Nebraska, Missouri and North Dakota Chases: May 23 - 28, 2006

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

May 23, 2006: Severe storm in Platte County, Nebraska

A very long a frustrating day. I arrived in Oklahoma City at 10:30PM on Monday evening. Tuesday (May 23) would be chase day but my potential target area was far to the north in south central Nebraska. I got my rental car and drove north for a few hours. I arrived in Salina, Kansas (254 miles) and slept for about 6 hours. I wanted to be farther north but I had to sleep enough to chase safely and effectively on Tuesday.  

To my horror, an AM check of the data indicated a target area even farther north and west than I previously expected. I had barely enough time to reach southern South Dakota. I also had to unpack my equipment and buy supplies that I didn't have room to bring (paper towels, sun screen etc.) I headed north to York, Nebraska, then west on I-80. There was an upper level low that would skirt the western edge of South Dakota, approaching trough and a cold front at the surface. I liked the dewpoints in the 60's. I was concerned that the storms would quickly become lines. I prefer more isolated storms. After checking more data, I turned north at Elm Creek, then northwest on 2 toward Broken Bow. A north-south line of storms was already forming just west of Broken Bow. It was moving east while the individual cells were moving northeast. I adjusted my target southward to Valentine which was still almost too far away to reach. I initially thought that more isolated storms would form behind the line of storms. This line was quite disorganized and elevated as I passed through it. In Dunning, it became obvious that this line would be the only significant storms. I turned east on 91 and passed reached line near Burwell, Nebraska. Unfortunately, the storms were too close together. I liked one of the storms just into South Dakota but I was too far south. My only hope would be that one of the storms in the line would become more isolated. In Elgin, I turned south then east on 32 toward Madison. In the outflow of the storms, I saw a couple of gustnados but couldn't get any footage. South of Madison, I targeted a storm that was showing some shear on my XM satellite radar system. My hopes were briefly raised when the wind briefly shifted to be from the southeast. There was significant rotation by radar but I couldn't see any. See attached image of storm in Platte County. After a few minutes, the southeasterly inflow died and I was blasted with cool outflow from the storms, I decided the chase was over and headed to Columbus. I was treated to a nice lightning show on the backside of the squall line.  Dinner was at Applebees. I hate chains but it was close and I hadn't eaten any meals today. Today's mileage: 553. The video that I shot in Platte County was picked up by The Weather Channel.

May 24, 2006: Dying storm in Missouri

The main focus of severe potential was predicted to move eastward into Missouri, Illinois, eastern Iowa and Wisconsin. The risk was mainly for strong winds and hail. The threat for tornadoes was much less. Being mainly in an area of hills and trees, chasing would be difficult. There was a lesser chance of storms in southeastern Kansas. I drove south from Columbus, Nebraska eventually arriving in Kansas City, Missouri. Just south of the city, there was a boundary that was showing some focus of development. I waited and checked more data. Eventually, an isolated storm formed just southeast of the city. I drove south through rush hour congestion to get in position but my new storm died a horrible death. No other development seemed possible and the clouds withered away. I am glad didn't go farther south to Joplin as many chasers. I met up with Jason Persoff for dinner in Harrisonville, Missouri and we traded complaints about the miserable chase season and discussed the long range outlooks. With the awful prospects over the next few days, Jason decided to head back to Denver to visit family for a few days. I'll probably head west in hopes of a few storms in western Nebraska in a couple of days. There is also the possibility of storms in the Dakotas over the weekend but nothing looks especially interesting. I'll also do some sightseening and landscape photography.

May 25, 2006: Travel day for positioning

Today was a travel day to get in position for storms in the Dakotas predicted for the weekend and early the following week. This would also be an opportunity to do some landscape photography. I had a breakfast with Jason Persoff who was going to head back to Denver for a couple of days. We ate at the Wagon Wheel, a breakfast dive in Harrisonville, Missouri. This old fashioned diner was filled with locals. They actually didn't take credit cards and there was absolutely nothing healthy on the bacon, eggs and steak menu. Jason drove west, and I drove north for possible storms in the northern Plains. The best upper level winds would be in the Dakotas and Montana slowly shifting eastward. My main concern was the cap that was predicted to be very strong early in the period.

