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Category Archives: tornadoes

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

Buy this Print

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.

IMG 8733 1 Pilger Tornado Chase   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.

IMG 8740 1 Pilger Tornado Chase   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.

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

IMG 7606 1 Colorado Severe Storms   5/21 and 5/22 2014

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

IMG 7615 1 Colorado Severe Storms   5/21 and 5/22 2014

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

IMG 7627 1 Colorado Severe Storms   5/21 and 5/22 2014

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

IMG 7655 1 Colorado Severe Storms   5/21 and 5/22 2014

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

IMG 7772 1 Colorado Severe Storms   5/21 and 5/22 2014

Kansas Lightning Photography

IMG 7797 2 1 Colorado Severe Storms   5/21 and 5/22 2014

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

IMG 7653 1 Colorado Severe Storms   5/21 and 5/22 2014

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

storm photos - wall cloud - 11.16.13

Well, not much to show for tonight’s little severe weather adventure.  However, I really did enjoy the entire chase.  Lots of time just following the storm and enjoying the weather.  Sure, there was the potential for tornadoes and whatnot but that is all part of the fun of storm chasing.  I started out north of Cameron, MO.  An exit ramp would provide my vantage point for the storms that I had forecast to develop.  To my surprise, they started pushing into the troposphere only seven miles from my initial target area.  Most of the parameters had not fully came to fruition at this point in time, though, so a quick look at the forecast showed more storms forming off to my southwest that would move into a better environment to sustain the storms once they matured.  The wind shear, instability, and moisture were just enough to get the party started, too.

After a few moments of shooting the breeze with another chaser that I just met, we decided to push to our southwest and get a better view of the maturing storm southwest of St. Joseph, MO.  The storm down that direction was appearing to take on supercellular characteristics as it developed it hook like features near Iatan, MO.

The storms were only moving about 40mph to the northeast so I stopped on a hill just north of Easton, MO along 36 highway to admire the approaching storm as it slinked through the night with its constant array of in cloud lightning.  The inflow notch was pretty small but easy to see at first.  The storms were pretty much low precipitation supercells because of the wind speeds aloft giving the storms the needed shear to tilt their updrafts.

As the storm approached, a nice lowering started to develop under the rain free base (a.k.a the mesocycolne).  I quickly shot through the town of Easton, MO and headed towards Hemple on N highway in northwestern Clinton County.  Just outside of Hemple, I stopped again on a hill top to see what I could see.

I knew the storm had taken on supercell characteristics, but I did not expect to see so much of it.  From the top of this perch, just outside of Hemple, MO, I watched this lowering start drawing in more air from my east.  It was a small wall cloud, but the storm definitely had rotation within it so I knew that a tornado could be possible.  Fortunately, for the people asleep in the two nearby small towns, this did not happen.

The storm was not so silent in its midnight approach to my location, either.  You could hear the rain beating against and blowing through the leafless trees just a half mile to my west.  The sound kept getting louder and louder.  I jumped into my chase vehicle just as the rain from the RFD gust front pushed its way over top.  Blinding rain, driven by the strong winds.  Yet, only a few hundred feet wide.  Getting back on N highway I pushed my way back east of the storm to again make the storm visible.  The inflow notch had closed off and the storm began to weaken.

I opted at this point to head back home, which was fairly close by at this point, when I saw the storm behind the Hemple storm had matured and was heading directly towards my house!  Cautiously watching this impending danger, I made my way towards home after calling my wife to give her an update on the potential situation.

The storm moved closer to me and the winds blew it in a way that caused the storm to miss my house by about 1 mile.  As the storm continued, though, a nice wall cloud started to develop on this storm, too!  To my surprise, the show was not over yet!   Thank to the full moon tonight, or the Frost Moon, every break in the clouds was visible, including the RFD clear slot.  This also allowed in just enough light to see the funnel develop from under the wall cloud north of NN and west of 33 highway.  A moment later I was on the phone with the Clinton County EMS manager reporting what I had seen to him.  I felt a lot better about my report when he informed me that two other spotters/chasers reported the same thing as I did AT THE EXACT SAME TIME!

Then as quickly as it began, the storm quickly started falling apart.  The funnel did not fully condense, however, I will be going back out to where I saw this to check for damages in the morning.  Overall, it is November 16th.  This isn’t May but it sure felt good to get out and play under the meso’s tonight.

Thanks for reading!  Sign in and leave a comment.  Tell me what you think.

