred daily from the eastern Plains of WY into the Western Nebraska Panhandle and sometimes extended northward into SW SD or Eastern MT and as far south as NE CO.

Surface dewpoint temperatures generally exceeded 60 degrees and daily high temperatures at or above 90 degrees were common throughout the area.  Most days saw a severe and/or tornado watch box issued that was centered somewhere on the western NE Panhandle region.