Category Archives: severe weather

Storm Chasing:  2015 Storm Season Arrives…..BUT

There is still an unseasonable and unreasonable plume of frigid air pushing south across the U.S!  Temperatures across tornado alley should start to become a little more seasonal towards this weekend, although, if this year is anything like last year we may have a late season frost or snow in May!  Ugh!

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Oklahoma Lightning. May 2013 Purchase this Print!

It won’t be too much longer until the plains become alive with sound of rolling thunder as the lightning electrifies the air.  In fact, my town just sounded the tornado sirens during the annual statewide tornado drill!  Needless to say, chills momentarily ran down my spine as the excitement grew.  (If you want to learn how I shoot lightning, then visit this link and learn my method!!!)

West Point, Ne Supercell. - Buy this Print

West Point, Ne Supercell. 6/14/2014. – Buy this Print

I have been extremely busy with airline interview preparation and actual interviews with maybe two or three more interviews to go before the wait for a start date begins.  Storm season will be tricky for me this year as I may end up being in training during the peak of this years stormy weather.  That’s perfectly fine by me as I would rather be up in the air than pinned down by gravity.

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Splendid Mayhem. 2012 Purchase this Print!

Gilman City, MO Tornado Chase - Mammatus Clouds-6/30/2014

Gilman City, MO Tornado Chasing – 6/30/2014

A small group of outflow boundaries mixed with an advancing cold front from the northwest made for a great day in north central Missouri to chase storms. The possibility of tornadoes was fairly high up in Iowa along I80, however, the storms fired a bit early and a resulting derecho formed causing wind damage through parts of Iowa and Illinois.

I chased a discrete storm that formed near Bethany, MO. I made my way out in front of it and positioned myself in the hook. Several wall clouds and some broad rotation were observed but I never could confirm any ground circulation mostly due to trees and terrain.

The storm eventually went outflow dominant and with no other storms taking on supercell characteristics, I decided to call the chase and head home. Storms were firing along the cold front but cold fronts are not big tornado producers due to the undercutting nature of the cold front. The storms were not severe when I intercepted them and I figured I would try to at least get a nice lightning shot. Checking the radar, I noticed a small area of rotation that was just to my southwest. So I jumped on the interstate and pushed south to get a better look. Keep in mind, FROPA (FROntal PAssage) had already occurred at this point. Again, due to their undercutting nature, cold front storms are fairly non-conducive to tornadogenisis.

Gilman City, MO Tornado Chase - 6/30/2014

Gilman City, MO Tornado Chase – 6/30/2014

However, as I made my way south along I35 a feature in the rain began to form. The rain tapered and to my surprise there was a rotating wall cloud with a nice bowl funnel crossing the highway a few miles to my south. I was impressed! I figured I might see a wall cloud but a full fledged funnel? Thankfully, there was an exit just to the south of the mesocyclone.

I took H highway towards Gilman City, MO in Harrison county and paralleled this developing tornado. It was a fairly weak tornado but it was still a good tornado! As soon as I saw the ground circulation, I phoned Clinton county emergency manager (Corey Sloan) as I knew he could relay a report to the NWS. He took down my report and within minutes Pleasant Hill NWS was calling me to confirm what I was watching. They promptly issued a tornado warning for the storm I was on.

A while later, I spotted another tornado (a very weak tornado) just north of Chillicothe. It was probably a good mile or more away from me but it was weakening and moving right at me so I positioned myself just a few yards to the south of where I thought it would be. It kept coming towards me. The funnel was easy to see as it moved over the top of me.

After all was said and done, I was treated to the best lightning display I have seen since 2011!

Gilman City, MO Tornado Chase - 6/30/2014-lightning2

Gilman City, MO Tornado Chase – 6/30/2014-lightning2

Lightning Strike Missouri - 6/22/2014

I took my mid kid storm chasing for this setup since it was close to home.  We drove to Platte County Missouri through the windy terrain of northwestern Missouri and watched a great lightning show as the updraft intesified.  We also watched a nicely structured mini mesocyclone thunderstorm complete with stacked plates / striations.  It was pretty epic for how short of a distance we ended up driving.

