2008-06-11 Little Sioux and Missouri Valley, IA Tornado

This one’s kinda tough. This is the third tornado I’ve chased that killed someone, but this one’s different.

Left work at 5 PM, made it to just across the river from Blair at six, in pefect position to check out a SVR-warned storm that was passing just north of Blair. Organizing wall cloud…

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There was one more storm to my north that had already been SVR-warned, and a string of pearls stretching to southwest of Lincoln that all went TOR quickly.

I kept repositioning myself as the storm moved ENE, getting back on I-29 at Modale, north to Mondamin, as the storm became more High-Precip (just like Every. Freakin’. Storm. This. Year.) Between Mondamin and Little Sioux, the storm just to my north was finally DITOR, but I had lost all visibility as I came up on the edge of a Niagara-style curtain of rain.

This might have been a wall cloud, probably not, but it definitely was inflow and it soon got eaten by the rainshaft. I looked at radar screenshots later, and unless you considered the storm-velocity readings you couldn’t tell there was a tornado in there. The was no classic hook echo.

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I have driven through at least three tornadoes this year, and I was getting sick and tired of being so stupid, so I turned around. Pragmatically, I never chase through the Loess Hills anyhow, because you lose your nice gridded road pattern…and your escape roads… (Off into the hills. Easy come, easy go.)

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I then crabbed south, hoping to catch the next cell to the southwest. Just to the southwest of Missouri Valley, I sidled up to a wall cloud, Doppler-indicated TOR-warned, electrified as hell. When you find Mike Hollingshead on the same storm as you, you’re having a good day. I got our of my car, not too excited but relieved to be in the right spot finally. (Mike wondered what the hell I was doing out of my car!) Here’s his story… so you can see my ugly mug:

You can see the Rear-Flank Downdraft trying to wrap around and a funnel just above the farmhouse. Tried to tornado…

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We both bailed as we got cored, again. Crabbing south again meant a storm just leaving Omaha, DITOR-warned. I had a choice to make, and none of my options really enthused me. Wait for the Omaha storm to cross the river, try to catch something in mid-town Omaha (right), or try to get south of Omaha–toward home–and see what was there. North, I had a narrow corridor between the river and the bluffs, midtown was suicide, and south had better roads but I’d lose daylight.

Turns out the midtown storm tried to chase me but I beat it to I-80, only to find out that the nice little string of tornadic pearls were in the process of coalescing into a line, albeit a line with small tornadoes on the front of each storm. I drove west to 72nd Street, south to Cornhusker, telling myself that I don’t chase in metropolitan areas…

Wifey calls me about this time, I was trying to see what was going to kill me off to my west…or south…or southwest. She wants me to tell her which way to go to get home, and I honestly had no idea. Weather was popping up all over the place, and while I’d rather not corepunch, me doing it is one thing but I didn’t want to vector my wife into anything.

Turns out none of us had a choice.

I’m driving like my ass was on fire east on Cornhusker, another DITOR behind me, with signs vibrating, quarter-size hail pinging off the car, and the power going out all around. The corner of Cornhusker and US-75 means your east options are nonexistent, so I had no choice but to head south. And immediately the next storm to the southwest went spotter-verified TOR, near Louisville, heading my way with my house generally in between…the front of the storm caught me at LaPlatte, a few gustnadoes on the front end but mostly a ton of rain. NE-66 west to NE-50 north to Springfield and home.

By this time the radio is talking about the tornado that hit the Scout Camp, the rain-wrapped tornado up in the hills that I refused to chase. If I couldn’t see it, if Mike wouldn’t go after it, then those poor guys never saw it coming and never had a chance, with no shelter. A lady at my work (who had seen her first ‘nader the week before) has a son in the Scouts so we didn’t see much of her the next week. What a colossal downer and I hope to hell they rebuild with a shelter.

Video of all three intercepts: Youtube behaved long enough for me to upload this:

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Author: Damon Hynes

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

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