May 13th showed significant moisture and instability along a warm front and outflow boundary from previous days’ convection. The boundaries met and formed a triple point southwest of Des Moines, Iowa. Storms fired very early by 1pm and became tornado warned. Nothing significant formed but we stayed with them. Several false reports of multivortex tornadoes occurred, which has been the case all spring. The old philosophy of if you aren’t sure it’s a tornado, it is not one should be taken by many storm chasers! Numerous tornado warnings were issued, and the monster supercell spun like crazy. It eventually weakened as it moved east off the boundary. Another supercell formed southwest of Pleasantville and produce at least 3 tornadoes that we witnessed. A multivortex, an elephant trunk and then another multivortex that was less than a quarter mile from us! The motion was incredible right over the vans as this tornadic storm drifted northeast and produced. An overall exciting day that the guests loved! Enjoy the pics!!!!
April 4th was a complicated day. A powerful upper level low would pivot out onto the plains late in the period. Low level moisture was fairly shallow for a big event, with pockets of dry air mixing out the better moisture. It seemed like two areas would be the best targets: 1) southwest Iowa as the forcing came out, however moisture was forecast to mix (and did!), 2) southeast Iowa and western Illinois in the free warm sector. We sat in Ottumwa for a couple hours waiting for one target to become clear. It never really did. A cluster of storms formed in eastern Missouri and consolidated into a few supercells as they moved into western IL. We started to head that way to chase, but it would have been a long way back to Kansas City that night as several guests had to be back in Denver by late afternoon the next day. Shortly after we headed out to go to IL, the Iowa play started forming. A line of storms, now severe, formed along the dryline west of Osceola and moved east. The tail end storm really started getting it’s act together so we quickly turned around and headed toward Pella (where we saw a tornado 2 years ago!). As we approached Pella, a tornado warning came out with a confirmed tornado towards Pleasantville, which was another 15 miles west. We did all we could to get there, but were only able to get a glimpse of the pretty tornado before it dissipated. We stayed with the supercell as it approached the warm front and became tornado warned again. A brief spin up happened south of Malcom. The storm continued its path across the warm front, weakening in the colder air. Here’s a few pics of what we saw with the supercell, distant tornado and the second spin up. Enjoy!!!!
An extremely volatile day was in store on March 31st. A powerful trough was moving out of the Rockies onto the plains as a surface low intensified north of Omaha. We took our on call tour towards the Des Moines area in anticipation of rapid supercell formation early afternoon. The dryline lit up like a Christmas tree shortly after noon as storms raced northeast at 60-70 mph! Strong shear, good moisture and instability and a strong jet would fuel these storms. By 2pm a large thunderstorm formed in northwest Missouri and rapidly moved northeast, becoming tornado warned as it approached Ottumwa, Iowa. We moved to position ourselves in front of it to see what it could produce. We approached the small town of Packwood as a cone tornado stabbed down to the ground west of us and grew to massive proportions.
As we drove west on highway 78 towards Hedrick, the tornado wedged out becoming a massive twister less than a mile from us! The roar of the tornado and rear flank downdrafts winds filled the senses with the sound of a rushing waterfall. Due to fast storm motions and the unfortunate road closures in the area, we were only able to stay with it for about 15 miles before we lost it. This tornado caused a lot of damage, but fortunately no fatalities. It has been officially rated EF-4 by the National Weather Service.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to anyone affected throughout the central and southern plains this day as 60 tornadoes raked the region causing many casualties and much damage.
April 12th had a lot going for it. The problem was there were two clear targets. Play the better moisture, but less shear in central Texas, or play the warm front with a bit less moisture but better shear in Iowa. We started the morning in Oklahoma City and made the decision at 6am to head to Iowa, while looking over our shoulder at Texas. At the end of the day, both targets produced strong tornadoes! As we headed north it became pretty clear that the warm front was going to be our target with a strong theta-e axis slamming into it, instead of playing the triple point back northwest of Omaha. That decision was a good one as by mid afternoon, the warm front lit up with intense storms, some of which were supercells.
We had over a 500 mile trip to get into position and we made it by minutes! We stopped in Dakota City for fuel quickly and then headed west, to just east of Gilmore City. The supercell became tornado warned as we left Dakota City. So, with storm motion showing 50 mph plus, we positioned ourselves about 6-10 miles down wind of the storm, figuring it would take a few minutes for it to become tornadic. It sure didn’t wait long! I wish we would have gone a couple more miles south to get closer, but as the tornado formed, we decided to stay put so as not to miss any of it and thought it would come very close to us. The models showed the potential of long tracked tornadoes, however this one dissipated as it came about a mile to our west. We stayed with the supercell for awhile as it became very messy and hp in nature. Eventually we blew it off, as we knew we had to be in Arkansas the next day, and stopped to watch an electrified storm on the way to our hotel.
