Friday, June 08, 2007

Day 12 June 6, 2007

Scott and I were in the van... then we saw it - a funnel was coming down in the distance. A beautiful white cone! Debris, we have debris! This tornado looked like a good one. I grabbed the video camera... but wait. How come it wouldn't record? I try again to get it working, but failed. Then the phone rang.

I jumped out of bed, somewhat shaking. It was my wake up call. I got dressed and headed downstairs. Today was shaping up to be a big day... was it going to be our grand finale of the trip? Only Mother Nature knew, but things were shaping up nicely. The only issue was the inversion layer. It was pretty strong, but we figured if the storms were to start firing, it could be potentially a busy day. The SPC had issued a moderate risk for parts of Nebraska and South Dakota. There was a hatched area for a chance of F2 to F5 tornadoes. I had downloaded models the night before and I was pretty pleased with the setup so far. And so was Ron. We were to head towards Murdo, South Dakota today.

On our way through Nebraska, we popped in to the Nebraska National Forest Park. It was quite pretty and reminded me of camping back home. There was a tower that you could climb to get a great view of the area but it was locked off. While taking our pictures, Ron was looking at the models deciding where to go. A warm front was making its way through the central plains and that would help bring the much needed moisture into the region for the system to come together. The backing winds were quite good today... they were screaming from the southeast.

We continued on our way to Ainsworth to grab a bite at Subway at 2 pm. Ron and I then went to find wifi to get updates on on the models. Our favourable area would be near Murdo. There was great flow, the helicity was supportive of tornadic supercells, and there was a dryline bulge near the area. A tornado watch was issued.

We headed slightly west to Valentine. When we neared Bassett, we looked for a tornado damage path that Mike heard about from the May 5th storms. We encountered buffeting crosswinds and dust was being kicked up by the strong winds. We got onto highway 7 north of town. I saw some tree damage and empty areas where homes used to be, with only tornado cellars left. We went west on highway 183 and saw a house damaged, including more tree damage.

I saw an old gentleman approach Scott. Scott asked him if he was the guy who was inside the tractor when the tornado hit, and if he minded sharing his story. The windows exploded and he had glass bits in the side of his face. He then mentioned a van. "It rolled three times.", he said. Luckily it was unoccupied at the time. I said to him that he was very lucky. He invited us to check out his property and take pictures if we wanted. Tornado damage is something I don't particularly like to see, but it seems to be a part of life here in tornado alley. People get used to it. I walked around and saw vehicles with entire windows blown out. The van that rolled three times looked pretty banged up as well. The house was quite badly damaged... it looked like it would be pointless to try and fix it up. A good part of the roof was ripped off and thrown behind the house onto the lawn. Chunks of insulation was strewn across the property. It was pretty unbelievable to see all this. We shook his hand and thanked him for allowing us to have a look around.

We continued west. At 4:40, I noticed an anvil off in the distance. I was guessing the storm was located near our target. Scott mentioned that the winds were so strong that it was cutting into the anvil and making lines. I also spotted a couple of transverse rolls off to our north.

A severe thunderstorm warning was issued for northwest Cherry county at 5:15. It had weak rotation and it was capable of producing winds in access of 70 mph. Ron said that it was 60,000 feet tall, and it could have 2 to 3 inch hail on the ground. The shear was also increasing. We reached Valentine to get more updates, and then headed north on highway 83. It was time to intercept.

Once we reached Murdo, we went west on interstate 90. Ron said that there were a couple of rotation couplets. I saw some transverse rolls being tilted into the updraft by the helicity. It was pretty neat to see, and it was a good sign. We then saw a beautiful shelf cloud at 6:30. As we were taking pictures, a sheriff had pulled up to get info on the storms. We then continued west. A tornado warning had been issued. We encountered strong winds from the shelf cloud. Scott then saw a white tractor trailer get blown over on its side and landed in the centre median. The sherriff that approached us was there to assist the truck driver. We also saw the DOW truck and the Tornado Intercept Vehicle heading east.

Ron led us on a dirt road going north to do a big loop around. Ben pointed out a very distant wall cloud but it was hard to see because of the hills. We finally made it back on interstate 90 eastbound. Other than the shelf cloud and distant wall cloud, this storm wasn't doing much. It now looked like it was becoming more outflow dominant. We did a turn around and headed west a little bit again to see if we could get behind the storm. We turned around once again to go east and stopped at a gas station. Ron said the storm was falling apart. Not good at all. We ditched the storm and decided to head east to Mitchell for the night.

Heading east on interstate 90, we saw developing storms along the outflow boundary shoot up. The anvil appeared to be backshearing. I went on the radio and said to Ron that I think we should check it out. I then happened to put my hand on my neck and felt something. It was a tick! Luckily I was able to get it off and there was no bite mark or blood, and it was easy to remove and intact. That just made me paranoid for the rest of the evening. I must have picked it up when we were viewing the tornado damage since there were tall grasses and horses nearby. Gross!

We pulled up into a gas station to check things out. Ron didn't seem to be confident in these storms and I could see the disappointment in his eyes. I know he really tried his hardest today but there was nothing we could do about the lack of an outbreak. We hung around for a little bit and watched the towers build. Ron said we can continue east and see what happens. We neared Mitchell and Ron updated us. The storms that were building had poofed on radar. Dang! We ate at Ruby Tuesday's in Mitchell and went to a Best Western for the night. I was pretty worried about the tick because I never had one before, so I did a Google search on tick bites. I realized I was safe afterall from the diseases. But from now on, I'll never walk in tall grasses again! After that, I then found out there was approx. a half hour long tornado just west of where we were. Oh well, it wasn't like we were tornadoless on this trip anyways. It was like the video camera in my dream was a symbol of the setup that didn't quite come together to make that outbreak we were expecting.

Tomorrow we are to head due east for a high risk setup near Wisconsin. This would be our last chance to get tornadoes.

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