MAY 17, 2019: MCCOOK, NEBRASKA TORNADO AND CHASE

 
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First storm of the day developing west of Wallace, Nebraska. Beautiful chase country out here!

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Wall cloud developing as storm base lowers just north of Herndon, Kansas. Starting to get excited about our possibilities at this point!

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Wall cloud still getting organized just north of Herndon, Kansas near the KS/NE border.

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Twin funnels! Shortly after the last photo between Herndon, Kansas and Culbertson, Nebraska.

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After the twin funnels, the wall cloud remained as we traveled northeast on dirt roads to the southwest of McCook, Nebraska.

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Another funnel southwest of McCook, Nebraska as we stair-stepped up to the northeast and followed closely.

Beautiful tornado looking west from McCook, Nebraska! Impressive dirt plume.

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Wide shot of the tornado outside of McCook. What a beauty! Wizard of Oz type tornado.

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Even wider shot of the whole storm and tornado. Notice that impressive and textbook clear slot to the left of the tornado with the eroded cloud base.

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Awesome tightening up and rapidly rotation wall cloud near Farnam, Nebraska. We drove right up to this thing but it did not produce.

STORM PREDICTION CENTER OUTLOOKS:

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STORM REPORTS:

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CHASE LOG, PROVIDED BY RICH HAMEL

A great chase day rewarded by 2 tornadoes (some saw 3) and some adrenaline pumping close encounters! We started the day in North Platte with a general target northeast of the triple point near McCook, NE, with the intent to also keep an eye on storms forming further west along the Nebraska / Colorado border, or potentially needing to drop even further south into Kansas. We initially headed south on Rt. 83 down to McCook, but as storms were already firing west of us, we almost immediately turned around and headed back up to Wellfleet, west on Rt. 20 to Wallace, and then south on Rt. 25. We then stopped about 10 miles south of Wallace to consider our options: there were robust storms to the west coming off the Cheyenne Ridge, but we were concerned they would be high based. Meanwhile to our south there was a storm coming up from Goodland, KS struggling in bad air, but quickly moving into a far better environment. We ultimately decided to target that storm and headed south.

We proceeded down through Hayes Center, then east on Rt. 6 and south at Culbertson onto Rt. 17. As we closed on the Kansas border, the rock-hard eastern wall of the updraft of our rapidly intensifying storm became visible and we knew we’d made the correct choice of storms. We ended up stopping about 2.5 miles from the Kansas border just north of Rt. 704 and could see scud rising into the base of our storm, but as yet it was still fairly disorganized. We stayed with the storm moving back up Rt. 17 and turning off on Rt. 710 to stop and observe again. At this point the storm had a much more defined wall cloud and produced two decent funnels and showed intensifying rotation as the storm got close to us. The storm began to get the look that it could tornado at any time, but soon we were forced to move or risk being cut off by the hail core packing 2-3” hail, so we scooted north to stay ahead. We headed back up 17 and then east on Rt. 713 which unfortunately was dirt, watching behind us as the wall cloud showed more and more rotation. With the storm moving quickly northeast, we blasted east on the dirt road and then north on road 384 and thankfully back onto the pavement into McCook.

As we got to McCook, the tornado sirens were blaring and we decided to head north for a mile or two on Rt. 83 out of town to get a look before heading east. As soon as we turned north, we spotted a large dirt plume, RFD, and then north of that another… with a large funnel extending downward. Tornado! We quickly turned into a nice, empty parking lot near Heritage Hills Golf Course with a clear view to the west and observed the large tilted “Wizard of Oz” tornado churning up dirt about 3 miles west of town. The big white tornado moved northward with a large, dirty debris fan for several minutes, then roped out with a large kink and elongated funnel that stayed in one spot churning as the funnel stretched more and more northward before finally dissipating. We knew the storm was not done yet but now had some catching up to do so we beat feet east!

We now had considerable maneuvering to do in the very poor road network of southwest Nebraska and it would be nearly an hour before we were back in position. We blasted east on Rt. 6 almost all the way to Cambridge, temporarily losing our view of the wall cloud, then turned north on the paved Rt. 73A. We eventually intersected with Rt. 18 to head east…. Only to find that it was not paved!! This slowed our progress dramatically. We slugged our way east about 3.5 miles before turning north onto another dirt road heading towards Eustis. Around this time as we were about 5.5 miles SW of town, we were seeing more tornado reports and heard word of a dusty cone tornado in progress. Our view to the west, when we could see going up and down through little ravines, was of the old meso deteriorating and the new one with a large amount of dirt flying but no clear view of the tornado if it was still there (some guests said they could see it, and later I did see a picture one had taken that made it pretty clear. I did not). Continuing onwards, we descended into a gully, only to hear of another tornado in progress! We quickly turned up a side road and saw an elephant trunk tornado in the distance in the process of roping out for tornado #2 of the day! It only persisted for a minute or two then we were back to our trek in the dirt.

We finally made it to Eustis and back on pavement and quickly blasted west right towards the meso and met it just as it crossed Rt. 23 near Farnam. The wall cloud was spinning like crazy and it appeared that the storm might drop a tornado right in front of it but it never quite focused. We waited until the meso started to fade from view and then blasted east again to keep up. Later, there were several tornado reports from Farnam as the storm must have tornadoed right after it got out of our sight.

