Category Archives: 2011

Fall tornadoes – November 7, 2011

Our first target storm moved northeast into Greer County and we intercepted it at Willow.  We were excited at first as the storm displayed a large wall cloud and had a considerable amount of motion.  It even got to the point where we thought a weak tornado may have been occurring with it.  We didn’t get to enjoy it long – it sent off a left split, stuck its tongue out at us and quickly became disorganized.

We were still in position to play other storms and started toward one which was organizing rapidly as it approached Hobart.  We put ourselves in a great position just south of the city and watched a strongly rotating wall cloud develop to our northwest.  This too didn’t last long and we were left scratching our heads as the storm went downhill quick just after it seemed to be getting the show going.

With two good storms, but not much to show for it under our belts, we started toward the supercell which had been producing tornadoes from Tillman County to Northwest Comanche County.  We plotted an intercept point near Fort Cobb and took off with our last chance of the afternoon.  We might have killed this one too, but it appeared to have too much momentum for us not to see a tornado.  The first tornado we saw was about 8 to 10 miles southwest of Fort Cobb.  Condensation was not on the ground for very long, but the rotation was incredible and other tornadoes would occur with it.  There were a couple of times that we suspected that “something was happening” – we just didn’t have a good view because of trees and hills.  Finally, we broke into a clear area north of Fort Cobb and watched as a long-lived, large, and strong looking tornado took shape.  Our best photos came as the tornado was several hundred yards wide and exhibited a quite impressive multi-vortex state.

We were quite pleased with our results – of which included me seeing my first November tornadoes.  There were several little things that we could have done which may have – or may not have – improved our chances at better results.  In the end, you have to realize that luck still plays as much in the process as anything.  Overall, the Doug and Dave show worked pretty well again.

More Nebraska tornadoes – June 20, 2011


After spending the night in Lexington, Nebraska we woke up Monday morning, examined data, and decided that the target area was fairly simple.  Of course it usually doesn’t end up as simple as it looks most of the time and this day would be no exception.

A strong upper system would be ejecting into the plains and a deep surface low would move from Kansas into Nebraska; there would be plenty of shear and instability to work with and overall a significant outbreak of severe weather was likely.  Capping at the south end of the risk area had us leaning toward a more northern play, and this seemed to work out well with the better road network in Eastern Nebraska.  Storms would be moving quicker than the day before, it would just be a matter of positioning and keeping up.

We drove east on I-80 and made our first stop at a Loves just south of Aurora.  This seemed like a logical “hang out” point and it was also a chance to exorcise some demons.  The Loves looked a lot different than when I had last seen it – May 28, 2008, when we were caught in 100+ mph RFD winds.  A tornado just missed us to our north and the RFD blew out windows in the vehicle and tore up the Loves pretty good.  We hoped for a different outcome this day.

An isolated severe thunderstorm formed early in the afternoon in Kansas and started producing tornadoes.  This was a long-lived supercell which produced numerous tornadoes as it moved into South Central Nebraska.  This storm was too far away for us to target and we waited, somewhat patiently, for other storms to form in our target area.  Basically, it was hard for us to believe that this storm was going to be the only one of the day which produced tornadoes.

Around 3 pm, the atmosphere around us was looking dead.  It was hard to understand given mesoanalysis which showed we were very unstable and uncapped.  By 4 pm, thunderstorms began forming just to our west.  After a little conversation we decided to start working toward them.  This took us back toward and through Grand Island.  Visually and on radar, these storms looked fairly impressive but there were problems.  The storms were moving quickly north and north-northwest and were eventually going to merge with the small complex of supercells which had moved out of Kansas.  There were several outflow boundaries evident on radar which were wrapping into the storms.  All of this indicated to us that it was going to evolve into a very messy situation with limited tornado viewing potential.

Not long after we left the northwest side of Grand Island, we noticed storms forming back in the area which was our original target zone.  We stopped and discussed the situation a bit more and decided to turn back toward Aurora.

A north to south line of strong storms developed across Aurora which didn’t give us anything particularly interesting to look at.  However, it was still hard to believe that given the environment something wouldn’t still evolve from it.  Once again, waiting patiently paid off.  It was evident on radar, especially at higher levels, that a storm at the south end of the line had evolved into a supercell and showed increasing rotation.