Storm Chasing in Platte County Mini Storm-6/22/2014

Storm Chasing in Platte County Mini Storm-6/22/2014

Pretty incredible for a small chase, too!  The mesocyclone showed good rotation.  The lightning showed the storm intensifying but there ingredients that could have led to a tornado / landspout just weren’t there.

The drive home was bittersweet since we did get a great  lightning show and a great storm but the sun set was tremendous!!!!  I love storm chasing!!!!

Storm Chasing in Stormy sunset Clinton County Missouri-6/22/2014

Storm Chasing in Stormy sunset Clinton County Missouri-6/22/2014

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The Pilger tornado event.  I am not sure what to say about this other than it was the greatest day of tornado chasing I have ever had.  I witnessed seven tornadoes on this day.  The down side to this story?  Two people lost their lives in the town of Pilger, including a 5 year old little girl, Calista Dixon, that passed away due to her injuries.

Let me start from the beginning:

I forecasted an area along the boundary just to the southwest of Stanton, NE.  My target area was between Norfolk, NE and Humphrey, NE.  Chris Rice and I met up and waited along highway 91, just west of Humphrey, while the storm we wanted started getting organized about 3 miles or so to our north.  We decided to make our move and ended up getting separated along highway 91 somewhere.  So, I did what I do best.  I hit a gravel road and took off to the north.  Catching up with the storm as it began its tornadogenesis, I was 3-5 miles south of Stanton, NE.  I watched as the supercell storm began to show signs of an inevitable tornado.  Sure enough, within a few moments, there was debris on the ground and a nice funnel fully condensed.  I started northbound on 15 highway, towards Stanton, and paralleled the intensifying tornado.  What a sight!  As I went through the town of Stanton, I could see the tornado had started getting bigger….or maybe it was getting closer?  I couldn’t tell so I found a hill top to the nw of Stanton.  On a gravel road, I watched this menacing and massive wedge tornado with the most insane occlusion I have ever seen a mere mile or more to my north.

As I was blasted by RFD winds, I moved to the top of the next hill.  It is an eerie feeling when there are no more chasers where you are.  I positioned myself about 1/4 mile south of where the wedge tornado was crossing the gravel road in front of me.  All I could see was rapidly rotating rain, dirt, and debris falling from this incredible beast of a storm.  As the tornado moved off to my northeast, I drove east to 15 hwy where I started moving back to the north.  As I made my turn, I looked to my southeast and saw a NEW tornado forming.  I was mind blown.

Pilger Twin Tornadoes - 6/16/2014

Twin tornadoes bear down on the town of Pilger Nebraska – 6/16/2014

I thought at first it would end up being a satellite tornado, which is not uncommon.  Then I checked the radar and saw two distinct areas of rotation.  I worked my way down highway 275 towards Pilger and was amazed at what I was seeing.  A newly developed tornado and now, a SECOND tornado was forming a little further to the southeast.  It was amazing but terrifying at the same time.  This was the stuff my nightmares have been made out of for years.  I used to dream of my house being surrounded by two or three tornadoes.  Nowhere to go.  Nowhere to hide.  Then to actually see it happening with my own two eyes?  This was surreal!!!

I pushed to get closer to the first tornado.  I saw debris being lofted into the air.  I recognized this to be a grain elevator but I was so fixated on the tornadoes that I did not even realize there was a town 1 mile up the road from me.  The tornado crossed the road and the second tornado intensified.  There were now TWO VIOLENT EF4 tornadoes on the ground causing damage.  I watched the tornado that hit Pilger hit a farmstead near the intersection of HWY257 and HWY15 north.

