Fantastic wind shear was available on June 19th, however, due to a frontal passage, only modest moisture was present off the Big Horn mountains of southeast Montana. This allowed only about 1000 CAPE to build in the area. Fortunately sometimes great shear can compensate for a bit of a lack in surface moisture. A storm formed just south of the Wyoming/Montana border and tracked east just north of the boundary. As it approached the Alzada, MT area it started spinning hard and became tornado warned. It pulsed up and down a few times as it moved into northwest South Dakota, eventually crossing into southern North Dakota near Hettinger. East of town we had to core punch it to get back in front of it and were promptly greeted with tons of golfball sized hail. (Video will be on our SLT Youtube channel soon!) Getting back in front of it, and moved east northeast and took us to Bismark where we spent the night being rocked to sleep by constant thunder. A great day, and a supercell that survived over a 250 mile distance! Enjoy the pics!
June 10th was a great set up in northeast Montana and western North Dakota. A warm front lay from Glasgow, MT southeast towards Dickenson, ND. Strong instability, good moisture and fantastic shear set the stage this day for multiple supercells and tornadoes along the warm front/dry line intersection north of Wibaux, MT. Cells initially formed all along the boundary, but the northern cells moved into cooler air and weakened. The triple was a storm producing machine firing off one supercell after another as they each matured and some became tornadic. The first tornado was my favorite, coming over the hills near the Roosevelt National Park area and was quite visible. The second tornado was a bit further away and choked with rain and very large hail, making photos hard to see. Nonetheless, it was a spectacular day and great results for Tour 7! Enjoy the photos!
June 28th took Photo Tour 3 to North Dakota. Good moisture and instability, coupled with weaker shear would allow a squall line of severe thunderstorms to form northeast of Bismark, ND. We managed to find an old abandoned farmstead south of Wing, ND where we were able to set up and capture some amazing images! The storms, coupled with the lowering sun in the evening, along with the old farmstead, allowed us to capture some of my favorite images from 2020! We stayed in place for a couple of hours photographing the area, and eventually headed back to I-94 and west to Bismark. A landspout tornado occurred well to our south near the South Dakota border, but everyone didn’t mind based on the images each person captured. Spectacular day with nature painting the Photo Tour one of the best set ups one could want! Please click on an image for a larger photo. Enjoy!
June 14th was a northern plains/high plains set up. A weak front was draped across eastern Montana and northeastern Wyoming. Moisture was streaming northward as well. Moderate CAPE and good shear developed as storms initiated off the triple point in northwest South Dakota and then a bit later over western North Dakota. We watched the South Dakota cell go up, but it was extremely high based. Better low level moisture existed across western North Dakota, pooling along the front and an old outflow boundary. A storm developed rapidly near Beach and slowly tracked northeastward across Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It had decent structure and produce large hail. At one point northwest of Dickenson, a funnel appeared for a few minutes, but was never a threat to touch down. We stayed with the storm until it weakened early evening, then headed to Bismark for the night. A fun day, very scenic area for chasing and a pretty storm! Click on a pic for a larter image. Enjoy!
July 11th took as to eastern North Dakota. An advancing dryline, strong moisture return and extreme instability would set the stage for numerous supercells, some tornadic. We started the day just west of Grand Forks, ND as convergence caused cumulus towers to explode. It didn’t take long for severe and tornado warnings to be issued! We played with the first to do so northwest of town. It had decent structure and very large hail. A large wall cloud formed and spun strongly. An occasional shear funnel would occur, but nothing imminent to touch down. Soon, a supercell formed on the southern end of the line and quickly became severe. It developed a strong area of rotation and a hook on radar. we quickly dropped south to intercept the storm, driving through blinding rain and hail golfball sized. As we cleared the core, a large circular updraft came into view and it was obvious it was spinning strongly. A mulitvortex tornado occurred back in the core that we couldn’t see. It stayed on the ground for over 20 miles as it approached the Minnesota border.
We stayed with the storm all the way to northeast of Fargo is the structure was jaw dropping! At one point, the rain cleared enough to get a brief glimpse of the large tornado! (pic below) Eventually it weakened as upshear convection would form and interfere with the supercell. The lightning was extreme, intense and very close numerous times. Several times we had to get back into the vans for our safety and to keep our guests safe. Finally near sunset, we let the storm cluster go and headed west for what would be several days of chasing in Canada!
I was torn between playing further northwest or playing the dryline in western North Dakota this day. Decent shear, moisture and instability was available for any cell that could sustain itself under the capping inversion. This cell was the best of them. It came QUITE close to producing a tornado south off Williston, ND. Structure was quite pretty, and the oil fields were evident in the photos! Crazy how much oil exploration is going on up there.