Tornado warned thunderstorm

Spring in Tornado Alley

Spring has yet to “Sprung” in tornado alley.  In fact, the last few model runs have shown at least two more snow storms yet to come!  Some might not like that this winter has hung around for as long as it has.  I, on the contrary, seem to recall many years where winter over stayed it’s welcome only to yield a lengthy and interesting severe weather season.

I will say that it would be nice to be out stalking the plains of Tornado Alley hunting supercell thunderstorms and tornadoes, but keep in mind, last year on this date, 3/28/2012, we were all out chasing tornado warned super cell Charlie Bravo’s in Kansas.

[lightbox thumb_img=”http://www.wx-pilot.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/madisonKS03282012-1-thumbnail.jpg” full_img=”http://www.wx-pilot.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/madisonKS03282012-1.jpg” alt_text=”Tornado warned Madison Kansas thunderstorm” align=”center”]

This particular storm never produced a tornado, but rather remained nearly stationary for almost two hours.  It was spun up pretty tight and spitting out lightning as though it were going to produce a tornado, but it never did.  The next day would have all of us chasers in northeastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri…..as for the rest tornado season?  Well, lets not get into that right now.

[lightbox thumb_img=”http://www.wx-pilot.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/20120328-_DSC9632-1-thumbnail.jpg” full_img=”http://www.wx-pilot.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/20120328-_DSC9632-1.jpg” alt_text=”Madison Kansas tornado warned thunderstorm” align=”center”]

[lightbox thumb_img=”http://www.wx-pilot.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/20120328-_DSC9574-1thumbnail.jpg” full_img=”http://www.wx-pilot.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/20120328-_DSC9574-1.jpg” alt_text=”Madison Kansas tornado warned thunderstorm ” align=”center”]

Overall, I think that if we remain patient and attentive, we should be chasing storms and tornadoes soon enough.

Oh, and don’t forget to take part in this springs aerial storm chasing video project by pledging to my kickstarter project page.

[button url=”http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wx-pilot/up-there” color=”red” target=”_blank”] Make Your Pledge! [/button]

It was a long drive that seemed to fly by as I drove up.  A triple point setup was in the making and I was targeting an area between Aberdeen and Watertown, SD.  Storms fired around 5:00pm CDT and exploded upwards.  From initiation to tornado warned, it had to have been less than one hour.  The parameters were looking good, the gas tank was full, and I was in position.

20120617  MG 0880 1 1000x666 Tornado warned supercells in South Dakota And Minnesota..

Starting to anvil out.

The first storm was to the north and west of my position so I decided to make a move.  The storms had fired along the warm front, but also along a line that went from my NE to the SW.  I figured I would get to the first storm and then just keep moving into positions on the southern storms as they went by.  This ended up up not happening for a multitude of reasons, the main one being detours from road construction.  The first storm I was on had already been tornado warned due to circulation.  There were not any reports of confirmed tornadoes, yet, either.  The structure on the storm was fairly amazing as it grew into a high precipitation monster.  At some points, the rain was so heavy and the sky so dark, I was not able to see more than 10-20ft in front of me.

20120617  MG 0886 1 1000x666 Tornado warned supercells in South Dakota And Minnesota..

East of Britton, SD

Since the rotation on the Britton cell started to weaken, I opted to move to the next storm down the line.  The lead me just south of Sisseton, SD.  This was a very interesting scene.  There were three individual mesocyclones, each with tail clouds and strong inflows.  Two of these wall clouds (and developing funnels) can be seen in the video from this chase.  I was aware that I was sitting under one of the meso’s but knew I would be fine as the stronger inflow winds were directed at the developing funnel just to my west.  The cloud motions were so intense.  This was truly a monster.  The wall cloud further to my west tried to produce a funnel/tornado as the funnel nearest me dissipated.  The RFD provided a nice rain curtain the the further east wall cloud and eventually was out of sight forcing me to reposition back north a few miles to see behind the rain.  A nice wall cloud still, however, no tornado.

20120617  MG 0893 1 1000x666 Tornado warned supercells in South Dakota And Minnesota..

South of Sisseton, SD.

As the storm overtook me, I headed further south.  I ended up getting stuck in the extreme rainfall due to a detour that took me in a square with no other road options to stay ahead of the storm.  This did not make me happy.  Being pelted by hail and torrential rain slowed my trek.  I eventually made my way through and got back in front of the storm where I stayed with it it made it’s way towards Ortonville, MN.