Pilger Tornado Damage - 6/16/2014

A damaged house with the Pilger tornado in the back ground. 6/16/2014

The farm house was completely damaged but still stood since it did not take a direct hit by the tornado.  I didn’t even pay attention to how close the tornado was when I jumped out of the car to check for people and/survivors in the house.  While I was yelling into the house, there was still debris flying into the house  (small tree branches, trash, etc) because the tornado was less than 500yds from the house.  Literally, it was in these peoples back yard.   I yelled for a while but heard no response so I ran back out to my Xterra and shot some video of the damaged house and yard.  About that time, FIRE/EMT’s arrived and I gave them a quick report on what I had done.  Then I was back on the road.  I watched the next several tornadoes in a state of awe and amazement because this was just too crazy to see things from my nightmares come to fruition.

Nebraska Hail Storm - 6/3/2014

So, this Nebraska storm chase was one of the most intense and extreme chases I have ever had the privilege of being on.  I met up with Shane Kirk early on the morning of June 3rd, 2014.  We knew we were heading to Nebraska but wanted to pinpoint our initial target area.  We looked at the weather models, reviewed the Storm Prediction Center text, and decided on Ord, Ne.  The car was loaded.  Our camera gear stowed.  We were soon on our way.  We monitored the boundary positions and upper level winds on our way and everything looked to be in place for a fairly nice tornado day followed by a giant hail event across portions of eastern Nebraska.

Stopping in Seward, NE for a bite to eat, we decided we would double check our initial target. Ord was still in our sights and, at this point, only a few more minutes up the road, too. I looked through Facebook and started seeing a few other chasers talking about possibly heading west of Grand Island, NE, towards Kearney, NE, for what they thought was going to be a better show. Shane and I stuck to our guns and headed north and west to our target of Ord. Along the way, a small cluster of storms began to fire along the boundary. This was our storm but we were still a little ways from Ord. Nothing to worry about though. The storm still needed to mature.

As we drove into the town of Ord, the storm went tornado warned. However, our hopes for seeing a tornado were quickly smashed. Why? Because just south of Ord by about 1 mile, we crossed the boundary. We went from hot and humid temps to mid 50 temps. The storm was north of the boundary and therefore, would not produce a tornado. There were several reports of a confirmed tornado that was on the ground causing damage, however, being within a mile or so of the “mesocyclone”, Shane, myself, and numerous other chasers could never confirm anything being on the ground, except for maybe a gustnado or even outflow gusted dirt being lofted into the air.

Nebraska Storm - 6/3/2014

Nebraska Storm - 6/3/2014

We quickly changed course and headed towards the York/Seward area to get gas and dinner. This looked like a bust. After a quick meal, we decided we did not want to come back empty handed so we opted to chase other storms in the area for lightning photography opportunities or even hail damage photos. Boy, were we surprised!

Check out this video below. Near Dorchester, NE we were overtaken by a massive hail producer. My car was destroyed. Even better? The Weather Channel ended up doing a phone interview with me.

Colorado Landscape Photography

What can I say? I love Colorado. Not only is the landscape breathtaking, the allure of high plains storms captivates me, too. The Palmer Divide is to blame as it results in a natural phenomenon that produces rotating storms almost continuously, under the right circumstances.

This was my first time doing a high plains chase and I was mesmerized by everything but the Verizon LGE data network. haha.

Colorado Tornado Warned Supercell Storm near KDEN

Colorado Severe Storms and Tornadoes_

I thoroughly enjoyed (and look forward to many return trips throughout the rest of my years) the isolated Colorado scenery. In some places, you could see for as long as the Earths curvature would allow you. In the midst of that expanse I stood. Surrounded by the natural world. The only man made thing able to be seen was the road I was travelling. In some cases, I even stepped off the paved roadways to venture down dead end gravel/sand roads only to find myself staring into the “Land of Color”.

Colorado Tornado Warned Supercell Thunderstorm near Denver

Colorado Severe Storms and Tornadoes_

Once the storms got going, I positioned near humanity, a.k.a The Denver International Airport (KDEN for you avgeeks..haha). On the first day, May 21st, 2014, I would watch a beautiful (on radar) supercell develop. Looking at the storm, it was an HP supercell not long after it formed. However, the entire storm was rotating very quickly and it was easily observable with the naked eye.