  I took I-29 northward. While driving through a construction zone south of St. Joseph, a gust of wind (sunny, beautiful weather and not that windy) blew a large metal sign and pole across the road right in front of my vehicle. I swerved, barely missing the sign, but I hit a couple of construction cones. They briefly wrapped under my right front wheel damaging a splash guard. This "accident" briefly delayed my trip as I had the car checked out by a local Chevrolet service place in St. Joseph. Those winds were not blowing fast. I suspect the sign was not properly fastened. I was lucky that I didn't loose control of the car or was hit by the large metal sign.

  After a quick meal in Omaha at Cracker Barrel and check of data, I continued northward. I took back roads through eastern Nebraska and the Omaha and Winnebago reservations. The landscape was beautiful with rolling hills and plowed fields. The soil was very dark and fertile in this region especially along the Missouri River. I crossed into South Dakota and the land became flat. While driving, I saw two strange animals digging in a nearby unfenced plowed field. I had to check this out. Upon closer view, they were wild boar digging old corn cobs. I took some pictures and was careful to keep a safe distance. Wild boar can be very dangerous. The white pig charged and I bolted for the car. The pig ran up to the vehicle, circled a few times and then stopped, looking at me. It then darted into the nearby woods. The black one followed, stopping long enough for the get a quick pic with the video camera. Along this stretch of highway, I saw a couple of deer and pheasant.

  I stopped in Sioux Falls for the evening. I doubted the next day would be a chase day except possibly in Montana which I decided to blow off. Storms were possible in Kansas but the upper level winds would be too weak for tornadoes. I planned on more landscape photography and to get in better position for possible severe weather. I didn't want to head any farther north until I could see more data.

May 26, 2006: Northeast Colorado bust

I wasn't planning on chasing today but after looking at the morning observations, I decided to chase. What a long drive since I started in Sioux Falls, SD. I headed west, then south toward my original target area of Ogallala, NE. Storms were already forming in Colorado when I arrived in North Platte. I turned west, then south from Sutherland in hopes of intercepting development out of Colorado. I ended up in Holyoke, CO. I watched the Kansas cell that later produced a reported tornado rapidly develop far to my south. From my position and my anticipated chase back north for Saturday, I decided I couldn't reach that Kansas storm. The Colorado storms turned to mush. I decided to start heading north when a new updraft formed about 30 miles south of Julesburg, Colorado. There was some brief inflow features and a nice updraft, then it croaked. I found one of the last hotel rooms in Rapid City, SD and spent the evening looking at data for possible storms on Saturday.

May 27, 2006: North Dakota Chase

I know the season is really bad when I have to go to North Dakota for storms. My initial target was northeast of Bismarck. I left Rapid City and headed east, driving by the Badlands and the famous Wall Drug. I haven't been there since I was in college driving around the country and camping with my roommates. Wall Drug is sort of like South of the Border, but less tacky. I turned north on 63 and drove through beautiful rolling grass covered hills with scattered trees in the low areas. I took back roads to avoid the larger towns. In McLauglin, I ran into the Doppler on Wheels group. The armored Tornado Intercept Vehicle was also in the town. They were waiting and checking data. I continued north until I reached the Bismarck area. I liked the southeast winds and area of cumulus. While checking data and preparing my vehicle, I noticed that an area of cumulus just to the southwest became “agitated” and form small towers. The data showed that the front was just to the west. Storms that could move along the front had the highest chance of tornadic potential. I waited just east of Bismarck and watched the storms develop. Unfortunately, there were three in a north south line. The middle storm seemed well enough isolated from the southern storm and it was gaining strength. I drove north on 83, then west and north on 1804 to get a better view. It initially looked good though high-based. Just as it was showing more signs of development, the southerly blocked my initial storm's inflow. I drove east on a dirt road, then south to intercept the southerly storm. As the storm, moving in a northerly direction, passed north of I-94, I drove east for a better view. Visibility was poor due to rain and hail. My east road became dirt, and I had to pick my way along the wet muddy surface to avoid sliding into a ditch. This delay caused me to lose the storm since it was rapidly moving north. I wasn't worried since it was not looking good on radar. I finally reached a paved road and noticed that a better and more isolated storm had formed about 30 miles south. There was initially nothing competing with it for energy. I headed back south on 1804, and I could soon see a nice updraft. There was also a rain free base. Darkness was approaching, and I ended the chase when I couldn't see any more storm features. I watched the intense lightning for awhile, then drove back to Bismarck. In the city, there were scattered gold ball sized hail stones from the storm that I was previously observing. I stopped for dinner at Perkins. Testaurant was full of about 50 storm chasers. I ate with Jim Leonard of Cyclone Tours, Matt Crowther of The Weather Channel, Jay Antle, Mike Umscheid and several other chasers. Thanks to Jim Leonard and Dave Lewison for nowcasting/forcasting suggestions. Video of the storm and hail was purchased by The Weather Channel.