Just before 5:30 pm, rotation had increased and tightened sufficiently to make us believe that a tornado was occurring.  A rain free base was evident to our southwest, but the strong area of rotation on radar indicated that the tornado was likely occurring in or behind an area of core.  Feeling that we had a good idea of the location of the tornado may have cost us a little.

We worked toward Hampton trying hard to find the tornado which was embedded in rain.  We were pretty sure that we were seeing the tornado when another tornado formed to our southeast.  Had we not moved so far west, we probably would have had better contrast and been in a better overall position for the storms second tornado.  As it was, we still had a pretty good view of it to our south and east.  Eventually, we saw a pretty good view of the original tornado to our north and northwest.  When it was all said and done, we sacrificed a great view of tornado number two for a decent view of tornadoes number one and two.  Oh well.

The final tornado of the trip was the largest and observed between 6:13 and 6:22 pm.  To borrow a line from my chase partner – it was large and in-charge.  We first noticed it while on the move but did manage to stop and get a few good photos before it weakened.

We followed the storm to north of Columbus, NE until almost 7:30 pm, before deciding that it was generally disorganized and wasn’t likely to do much more.  We pointed toward York, NE which was our stopping place for the evening.  On the way to York, we stopped about five miles south of Stromsburg to observe the mammatus and shoot a few pictures.

Southwest Nebraska tornadoes – June 19, 2011

We left the hotel and headed toward Goodland with a couple of targets in mind.  We were confident that storms would form over Northeast Colorado and move toward Southwest Nebraska, but also fairly confident that storms would form along the warm front somewhere near the Kansas/Nebraska border.  The trouble was, while it was clear where storms would form in Colorado, it was virtually a guess where storms might form on a 350 mile section of the warm front.  We tried to position to keep both areas in play and by mid-afternoon were hanging around the Colorado/Nebraska border around Haigler, Nebraska and Wray, Colorado.

There were several times when we were quite tempted to make a run toward storms that organized early in the afternoon near the Colorado/Wyoming border.  Other storms forming near Denver also had us just about to jump, but various reasons kept us hanging in our spot around Wray monitoring building cumulus clouds near the extreme northwest corner of Kansas.

Finally, enough pulsing led to storm development just north of the warm front not too far to our east.  Radar showed a steady upswing and we started the move eastward with target storms east of Haigler.  We stopped just east of Haigler for photo shoot of developing storms.  After our shoot near the railroad tracks, we started east again on Highway 34.  We made one attempt to go north before running into a bad road.  We moved east a little more and used Highway 61 which brought us to a nice viewing position about seven miles north of Benkelman, NE.  At this point, we were able to watch a dramatic wall cloud organize and track from our west to our northwest, then northeast.  The rotation was incredible and left us wondering, “How in the world did that not produce a tornado?”  We watched this evolution for 19 minutes.

Much to our surprise the wall cloud didn’t produce a tornado while we were viewing it pass.  We started making a move to keep it in sight and drifted a couple of miles east of Highway 61.  About five minutes later a tornado developed from a different area of rotation.  This tornado started about 6:44 pm, and only lasted about two minutes.  A few minutes after the tornado had weakened we noticed “something rotational”, as Doug logged it, which passed from our west to our north.  It was small and similar to a gustnado,  but if it was, it’s the first time I have ever seen one not moving away from a storm.  This one was moving toward the circulation which had just produced the tornado.  We were under a flanking line of towers which had a lot of motion at cloudbase.  We are not sure what to call it, but it was not significant enough to log as a tornado; interesting nonetheless.

We went through kind of a weird period but still made good decisions in general as we let the area of rotation that produced our first tornado go and worked toward the original area of rotation back near Highway 61.  We did this for two reasons: One, we believed given the strength of the rotation on radar that a tornado was still possible to our northwest and two, because another storm had become tornado warned to our west which was LP and quite visible.

