Montana put a banging donk on it

10 June 2016

Another amazing chase day in Central Montana. A conveyor belt of storms had us yoyo-ing up and down the same road all day with storms overhead and some intensifying right above us, unexpectedly!

From our motel in Miles City, it was about a 4 hour drive west back into the mountains. We got up, Timbo used the gym and we made use of the eggs on offer for breakfast, went to Walmart and then thought, given the early initiation yesterday we should probably get a move on. So we nailed the shop in mega quick time and were soon on our way.

About 5 minutes out of Miles City, I realised delaying the fill-up to a gassy on the outskirts of town hadn’t been a great idea as we hadn’t found any, I’d forgotten all about it and now we were on our way to the next town which was 60 miles away with only 65 miles of fuel available. Rather than turn around as that would be defeatist, we opted to drive for an hour in sticky conditions, with the air-con off, slightly under the speed limit to keep things more efficient. A seemingly continuous climb to the tiny town of Jordan didn’t do us any favours but we just made it and whilst filling up at the back country gassy, we bumped into a fellow chase buddy Willoughby Owen who comes out here each year from Darwin. I love these random meetings of friends in such boundless wilderness.

We continued west and before long saw the top of an enormous cell initiating over the higher terrain.

First Storm Pano

It was still a fair way off but within an hour or so we were close enough to see its approach over the mountains.

First Storm Shelf

We watched and waited but as is often the case in these situations, the storm struggled to maintain its intensity immediately off the mountain. This is a testing time for storms and when reaching the flatter terrain they will either re-intensify or die out. Given the limited road network, tracking with this storm was going to be near impossible anyway, so we opted to let it continue northeast whilst we waited for the next in line.

Even though the first cell managed to re-intensify, deciding to do this was a great shout and we put ourselves right in front of the approaching second cell. We watched as it neared and split into 2. When the precip hit, we hastily drove off to keep ahead of it.

Second Storm Meso

We parked up and after assessing the storm was losing strength, we thought it might be fun to let it pass overhead. We were out of the way of the main core and its movement was to the side of us, so we took a few photos and then put the laptop in the footwell and turned the car to face the storm.

Tim and Third Storm

The darkness started to envelope the car and the wind picked up. But the strength of the winds were starting to feel greater than we were actually expecting and the swirling cloud above was much lower than it had looked previous. The next radar update verified our thoughts and this part of the storm, the marginal sausage shape echo we had previously seen had not only strengthened but the storm was now starting to show signs of a developing hook echo – the most recognised and well-known signature for tornadic supercells. Tim leant forward, looking up into the storm to see the start of a developing rotating mesocyclone and just as he did there came the loudest ‘donk’ as a huge ball of ice was hurtled at the car.

Hook Wait Out

Within a flash we had 180ed the car and were accelerating down the road. The revs got louder, Mr. Pilkington went flying off the dashboard and we pelted down the road through strengthening gusts. After a few minutes of some of our most intense driving we reached the safety of the sight of other chasers who were a good way down the road looking back in the direction we had come from. We pulled over and now watched from a safe distance. Although fairly rain wrapped by this stage, we could see a rotating wall cloud. We couldn’t believe the speed at which this had developed and will now definitely be wary for similar patterns in the future – the potentially fatal radar sausage of doom.

Third Storm Wall Cloud

Third Storm Precip

We followed the storm for a while longer but had to leave it as it hurtled off at over 50 mph. However, all was not lost as there was another in line!

So back we went up the road for the third cell. And wow, what a shelf cloud! It was like watching a tidal wave of cloud in slow motion. But the closer we got, the quicker it appeared to be moving. We drove as close as we could to get a picture and then about turned, learning our lesson from last time.

Third Storm Shelf

This storm progressed in a similar way to the last. It too went through a period of looking less intense, making a sausage cloud of doom. But this time we weren’t fooled by the sausage and made sure we were well out of the way before the storm intensified, which it did and this supercell was the most intense of the day so far, apparently causing some structural damage from a tornado that developed later in the cycle.

We had thought we might be able to track with this one, but all the storms were extremely fast moving. A few smaller cells had also popped up around us and now all the hail cores were starting to merge, limiting visibility and the whole area was becoming messy and rainy with low swirling dark cloud, no real structure visible, buffeting winds all around, so we just got out of there and headed south.

By this time it was nearly 8pm. We were both famished – it had been an extremely long day and we hadn’t stopped for nearly 12 hours.

But, unbelievably there was another cell popping up in the distance, from the same mountain source that had given us all the previous beauties. However, with the sun now setting, limiting the energy available for the storms, it was time for a non-severe pretty pastel sunset storm and wise words from brown owl that it was time for bed.


Owl At The End Of The 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 2016

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Fri June 2016

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