Tornado Warned Colorado Storm

Colorado Severe Storms and Tornadoes_

The second day, due to the lackluster upper air support, storms fired. Although they were very nice to look at, they were anything but impressive. After following them for a while and witnessing some great hail, danger close lightning strikes, and beautiful storm cloud covered Colorado scenery, I decided to head back east.

Lackluster Colorado Storm is still a beauty

Colorado Severe Storms

I ended up catching a small line of storms near Burlington, CO that were putting on quite the lightning show. Of course, I stopped to photograph what I could and was able to snag a few great lightning photographs. I did use the Nero Trigger (the latest model that they have) and it performed flawlessly. I captured numerous lightning bolts but only a few bolts were actually close enough to make a good lightning photograph.

Kanorado, KS Lightning Photography

Kansas Lightning Photography_

Kansas Lightning Photography

Kansas Lightning Photography_

I am home now and already missing the high plains. I can’t wait for the next time the winds blow just right and allow for another visit to my new favorite state!

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Colorado Landscape

Colorado Landscape Photography

Spring showed up suddenly today as convective storms developed along and ahead of a dryline/cold front setup today.  The storms kicked off early around 1pm just to the west of Kansas City and the Missouri state line.  I decided to chase a target area between Butler, MO and Pittsburg, KS.

Harrisonville, MO Severe thunderstorm - 3.27.2014

I never fully made it to Butler as a storm developed fairly close to my initial Butler target and then took off eastbound.  Storms had some amazing forward speed!  Some were traveling at 60mph!!!

Supercell storm on the way to Sedelia - 3.27.2014

Due to the Ozarks terrain, mainly in and around the Mark Twain National forest, the road networks are not very ideal for chasing storms.  I made due with what was available and I was not disappointed.

Severe warned supercell storm near Eldon, MO - 3.27.2014

I witnessed all modes of severe weather today.  Cloud to ground lightning, heavy rainfall, copious amounts of pea to quarter sized hail, and damaging winds.  I was also able to get my eyes on a brief tornado or funnel cloud just east of Sedalia, MO as I crested a hill.

Copious hail amounts east of Eldon, MO - 3.27.2014
Storms near Jefferson City, MO - 3.27.2014

What did you think about this post?  Did you experience or see any severe weather today?  Leave a comment below.  Feel free to share.

Severe Weather in Missouri - 3.27.2014

Lightning pics as storm season finally showed up

A strong cold front was moving through the Missouri/Kansas area today, bringing unwanted cooler temperatures for the middle of March.  Take a deep breath, though, since the cool down will only last for a day….even though there is snow in the works, too!!  Ugh!!!

Storm chasers were getting a taste of things to come as severe weather was expected in parts of central and eastern Texas, including tornadoes!  Most reports I saw only included the mention of hail storms.  I opted not to chase this storm system for numerous reasons.  Namely, I was not expecting anything too exciting to happen down south that was not going to happen near home.

I, along with many other people in the KC metro and surrounding areas were greeted with copious rainfall within the storms and an illuminating electrical display of lightning that seemed to show us all that the atmosphere is charged and ready to let loose.

Rough Skies Ahead - Hayes, Kansas - May 18, 2013

Aerial storm chasing in a Cessna 172

Targeted dryline/warm front triple point for afternoon initiation of tornadic supercells in north central KS. Departed KOJC by early afternoon landing at KHUT Hutchinson to avoid IFR to the north and await initiation. Relocated to KHYS Hays and waited for supercell to mature nearby. Supercell went tornado warned, took off, flew box pattern in front of storm, encountering airsickness inducing turbulence. Noted wall cloud and rotating lowerings, but no tornado. Landed at KRSL Russel to fuel and wait for target storm to produce. Hit by gust front while on ground, but was able to take off before core of storm hit. Squall line went up on the gust front to the south, cutting us from tornado producing supercell near Rozel. Aborted chase and headed back to KOJC arriving after dark.