After running around a couple of roads that were not in the best of shape we ended up back near our “wall cloud” spot when a tornado became visible to our northwest.  It looked very close to Highway 61 and was likely on the ground for a considerable amount of time before becoming exposed.  We observed it for about two minutes starting at 7:03 pm.  One of our reasons for returning west was the tornado warned storm we could see in that direction.  After our tornado number two weakened, we moved back to our original “wall cloud” spot and took a few pictures of the LP storm which was to our distant west.  We didn’t give the LP storm much attention and soon returned to the chase of our original target storm.

We made one close pass to the area of business by heading north out of Trenton before heading toward McCook.  A few minutes after leaving McCook, northbound on Highway 83, we observed what we believed was a fairly stout tornado to our northwest.  We only saw this feature briefly while driving and there were hills and trees in the way of our view.  By the time we stopped about six miles north of McCook, we were only able to see a suspended area of dirt under an area of rotation.  In all likelihood this was indeed a tornado and at some point it was probably quite strong.  We wound up dropping south of the storm and let it pass as it became well after sunset and no longer safe to mess with the dangerous storm.

Moving back through Cambridge, NE we found an area of light debris that was caused by very high winds or a small tornado that we didn’t observe.  We moved up behind the storm along the east side of Harry Strunk Lake where we made several stops for lightning photography, and wow was there some lightning!  In fact, with the combination of storms to our east, north and west it may have been one of the better lightning shows I’ve ever witnessed.

A nice surprise on a travel day – June 18, 2011

My chase partner, Doug Speheger, and I left Okarche just after 6 pm, planning on using the evening as a travel/positioning day.  Our plan was to reach Wakeeney, Kansas with the potential of seeing a couple of storms and some lightning on the way.  This worked pretty well and we watched some storms at a distance that were along the Kansas/Oklahoma border.  We ended up seeing a little bit of lightning near Dodge City and Jetmore, Kansas.  The lightning could have been better but this was mainly a travel day and anything at all was a bonus.  We got to the hotel a little after 12:30 am.

Monster supercell, small tornado – June 11, 2011

It took a long time, but the storm of the season finally showed up.  There was a very large threat area which extended from Eastern Colorado into Oklahoma, but we felt that one of the best places to be was over the Northeast Texas Panhandle / Eastern Oklahoma Panhandle and extreme Northwest Oklahoma.  High surface dewpoints were moving northwest on strong southeast low-level flow and a northwest to southeast surface boundary was retreating northward.  There was sufficient mid-level flow producing shear profiles supportive of rotating storms.

We worked our way northwest to Arnett, Oklahoma watching several areas of developing storms in the region.  While some of this looked well organized at times, we continued to stay focused on our original target.  A storm started getting organized over Southeast Ochiltree  County just after 5 pm.  We decided that this was our first target storm, and started driving toward Follett, Texas as the storm entered Lipscomb County.

The storm appeared LP in nature both visually and on radar, becoming severe over Northwest Lipscomb  County.  Structure steadily improved, becoming very impressive as the storm became rooted over Northern Lipscomb County – moving only about 5 mph to the east.  The storm eventually became strong enough to start ingesting other weaker storms from its west and south.  This process may have caused the storm to both transition to more of a classic supercell, and increase its tornado threat.  We noted more than one area of strong rising motion and rotation before a tornado developed about three miles northwest of Follett.  It was embedded in rain, but we were able to see several vortices at the ground for a couple of minutes starting at 7:49 pm.

Just after this tornado weakened, a close examination of radar showed that a new storm was rapidly developing along its south flank – or basically, on top of us.  We fled east through Follett and into Oklahoma, driving through the developing new core.  This storm intensified extremely rapidly and we noted strong areas of cloud base motion / rotation as we crossed quickly into Oklahoma.  After we cleared the storm, we carefully worked our way east and southeast ahead of it taking the time to stop several times and shoot pictures of the incredible storm structure.  Overall, this storm looked downright mean.  Low-level flow was screaming into the storm, which was now clearly HP, and lightning was shooting out of just about every place it could come out of the storm.

Storms this impressive are few and far between.  We were quite happy with our interpretation of the day, our reactions, and our results.  The storm started to weaken significantly when we were near Seiling and this left us with only a short ride back to Okarche.

