Monday, June 05, 2006

Tornadoes near Huron, South Dakota!


Today was promising to be an interesting one. Ron and I had good feelings in our gut. We left Sioux Falls and headed slightly west towards highway 81. The SPC had issued a moderate risk for southeast South Dakota, eastern Nebraska and northwest Kansas. There was plenty of ACCAS around, indicating that the atmosphere was pretty unstable. What was also a good thing was that the surface moisture had returned for the first time in several days, with a southerly surface flow.

On our way west, we decided to check out the aftermath of the Manchester F4 tornado that occured on June 24, 2004. It was almost the 2-year mark of this devastating storm that whipped out the entire town. When we arrived, I was speechless. There was an erie calm. Just 2 years ago, there was a town there. Now all that remains are twisted trees. Nothing is left. Nothing was rebuilt. The only thing new was the rail road crossing signs. A feeling of saddness overcame me. This was definately a reminder that we need to respect Mother Nature's raw power.

We grabbed some lunch at a Dairy Queen in the nearest town. We continued westward. Ron's first target was near Madisson, SD. His second choice was Neal, NE. The NWS in Sioux Falls put out a severe thunderstorm watch around 2 pm for the area we were going to be targeting.

A little while later, the Baron was showing a supercell that quickly developed near Wessington around 3:15. This was the first storm that had shear on it, and the only storm in South Dakota. It had 50k feet echo tops. I spotted a developing wall cloud, that was close to the ground. As we neared the storm we took a gravel road to get closer. Unfortunately there was a river and no bridge was there. So much for that option. So we took another road, and pulled over. The wall cloud was really beginning to crank. A multi vortex rain-wrapped tornado occured behind some trees, but it was very poor contrast. Finally, the NWS issued a tornado warning for Sanborn county. The Baron was showing a 126 mph shear cuplet on the storm.

We hauled southward because the wall cloud was catching up to us. When we were further south in a better position near Huron, we watched the wall cloud really beginning to crank around. The RFD had kicked in. Then we saw it. A tornado quickly spun up. Our first visible tornado! It did not last very long, and shortly after, another larger tornado formed. This one had more of a thick cone-shaped/stovepipe look. Two tornadoes within minutes from the same storm ain't too shabby at all! Although they did not last very long, we did get video and still pictures. They occured near highway 281 (and probably crossed it too).

After the tornadoes dissipated, the supercell's core was getting closer to us. We saw a bright green core which looked pretty wild. We decided to cut through the core... not something I recommend if you don't have a good eye, a good driver and a Baron Wx Worx system. The core was insane! We were literally in 0 visibility deluge, with winds, rain and half inch hail. I kept my eye out for any sudden changes in the direction of the wind.

Finally we arrived in the RFD/outflow area. We made it out of the core alive! A bunch of dust was getting kicked up and the outflow actually felt kind of nice since I was hot and sweaty before. Whew!

The storm was beginning to weaken and the threat of tornadoes seemed to dimminish. It eventually rained itself out. We left the storm to spend the night in Valentine, NE. We had a celebration steak and beer dinner at the Peppermill Steakhouse. Was it ever good! Our catch of the day was a pretty good one, considering we targeted outside of the SPC moderate risk area.

Tomorrow we are planning for eastern Colorado, but it won't be near as good as today's setup.

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