Date: June 16th, 2014
Location: Stanton, Pilger, & Wakefield, Nebraska
Event: Supercell & Violent Tornado Outbreak
It was the last day of our mini-chasecation out to the Plains, more specifically Nebraska. We bunked with Stephen Jones and Kim Howell near the Sioux City, Iowa area and were awoken to morning convection that was severe warned. Adam being Adam, decided to run across the street to the casino just as warnings were being issued. I tried to contact him to come back as we were about to get hit with high winds and hail, but he was a lost cause. Instead I grabbed his keys and attempted to take some photos of the incoming line. I only was able to get one or two bolts of lightning before I gave up. Immediately after the passage of the storm, the atmosphere recovered and the stage was set for powerful supercells to erupt. I was concerned that this convection would “grunge” up the atmosphere and make it hard for thunderstorms to redevelop that afternoon. A quick look at satellite imagery quickly alleviated that doubt. The set up itself yielded impressive parameters [shown below].
To the lay person, what I posted was a bunch of jumbled lines and colors. To storm chasers, forecasters, and more weather savvy people I posted a witches brew of ingredients for a volatile day across Northeast Nebraska. The basic four ingredients for severe weather were present: lift, moisture, shear, and instability. CAPE values as high as 6,000 J/KG, 50 kts of bulk shear, strong surface and H85 flow, an outflow boundary, and approaching shortwave. Questions were if these storms would actually form due to the presence of a strong cap. The four of us went over to Perkins and awaited a group of other friends/chasers.
By 18-19z it was clear that supercell thunderstorms were likely. The earlier day’s convection had laid a nice outflow boundary [dashed in red] that would bake under the strong June sun. The atmosphere was already on fire and all this outflow boundary did was act as gasoline. We had watched a few weak showers form along the boundary and decided that those would be where we needed to be as they would not remain weak showers for very long. All in all those cells were 40-50 miles to our southwest so we needed to step on the gas to make it in time. At about this time, new products were issued from the Storm Prediction Center which further convinced us to step up the pace.
As we continued on, it was clear that these storms meant business! They were barely showing up on radar and the the sky was just filled with a giant updraft and anvil. Along the way a PDS watch was issued and the SWODY1 was updated to include significant to violent tornadoes. 2014 had been a disappointment thus far, would today be the day that Mother Nature takes her gloves off? All signs were pointing to yes as we approached Wayne.
It looked like Mother Nature detonated an atomic bomb across Northeast Nebraska just after 20z. We needed some gas for the chase so we fueled up just as the storm went severe thunderstorm warned. It wasn’t hard to see why as visually this convection was rock hard. I looked up to see the storm’s anvil spreading out with razor sharp edges. Still 30 miles way, we needed to get a move on to avoid missing the show. I tried to pull up NWSChat and other software, but data was sparse out here. We decided to try to by-pass the town of Wayne, but ended up on some less than favorable roads that slowed us down. Looking at the latest radar update, I didn’t need to say a word. I simply pulled up this song and hit play.
As we got back on the main highway, Adam and my phone went off simultaneously. TORNADO WARNING. Here we go! We were still 10-15 miles to the northeast of the updraft area and were beginning to get into some heavier precipitation. Adam had flashbacks as were drove by his infamous intercept in October 2013. This area was decimated by a nearly 1.5 mile wide EF-4 tornado. You can read about his intercept HERE. We made progress south on NE15 until we hit US275. To our west a giant supercell growled and spit out lightning, heavy rain, and dark skies. We had a decision to make. Do we go west along US275 toward Stanton, or do we go south toward Pilger and then go west. My vote was south and then west, but it wasn’t that easy. Just south of Pilger there is a river that basically threw a monkey wrench in my plans. The next question was do we want to be north or south of the river. We ultimately decided to go into Pilger and head west out of town on 840th Road. At this point in time, Mother Nature really decided to get MAD. For the next five minutes her and Thor decided to throw thunderbolts at us and Pilger with a positive bolt of lightning every 2-3 seconds. Everything was getting hit. Trees, power poles, farmland. It was an assault unlike I have seen! I recorded some of it that is linked just below.
As we pressed on in a slowed and cowered state, we began noticing a dark object in the rain ahead of us. There were tornado reports to our west at the time, but being just on the southern fringes of the core was not the ideal spot. As we moved closer, it looked like one giant wedge on the ground. At the time we couldn’t confirm, but after analysis later we in fact viewed the EF-4 that impacted the Stanton, Nebraska area. We continued driving up the road until it dead-ended. Our only option was to go north and further into the core. The storms general motion was to the east/northeast and I was weary of driving north. The last view of the tornado was to our west/southwest, so I figured heading north into it’s path was a bad play. It was either turn around and go back east toward Pilger, or go north up to the main highway and continue west. We decided to slowly head north toward 275. As we approached the highway, we both noticed something wasn’t right. The wind was howling from the north to the south. A lesser experienced chaser may not understand what was going on here, but Adam and I knew immediately. There was SOMETHING else brewing behind us to the south. This observation sent us to the realization that we needed to go EAST on 275 and not west. We traveled little more than a mile before we saw it. In the field to our south by about 3 miles. A large bowl lowering. I commented “This is going to tornado” and sure enough within 30 seconds we were watching as multiple vorticies danced around the center of the main funnel.
Winds: 70 miles per hour
Tornadoes: 5 + 1 questionable
Miles Driven: 300
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