I approached the towns of Big Stone City, SD and Ortonville, MN, which was right across the bridge.  I started noticing some rapid movement in the clouds, followed by an increasing inflow wind.  Shortly after that, while driving south on the highway that led into Big Stone City, I could see what appeared to be strong RFD winds moving from the west to east.  Then, I noticed a spot on the ground, right where the RFD and inflow seemed to be aiming.  There was something there, it seemed to be rotating, and it was on the ground.  There was no clear funnel that I could make out, due to the high amounts of rain, but that was about to change.

I started making out a faint funnel shape in the clouds almost directly over the stuff spinning on the ground.  Sure enough, there was a nice funnel that was forming right in front of me.  I make the comment in the video that it crossed the road right in front of me, not saying it was close, but saying that, literally, it was directly in front of me and heading straight into Big Stone City/Ortonville.  As it crossed the road, you could see a power flash in town, followed by very strong RFD winds.  The winds, I will add, were not strong enough to push over my brick shaped Xterra, although I am sure helped with some of the damage in town.  The storm was tornado warned.  The public reported a tornado.  Law enforcement also reported a tornado, as well.  As I drove through the town, there was damage and debris all over the place.  Power lines were down, trees and been pushed over and up rooted, the tops of some of the trees had been stripped of leaves and branches, minor damage to the buildings, and all the road construction signs had been knocked down making it difficult to realize the bridge was out up ahead.

After getting my bearings and doing the best I could to see if anyone needed help, a few ambulances and fire trucks rolled into town.  Seeing that they are trained fro scenarios of this sort, I decided to head south and find a new way across the river.  As I moved south towards Millbank, I emerged again from the heavy rains and found a beautifully shaped storm.  It was impressive, to say the least.

20120617  MG 0912 1 1000x666 Tornado warned supercells in South Dakota And Minnesota..

South of Big Stone City, SD

This storm was still tornado warned but I had lost too much ground to keep up with it, so I opted to move to the next storm, which was coming out of Clear Creek at the time.  That storm was heading towards me so I grabbed some dinner, refueled, and waited.  It had some rotation, however, it wasn’t enough to get a tornado, so I ended up watching the storm move into the approaching darkness to my east.  Once it was dark, it put on a pretty good light show that was illuminating the structure and updraft of the storm.

Overall, it was a beautiful storm and a great chase day.   Below is a  video of the day in summary.   Also, two of the prints above are available to be purchased.  They are both located in the Photography>Storm Chasing gallery.  Until the next storm!!!

 

An interview done by Grace Muller at www.accuweather.com about the recent Wx-Pilot aerial storm chasing.

Link to the original article is here:  http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/aerial-storm-chase-tornado-airplane/65910

_______________________________________________________________________________

Daredevils Who Chase From the Sky

By Grace Muller, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
Jun 1, 2012; 7:57 PM ET

590x309 06011418 top edited02 Wx Pilot.coms aerial storm chasing   Accuweather.com
Two pilots took storm chasing to a new extreme last week by chasing supercells from the sky. Caleb Elliott flew Skip Talbot and videographer Phil Bates around severe storms in North Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

Chasing from the air is “completely different” than chasing on the ground, Talbot said. In a car “you are limited by the road, the terrain, trees” but “you can get a lot closer… You can really feel the storm when you’re on the ground. You can drive up to the tornado. You can get into the hail core. You can smell it. You can feel the wind, the rain.”

In comparison, chasers in the closed environment in a plane don’t feel the storm [photos].

“All the senses that you get on the ground, you don’t get in the airplane…” Though the team didn’t capture video of any tornadoes, Talbot said “we saw amazing supercell striation, amazing wall clouds. The views of those things were spectacular and stuff I’ve never really seen before from that vantage point.”

To no surprise for more lily-livered ground-dwellers, Talbot, a 28-year-old computer programmer in Chicago, said that the team’s first experiences with aerial storm chasing were more demanding than he thought they would be.

“When we hit turbulence, it was the kind that made you sick,” Talbot said. “I got so green I was almost useless, but other than that, it was an awesome experience with fantastic views.”

Elliott, a professional pilot out of Kansas City, Mo., agreed. “It’s a very rare opportunity to see nature in full force, and be right up there with it, but there is a lot of tension due to the fact of how close to [the storms] you are. You are within a mile of a massive supercell thunderstorm. It can get very dangerous and deadly in a matter of seconds.”

Just how dangerous is this?
The obvious question for Elliott and Talbot is, “Are you crazy?” People already criticize the storm chasing community for the number of risks they take and the example they are setting for non-chasers.