Crew and Equipment

Chasers: Caleb Elliott – Pilot.  Skip Talbot – Forecaster.

Equipment: Canon 60D, Canon t2i, Canon T3i, Tamron 10-22mm, Canon EFS 10-22, Canon EF 50mm, Sony HDR-xr500v, Panasonic HMC150, and Midland XTC300.

Caleb’s Video edit

Skip’s Video edit


Caleb Elliott, Phil Bates, and I attempted chasing supercells in an airplane last year, with the goal of documenting a tornado from the air. We were able to document tornado warned supercells on all three of our aerial chase attempts, but the tornado shot eluded us. Our initial experiments with aerial chasing seemed plausible, however, and safe enough that we decided we could continue to pursue this as a viable way to chase tornadoes, as long as the right precautions are taken. While the idea seems crazy to both pilots and ground based storm chasers, few people happen to be both. Caleb and I are both pilots, with Caleb an IFR rated flight instructor with lots of time on different types, in addition to us both being experienced chasers. We have the right mix of experience and backgrounds needed to safely attempt aerial chasing.

After missing last year’s Great Bend, KS tornadoes on an aerial chase, Caleb and I were determined to get out there and give it another shot. By mid-May things were shaping up in the central plains for an active round of severe weather. Brindley, my usual chase partner, couldn’t go with me, and with the targets lining up across central KS, Caleb was open to us renting a plane on our own and making another couple attempts at an aerial chase. The 18th looked like our first real shot, and initially I thought of it more as the “day before the day type setup” as the 19th looked like a more significant event. The setup seemed ideal for an aerial chase: discrete and isolated dryline storms were forecast to initiate off a surface low and dryline in west central Kansas, tracking northeast toward a warm front, where they would hopefully produce tornadoes for us to film. Some of the severe parameters looked a little more appealing to me on the northern end of the setup. The directional shear and openings in the cap were more favorable along the I-70 corridor in northern KS near the warm front. Hays looked like a good airport to fly to and await storm initiation, and that became our initial target with Salina as a backup in case we needed more room between us and the initiating boundaries.

I left from Springfield the night before the chase, planning on camping in the van on the side of the road. I took 36 across northern Missouri and stopped just past Cameron on a rural road. It was probably after 1am by that time and took me awhile to fall asleep, as I was wound up about the next day’s aerial chase. I had only been asleep a short while when Jenny woke me at 2:30 with a call, and after falling asleep again, was up not long after dawn. The poor quality sleep would turn out to be disastrous for this chase, the fatigue making me much more susceptible to motion sickness.

I was excited and ready to go, however, and arrived at Johnson County Executive, KOJC, before Caleb by late morning. I almost stopped at Walgreen’s to pick up some Dramamine (just in case), but foolishly decided against it figuring I’d be fine with the ginger pills I had. I had the folks in the rental office pull the aircraft out and top it off with fuel for us while Caleb was heading down.

Caleb arrived and we started to unload our stuff from our cars to take into the plane. A passing flight instructor spotted us with our gear and said, “Oh, you’re the crazy guys that fly into thunderstorms?” Caleb was not amused.

Our aircraft for this chase was a Cessna 172 with a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit, which provided us satellite radar data as a backup to our laptop with cellular data. The 172 is a smaller plane than the 182 we had last year, but we figured with two people instead of three, we didn’t need the extra room and horsepower. We loaded up the plane, not taking the time to set much up in the way of cameras as the plan was to get to our target airport and setup for an intercept there. I threw the GPS up on the dash, held the laptop in my lap, popped a couple ginger pills instead of just one like I usually do, and then we were off. We took off under sunny skies heading west.

Hays was overcast with low ceilings because of the warm front so we decided to divert to Hutchinson for our first stop, which was clear and sunny. The afternoon sun heated the ground up, creating thermals and the instability needed for afternoon thunderstorms, but also the first bumps of turbulence. My stomach started to become a little unsettled on the flight out to Hutchinson, but it wasn’t bad and I figured I’d be fine once I got out of the plane, walked around, and got some air.