Great day, beautiful storms and fortunately there were no injuries or fatalities from the tornadoes! Enjoy the pics!
July 14th had it all. Boundary, great moisture, instability and good low level shear. We blasted from Pierre, SD to central Iowa as storms formed and became severe and tornado warned. Several tornadoes did occur in central and eastern Iowa with one particular tornado we just missed by 15 minutes being the most intense near Lake City. Frustrating day to say the least, but we still managed some great supercells and a tornado late in the day. Moral of the story is to NEVER give up until storms are weakening and loss of heating reduce instability.
June 20th featured extreme instability, moderate wind shear and good lift along an advancing boundary over Iowa. We started the day from Denver, CO as it was the first day of the tour. After an early departure, we made it just east/southeast of Des Moines, Iowa (650 miles later!) just in time for storms to explode. The first supercell we intercepted was just east of Des Moines and never had the “look” like it wanted to become tornadic. Nice structure and a rotating wall cloud occurred, but it could never tighten up enough to produce a tornado. We dropped south and headed back west a little bit as a second storm quickly became organized. It developed a strong hook echo on radar to the west of Pella. As we arrived in town near the factory, we stopped to watch. Intense lightning was also occurring, a tell tale sign of storm intensification. Within a few minutes, a large bowl shaped funnel formed. Soon it developed into a full fledged cone shaped tornado that was on the ground for several minutes. In my haste to shoot video, time lapse and digital images, I failed to get a proper focus on my camera and thus most images were slightly blurry. The tornado dissipated and the storm eventually weakened as it moved east, ending our chase. A great first day for Tour 8!! Enjoy the pics, blurriness and all !!!!!
June 28th held good promise for supercell storms and potentially tornadic ones to boot. Great moisture, instability and wind shear were forecast across southwest through northeast Iowa. A composite warm front/outflow boundary existed along that corridor and would be to focal point for several tornadic supercells. We were in the Des Moines area and drifted southwest towards Winterset. Soon a cluster of updrafts rapidly formed at the triple point south of Nebraska City, Nebraska. One dominant storm emerged from them. As we blasted west, then south towards Bedford, Iowa (our target!) a tornadic storm developed southwest of Corning, or about 25 miles north of the Bedford target. Since this storm was insanely electrified, had a large wall cloud and great structure, we couldn’t leave it to drop to Bedford for the approaching tornadic storm west of town. It became tornado warned, like the Bedford storm did as well. We stayed with it and watched several tornadoes form and the storm cycle numerous times. We thought it would produce a significant tornado a few times. Most were short lived and sometimes hard to view. Still, a very successful day, 4 tornadoes later, and a pretty supercell. There were over a dozen tornadoes in Iowa this day and a couple were very pretty. Late June and July in Iowa can sometimes be magical!
October 4th looked crazy on paper. Great shear, super lift, great instability and moisture for Oct spelled big trouble for the folks in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. We left early morning in heavy snow and fog from our home in Colorado, and headed towards Lincoln, NE where we’d decide to head north or east. A supercell formed north of Columbus and was moving away from us so we decided to play the patience game for something further east. Soon a wedge tornado formed from the first supercell and we were feeling pretty bummed. Finally our storm got going as it crossed into western Iowa, dropping a large tornado west of Sloan. After an occlusion, a second, third and fourth tornado formed and the latter becoming a large 1.5 mile wide wedge heading near Climbing Hill northeast towards Cherokee. We had to stop the trip as we encountered a destroyed farmstead north of Climbing Hill, where our search resulted in no injuries, except farm animals. Fortunately, no fatalaties occurred that day, but a lot of destruction of property. Here’s a 10 minute video from this day:
April 9th took us to the warm front in western/northwestern Iowa. A supercell developed on the southern flank of a cluster of storms, and became the storm of the day. Very good shear, moisture and instability would allow this beast to spin for hours! We witnessed 12 tornadoes from this monster, with many strong tornadoes occurring after dark. Photography is tricky when you don’t get a ton of lightning, thus a few of the images are a bit blurring caused by long exposures at high ISO.
July 19th was a day I thought we would be in Canada. A strong trough, with good moisture and instability tracked along the US and Canada border. A boundary had formed from northwest North Dakota into western Iowa and would be the focal point for severe storms. We intercepted a supercell near Williston, North Dakota and tracked it well south of Bismark, North Dakota, over a 10 hour chase! It was either severe or tornado warned the entire time. What a beautiful storm. It arguably was the prettiest supercell of the year. It produced dozens of severe hail reports including hail baseball sized.