“Flying near or around storms on purpose for chasing is in my opinion rather absurd,” a Facebook fan of Elliott’s commented on his page. “Its [sic] better to be safe on the ground than in the air in trouble wishing you were on the ground.”

Talbot disagreed.

“Whenever you try something new and push the envelope, its going to be absurd and dangerous to others,” Talbot replied. “Think of the risks the first pilots took, and what we wouldn’t have today if it weren’t for them. Plenty of good pilots died along the way, but they knew the risks going in and they followed their dreams.”

“STORM CHASING IS DANGEROUS NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE,” Elliott responded to the poster.

By phone, Elliott expanded on that statement. “It’s very dangerous,” Elliott said. “I don’t condone any of this. I know what my experience is and I’m comfortable with it. It is dangerous and nobody needs to be doing it.”

590x202 06011339 see the photos Wx Pilot.coms aerial storm chasing   Accuweather.com

Not many people are qualified to do what Elliott and Talbot do either.

“Ninety percent of pilots know nothing about severe weather,” Elliott estimated. “Ninety percent of storm chasers know nothing about flying an airplane.”

Both men are trained storm spotters for the National Weather Service. Both are pilots. Both have long resumes of storms chased.

Elliott is a commercial pilot and is a certified flight instructor, among a long list of other certifications. He started training for his pilot’s license at age 12. (“Part of the reason I got my pilot’s license is so I could be up closer to the weather,” Elliott said. “Aerial storm chasing is the direction I’ve always wanted to go.”) He flies cargo planes full time and understands how many ways a thunderstorm can bring a plane down.

A horrible experience piloting a plane through a line of thunderstorms back in 2008 steeled Elliott’s resolve to learn how to handle the atmosphere’s violence.

“It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life,” the pilot said. “I didn’t think I was coming out of the other side.”

Though the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends pilots fly no closer than 20 miles to a severe thunderstorm, a fellow “freight dog” taught Elliott how to deal with flying near unexpected severe weather.

“A thunderstorm packs just about every weather hazard known to aviation into one vicious bundle,” a document from the FAA reads. “Almost any thunderstorm can spell disaster for the wrong combination of aircraft and pilot.”

Elliott and Talbot have flown as close as one mile to a supercell. The recommendation to stay at least 20 miles away from storms is “greater than 20 years old,” Elliott countered. “We know so much more about thunderstorms [now] that it is no longer really applicable… Part of the reason I want to do aerial storm chasing is to increase aeronautical knowledge of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.”

From a meteorologist’s perspective, there is some value to aerial storm chasing flights.

“Looking at their footage, I realize there’s a lot about storms that we can’t see from the ground,” AccuWeather meteorologist Jesse Ferrell said. “I think aerial storm research will be important for the future of meteorology — if we can do it safely.”

Chasing supercells in airplanes – Storm Chasing May 2012

For a long time I have been planning on aerial storm chasing.  Back in January I contacted Skip Talbot about the idea and he was open to the idea of forecasting the severe weather while I flew the aircraft.  Skip then introduced me to Phil Bates of Artbeats.com who needed some stock footage of cityscapes and clouds, but also enjoyed chasing storms.  I ran into Skip on the April 14th Tornado outbreak in Kansas and by the end of that week, the plans were set in motion to do an aerial storm chase at the middle or end of May.  I chose to use a 2010 Cessna 182T for usable load and avionics to maximize equipment carrying and situational awareness.

20120522  DSC1039 wx Chasing supercells in airplanes   Storm Chasing May 2012:

An aircraft similar to what we use. Cessna 182T

Once the aircraft was reserved for our use, it was then up to the weather to do its thing.  At first, we weren’t even certain that we would be doing an aerial chase, due to the huge high pressure ridge that prevented severe weather for most of May.  However, as the time came closer, the weather was starting to look more promising.  We departed our first day from the Olathe, KS airport and headed towards Bismarck, ND, stopping for fuel in Yankton, SD along the way.

After fueling in KBIS, we waited for storms to initiate in NW North Dakota.  We got our clearance and off we went.

photo 6 wx Chasing supercells in airplanes   Storm Chasing May 2012:

The air chasers.

Skip made himself pretty cozy in the back seat of the aircraft.  Nestled amid heaps of wires and cameras, he managed to keep a mobile broadband connection for radar data almost continuously.

photo 1 wx Chasing supercells in airplanes   Storm Chasing May 2012:

Getting our clearance.

photo 2 wx Chasing supercells in airplanes   Storm Chasing May 2012:

Skip in his forecasting office

The first aerial storm chase of 2012 was now officially underway.  Storms exploded in NW North Dakota near the Canadian border and we were among those storms 20mins after leaving KBIS.  We saw a brief tornado, a very nice wall cloud, and a great storm structure, before turning tail and heading back to Minot, ND to spend the night.

