Yesterday’s chase was pretty intense with an amazing HP supercell and chaser convergence like I have never seen before. We started just south of DIA and watched the cell develop. We stayed with it all evening and saw glimpses of what were reported as rain wrapped tornadoes. As further discreet cells developed further south, we were in position to continue heading east on Rt. 36 without getting nailed by anything more than small hail We were treated to a few funnels and delightful light show into Colby, KS.
Target SE Nebraska. Left Valentine early and were rewarded with quite the show. We sat on the front and the low developed with isolated supercells firing. Beautiful! NE of Nelson, NE, right after 5 pm, we got ourselves a brief tornado that formed right in front of us. Whoa! I’ve never been close enough to hear one before. What a treat – especially when it wasn’t strong enough to do much or in a populated area. We played with these storms and with strong gustnadoes (debris flying), beautiful mammatus, and ran into TWC’s Mike Bettes at a gas station in Hebron, NE where he was taping for the Great Tornado Chase 2012.
Yes, we were chasing the storm that hit Joplin, MO. We veered off of it a few miles from Jopin when any tornado that developed would be rain wrapped and very dangerous to chase. The storm was a beast and kept evolving and expanding. The beast that hit Joplin ate 3 more cells as it grew. We have seen from the field that cell mergers appear to contribute to tornadogenesis, and Ian has done a bit of research and found some articles on this topic.
We were sitting on top of a hill watching beautiful storm structure when we turned on the radio and learned about what happened to Joplin. Speechless, with tears in our eyes, we could only say our prayers and look in awe at the power of mother nature. We talked about whether we could help in any way but none of us is a qualified first responder and we knew that the chasers in our community who are would respond generously, as they did.
We carried on the chase with mixed emotions, knowing that we couldn’t change what mother nature brings to us. Many ask why did this happen and why are there more deaths this year? It’s an active year – La Nina is one reason. And, for all of the unpopulated and sparsely populated land in tornado alley (and what they have now coined dixie alley), storms and tornadoes don’t determine their paths by whether structures and people are in front of them. It’s probability. The vast majority of the time, tornadoes hit noting but fields and many go unreported unless someone happens to see it. Sometimes, it hits a town. Like in Alabama, Joplin was under a tornado warning for quite some time. In this end of the world, there is a bit of a “it won’t happen here” mentality, which we hear all the time.
Yesterday, while watching storms develop on a dirt road and looking at some holes in the ground (armadillo dens?), an elderly man stopped to check that we were ok. I told him that we were watching the storms and he said, “You know what I do when those bad storms come? I go to bed and say my prayers.”
Many people don’t have tornado shelters. A tornado as strong as the one that hit Joplin requires a basement or a reinforced storm shelter to be really safe. Most important – it requires that someone actually be in one of these. A few years back, we met a woman who showed us her storm shelter. It was filled with junk. She was using it as either as extra storage or a junk bin. We were watching a storm that could produce a tornado right where she was. I hope that she decided to clean out here shelter.
We went on to see a beautiful tornado just on the other side of a lake in Bernice, OK and a beautiful sunset.
We started out at a rather leisurely pace – sort of not really excited or anxious about the day. If it happened, it happened. Our target was SW Kansas. We didn’t get drawn too far south and stayed on the northern storms that had formed. The sky was looking interesting as we were getting closer to the storms and then two cells began to merge. Whoa! Suddenly, one, then two, then three landspout tornadoes started dancing together. As they dissipated, another formed and then there were two on the ground. They disappeared and two more formed. In just a short period of time, the cell merger had produced incredible energy. This storm became a beast and we got up close and personal, watching one of the most amazing tornadoes form, then dissipate, then form again as a rotating inflow band. We followed this storm for hours, seeing 11 separate touchdowns. Vortex 2 arrived and caught 3 of the later t’s, getting great data. The bad news? A corrupted CF Card! I think people back home in Boston could hear the swearing. At least my chase partners were taking photos and video.
First set of tornadoes – later verified as three on the ground:
And more tornadoes….
And the most amazing tornado….inflow band I have ever seen. At one point it was a tornado, then it was a rotating inflow band on the ground (?), then…. well, you’ll see for yourself. We have lots of video of this and it’s just incredible. Never seen anything like it before and we were up close and personal.
We were lucky to come out of this day alive! Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but it was fast, furious, and wild. In Nebraska, headed north to Lake McConaughy to watch a storm cross the lake…but it didn’t. However, saw a lot of whitecaps on the lake. The wind was howling. Headed further north on Rt. 61/92 trying to stay ahead of the storms, which were moving at 60ish mph. We stayed on Rt. 92 at Arthur, heading east. Before reaching Rt. 97, we got ahead of one of the north tracking fast moving storms and captured a brief tornado on camera while almost being blown away by 70mph winds. Shirts were being held on by hand. The tornado was near Tryon, NE and we were looking NW.
We continued east on 92 through hail and suddenly, out of nowhere, a fast moving shed roof passed in front of our eyes. This thing was close! Debris. At that point, we decided to head on to Oconto to let the storm roll over us and ended up sitting under the whale’s mouth. What a day.