Back to Oklahoma – June 10, 2011

ok2 (Large)

With limited lightning over the high plains the previous few days, and a decent amount of lightning with storms in Oklahoma, we made the decision to head back south.  The only trouble was the fact that we woke up in Julesburg,  Colorado.  We were just barely into extreme Northwest Oklahoma when storms rapidly formed in Kingfisher, Blaine and Canadian counties.  Needless to say, we didn’t catch up with those.  We were treated to other storms which formed in the wake of the original activity that gave us a few nighttime lightning opportunities around the Okarche area.

Eastern Colorado supercell – June 8, 2011

I met up with Pete, Steve and Ester in Byers, Colorado where the target was a fairly small one.  Despite dew point temperatures in the low 40s, steep mid-level lapse rates and favorable shear profiles were expected to support a couple of supercell storms in an upslope flow regime.  We were not disappointed.

Cumulus began developing early over the mountains and struggled through most of the afternoon.  This one was going to take a lot of patience.  Numerous failed storm attempts were producing a lot of virga as they spread overhead during the late afternoon.  Still, I thought that we would be able to have a supercell evolve out of the mess.  That one storm that I was looking for formed just after 6 pm over the east side of DIA.  We followed it northeast across Adams and Morgan  counties for over two hours.  Lightning was limited, but storm structure at times was quite impressive.  The storm weakened rapidly over Northern Washington County just after 8 pm, and we spent the rest of the evening watching lightning in Weld County before stopping at Fort  Morgan for the night.

Home on the range – May 30, 2011

We had fairly high expectations on the day – not only were there likely to be supercells in Nebraska, but we thought a few could form over Northwest/North Central Kansas as well.  We left Great Bend and moved toward Alma, Nebraska taking the time to stop in a couple of small towns and at a cabin site in Smith  County, Kansas.

This cabin was the home of Dr. Brewster Higley – who wrote the words to what would become the Kansas state song.  The poem was titled My Western Home – you might know it more as Home On The Range.  When you look at all the lyrics of the poem – and see where he lived for 25 years, you can certainly understand where he got his inspiration.  At the same time, a few of the lines suggest that he was suffering at times from cabin fever – or some other kind of fever.  We found it to be, well – small.  Still, it was an entertaining stop and we then continued our trip north.

Most of our model guidance gave us hope that storms would be within reach, but appeared to greatly underestimate the strength of the cap.  We were suckered in on several weak attempts at storms, but in the end, had nothing more than another pretty Kansas sunset along our drive back to Great Bend.

A little smoke, a little fire, no storms – May 29, 2011

We left Okarche mid-afternoon and headed northwest eventually reaching Buffalo.  “Storms” had formed over the Northeast Texas Panhandle and were moving toward far Northwest Oklahoma.   We didn’t expect much out of them, but hoped that they would provide us some lightning photo opportunities as we made our way toward Kansas/Nebraska for what was to be a better following day.  We didn’t expect much – and didn’t get much.  In fact, there were only a couple of times that we “thought” we saw lightning.  We did break out the cameras for a couple of stops at an abandoned house and for the sunset before reaching Great Bend,  Kansas.

High risk blues – May 24, 2011

High risk day with typical high risk blues.  We knew this would be a big tornado day in Oklahoma, but what usually comes along with that are fast moving storms.  Our initial target storm took us too far to the northwest to recover for what was to be the storm of the day in Canadian County.  We missed the large tornado near Canton Lake, but saw a brief tornado near Fairview.  Afterward, we made a hard attempt to get in front of what was the big tornado producer.

We drove quickly east to I-35 and south to Guthrie.  We should have been rewarded with a nice looking tornado for our efforts and the overall way we played connecting with this storm, but instead found ourselves playing with a very wet, rain-wrapped tornado as it moved across the northwest side of Guthrie.  We knew a tornado was there by the radar display and the quick wrapping motion in the precipitation (along with falling debris) – but seeing anything similar to a tornado was virtually impossible.  We called it a day at that point and spent the next hour+ trying to find a way across the damage path to get back to Northwest OKC.