We landed and fueled up in Hutchinson, still under sunny skies but surface winds were pretty gusty making it not an ideal day for a joy ride flight. We had stopped at this airport last year on May 25 and the office had some free cookies. I was hoping for the same this time, to have something to put into my churning stomach, but alas no cookies. I got some water and felt much better, however. After a doing a quick data check while the plane was being fueled, we could see that storms were imminent or starting to initiate just southwest of our initial Hays target. We decided to fly up to and land at the airport in Hays and wait for the storm to mature, instead of wasting gas flying around like we did last year.

Still sunny yet gusty, we took off from Hutchinson heading northwest, Caleb at the controls in the left seat, and me in the right seat with the laptop on my lap. There was little room in the plane to setup monopods between the seats or suction mounts like we had wanted. Caleb and I were almost shoulder to shoulder in the smaller 172 and we decided that we were just going to handhold our cameras for this chase. The laptop wound up getting in the way too. Sitting in the front seat, instead of the back seat like I did last year, I couldn’t easily reach the controls if I needed to with the cumbersome laptop in the way. I needed to plug my USB datacard into the left port, and Caleb would bump it with his right arm when he moved back a bit, which would cause our data to momentarily go out. It was not a good setup. I briefly tried putting the laptop on the back seat and using it over my shoulder, but it was too difficult and awkward to see it from that angle, and turning around in the bobbing plane only made my belly churn more.

We flew over a feed lot a couple thousand feet above the ground. At that altitude, the smell of hundreds of animals living in close proximity wasn’t any better than it is driving past in the car. We opened the windows to get some air in the plane as it was also becoming a very hot afternoon. The plane continued to bounce in the sunny afternoon thermals, and the heat and smells were not helping my queasy stomach. On the second leg of the flight I felt quite a bit worse than on the first, and was belching ginger. I had taken too much and it was having a negative effect on my stomach rather than a positive one like it should have. Still, I figured I could recover again when we landed in Hays, and then we would be in chase mode and I’d forget about being sick.

On the way to Hays, we passed by our developing storms, a collection of several updrafts that hadn’t yet consolidated. Visibility was extremely poor and we had no view of any structure, just a dark grey sky to the west. We decided against getting any closer for a better view and continued on to Hays to wait for the storm to mature. We landed without issue. The anvil of the developing storm was already stretching overhead with some mammatus.

aerial storm chasing
Caleb and Mammatus
3 miles ESE of Hays, KS
5:14 PM

I shot a few pictures while Caleb checked the oil and got us some fuel.

aerial storm chasing
Low Visibility Storm
2 miles NNW of McCracken, KS
5:52 PM

We sat in the plane ready to go, but waiting until a tornado seemed imminent. The storm took on a nice pendent shaped, developed a hook echo, and was tornado warned. I wanted to immediately tear down the runway and get back on the storm, but Caleb wanted to wait just a bit longer to make sure the storm was ready. Just a few miles to our southwest we’d have a view of the base almost immediately after taking off. We both decided to go for it, Caleb did an engine run up, and we were rolling down the runway.

My stomach did not recover nearly as much as it did after our first stop, and the bumpy air hit me hard as soon as we took off, making me more and more sick. We gained some altitude and the storm came into view… sort of. The visibility was somewhere between three and five miles due to the moisture rich boundary layer airmass. While this is not a problem on the ground, in the air where you are moving at faster speeds and looking at things farther away, that kind of visibility is like driving down the highway on a really foggy day. You can see just ahead of where you are going, but hope there is nothing out of ahead you in the road that you might crash into.