20120522  DSC1035 wx Chasing supercells in airplanes   Storm Chasing May 2012:

Tornado warned with a wall cloud from the air

The next day, May 23rd, we left KMOT and turned our sites to the potential of a tail-end charlie along the cold front, which would be just west of Omaha by that evening.  We stopped for fuel in Sioux Falls, SD for our first fueling.  Checked the weather and proceeded as planned.

Our next stop was KOMA (Omaha, NE) where we would refuel again, and wait for storms to initiate.  We enjoyed a nice subway dinner, re-evaluation of the developing weather to our west, and the great service at Signature Aviation, the general aviation FBO at KOMA.  At one point, the possibility of discarding an aerial chase and heading home crossed our minds due to the surface winds being too parallel to the cold front, which is not conducive to tornado production.  We ended up deciding to abandon the aerial chase and head back to Kansas City.  The following day was to be a down day and we would again pick the sky chasing up on May 25th.

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Contemplating – Deciding whether to chase or not

The decision was finally made that we would depart and head for home, with the exception of any storms that went tornado warned along the way.  As we departed KOMA for home, the tail-end charlie went tornado warned.  We got a clearance to intercept the storm from Omaha Departure.  The conversation was like this “Cessna N*****, 2.5 climbing 5.5, would like transition through Charlie airspace on heading of 270″.  ATC responded “You do know that there is an area of extreme precipitation in that area?”  I replied “Affirmative, we are documenting the tornado warned supercell that is on that heading”.  ATC said “You know you are crazy, right?  Clearance as requested.  Any chance for pilot reports?”.  We got a good chuckle out of their response and proceeded on course.

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Scuddy funnel cloud from a plane

After watching the wall cloud cycle a few time, it finally fell apart, so we proceeded towards home.  We survived the first two days!!!

We met up again on May 25th for a triple point play in central/western Kansas.  We left Olathe and flew towards Hutchinson, where we would await initiation along the warm front and/or dryline.  After a short 2hr wait, the first radar reflectivity showed an area 40miles to our NW.  We were going flying.

We arrived just west of Russell, KS and witnessed what I can only describe as a beautiful and classic looking, discrete tornado warned supercell.

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Stunning thunderstorm from a plane 2012

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Thunderstorm Mesocyclone from a plane

We saw a really nice rotating plume of dust that reached up towards the base of the wall cloud.  By definition, we saw a tornado.  A rotating column of air connect to the base of a wall cloud.

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Tornado from a plane

After this quit spinning and the dirt started settling, we saw a the tail-end charlie of the three discrete cells had gone tornado warned, too.  We abandoned this cell and shot south, just west of Great Bend, KS and near La Crosse, KS.   We were greeted with a beautiful and serene sight, as the sun illuminated the backside of the storm and left a display of vivid and warm colors for our amazement.

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Sunset supercell storm from a plane – La Crosse, KS 2012

 

We stayed with this storm for as long as we could before regulatory compliance with FAA fuel requirements became an issue.  We regretfully left this storm and headed towards KGBD for a fuel stop.  As we landed in Great Bend, the new reports of tornadoes on the ground under the storm we just left behind, left a sad and disappointed feeling for everyone on board.  We quickly refueled the aircraft in an attempt to get airborne again before the sunlight was gone and maybe catch a glimpse of the tornado fully condensed on the ground.

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refueling

We made it airborne after the sun had set and decided to carefully and cautiously risk a night time chase near the base of the wall cloud in hopes of lightning showing us a tornado.  After a few passes, the situational awareness had decreased due to the intensity of lightning flashes causing temporary blindness and being unable to see the instruments.  With a heavy heart we turned towards home, thankful we had seen what we had seen, thankful for no mechanical issues, and thankful for no situations that would have resulted in an emergency.

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Lightning strike near our plane

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Thunderstorm lit up with lightning near our plane

It was a smooth flight home but due to the extreme headwinds feeding into the storms at the lower altitudes, we climbed up to 9,500ft MSL to get back into the westerly tailwings.  9,500ft is approximately 700mb in a standard atmosphere.  The rest of the flight was relaxing and peaceful and we landed in Olathe without incident.  Overall, it was a great time, one that I will hopefully do again, soon.

Want to see more images from our aerial storm chasing?  Visit the Aerial Storm Chasing gallery.