2011-04-09 Onawa, IA Tornado

Well. I’ve never chased successfully north of Omaha before. It’s a hard dollar–only three bridges between OMA and SUX, and broadcast radio usually is horrible. Sioux Falls radio doesn’t care much about Sioux City, and usually they just throw a Twins game on and fuhgeddaboutit. Omaha radio doesn’t care about anything north of Blair. But it was a dynamic day, triple-point in NE Nebraska and a trailing dryline both threatening to cough up storms. I figured I’d drive to Onawa, steal some internet and let the chips fall–I could always pace the dryline on my way back home.


I hadn’t seen much on the drive north, until practically to the Onawa exit. Pulled into Mickey D’s and pointed west, fired up the laptop and watched this to the west. I was worried about the LCL–this seemed very high-based…however, this is an RFD dropping like a bomb out of a SVR-warned storm, so let’s see what happens…


And at the same time, here’s a field fire that looked at first glance like a gustnado. Depends on who you listened to, either a burn pile that got out of hand or lightning. I never saw any lightning until a lot later, and no rain or hail at any time!


Fire on the right, and a gustnado to the left. About the same time, OAX issues a DITOR for this storm, and I looked up–maybe just maybe I could rationalize a middling funnel, and there was rotation but nothing worth calling in. The week before, the boards were all aflutter regarding gustnado/tornado ‘hybrids’–which I had some problem with. Either you’re pregnant or you’re not…but here was something similar. I laughed to myself…


Closeup of the gustnado, Two days later, I saw other video from people who had a wider angle on this, and they convinced me that this was actually a tornado. Weak, maybe an EF-minus-1…


The RFD caught up to me, (I was spitting out dust for two days) and as things cleared out at Mickey D’s I headed east, through Onawa, and toward the bluffs. After Forest City, MO in 2009, I’d rather not chase in the hills–with the three hundred chasers out today, the last thing I needed was to get hemmed in. This was off to my north, I was thinking at the time that this was the same gustnado from west of Onawa. That night, I thought to myself that ‘gustnadoes don’t last that long…nor do they get that big’…


Last picture before I turned around. That white dot is another chaser, there were tons on that road and everyone more or less agrees this is where the Kennebec/Mapleton EF-3 tornado began. I’m happy with my choices, though. It was darn near dark, and if I’d kept going, worst thing would have been me not seeing the tornado that killed me, best case would be being in northern Iowa at midnight nowhere near a Marriott…

Here are the evening’s video selections. I went back to Mickey D’s, I could see the dryline try to get going, but the cap won out and everything crapped out within an hour. I stared packing up, then I heard sirens coming up I-29, four IHP Crown Vics turned right at the diamond interchange, four wheel drifting onto the frontage road…where two of them pulled into the 66 station to get gas! Whatevah…


Author: Damon Hynes

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

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