2004-08-26 Riverton and Coin, Iowa Tornado

“A hot and windy August afternoon
Has the trees in constant motion
With a flash of silver leaves
As they’re rocking in the breeze”

–Neil Peart’s lyrics, RUSH, “The Analog Kid”

August? Are you smoking crack? I don’t know if this was a rilly late spring or an early fall…

Since everyone else was either busting on marginal setups all week, or like me, staying home, I kept looking for reasons to downplay the Moderate Risk that SPC had issued for Thursday. However, I had made arrangements to get off work at 3PM, with an eye toward Atlantic, IA. Previous days’ MDTs had kept getting scooted farther away from Omaha as each afternoon passed, and I was just sure that Thursday’s target of Atlantic would turn into Des Moines or Mason City…

The 1630Z SWODY1 came out, still no change. Stormtrack.org ‘s regulars were downplaying the dynamics, and SPC’s Mesoscale Discussion indeed…moved it north…and pooh-poohed the TOR chance. So, I went to a meeting at 3PM. At 425PM, I was planning on going home—but by 430PM I was out the door, babe!

Two things: SPC coughed up a Red Box from the KS border NE to Wisconsin, and Mike H. pointed out a cumulus field west of Neb City and a small yellow blip on OAX radar! Within minutes, that yellow had turned into a SVR for Neb City, and guess where I was going…

456PM, backsheared and backbuilding:

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I was still 20 miles from this thing, in broad daylight, but I could still see the lightning!

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Got to the outlet mall in Neb City in time to get hit by a hot NW wind—60MPH for three minutes, 80 for one, followed by dead calm. At the time, I had no idea what it portended; I didn’t think it was RFD because the sky still wasn’t clearing. Must have been, though—as events would bear out…

Headed east on NE-2, was going to go as far as the truck stops on I-29 before reconnoitering. The river bottom afforded a great view off to the south; I could see a ton of lightning and a lowering. At this moment I also felt that it was still winding up. Just needed official sanction, which I got as soon as hit the truck stops, DITOR for Fremont County, IA! Rotation north of Hamburg—that’s my wall cloud! Kept east on IA-2, with the wall cloud just a mile south of the road, close enough to touch…but I was heading into the bluffs, and I had to worry about the visibility and the fact that this might head northeast and cross IA-2. I needed to keep an eye on the trees—so far, all the debris was still heading south, LOL…

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Stopped at the intersection of IA-2, US-275 and CR-46, the wall cloud finally put down a funnel halfway down that lasted a second. Between the intersection and Riverton, I saw this:

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Not soon after, I was on gravel west of Riverton and finally saw ground circulation for a second—not long enough to photograph it. Called it in to Fremont 911, and that was the last call I made as I lost cell coverage. Kept heading generally east, got to Riverton and it was OMFG time:

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Notice in some of the pics the second wall cloud off to the SSE. This was the one that produced the TOR that hit Coin and College Springs. The first wall cloud got absorbed into the general morass of clouds, but I had to check both sides of the road as I kept going east.

Took unmarked county roads until I got to County J-52, occasional funnels but too much rain and way too much lightning to justify the risk/reward to me—and my cameras!

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Got to Coin, and this wall cloud got serious. Right on top of the road. Stills don’t do this justice—the wall cloud was rotating at least 60MPH for at least an hour:

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(you can see the multiple-vortex ground circulation, in between raindrops…)

Never saw the damage near College Springs. The wall cloud got more diffuse after that, I actually lost my bearings and drove through it as a result. Made it to US-59 before the rotation…This was never in any danger of becoming a F5 or anything, but if the initial development had been 20 mi west and 5 mi north, Neb City would have gotten whacked something fierce. The Arbor Day City would have been the Sapling City…

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Author: Damon Hynes

Used to chase tornadoes, until Ma Nature ran out of them...

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