Saturday, May 31, 2008

Kearney, NE tornadoes

DAY 5 MAY 29, 2008

We left Delhart, Texas in the morning and headed north towards south central Nebraska to chase the moderate risk area. Indices were quite high and seemed favorable for tornadic supercells. At least that is what we were hoping for. It was going to be a typical get up and go haul. The warm sector was heating up nicely, with southeast backing winds increasing in speed throughout the day. We had to be on I80 by around the dinner hour near Kearney, NE.

On our way up, we passed through Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was hit by the first EF 5 tornado last May. It was quite eerie since there were still a lot of scars leftover. However, they were making good progress of rebuilding their town despite what had happened. That town just amazes me because of their sense of community pulling together after a disaster. The people there seem to have so much hope for a brighter, greener future.

A nice cumulus field was setting up in western Nebraska, with towers starting to build up along boundaries that were taking place. So far things looked really good. By mid afternoon, a supercell was starting to develop and track eastward. That was going to be the first major storm of the day. Ron mentioned that SPC had put out a high risk. Oh boy here we go... I can see it now, a bowing segment with clocking forward motion speeds. High risk days seem to do that to us. We were still hoping that the developing supercell over western NE would stay isolated.

As we kept tracking north, the supercell had formed a hook. I was able to get mobile internet working on my laptop, and came across a picture of a nice wall cloud that a chaser took 20 minutes ago. We were going to be in for something good today! We could already see another storm just to our west starting to go up, with mammatus under the anvil.

We crossed the NE state border and headed slightly north. The supercell that we were targeting was finally coming into view. Wow what a nice stack of plates developing! We saw a small funnel cloud. We cut eastward to get ahead of the storm and managed to find some back roads to get into position with a good road network. We saw a few chasers on the road but it was not very crowded, which was nice. Strong inflow started to kick up dust into the storm. Wow! By now, the stack of plates was starting to look really dramatic. The Baron was picking up several rotation couplets on the storm, and we could see a wall cloud and a couple other areas of rotation. When we were south of Kearney between I80 and hwy 34 on 690 Q Road approx. 3 miles northwest of Minden, NE, we saw a dark solid looking feature underneath the wall cloud. According to the Baron, this storm was cranking. What the heck is that? Tornado? It took on kind of a wedge-like appearance. Ben and Pam then pointed out a definite tornado just to the left of this interesting feature. I looked to my left and saw a light tan colored condensed funnel halfway to the ground with a debris swirl underneath it. That at least makes 3 for us this week so far! Woo hoo! I grabbed one photo of it while Ben rolled video before it quickly dissipated. By now we lost sight of the dark unknown feature because it became rain-wrapped. We were facing north towards Kearney and it all happened around 5:32 CDT.

After that excitement, we turned left on another back road to watch an area of rotation. It was pretty neat watching it spin and a clear slot was overhead. We watched this for a little bit before continuing back north to I80. By now the storm was crapping out and picking up forward motion speed. A typical high risk setup. We headed east to try to catch up again but gave up and turned around and headed into Kearney to fill up with gas. We had trouble finding a gas station that had power. Driving through town, we saw large trees uprooted and slight structural damage. Some windows were blown right out and shingles peeled off roofs. We finally found a gas station that was opened and filled up. We then decided to take a look around at some of the damage. Some of the tree damage was just incredible. One particular tree that was beside a sidewalk got uprooted and lifted up a few of the sidewalk blocks with it. Some other trees fell right beside homes just barely missing it. Roof shingles were blown off with some parts of roofs totally stripped of shingles. Some metal posts were bent, signs damaged. The people in town were walking around and seemed to be ok. We didn't find anyone that needed emergency help which was a good thing. Some of the damage was facing in one direction while the rest of it was facing another direction, which suggested possible tornadic activity.

Later on, we heard that some people, including chasers saw power flashes while the storm was happening and it was confirmed that a tornado was definitely in town. We think that the dark feature we saw under the wall cloud could have been the tornado. We decided to grab a bite to eat at USA Steak Buffet. During dinner, I happened to look out the window and see beautiful sunset lit mammatus. I went outside to grab some photos. After dinner, we sat in the parking lot during twilight to look at the mammatus as it got dark. Definitely the best mammatus I have ever seen. My photos came out quite nice, with lots of color and dramatic appearance.

Tomorrow we plan to make our way towards Oklahoma if no storms are expected. A great day, despite missing the Kansas tornado fest.

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