We flew a few circles in front of the storm, but only a hazy, low contrast base with rain core behind it could be seen. I tried taking a few pictures with the DSLR and camcorder, but the low visibility and bouncing aircraft made it less than ideal for handheld shots. Despite chasing a now tornado warned storm in an airplane, my stomach was getting worse. I was looking right at a mean core and supercell but it did nothing to take my mind off of being green. Caleb even decided to have me fly the plane, in hopes that engaging my mind on the task would calm my stomach. We did a positive exchange of the controls: “You have the controls,” “I have the controls,” which ensures that somebody is flying the plane (instead of nobody like if we both decided to start taking pictures for example). Caleb had me fly a fixed heading and altitude. I basically had to just keep the airplane pointed in the same direction. It gave me lots of time to think about being sick, and so it didn’t help my case at all and Caleb took the controls back once he got a few shots with his video camera.

aerial storm chasing
Rain Free Base
2 miles ESE of Brownell, KS
5:57 PM

Visibility improves and a much more well defined rain free base comes into view finally.

aerial storm chasing
Rotating Lowering
6 miles ENE of Brownell, KS
6:08 PM

A few more circles around the storm, and we had a base in view now with a well-defined rear flanking downdraft. Things were looking promising storm wise, but my condition only worsened. A pointy rotating lowering descended between the rear and forward flanking precipitation cores. Not well defined enough to be called a funnel, and too small for a wall cloud, I was able to snag a shot of it before I had to put the camera down. It soon became apparent that I was actually going to hurl. I had the window open for shooting, and without any airsickness bags immediately available, I decided to stick my head out the window when I first started to gag. The airstream was rushing past the plane at 130 mph, and sticking my face into it felt like I had been hit by a fire hose. It was extremely uncomfortable. I gagged, just a little, and then spit out of the plane. With my head back inside, I drank some water to recover. I felt better immediately and was ready to really get into the aerial chase.

aerial storm chasing
Rear Flanking Downdraft
6 miles ENE of Brownell, KS
6:09 PM

Rear flanking downdraft:

aerial storm chasing
Hidden Lowering
8 miles SE of Hays, KS
6:44 PM

The visibility at our position dropped, but something appeared to be protruding from the base of the storm. Could it be a tornado? As we approached, however, we could see that it was just scud underneath a ragged wall cloud emerging from the pea soup haze.

aerial storm chasing
Ragged Wall Cloud
8 miles SSE of Hays, KS
6:47 PM

The sensation of relief and a quieted stomach did not last long, however. Within a couple minutes I was even greener than before. Our storm had a lot of interesting looking scud, but did not look promising tornado wise. I was really sick now. I stuck my head out the window. The wind hit me again with a ferocious blast. It was dark outside and incredibly loud. It felt like I was sticking my head into some sort of hell. I let loose, this time not just a little gag. I heaved violently about a half dozen times. The wind blew vomit down the side of the plane, back into my face, on my shirt, and even inside the plane. I fought the wind for seemingly an eternity until I was done heaving. Back inside the plane, I did not feel better at all. Chunks were stuck in my nose and burned terribly. The taste of vomit was still on my mouth, and my shirt was wet with it. Drinking water helped a little, but not much, and the feeling of being nauseated persisted. Cramped in the loud, stuffy little plane, I could do little but sit there in agony, covered in sweat and vomit, unable to breathe through my nose. I apologized to Caleb for losing it in the plane, but he was a real trooper, continuing to fly us on like it was nothing, and focused on the chase.

Storm over Hays
5 miles ESE of Hays, KS
6:53 PM

I was able to get another shot or two of the base as it moved over Hays, KS. The lights on the ground turned on as the storm blanketed the town in darkness. More and more scud kicked up under the base and it appeared that the storm was going outflow dominant and becoming less organized. Meanwhile, another cell to the south was just starting to get its act together, becoming larger and taking on supercellular characteristics. It seemed like most of the chasers on the ground had been holding out for this cell, closer to their original target, and some on the northern cell were starting to bail for it. It would need time to mature, and I wasn’t in much of a condition to chase, so we decided to make for Russell, KS, just a few miles to the east, land, get fuel, and then figure out our next plan of attack.