We passed through Eustis again and north on Rt. 21 with the wall cloud just to our west churning away. About 15 minutes past as we blasted up towards Cozad, racing the hook echo to town to prevent getting cut off. As we closed on the Interstate and a safe path east, the mesocyclone was quickly closing on our position and soon was almost right over us. In fact, from van 2 I was yelling over the radio that a satellite area of rotation appeared to literally be right over the lead van. The storm just beat us to the highway and soon we were punching the hook from the south with a big block wall cloud just to our northwest and crazy rising motion all around out. As we got to I-80 and started heading east, we were blasted by strong RFD winds that threatened to blow the van right off the left side of the highway with the wall cloud churning seemingly right outside the driver’s side window!

After that adrenaline moment, we headed east down I-80 (and later, there were more tornado reports in Cozad where we’d just had the close encounter) and got off again at road 428, blasting north right back at the mesocyclone we’d just left. We caught up again about 5 miles north of the highway and were once again in the bear’s cage right under the meso, with a huge plume of RFD dirt rising almost surreally to our east, and the wall cloud immediately to our northwest. Suddenly a huge gustnado blew up right to the left of the vans, immediately causing several guests to scream “Tornado!!” I could see the rotating plume of dirt, but not the cloud base, so I could not confirm myself but others could see that there was no connection to cloud base nor was there a funnel, so it was confirmed as a gustnado, not tornado. Still, some anxious, exciting moments! Ultimately, after heading east on road 761 to continue stair-stepping, we stopped the chase about 10 miles from the highway as the mesocyclone was getting away from us and there was no way to keep up with the road network north of the highway. Passing through Lexington back onto the highway, we were less than an hour from our hotel in Kearney and got there early enough to celebrate with a good meal and a beer at Old Chicago.

A really fun chase day! Two tornadoes, maybe 3, and a couple of very up-close moments under the mesocyclone. A pretty solid chase considering the road network. With better roads, I’m certain we could have gotten 4 or 5 tornadoes from the storm.

Miles for the day were 389.2 for a trip total of 1243.1

MAY 16, 2019 NEBRASKA: SUPERCELL AND TERRIFIC LIGHTNING DISPLAY

 
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Storm developing in front of us with initially elevated base near Grant, Nebraska.

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Storm continuing to develop near Grant, Nebraska. Rain and hail curtains becoming more prevalent.

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Wall cloud starting to develop near Madrid, Nebraska.

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Awesome structure and shelf cloud near Paxton, Nebraska!

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Another shot of the storm’s shelf cloud near Paxton, Nebraska.

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The first in a series of great lightning shots from near Brady, Nebraska! Several to follow below:

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Stopped near an irrigation system near Brady, Nebraska to catch some additional lightning shots.

STORM PREDICTION CENTER OUTLOOKS:

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STORM REPORTS:

CHASE LOG, PROVIDED BY RICH HAMEL:

A day that looked like not much was going to happen turned into a fun chase day! Starting in Oklahoma City, we targeted a sagging front in Nebraska, knowing that the target area would be where we wanted to be for the upcoming triple point the next day and we had to get up there anyway. With low expectations because of a lack of sheer and modest dewpoints, we traveled all the way from OKC to Ogallala, NE before stopping to decide what to do. When we got there, there was a severe, anchored storm about two hours to the north near Alliance which was the original plan to target, but as the storm was pulsing down and a new group of storms was forming to our south from Julesburg, CO to Imperial, NE, we waited a bit longer and then proceeded straight south toward a storm that was just getting to Imperial. We headed down Rt. 61 through and to the east of Grant and stopped to observe the first storm coming towards us.  The results however were not impressive as the storm had very little lightning and nothing else to offer. We continued farther south, about half way to Imperial, and watched the storm to our south get a little more intense, and the storm to our west was showing signs of life as well. As the first storm got to us, we headed back east and out onto the dirt county roads north of Madrid. We stopped again as the storm to our west took over the show, with much more lightning and some motion under the updraft. Soon the rain was encroaching on our position and since we were on a dirt road, we had to run to keep from getting stuck in the mud.

As we stair-stepped north and east trying to get to pavement, we observed a good deal of blowing dust from the gust front and outflow, and later as we made it to pavement and headed up the road north to Paxton, observed a gustnado to our east that looked like it could have been a landspout, but had no visible connection to cloud base or funnel.

Up near Paxton, we stopped and watched the now linear storms come at us and produce a really cool shelf cloud, rolling and roiling towards us. We observed the great structure and intensifying lightning for a about 10 minutes before heading east to get to the tail end of the line, blasting down I-80 until we got to Hershey then heading south on Rt. 56C. Now the shelf cloud had taken on an orange tint and was massively electrified as the whoile line was now severe warned. As the cell directly to our south got closer, the storm intensified and soon had maxed out VIL’s, meaning big hail, coming straight at us. We blasted east just in time, catching a little hail but no damage. We continued east on I-80 all the way to Brady, stopping there to watch lightning in all directions, from little popcorn storms north of us, and the more robust line to out south. After about 15 minutes, we called it a day and made the easy trek to North Platte and the hotel.

Miles for the day were 773.1 for a trip total of 853.9