May 28, 2006: South Dakota and Cheese Buttons

I wouldn't call today a bust since I really didn't pick a target area and actively go there to chase. As usual for this season, I have been traveling long distances for "scraps." Today, the set up was especially marginal with several possible targets. One was in far northeastern North Dakota, another in the western part of Nebraska and South Dakota and the final target from Huron to south of Mitchell in the east/south east part of South Dakota. Nothing looked that good with the cap being the major factor inhibiting storm development. Since I wanted to get in position for possible storms in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, I blew off the marginal targets in northeast North Dakota and eastern South Dakota. That left southeastern South Dakota. I took a leisurely drive south from Bismarck taking landscape photos and watching for wildlife. Pheasants were quite common along the road. I don't know if they are just easier to see by the road or if they like that area. They are as common as crows are in the east. Pheasants are incredibly beautiful and stupid birds. Most birds along the road will quickly move out of the way as I approach. Pheasants take their time or fly right into my path. I killed one and narrowly missed several others. The birds were especially common near Strasburg, the birthplace of Lawrence Welk. I also saw a wild turkey, numerous deer, and prairie dogs.

  After crossing into South Dakota on 83, I entered the tiny town of Mound City. There were only a few buildings and houses surrounded by grassland. There were no other towns for at least 30 miles in any direction. I hadn't planned on stopping but a sign advertising "cheese buttons" caught my eye. What the hell is a cheese button? I saw a little restaurant called "Calicos, Home of Georges Famous Cheese Buttons." Since it was lunch time, I decided to check it out. Calico's is a German-Russian restaurant. (It also serves as a hunting lodge for pheasant hunters) Many of the pioneers in the Dakotas were originally Germans who had lived in Russia. People in that region still often eat traditional dishes. Cheese Buttons are also called Kase Knoepfla. A spicy cheese, sort of like cottage cheese, is wrapped in a tender noodle. They are quite good. I also had Knoepfla soup which is a potato and onion soup with dumplings and a Barushka which is beef and kraut rolled and baked in thin dough. This was a welcome change from the usual burgers, pizza and unidentified fried stuff commonly sold in gas stations under hot lamps.

I forgot to take a picture of the cheese buttons. Here is the restaurant's website with a photo and interesting info about the origin of cheese buttons.

In Onida, I managed to get some weather data using a cell phone modem, and I was still unimpressed. The SPC was calling for a 5% tornado risk across South Dakota but I couldn't see it looking at the data. My marginal target was still Huron to Mitchell. Jason Persoff called and stated he could see some cumulus south of Mitchell. It was clear in my area. I took a leisurely route through the Fort Thompson/Chamberlain area along the Missouri River since it is very scenic along the reservoir. The cumulus slowly vanished as expected. The cap was holding but it could still break later in the evening. There is now a severe thunderstorm watch for the area. I ended the day in Mitchell, South Dakota staying at a Comfort Inn. Jason Persoff was also staying at the hotel. I had suggested Mitchell as a good stopping place. Much to our dismay, the wireless internet was not functioning. Many of the hotels including the Comfort Inn were affected. I hate dial-up. It is so slow. Jason and I found Wi-Fi at the very good restaurant, Depot Pub and Grill in Mitchell. Nothing was going to happen that day. This was the worst chase season though I am still having fun exploring new area and taking pictures.

Next Page: May 29, 2006

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