Season's First Moderate

11 May 2014

The first thing I did when I woke up was reach bleary eyed for the Nexus to check that the SPC’s forecast still said ‘moderate’ for today. The second thing I did was remember I had bought a new hoody from Walmart last night, for all of $9, which I had been using as a lumber support for my back whilst sleeping in the car overnight. I quickly shook the creases out and put it on, feeling all snug. Unfortunately with the gloopy, stifling atmosphere there wasn’t the need for a hoody but it still made me feel slightly protected from the potential carnage of the ‘tornadoes everywhere’ forecast for today.

I quickly checked that the area outlined as a moderate risk was pleasant to chase in, using the all new ‘veg map’ that Tim had found last night online and was now my next favourite thing to the new hoody as it was to put an end to spending days caught out in trees and unexpected forested areas that appear out of nowhere in certain areas of the plains.

Veg Map

From east of Kansas City we headed northwest to Marysville which was very close to the Kanas Nebraska border and sitting just within the moderate risk area. For those not familiar with a ‘moderate risk’ it usually results in quite a significant severe weather event and much of the time requires even more wits about you than usual with convection often explosive, storms strong and tornadoes should they arise, long-lived.

We waited in Marysville for a while and by 3 o’clock storms were starting to fire a little further northwest, so we headed that way, across the border and into Nebraska. It was apparent via spotter network, an online app detailing the location of other storm chasers, that they had formed an almost war-like frontline stretching north to south ready to take on the impending storms.

This line was now heading west to get on the only cell that currently had the power to rise up and break through the capping inversion, and we were on our way too. Surprisingly this remained the only cell in the area for quite a while and therefore all concentration could be directed toward finding the best and safest way to get on it without the fear of getting munched by another behind it or having our path to this one blocked off, which is so often the case. In fact, our radar made it look like some bespectacled Cyril Sneer type character!

11Mayprestormanimal

We took a couple of shots during our first stop of some beautiful structure but then had to temporarily abandon it as it chose the direction serviced only by the annoying red snady farmroads, which our road tyres have no traction on whatsoever, even in dry conditions.

First Storm Stop

Timbo Taking Photo

Escapey 3 And Storm

Within hardly any time however we managed to intercept it for a second time further up the road. We stopped again and got some shots, including one of a distant funnel and talked to some other chasers who had also chosen this as a good vantage point for viewing the storm too. It was a monster by this point with tremendously strong gusts and reports were coming in of a rain wrapped tornado currently on the ground causing damage. One of the lanes on the road ahead was blocked due to a grain bin that had been destroyed and which had spilt its contents all over the road.

Little Cam Into Storm

Technically A Nada

Again, limited to paved roads only, we decided to backtrack south, gain some distance in an eastward direction and then head up on into it again if possible. The sights from the side of the road were awesome and you could see the hail core glowing green. The wind was pretty strong too.

Unfortunately, this particular storm was heading very close to the metro area of Lincoln, a large city in south eastern Nebraska and as a rule we try not to chase in these areas. It only adds to problems of traffic jams and is never a pleasant experience, espeically when you are waiting in line at a crossroads or junction with a big bad foreboding storm above you. The last thing we want to do is end up becoming stuck in some kind of storm hell gridlock. Also, by this point the storm was so outflow dominant that it lacked any structure and there was zero chance of seeing any tornadoes due to them being wrapped up in rain in the centre of the storm.

We stopped south of the I80 and got a few more piccies of the shelf as it passed by the roadside before deciding to once again skirt around the bottom of the storm with the hope of getting in front of it to set up some lightning shots.

Cambo Enjoying Taking Photos

Grain Farm In The Storm

However, for a while now, the weather news and our radar had been showing more cells going up behind this initial one and in the same fashion were becoming tornado warned as they developed and moved into the areas of greater shear and lower LCLs. We were less than 10 mins into our plan of heading south again, when a new tornado warning was issued for the next storm in line encompassing the area where we had just been.

With the storm direction and motion the way it was, our last stop point was not only safe but would also give us a great view. However, arriving back to where we had been it was clear that this cell was also too rain wrapped to give us any hope of capturing any features. So after having a quick look, back south we went again. It can get a bit like this sometimes, indecision keeps you toing and froing on the same bit of road so often that you start recognising road kill!

So we tried to find somewhere we could stay to let the storms pass over us. However, the strength of these storms was not diminishing and radar indicated tornadoes were still being identified on many of the cells. We stopped for gas in a small town called Crete. There were 2 motels there but we opted to head on a little further, thankfully, because only 10 minutes later another tornado warning was issued, this time for Crete, advising people to get in their shelters or another place of safety as a tornado had been reported on the ground. This was getting a bit scary now. Many roads were flooding and the storms were becoming a line of embedded supercells, quickening in pace and veering east towards us.

After a few hairy moments of thinking we were going to get caught, we made it to Nebraska City which seemed to be far enough east to just be skimmed by the storms and we found a motel made of bricks, just before the rains starting closing in.

Lorries on the distant interstate sounded like tornado sirens, but it was all in my head, and we in fact had a pleasant and fairly chilled evening, sitting in the doorway watching the lightning show as it passed overhead and making friends with a native Indian construction worker who had a room next door and seemed nice enough if a little repetitive in a tipsy kind of way. However, I wouldn’t let Tim shower until the storms were truly past, just in case the sirens went off whilst he was in the bathroom. Also, after seeing that a tvs (little purple triangle that indicates the likely presense of tornadic activity ) had appeared on radar right above our GPS marker (little white circle with dot in the middle), I changed out of my slippers and back into my shoes in case we had to make a quick getaway!

11Maytvshead

All in all it was a good chase day. Unfortunately the storms up scaled into large HP beasts before we had chance to get a better visual on any nadas but we saw some great structure and had some really exciting moments.

The official tornado count is still to be confirmed but it is currently in the region of about 39 in total across the day and into the evening. Reports of structural damage to buildings and trees down are still being submitted and we even heard a story about a tornado tour company being caught out with flying bits of machinery. But luckily we stayed on the right side of most cells and now totally out of harm’s way I even have great memories of the scary bits!

SPC Day 1 Weather Outlook as at 06:00UTC (01:00 Central Time the night before)

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Sun May 2014

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Sun May 2014

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