Day 7 - Holy Shit, you got to be kidding me

25 May 2012

We woke up in Keokuk which is on the most south-eastern tip of Iowa. We chose this location because it was in the vague direction we needed to go the next day and we were hoping we may be in line to get hit by the storms approaching from our south-west overnight. However, as it turned out their trajectory was slightly north of us.

After waking up and looking at the models, we were quite excited about the setup. There was a slight risk zone covering much of Kansas and Nebraska . There were 2 ways to play the day. We could either aim for the warm front that was draped over Nebraska. The northward advancement of this warm and humid airmass would result in it being lifted over the cooler air already in place and should trigger thunderstorms. The alternative was to head to the triple point which is an intersection point between fronts. In this instance it was the intersection between the warm front already mentioned and a north-south orientated dryline. The dryline is the boundary between the warm moist air to the east and the drier desert to the west. Due to the greatest buoyancy of moist air, as the dryline moves east which it tends to do in this areas in the spring, the dry air undercuts the warmer moist air, promoting lift and again, thunderstorms are likely along the line. This is the set up we decided to play for.

However this was to our east across the entire state of Iowa and into Kansas. How far into Kansas we needed to be would become clearer nearer the time as we tried to find the exact position of the triple point. Tim guessed this was a good 3hr 15mins away, whereas I felt I underestimated slightly with my guess of 2hr 45mins. How stupid of us. We should really be a bit better at distance forecasting by now. It was over 6 hours away. We picked a route and headed that way at a fair pace. The state troopers are pretty hot on pulling people over however, so some sly driving was needed.

Our choice of roads could have been better. We chose the most direct route to our destination as you would expect. However, we also realised today that even though the interstates may cover more miles they are so much faster. No 25mph restrictions in little towns, less obstructions, less getting stuck behind lorries etc. Another lesson learnt. Anyway, as we were on the I70, the last part of our journey we saw the most amazing cell firing up directly in front of us about 80 miles away. Depressingly our chaser friends that had chosen the interstate all way were already right underneath it watching it explode in the sky. Not only were our chaser mates there, but every single storm chaser we recognised by name and about another 50 we didn't. The chaser convergence was the greatest we'd ever seen; maybe POETS day had something to do with it!

  

We were soon under the canopy of the storm and soon certain features became clearer. There were apparent lowerings and some strong areas of inflow. The storm was now tornado warned and one chaser had already reported a tornado on the ground. We pulled off the interstate at a place called Russell and dove south to get a better view of the storm.

As it neared to our exact location, we headed a bit further south and pulled in across the other side of the road and got more piccies.

 We could see areas of rotation in the lower parts of the storm and the rain bands appeared to be swirling and dancing around. We prayed that it would put down a tornado, but apart from some beautiful lightning and structure, it had seemed to reach its peak and the base was now much higher. There were a few other cells in the area, so we left this one and concentrated on the next. All of these storms were moving incredibly slowly - only 10 mph which is very unusual but most welcomed as it allows time for refinement of position and getting cameras and tripods set up etc.

The lightning from the next cell was prolific and both me and Tim set up in a field and photographed lightning for about 20mins.

 

 Some of the strikes were close, but the storm was still about 5 miles away so we were out of the way of any rain and hail. In fact, we hadn't been rained or hailed on at all from these cells. Again, very unusual but it makes things so much easier!

We then decided to get in a bit closer and found a little farm track which was paved. Many of the smaller tracks are just dirt roads and our insurance restricts us from driving on unpaved roads which is a shame as they are often the quietest yield the best photo opportunities. The second cell  was slowly drifting north-east away from us, but behind it we could see a third cell approaching,  about 4 miles to our west. The cell appeared to have a strongly rotating wall cloud which is a great sign as these often signify the cell may become tornadic. 

We both stood there, pleading and jumping around. If there was going to be a tornado, this was the moment it would happen. I danced round in circles in the hope the storm would follow my lead. That didn't work. So I decided to make a ciggy thinking just as I'm about to smoke it, the tornado might arrive; it works with buses?!

Then a slight point formed from the bottom of the wall cloud. It grew longer and seemed to be stretching towards the ground. We were screaming, 'come on!' Then touchdown! The whole process appeared to be in slow motions. It was only on the ground for about 10 seconds before it lifted! It then started to rope out in the most extraordinary way. At one point it appeared detached from the cloud base itself but was still drilling away in the distance. We managed to whittle down a few hundred photos to the below!

Accompanying this extraordinary scene were very strong winds but again, no rain. There was also no panicky situations of having to grab the camera stuff and get out of there quick smart as the storm dangerously approached. The movement of the storm north-east meant our position was perfect to just sit there and watch it move past. The whole experience was eerily beautiful and very peaceful!

As the lightning became more frequent we headed south a little, but not without getting a couple more photos of our tornado producing cell in the sunset. 

We then headed for the next tornado warned cell behind it. This looked like the last in the line of 4 and according to storm spotters had also put down a rather large cone tornado. However, by this time it was very dark and a late night chase in the dark with potential tornadoes isn't our cup of tea really, so we opted to sit on the roadside and get some shots of the monster storm as it passed over. Again the structure was beautiful and the many parts of the storm were clear to see as it let itself up.

 

This particular cell actually put down 2 more tornadoes after dark, one of which caused a bit of damage in the area, but luckily no one was hurt. Some chasers stay out to report on and track these tornadoes after dark. We decided however to head to a mote. We drove for about an hour and settled for a motel called The Log Cabin about an hour away in a place called Salina, KS. We showered, cracked open a beer and spent the next few hours ogling over our photos. I couldn't sleep until gone 3am from being so wired! In fact I still can't believe what happened and it was definitely the best chase to date.

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

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Fri May 2012

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Fri May 2012

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