Fueling Up near Supercell
3 miles ESE of Russell, KS
7:25 PM

We touched down at a deserted Russell airport. I staggered out of the plane and into the office bathroom, blew my nose, and then threw up again. I was able wash my face in the sink though and clean myself up a bit. I came out of the office back onto the airport ramp, looked up and nearly stopped in my tracks. The supercell had followed us to Russell and while I was in the bathroom, it had nearly caught up with us. The updraft tower and gust front loomed just to the west in plain view. I jogged over to the plane to help Caleb as he finished fueling. The gust front of the storm hit with a blast of howling winds and a few drops of rain. Caleb jumped in to turn the plane away from the wind so it wouldn’t blow away, and I scrambled to get the fuel hose retracted. I fumbled with that for too long, while Caleb did the pre-take off checklist. After the gust front hit, the winds went slack again, but the rear flanking core containing more wind, rain, and hail still loomed to the west. Climbing into the plane, we decided we could take off and escape underneath the gust front clouds before the supercell hit.

Caleb hurried through the takeoff checklist and we were rolling down the runway. It was the riskiest maneuver we had yet attempted on an aerial chase, and the most nervous I had been on one of our endeavors. We could immediately wind up in severe turbulence on liftoff, hit a downdraft and come right back into the ground, or the storm could catch us with a blast of severe hail and zero visibility rain. The skies were clear directly overhead and there was a surreal calm, so we were pretty sure we could make it. The plane lifted off the runway and immediately bucked in the turbulent air near the ground in the wake of the gust front. Caleb was able to keep us stable and climbing, however, and within a minute or so we were above the wake and flying through smoother air. We turned east and flew underneath the gust front clouds expecting severe turbulence. At an altitude of a couple thousand feet above the ground, however, the air was surprisingly smooth underneath the clouds. Most of the gust turbulence must exist close to the ground.

The southern storm was now tornado warned and would soon be producing a photogenic tornado near Rozel, KS.  The gust front we flew through was the start of a developing squall line, however, and a line of cells erupted, building southward like a zipper, separating us from the supercell we chased and the one to the south.  With severe turbulence in the updraft towers and blinding precipitation and downdrafts underneath, there was no way we could fly through the squall and it effectively walled us off from intercepting the Rozel supercell.  At that point, I called for an abort to the chase.  We continued flying east and started to making for home base back in Olathe, KS.

The plane continued to bounce the whole way on the two hour flight home. I didn’t spew this time, but I was severely nauseated. It was an agonizingly long flight. I never wanted to be in a small plane again, and I questioned why I had bothered getting my pilot’s certificate. It was a miracle when we were finally on the ground. I rolled out of the plane and laid flat on the ground. I could barely move except to spit in the grass, and it took me a good ten minutes of lying there before I could start to get my stuff out of the plane. I thanked Caleb for putting up with me again and we split and went our own ways. I was in no mood to go anywhere or see anyone, so I decided to just sleep in the van right there in the airport parking lot. I only had the stomach for a little water, and then I passed out for a good ten hours.


Our fourth aerial chase was a bust in the sense that we missed the photogenic Rozel tornado, as a tornado intercept was one of our primary goals. It was a success in that we had again successfully chased a supercell from the air and lived to tell about it, however. Personally, it was one of the worst days of my life. Getting airsick for that extended amount of time was true agony. At the height of it, I didn’t care at all if we were missing a tornado. I just wanted to get out of there, I was so completely miserable. We learned a lot of valuable lessons about aerial chasing with just two people and will be making extensive changes to our setup and procedures when and if we attempt the next one. I’m still debating whether or not I want to attempt another one after this horrific day. As far as getting airsick is concerned, it’s something I’ve struggled with over the year,s but this is the worst it has ever been. A combination of poor sleep the night before, the ginger pills, and then not eating right all aggrevated it. I’ll be taking precautions on all of those things for future flights.

Lessons Learned

  • Always take Dramamine before an aerial chase
  • Bring airsickness bags
  • Use a tablet instead of a laptop for aerial chasing
  • Stabilized camera mounts are necessary for documenting from the air

All images are ©Caleb Elliott,, and Skip Talbot 2012-2013.