Montana Monster Supercell

19 June 2015

We woke up in the forest this morning having found a really cool free camping spot to crash in for the night. We still had to sleep in the car but waking up in amongst the trees is much preferable to the car park of Walmart.


Stroll Through Forest

We headed to Broadus once again to wait for the storms, the town’s good road network a real appeal around this area. The forecast severity of the potential storms was increasing with each forecast update and by the time the first cells started popping up we were looking at a fairly substantial moderate risk day. We hadn’t had one of these for a while and it was quite exciting.

From Broadus we edged north to position on the first storm. Our timeliness tempted us off the main road to try to get a few shots from a higher elevated dirt track. Unfortunately this didn’t go to plan. The views it turned out weren’t that great and then we were, not so much chased off but intensely quizzed from a local lad and his Mum who had rocked up on quad bikes asking what we were doing there. Luckily we had already decided to ditch this location and were pointing the right way to head off politely after making out we’d got lost and accidentally ended up on their land! Their questioning may have been totally friendly but he had a playful evilness in his eyes and I immediately thought, shit he’s going to shoot us!  

Having not been shot we took the main road further north and got right under the storm as it approached but it was looking really outflow dominant and becoming quite a monster hiding any finer detail. We held on until the hail drove us back south again.

Initial Hp Storm

At a safer distance down the road we stopped again. This time there were a bunch of other chasers and it was all a little bit chaotic. The winds had strengthened and the storm had quite a shifty on. There was uncertainty from one chaser in particular who it seemed really desperately wanted to report something and was shouting to all in earshot whilst hanging out of the side of his truck ablaze with flashing lights and about 6 aerials whether anyone could confirm a tornado on the ground as he was out of data! Oh dear, if you have to have these things confirmed by data, then what’s the point of actually being there and witnessing these events by eye. And with that many aerials why on earth have you not got any data!?

Chaser Convergence Shawnado

We followed the storm down the only decent road in this part of Montana. It was continuing to grow and with 4 inch reported hail now on our tails we did not have long to get out and take piccies of the spectacular scenes on show such as the looming shelf cloud which was growing ever more ominous, sunlit hail cores, epic lightning and the occassional tennis ball size hailstone hurling from the sky. Some bolts so close you felt as though you’d been punched in the stomach which then usually acts as the trigger for running back to the car in a crazy panic.

Outflow Runner

 Tour Van Hail Through Light

Boom Lightning

We continued in this way along the same road all the way out of Montana, through northeastern Wyoming and into South Dakota. The storm was now of epic proportions in all respects with grapefruit size hail and 90mph gusts. With a 70,000ft top and a big hook echo developing on radar, an indication of the tornadic circulation within, it wasn’t to be messed with. So we jumped on a railway line to get a few more shots!

Timbo And Shelf



Shelf Lightning

Shelf And Fork

The convenience of the roads ended at this point so we decided to leave it there with this one which had become so large that any chance of photogenic tornadoes was slim. We had been with it for a good few hours though. There was another following suit however and looked a little less intense, also was showing the trademark hook echo on radar and was conveniently a little south of where we were, heading this way and already tornado warned so we hoped on the I90 to get a better view in the last of the evening light.

Unfortunately I failed to account for the lack of opportunities to U-ey on an Interstate and soon we were heading directly toward the hook of the supercell, whose southern side was skirting the Interstate just up ahead. Well, it was in the latest radar scan which is slightly lagged and only updates every three minutes at best.

So at the point we decided continuing was definitely not a good idea I had to announce the frightening fact that this was not possible for another 2.6 miles. We were heading into it. We were in its path so we couldn’t just stop and we couldn’t drive the wrong way on the Interstate so we had to just go for it. The winds were the strongest we’ve ever driven in, powerlines to our right were flashing and the hail that luckily wasn’t yet falling directly on us was lighting up the area just ahead in an eerie white florescent glow under otherwise darkening skies. Timbo drove as fast as we could towards it and I could see his hands tensely gripping the steering wheel as we headed into the white light. We had to drive as fast as we could so we could get out as fast as we could. I sat there thinking shit this is it, shit what an idiot, we’re going to die.

Then the exit was upon us and ignoring the advice of sat nav bitch who wanted us to do something ridiculous as she always does in these situations, we blasted under the Interstate and back down it the opposite way, again being blown sideways with incredible force but hopefully in the right direction. It was still totally possible that we were within the fringes of some nasty circulation so it took a while before we let our breath out. When we did I was both full of relief and shame of the situation I had put us in. Timbo had driven like a master though and we had got out unscathed.

We continued down the I90 and south away from the monster supercells that were continuing to churn behind us. The storm we had just narrowly avoided driving straight into the hook of had just had a tornado reported from it. Meanwhile the first storm we had been on had not only achieved the previous measurements I quoted making it one of the biggest storms we’ve ever chased but later a PDS (particularly dangerous situation) was issued for it and there have since been discussions surrounding it suggesting that the tornadic circulation within it was so strong that it had started to develop a separate circulation within the original circulation which had its own characteristic windfields not unlike that of an eye in a hurricane – a storm that is on a much, much greater scale than any of the storms we ever chase out here. Sounds great – let me point us straight at it!

Anyway, after safely reaching Walmart in Rapid City we had some much needed dinner and waited for the less severe series of storms to pass overhead before we collapsed in a post adrenaline slumber.

Now before turning down any road, even a dirt track my mind does a quick check of ‘Is this an Interstate? Can I turn around?’ I think it’ll be a little while before the day’s events have their worked their way out of my psyche but hopefully the lessons learned from such an experience never will! Another epic chase day!

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

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Fri June 2015

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Fri June 2015

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