May 30, 2011: Nebraska Storms



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


I started the day in York, Nebraska. There was the possibility of tornadoes and the SPC had outlooked a Moderate Risk for Central Nebraska into the Dakotas. I wasn't happy with the orientation of the jet stream and the surface winds. The predicted storms would quickly transition into a squall line. Rapid storm motion would also be a problem. After reviewing forecast model data, I decided to target north-central Nebraska just to the northeast of a surface low. I also wanted to target the tail-end storms in an area with more backing of the surface winds. The Dakotas were not in range since I had to be in Wichita the following day for a flight home. I drove west then north to the town of Ord. Dave, Scott, Chris, Dan and the Canadians also targeted the same area and we met at a truck stop in Ord. This would also be the last chase days for the Canadians and for Chris. We all waited and watched satellite images of Nebraska for signs of development.

A tornado watch was issued for our area. Soon, a diagonal line of cumulus was visible just to our west. When a couple areas of cumulus appeared "agitated", we quickly drove northwest to Burwell and continued west. We could see storms exploding to our southwest. These would move rapidly to the north, and we wanted to be on them early. Near the town of Brewster, we could see the dominant storm rapidly growing. Unfortunately, the storms were also becoming a north-south line. We watched our targeted storm as it approached us and passed us to the north. There were now additional storms to our south to watch pass by to our west as they moved north. The road network was terrible, and there was no way we could follow the storms northward and have escape routes. Just to our north, our initial storm developed signs of rotation. The storm became tornado-warned farther to the north as it crossed 183 and as it headed toward Atkinson. It was moving northeast at 50 miles per hour. Although we couldn't catch our initial storm, we hoped that other storms in the line would take the same amount of time to intensify. We headed southeast, then north on 183. Our northward progress was blocked by additional storms. Where our initial storm had crossed 183, there were hail stones that still measured 2 inches in diameter after melting for over 30 minutes. Several chasers had their windshields damaged. We played with the hail and waited for additional storms to pass by to our west. We couldn't go farther north or east due to the poor road network. Several of the storms to our west showed signs of rotation but we couldn't get safely close enough to investigate. We dropped a bit south as the northeast to southwest line of storms slowly shifted toward us. The motion in the clouds was intense and we saw several brief funnels in the swirling clouds. Meanwhile, on radar, we could see that our initial target storm was southwest of Atkinson, Nebraska and had a nasty hook echo, indicative of a tornado. Any chaser approaching from the east would have a nice safe view of the storm crossing the road. With the northern route completely blocked and no east options, we headed south and stopped for fuel at a gas station in Taylor. It was packed with chasers including Silver Lining Tours, and The Weather Channel's "Great Tornado Hunt" entourage. After a bit of a wait for gas and bathrooms, we decided to go our separate ways. The Canadians had to start driving back to Ontario and Chris was going to drive back to Florida. I also had to get back to Wichita that night. Only Dave and Scott had more days of chasing.

After saying our goodbyes, I drove east. There was a massive squall line to the west with embedded mesocyclones. There was a slight potential for tornadoes but one would have to get too close, and they would likely be wrapped in rain and hail. Isolated storms are much better to chase. I drove through Burwell and southeast to Ord. Since there was still some daylight left, I decided to get another look at the raging squall line to the west. I drove back west and could see a black and brown wall of clouds to the west. Clouds of dust were being kicked up by the outflow. Just south of Loup City, I did see a brief gustnado. These are not true tornadoes but can appear as brief rotating columns of dust ahead of a storm. Unfortunately it died before I could get the camera on it. I had to retreat east as the squall line was accelerating and gaining on my position. In the town of Saint Paul, they were sounding the tornado siren and the area was hit with swirling dust and debris. From the radar, it was either hit with a gustnado or a downburst. I was very annoyed because I had let the tape run out in the dashcam and didn't get footage of myself getting munched. I blasted east, barely staying ahead of the massive storm. My progress was interrupted when I was pulled over by one of Nebraska's finest who let me off with a warning and a thank you for being out and observing the storms. It was getting dark. When I reached 83, I turned south and arrived in York a few minutes before the arrival of the squall line that by now was extending into southern Kansas. I didn't want to drive south in a north-south line of storms and decided to get dinner at a truck stop and let it pass. After I was behind the line, I headed south on 83. The lighting on the back side of the storm was amazing. Lacy flashes pulsated across the sky from different directions. Sometimes they looped toward me, other times, they directly hit the ground. As I wanted to get back soon, I didn't bother taking pictures and just enjoyed the show. I arrived in Wichita around 4AM and was able to get a couple of hours sleep before packing to come home.

Altocumulus Castellanus (ACCAS)
near Ord, Nebraska

Fun things to do at a
truckstop in Ord, NE

Group pic in Ord, NE
by Dave Lewison

Approaching the storm

Heather watching the storm
that produced some brief funnels

Big hail on 183; 30 minutes
after storm. 2 1/2 in

Big hail on 183; 30 minutes
after storm. 2 1/2 in

Hail damaged chaser car on 183

Checking out hail damage on 183

Frustrating radarimage. Original storm
rotating and north route for us is blocked

Storms approaching from west

Dropping south on 183. Storms with
massive hail cores appraching from west

Taylor, Nebraska gas lines due to chasers

Chaser convergence, Taylor, NE

Rapidly approaching storms

Dying gustnado near Loup City, NE

Go to Storm Chase 2011

All images Copyright 2011 William T. Hark