Today was a successful storm chase. The Bradgate tornado was viewed along with another smaller tornado. I started the day in Des Moines, Iowa. A significant severe weather outbreak was expected with a moderate risk across Iowa. Determining a target was difficult as storms could fire anywhere along the warm front or even along the dryline to the southwest. Areas of interest included north of Des Moines and in northeast Nebraska. I checked data with Jeff Piotrowski, and we finally decided to head north and then west. Interestingly, there was a bull's eye of low LCL's to the northeast. At 1:28PM, we turned west from I-35 toward Fort Dodge. We were approaching a small storm that was heading east and it was producing hail. We stopped briefly to observe the storm but it appeared outflowish. We decided to blow it off and continue to the target area. Jeff and I drove through the storm and encountered some small hail. Approximately 30 miles east, the storm along with a nearby storm, became tornado-warned. Arrghhh! We stopped and considered blasting back east. I didn't think these storms would hold together, and we would have better storms later in the day at the target area. We continued west and then watched the storms produce hook echos on Jeff's XM receiver. Jeff received a report that a news helicopter was flying around a tornado and sending back live images. I was really depressed. We stopped several times to check data. The eastern storms were too far to intercept.
By 4:21PM, we were approaching Sac City on State Road 20. Storms were forming to our northwest near Cherokee and another was to our west. They appeared mushy and soft. Further west in Nebraska, winds were still from the southwest in our initial target area. We turned north at 4:45PM on 71 and headed toward Storm Lake. Storms were developing to the east of the town. The storms to our north then developed multiple cores. Visually, they appeared outflow dominated. We stopped to get gas and considered blowing off the mass of cores to the north. Then, one area began to develop shear by 5:15 PM. We blasted north and briefly saw a wall and tail cloud. The wall cloud (1V) lasted for a few minutes and then dissipated. We were on the southern storm of a developing massive complex of storms. A new area of shear appeared to the northeast at 5:30PM. We continued north on 71, then briefly turned east on 10 before dropping south and then east on 3. The storm was to our north and moving east. The storm appeared linear; however, rotation was apparent on the XM receiver. We entered the town of Pocahontas at 6:07 PM, and I could see some rotation through the trees. A tornado warning was issued for the storm. There was a wall cloud (2V) visible at 6:11PM. To the north at 6:12PM, I could see rapid cloud motion and rotation in two areas. The storm appeared linear and the forward portion was somewhat bowl-shaped at 6:13PM. A view of the northeastern part of the storm (3V). The whole storm was rotating. We continued east and stopped again approximately 6 to 7 miles west of Gilmore City. Jeff yelled that a big hook echo was on the XM satellite receiver. A tornado (wide view (4V) and close-up (5V) ) was visible to the north behind the precipitation that was wrapping around the edge of the storm at 6:16PM. We continued east. The storm kept cycling and at 6:20PM, we saw violent rotation of the cloud base. A narrow tornado (6V) formed along the southern edge of the storm and extended two-thirds to the ground. A brief dust-whirl (7V) confirmed to us that it was a tornado. Further east along 3, we sighted a weird twisted funnel (8V) at 6:24PM. The storm was still north of the road. We entered the town of Gilmore City at 6:24PM as the tornado sirens were blasting. The streets were empty. We followed the storm eastward and it developed a nice inflow feature. Hook echoes appeared and vanished on radar through the whole period. At 6:35PM, the southwestern part of the storm (view 1 (9V), view 2 (10V)) showed rotation and a hook was seen on radar. Rotation was visible but no tornado. Cold air eventually started to enter the storm and it died. We left the storm as darkness approached and ate dinner in Fort Dodge.
Unfortunately, we later heard that the town of Bradgate (a few miles to the north of Gilmore City) was serious damaged by the tornado from this storm. Injuries were reported. Jeff left to survey the damage and I drove west to South Sioux City, South Dakota. The drive was wild as the sky flashed with lightning (11V). The lightning was constant and I probably could have driven without headlights. Frequent CG's (12V) stuck the ground as the background clouds flashed. Based on radar images and time stamps, the first tornado was the Bradgate tornado. Less likely, it was an earlier tornado that had passed near the town of Rolfe. A damage survey by the NWS showed a maximum of F2 damage in Bradgate.
All images are video stills. Video from the Bradgate, Iowa tornadic storm is available for stock video usage.
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