Friday, May 17 was a make or break day for me as a storm chaser. The forecast had indicated since Monday, May 13 that severe weather was possible at the end of the week.
A low pressure system was set to eject out of Colorado, southerly winds were bringing up rich golf moisture to the area. A cold front was descending into the area and a dryline looked to be the focus for storm initiation.
Storms were expected to fire along the state border, mature and move through north central Nebraska. Acting on this I targeted Broken Bow and waited for storms.
Storm mode favored a linear line early on and was a bad sign for potential tornadoes. I moved down to Oconto when I realized storms were firing further south than I anticipated.
As Lexington was getting pounded with rain and hail I was north of the storm waiting to see if it would organize. I followed it over toward Eddyville and stayed on Highway 40 as the storm fizzled out and lost it's severe weather warning.
I drove on through to Riverdale and stopped in Kearney. A supercell had formed near Atwood, Kansas and was moving up into Nebraska, passing near McCook. Soon after, the storm picked up a tornado warning.
My heart sank when I saw this. I had thought of targeting McCook earlier in the week. A fully discrete supercell was putting down tornadoes and I was too far from it. I thought for sure it would dissipate even if I made a mad dash to get to it.
About 10 minutes later I checked the radar again. The storm showed no signs of weakening. I saw the latest track update on my phone's radar app. It was going to keep heading northeast, right into Dawson County.
I made the decision then and there to attempt to catch this storm. I hit the I-80, going as fast as I dared.
The storm was not weakening and it was maintaining a tornado warning as it crossed into Dawson and neared Farnam. I got off at Darr and headed west and then south into the hills to get an eye on the base of the storm.
Tension was building inside me as I got closer. I could make out a wall cloud, and a lot of rain surrounding it. I turned west again and began to drive toward the base which was several miles off. The setting sun back lit the sky orange, giving me decent visibility.
Something emerged out of the rain, I didn't believe it at first, I thought I was just wanting to see something so bad I was making myself see something which wasn't there.
Then there it was, the rain parted enough and I got eyes on a very thin rope tornado churning away at the ground, dust being lofted into the air. there was no doubt it was a tornado. I couldn't decide what to do, I started taking pictures after watching it briefly.
I've wanted to see a tornado since I was a child. In 2003 I witnessed a weak land spout tornado, and ever since that point I've wanted to see another. I hope 10 year old me would be proud.
The tornado roped out about as soon as I got eyes on it. I kept watching the area for another tornado, but the storm began to move northeast and I did the same to keep up with it.
Soon after I got eyes on a funnel cloud dipping low out of the storm's base. I couldn't see what was going on at the surface thanks to a terrain but video from a nearby camp site showed a small debris swirl kicked up under this funnel and I suspect I witnessed a weak EF-0 tornado.
The only time I was nervous during the whole chase was when I pulled off in the hills and Midway Lake to snap a photo of the storm over the valley. I realized I couldn't readily turn around and the storms hook was bearing down on the location. It was a rookie mistake I shouldn't have made, but I got pointed in the right direction and finally made it to the road grid of the valley.
I met up with a carload of four men I had seen earlier while chasing. They pulled up behind me and I introduced myself to them. Their accent caught me completely off guard. One of the group told me they were from London. They had traveled all this way to catch a glimpse of a tornado, I hope they were able to, they were a long way from home.
I hit Highway 21 south of Cozad and the road was clogged with storm chaser traffic, all along the route there were cars and pickups parked with a ton of people taking video or photographs. I did the same for a short bit and then continued north to keep up with the storm.
I disengaged after I got to the Interstate, I was low on fuel and didn't want to press my luck. One confirmed tornado and another probable were enough for me.