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Storm Chasers Log 6-8-20: Tornado Warned Supercell

Storm Chasers Log 6-8-20: Tornado Warned Supercell

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This chase is something special to me, a relativity local chase with supercells, tornadoes and gust fronts. It was the whole package in one chase.

Severe weather looked likely on Monday, June 8. A cold front was set to move through north central Nebraska and radically turn the hot weather we had been having on its head. The cold front in Nebraska had stalled on Monday and would be the focus for storm initiation.

Storms could have fired anywhere along this line, which was draped across north central Nebraska and different models were showing a verity of locations of where storms would fire. I made the decision to hold my ground in Lexington, and hope I wasn’t too far off.

By 5 p.m. a patch of cumulus clouds seemed to be aggregating along a line running north and south in the Gothenburg, Maxwell and Brady area. At the first sign of storm initiation around 5:30 p.m., I hit the road, knowing I couldn’t wait any longer.

The cell passed over Brady and was moving north toward Arnold at a tremendous speed. It picked up a severe thunderstorm warning soon after and I thought about trying to catch this cell. By the time I reached Gothenburg, I knew I couldn’t but more storms were forming to the south and were beginning to strengthen.

I drove north on Highway 47, flanking the storms, which were quickly pushing thunderheads high up into the atmosphere. There were several storm bases which looked like they might organize into one updraft. My suspicious were confirmed when a lowering appeared in the cloud base, this storm could be turning into a supercell.

The wall cloud lowering began to expand and at times picked up a tail of inflow. I moved west to get closer to the storm and it began to take on the look and organization of a rotating supercell. I could tell as the rear flank downdraft, RFD, began to cut a hole in the updraft, creating the characteristic hook shape, known as a hook echo.

Eventually a bowl lowering formed on the northern side of this RFD/horseshoe feature, it looked like the wall cloud had returned.

By this point I felt like the storm was teasing me. Some warning signs a tornado may form is a sudden gust of inflow into the storm. If you are facing a storm, it blasts you in the back. A rapid uptick in positive bolts of lightning, far more powerful than the more common negative charge, also denote the possible inception of a tornado.

Both had occurred up to this point, and I was mentally urging the storm on to produce. Soon after I saw a big of dust being lofted in the air under the wall cloud, it was faint and lasted only a couple moments and I hesitated calling it a tornado out in the field.

Later on, after submitting the photo to the National Weather Service North Platte office, they did confirm my report of a brief tornado north of Maxwell. Most of the tornadoes which occurred on June 8 were brief and elusive. I count myself lucky to have been able to see the needle in the haystack, and it’s my third confirmed tornado I have seen.

Not long after the spin-up I had to keep moving north to keep up with the supercell. Dark clouds, low hanging around the base, gave the storm an eerie feeling, but with a road leading directly west, I decided to close in closer than I had before.

On my last intercepts of tornado warned supercells, I had given them a respectable distance. With little rain falling in my area and a rise of hills just ahead, I proceeded within a mile or two of the base of the storm. Watching the clouds rotating rapidly in front of me was a sight to behold.

As the storm kept moving north, I did as well. I thought for a moment the storm was losing its structure and might fall apart, but this cyclical supercell was reorganizing once again. I found Highway 47 again and used the pavement to close in with the storm; a low wall cloud was appearing as the storm approached Arnold.

It was near the intersection of Highway 47 and 40 where I got a surprise. Dust was violently blown across the road in my path of travel, which caught my attention, right after, my vehicle was impacted by a sudden gust of wind. I had to fight with the wheel to keep the car straight for a moment.

Several things happened at once.

I realized the winds I was impacted by were those of the RFD. In some cases the RFD can contain winds over 100 mph and can cause its own damage, its considered a dangerous part of the storm. If I was close enough to the storm to be impacted by RFD winds, then I was close.

 

Immediately after this realization, I glanced at a notification on my phone which I was using to display the radar. My phone was alerting me I was inside a tornado warning area and should seek shelter immediately.

I saw why, the NWS North Platte had renewed the tornado warning on the storm I was chasing and I was on the edge of it. I decided not to go north, but headed east on Highway 40 toward Callaway as the supercell proceeded to the northeast.

As I got further away from the storm, the immense structure of the supercell became apparent. The storm loomed over the area like something out of science fiction. The area behind the gust front was nearly black with precipitation.

Not far out of Callaway I pulled off the road to get more video of the storm. The RFD gust front was kicking up dust and dirt all along the valley floor I was in. The storm also appeared to organize once again, with a wall cloud being a prominent feature.

Another storm chaser pulled off alongside me and pointed out what could have been a funnel cloud deep in the storm. My rolling camera was able to capture it, briefly, but I couldn’t confirm if it connected to the ground, a requirement for a tornado.

Not long after I rolled into Callaway and tried to find a good vantage point for some more filming, but the terrain and roads didn’t want to cooperate. I stood there taking the storm in when a utility rig and ambulance with the Callaway Fire Department rolled past and stopped down the road.

They were out spotting for their community and I approached them to talk about the storm and additional threats which could hit the area.

The storm was still carrying a tornado warning as it neared Broken Bow, but with the fading light I made the decision to call the chase and head for home.

A tornado, amazing storm structure and RFD blast had provided me with more than enough experience.

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