June 16th, 2014: Nebraska Tornado Outbreak

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].

19_stor 19_500mb 19_srh3 19_ehi3 19_shr6 19_sbcp 19_850mb 19_ttdTo 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.

day1probotlk_20140616_2000_torn_prt day1otlk_20140616_2000_prt mcd1015 pdspilger

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.

10341720_298535370306303_1329128932318163213_nIt 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.

Pilger Lightning Storm

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.

10359215_370016689824837_4341173833117649093_nWe documented the tornado as it began to grow. At one point we thought it was moving more northerly than easterly so we decided to head up the road a little bit. It was clear though that the tornado was moving east/northeast. We turned down 570th Ave and watched as a now large cone tornado was crossing the road 3/4th of a mile ahead of us. I got out and documented it as 60-70 mile per hour winds buffeted us. I looked up and noticed the sky seemed literally 20 yards over us as the tornado continued to churn to the east. I started taking some stills while Adam videoed. All of a sudden I heard this unmistakable and frightening roar. A roar reminiscent of 5/20/2013. I looked up and saw large black objects getting tossed about and noticed a tiny water tower on the tornadoes left edge. It was Pilger. The town we had been through not more than 10 minutes prior. This violent tornado was plowing through it and there wasn’t a thing we could do. Immediately my heart sank and we both let out this groan …. The one thing anyone hates about chasing is the life impact these gigantic beasts possess.
It was also at this time that I noticed another tornado was touching down to the east of Pilger. In this environment, I wasn’t surprised to see a satellite tornado touch down. I was surprised at what happened for the next hour! The tornado that impacted Pilger continued northeast out of town and ultimately was rated a high-end EF-4. It unfortunately killed a small child and basically traveled across the heart of the town.
10489644_298904016936105_6313334760903360783_nMeanwhile, the other tornado rapidly strengthened and grew to the size of the former tornado. We were witnessing violent tornadoes ongoing at the same time less than a few miles from one another. Having two tornadoes at once isn’t that uncommon in big set ups. What usually happens is the former tornado will eventually weaken and hand off to the new tornado. What made this event so unique is that the former tornado didn’t weaken. In fact it stayed every bit as violent. This was something that was unprecedented! Never have I seen a case where two violent EF-4 tornadoes were ongoing at the same time within the same storm. We darted down 275 as emergency vehicles darted past us for Pilger. We crossed the damage path on 275 and the devastation was complete. There were already workers and emergency personnel assisting the residents of a farmstead that had been hit. We made it to the 275/15 JCT just as the tornado that hit Pilger briefly lifted. The East Pilger tornado was still going strong 2 miles to the east, but this violent circulation was still putting down vorticies in the trees less than a mile away. Noticing that law enforcement blocked off the road ahead, we did a U-turn and headed back east on 275.
10401372_298903986936108_3617367394135662809_nFor the next 45 minutes we jockeyed for position with two simultaneous wedge tornadoes as they sped off to the north/northeast. There was even a point where it looked like three tornadoes would be ongoing. Several miles later we lost track of the original Pilger tornado as it seemed to combine with the East Pilger one. To make matters worse, the RFD had wrapped around the tornado and obscured us from a clear view. We needed to head east and then north. A few moments later, another area of strong rotation developed just ahead of the previous tornadoes. Within minutes this rotation was putting down vorticies. This was the birth of another EF-4 tornado near Wakefield. We positioned ourselves 4 miles south of the tornado and watched it’s progress. Suddenly out of the rain, the other tornado was doing a crazy rope out. The new mesocyclone, combined with the RFD winds, were kicking this tornado out at speeds near 90 miles per hour as it revolved around the new tornado. Over time this tornado also grew to massive proportions, but thankfully weakened before it hit Wakefield.
Our pursuit north to the tornado was sidetracked by unfavorable roads and drivers. We had to make a long detour through Pender and up NE9. By the time we got to the storm again, it had visually weakened. No longer was there a menacing wall cloud or signs of rotation. The updraft itself seemed much skinnier as well. It was still tornado warned, however, so we continued on to just south of Emerson. We let the rotation pass directly overhead, but did not observe anything tornadic. We decided to let the storm go at this point and count the our tornadoes with other chasers near us. It was at this time that I noticed a big cone lowering off to our northeast from the departing storm. It looked pretty convincing, but I was unable to confirm if it was another tornado. Others further northeast have stated they saw it touch down, but I haven’t seen much in the way of compelling evidence. Our attempts to go help out in Pilger were thwarted as they put out a message saying they wanted no outside help into the town. I found that odd, but we continued on to Sioux City and ate a nice dinner. After a lengthy dinner, we emerged in Sioux City and noticed something off with the sky. There was a gigantic rounded base overhead with wild cloud turbulence and even some rotation. Was the day not over yet? We watched it as it moved off to the east, but noted no severe weather or threat. We met up with Matt Cumberland and split a room across the river. Another line of severe thunderstorms was set to move in and we stepped out to get some photographs.
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All in all, Mother Nature woke up in the biggest way possible. Unfortunately it was in the form of violent tornadoes impacting civilization. Luckily there were only a few deaths with the violence these storms possessed. From a personal standpoint this day will probably go unmatched. Two simultaneous violent tornadoes for several miles is something you dream of on a cold winter’s night. I don’t think I will ever witness something as impressive until Mother Nature provides three violent tornadoes side by side by side.



Winds: 70 miles per hour

Hail: .88″ 

Tornadoes: 5 + 1 questionable

Miles Driven: 300

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About Danny Neal

Danny is a storm chaser from the southside of Chicago and has been chasing since 1998. He has over 100 tornadoes documented as well as numerous other extreme weather events. He routinely teaches and trains others about severe and unusual weather and is considered a great resource for Northern Illinois. As a partner with NOAA, he spends most of his time assisting the National Weather Service Chicago during severe weather operations