What a finish to a day that looked pretty doomed. Cloud cover all day kept good insulation from occurring and thus reducing instability. Just south of the North Dakota border, skies were clearer, but shear was weaker. Nonetheless, a supercell, nearly tornadic, formed near Cayuga, North Dakota and became a very nice storm! It was quite electrified and also produced copious amounts of large hail. We watched it form from a towering cu all the way through its decaying stage. What a treat!
Not a ground based storm, but the Aurora was quite vivid this night. We were in northern North Dakota after chasing a tornado warned supercell that died very fast. These shots are much better than the supercell 🙂 This display went on for several hours. Stunning!
We started EARLY in the day on July 18th, with a tornado warned supercell riding along and slightly north of an outflow boundary from previous night’s convection. This storm had that slightly elevated look but still was tornado warned almost its entire 6-8 hour life cycle from around 10am till about 4-6pm. It did produce one tornado we could confirm. We eventually blew it off and headed for another supercell, a big beastly HP storm, south of Jamestown, ND. This storm produced an EF3 tornado north of Berlin, ND, and was a monster. As this storm lined out, another tornado warned supercell formed on the outflow from the Berlin storm and became briefly tornado warned.
One thing to note, the first two photos, the Juanita, ND tornado, are from a friend who was with us. The menacing photo of the Berlin storm and rain wrapped tornado was nuts! During that shot there were amazingly rapid rotating rain curtains that you can see rotating from left to right (south to north). The tornado was occasionally partially visible through the wrapping rain curtains.
July 16th was probably my favorite chase day of 2011! We ended up in Bismark, ND, located just northeast of a mesolow and along a weak boundary that extended towards Grand Forks, ND. We ate lunch and waited in a local mall where it was cool. Temp and dewpoint were INSANE this day with my weather station reading 91/82! Crazy obs! The SPC mesoanalysis page showed a Sig Tor value in the teens and supercell composites in the 30s. Great number and not surprising based on the environment. With decent 500 mb winds aloft and respectable low level shear, we knew if any storm could get going in the capped environment, it would likely be a supercell and have a definite tornado potential. By mid afternoon, towers developed along the boundary and late afternoon, our supercell, the storm of the day, would form. Made it really easy for us to intercept since we were basically 30 miles from the congestus that ended up growing into our tornadic monster.
By 4:15 pm, our storm had developed a good updraft and downdraft, and it immediately developed on skinny pencil funnel that extended halfway to the ground. At 4:30 pm, a major wall cloud had formed, and was developing strong rotation. At 4:33 pm the first of 4 tornadoes touched down. It lasted until 4:38pm when it dissipated. The storm quickly cycled and dropped another much more significant tornado at 4:41pm and lasted until 4:55pm. This tornado was much stronger and developed a significant debris cloud. Both of these tornadoes occurred just northeast of Regan, ND. After the second tornado dissipated, the storm started its cycling process again, and this lasted quite awhile. It never looked like it would produce another tornado while we maneuvered to get back in front if it (lots of flooded roads to work around!), and it pummeled us with hail to golf ball size.
Finally, south of Bowdon, ND, we were able to get back in front of it and dropped south about 8 miles to get a view of the updraft. It looked in a considerably weakened state, with a strung out updraft and smaller core, but it managed to drop a truncated elephant trunk shaped tornado about 10 miles to our west. It was briefly on the ground, 2 minutes and fell apart. The southern end of the storm became very well organized as a lowering formed directly west of us and started spinning as it approached our location. You could hear the waterfall sound as the RFD blasted around the now rotating wall cloud. A substantial cone shaped funnel formed at 6:25 pm and touched down a mile to our northwest at 6:29 pm. It stayed on the ground and morphed from a truncated cone, to “Wizard of Oz” type tornado, to a stove pipe and then an amazing double walled beast as it passed less than a mile to our north! What an incredible tornado! At 6:41 pm it dissipated and the storm rapidly weakened.
At that point, we decided since we needed to be in Grand Forks for the night, we would leave our dying storm and head towards Grand Forks, only to be greeted by a tornadic supercell east of Devil’s Lake! We stayed with this cell for an hour, until it lined out and weakened. We made it to our hotel by 11PM, with all guests (and my guide!) in great spirits! It isn’t often you see what we did this day, and to have it over mainly open terrain is even better. Beautiful storm, magnificent tornadoes and little damage.