Central Nebraska Tornado (brief), Funnel, Rotating Wall Clouds and Storms: May 16, 2004

chase images and log by William T. Hark, M.D.


May 16 was fun yet frustrating chase day with a brief view of a tornado (unable to film) along with multiple rotating wall clouds and a funnel cloud. I started in York, Nebraska and spent the morning checking data and making a forecast. My initial target area was in northwestern Nebraska but as the day continued, I shifted it to just west of my location near Grand Island. While getting breakfast, I encountered a chaser convergence at a nearby hotel and Country Kitchen. There were probably over 50 chasers congregating in the parking lot including a couple of storm chase tours, university chase groups, the Doppler on Wheels (DOW) research team and an armored vehicle that the drivers plan to drive into a tornado (1V). Inside the vehicle is an IMAX camera. The armored car is partially sponsored by National Geographic. I ran into a number of people that I knew including Jim Leonard with his Cyclone Tours, Mark Robinson, Dave Sills, Sarah Scriver and the Twister Sisters (Melanie Metz and Peggy Willenberg) . It is always fun seeing old friends in unexpected places.

At 2:30PM, I headed west to Grand Island and then northwest along State Road 2. The road continued along beautiful rolling grassy hills and scrubby forests. I had stopped near the town of Ravenna at 3:52PM to photograph some wildflowers (2P) when I received a call from Jason Politte. He told me a storm was forming to the southwest and had become tornado-warned. The storm was moving northeast. I plotted an intercept course toward the town of Miller. I headed south on Ravenna Road, then west on the dirt Grand Island Rd (3V). Unfortunately the road network is very bad. These dirt roads are difficult in dry weather and impossible to drive in wet weather. A storm was visible to the west but the stronger storm was to the southwest. I turned south on 10 at 4:20PM then northwest on 40. I had to briefly backtrack because I missed my turnoff. Without GPS, I was relying on a Delorme Nebraska Atlas. Most of the dirt roads in grids are not marked. As I neared Miller, I saw a brief high-based funnel (4V) at 4:45 PM. The main storm was approaching Miller and new storms were forming in a line. All were moving northeast. I drove through the town and south on 183. I stopped to watch the core (5V) of one of the storms. The main storm was to my north and additional storms were forming to the southwest. As one storm would lose severity, others would gain strength. Following storms was difficult as the road network was terrible. I was trying to avoid dirt roads after almost getting stuck on a side road when I pulled over to watch the storm. I talked with Jim Leonard via cell phone and we exchanged information on local conditions. There was a stronger updraft to the west. After watching the storm from 40, west of Miller, I headed back east and again south on 183 at 5:25PM. I could see some rotation in the storm at 5:40PM. Visibility was poor and even the paved roads were slippery with mud. There was a tornado-warning for a storm to my north. I dropped south, east and then north on the paved state road 10 to intercept the storm. I wasted valuable time avoiding rain-soaked muddy roads. As I approached the storm from the south, I could see a huge rounded updraft (6V) towering into the sky by 6:20 PM. I turned east and was 7 miles west of Rockville at 6:40PM. There was some rotation to the north. At 6:46PM, I saw a brief tornado though the trees just southeast of Rockville. I was heading east and the storm was to my north. I turned north on a muddy road (7V) but it was too slippery. Arrghhh! I backed up and blasted east hoping for a better northward view. Before I could find a place to stop, the tornado vanished. I wasn't able to film it. I continued east on State Road 58 and the road curved northward toward Dannebrog. At 7:03PM, I was just north of Dannebrog (and south of Elba) and could see a lowering (8V) to the west. The wall cloud (9V) was rotating but no tornado. Another wall cloud (10V) formed at 7:14PM but it was undercut by rain. I again ran into the Twister Sisters at 7:25 PM and we watched the more disorganized and outflowish (11V) storm. There was another lowering (12V) to the north at 7:30PM but it dissipated. I turned east on 92 but eventually ended the chase as darkness approached. I later found out from Jeff Piotrowski that there was a visible tornado near Elba on the north side of the mesocyclone. I was in the proper viewing position (south of the meso) but the storm wasn't following the rules.


(1V) (2P) (3V) (4V)
(5V) (6V) (7V) (8V)
(9V) (10V) (11V) (12V)

P --- Photo, Fuji Velvia 100
V --- Video Still

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