Day 8 - Dakota Supercells

25 May 2013

We were lucky enough to have breakfast included in our overnight stay at The Rodeway Inn, but seeing as though it was only served until 9am and we hadn’t gone to sleep until 3am, we overslept and settled for a coffee instead. It was another slight risk day with 2 areas of interest. One around the Nebraska panhandle near where we currently were and one further north, in the Dakotas / Montana region, about 5 hours drive away. The lure of greater tornadic potential and earlier storms pulled us north and we set off with a target of just north of the Black Hills in South Dakota, with the hope of getting there for about 3pm.

Sure enough as we headed north through the Nebraska panhandle and into South Dakota a single storm started to fire just above the Black Hills, off the higher terrain heading northeast. It seemed a slow mover but was ever growing. We were still 2 hours away! The Black Hills, although beautifully scenic, is not good chasing territory as there are too many, well, hills, meaning the chances of actually seeing the base of storms is quite limited unless you manage to get a good road in, but roads up that way are very rare too! However, it seemed that the I90, the interstate that runs east-west through South Dakota would get us quite close and there was currently one other road off this that would get us right into the storm. How accommodating the storm was being!

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As we got nearer, we could see it was fairly high based, but it was a monster for sure. We parked up at a care home for the elderly and took some photos. Random I know, but the views were good, which they often aren’t up this way. We were treated to not only a funnel cloud (seen as white in the below photos) but a rainbow against the storm too.  Unfortunately, the funnel didn’t make it anywhere near ground level, but rotation was clear and had the storm being more anchored in the boundary layer (just above ground level), it may have stood more of a chance of developing into a tornado.

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Although other storms had started to fire further north, we decided to stick with this one and attempt to track it on the limited roads. It was clearly rotating as can be seen from the snappy cam shot I got below.

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Unfortunately there was hardly anywhere to pull over to take photos or any other roads that would take us into it, so after a few more attempts at following it, we decided we’d have to let it go and headed on up further north in the hope a road might coincide with some of the other storms that were still developing.

As we headed north, back through the town of Sturges that we had now driven and backtracked through at least 3 times, it seemed as though the storm we had our particular eye on was becoming ingested by a bigger cell in the area. In fact this new focus of interest was the combination of about 3 storms in the area and as we approached he started to look quite nice. We were the only ones up here on this storm. You can expect far less chasers in this area for the reasons I’ve dwelled on above and it’s so nice to have a storm all to yourself. It seemed to be lowering in places and we willed it to put down a tornado. The updraft was powerful and clearly rotating and it was in a completely unpopulated area, just roaming the Plains. However, it was not to be, but we did track with it for a while and managed to get some awesome photos of it in its various stages, including its dissipation at sunset.

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It was about 9pm now local time, but being on the northern high plains, we were lucky enough to have a little light left. We used this to our advantage and went to scout out the very last storm in the area. It didn’t look like much, but we thought we may have a chance of experiencing some lightning and maybe if we managed to drive though the middle of it, give the car a quick clean too! However, once in close proximity to this last dwindling storm, we found the lightning to be epic. We were on quite high ground around the Custer National Forest and the forks of lightning were becoming unnervingly close. If anything, it seemed as though the storm was gaining in intensity and we were stuck on a single road heading straight into it; there was no turning back! It had developed a hail core and we must have been driving through 1.25inch hail in some places, quite often hearing it boing off the car roof. I became a little concerned we might crack a window, but Tim took it slow and after 10 minutes we were out of the worst of it. It was a bit scary, again! Also, the winds flowing out of the rear flank of the storm were incredibly strong and it took both hands to keep the car on the road, with moments of extreme gustiness being highlighted by tumbleweeds flying across the road. Once out, we looked back and saw what we had driven though. It seemed a bit of a monster and this was backed up by what we were seeing on radar. It had developed a rotating meso in the upper level of the storm and was on its way to having 3inch hail being reported from it. In hindsight, our timing was rather on the lucky side!

We took some photos of it as it lit itself up with an intense display of lightning. The updraft was incredible – so much power. It blew my headband off and it was all we could do to keep our tripods from not falling over.

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To top it all, then the moon came out! We could not believe out luck to witness a massive supercell storm ferociously moving through the area in one line of sight, whilst out of the other corner of our eye, the moon was gracefully rising up from behind some other clouds in the distance. Nature at its greatest.

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Before long, we were beaten by the outflow winds and could stand no more so we called it a day and headed south to the nearest Walmart as we were both done in. It had been a very long day, with a lot of driving and many breathtaking views. Definitely a chase day we’ll remember, and probably dream about for quite a while!

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

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Sat May 2013

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Sat May 2013

< < Day 9 – A late starter in Broken Bow      :      Day 7 – Slightly better than moderate > >

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