2004 Chase Summaries - Trip 2

July 26  - August 2

Brian A. Morganti

JULY 26, 2004:    Monday - South Dakota

I spent the day working my way north from Ogallala, NE to the extreme southwest corner of SD with little hope of seeing any significant weather along the way.  I also wanted to visit the town of Ardmore, SD which is just a relic of its former self.  I became intrigued by this ghost town a few years ago when we rushed by on our way to a storm, but decided I would like stop and look around if I ever had the opportunity.   Looking at all the crumbling buildings and rusting vehicles, one can't help but wonder what happened here...and why!? 


By late afternoon I could see a few weak storm towers struggling over the Black Hills to my north.  There were also some weak storms moving into the extreme eastern Plains of Wyoming.  I decided I may as well try to intercept one of those in hopes of at least seeing some lightning.  Although I did see some lightning, the storms were short-lived and the lightning was infrequent.  I took a few pictures and decided to call it a day early.

Traveling east on I-90 after sunset I was able to see the faint glow of the northern lights.  After getting my room in Murdo, SD I headed north on a darkened lane in order to get a better look.  Other than a distinctive glow, there wasn't much else to see...except for the lightning on a small storm that had developed back where I was two hours ago!

JULY 27, 2004:    Tuesday - South Dakota Lighting

Strong to severe multi-cell storms looked to be the order of the day anywhere from south central ND southward to north central NE.  I decided to play the middle ground near Pierre, SD splitting the difference between the better upper level flow further north and the best instability to my east and south.  The first storms initiated around 3 PM CDT to my northwest, and began to pulse and drift slowly eastward.  I headed northwest thru the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation and had a good look at the tail end storm just to the west of Eagle Butte.   I watched this cell and others struggle to my west for the next hour, as other stronger cells began to develop well to my north and south.   After some indecision on which way to go, I finally headed south toward some new convection that had initiated in south central SD.  These cells were certainly not severe, but they entertained me with occasional hail shafts, lightning, and rainbows as I headed south towards the I-90 corridor.


The sun began to set just as I reached I-90, so I decided to set up my cameras on a side road that parallels the interstate on the south.  I found a nice high point that overlooked the rolling grasslands and a full (or nearly full) moon to my south.  I spent the next hour or so burning up film and video tape.  I even captured a few CG's on my digital SLR camera.  All in all not a bad day since I really wasn't expecting rotating storms.  The best I could hope for was a decent light show, and I was not dissappointed!


JULY 28, 2004:    Wednesday - Nebraska Sand Hills

Since there would be no storms on the high plains today, I took my time heading south through the Nebraska Sand Hills in order to be in a better position for the storm potential on Thursday.  There are not a lot of photo opportunities in the 150 miles of monotonous hills between Martin, SD and Ogallala, NE, but every now and then one may present itself if you look hard enough.


JULY 29, 2004:     Thursday - Northeast Colorado

Most of the ingredients needed for severe storms would be in place by late afternoon...directional wind shear with height, adequate low level moisture with dewpoints in the mid to high 50's, ample insolation, and short wave energy moving in from the northwest.  Just about anywhere in the Nebraska Panhandle or the northeastern counties of Colorado looked primed, and by 3:00 PM MDT an MD was issued for that entire region followed quickly by a SEV thunderstorm watch box.  I figured Kimball, NE would be a good place as any to hang out until the storms initiated.  The first storms formed over eastern Wyoming a moved east into extreme NW Nebraska.  One of these went severe as soon as it crossed the border, and other storms began forming west of Scottsbluff and directly to my west near Cheyenne.  I was just about ready to blast north after the storms moving into Nebraska when a discrete cell formed about 60 miles to my south in extreme SE Morgan County, CO.  Hmmm, what to do...go after the severe warned storms to my north that would be moving more or less towards me, or go after that good looking cell (on radar) to my south!?  I really hate coming up from behind a storm, but these were moving rather slowly...and a tornado warning had just been issued for the Morgan County Storm.  The decision was made, I would go south.  Along the way another isolated storm formed between me and the Morgan County storm.  This one looked good for a while, and it along with the storm to my south both moved into Washington County.  I stopped briefly to take a few pictures of the southern most storm.


At Last Chance I cut east on highway 36 and was soon able to position myself on the storms southeast flank and WxWorks Threat Net indicated a shear marker just to the northwest of my position.  I stopped to study the base, and was treated to a couple of nearby CG's with incredible thunder claps.  A long white, but diffuse, funnel snaked down ahead of a clear slot at this time, but I was not able to confirm rotation...although it was obvious the entire storm was rotating.  The base had lowered some, but was overall starting to become rather bland.  I was also able to get a glimpse of the northern Washington County storm thru break in the clouds to my northeast.


I proceeded east on highway 36 to just east of Anton, but both storms were beginning to weaken.  There was very little lightning, but there was a decent mammatus field.  The sun was beginning to set, so I looked forward to a colorful display.  It was now about 7PM MDT.  Unfortunately, a line of weak storms was developing to my west which quickly shaded the mammatus from the setting sun.  It didn't matter, both Washington County storms were now quite dead.  I made reservations in Limon and headed back west towards the broken line of storms.  These storms were not much to look at, but they did exhibit a little more lightning then there predecessors.  One film stop just south of Last Chance yielded little luck.  By now it was nearly dark, but I could see more lightning well off to my south...WxWorks confirmed some new cells to the south and west of LIC.  I recalled a high point on highway 71 that overlooks the town of Limon from last chase season.  That would be my final attempt to capture lightning on this day.  I filmed the somewhat distant light show for the next hour, which yielded an occasional spectacular bolt and I was fortunate enough to capture at least one of them!  375 miles logged today.


JULY 30, 2004:     Friday - East Central Colorado

Even though the threat for severe storms was minimal for today, I still wanted to make another attempt at photographing more lightning.  I spent the afternoon hanging around Cedar Point just north of Limon, Co which serves as a radio antennae farm at nearly 6000' AGL.  I had an excellent view in all directions as I watched an agitated area of convection just to my south and west.   By about 3:00 PM MDT the storms to my immediate west began to strengthen as they moved across Elbert County.  One cell was headed right for me and I had to back off as lightning activity neared.  As the storm got closer I was able to detect a hail roar, which prompted me to exit north and let the hail core pass to my south.  Afterwards, I went back to my original position to set up for the next approaching storm.


The next storm exhibited some decent base structure briefly, but weakened as it slid by to my south.


My original storm and some new cells had moved off to my east into an area of better instability (it was now about 5:30 PM MDT).  These storms were moving slowly and holding together rather well.   I decided to head east along I-70 figuring I could either get some nice colors around sunset, or lightning.  Along the way a new cell exploded just to my north in Kit Carson and southern Yuma County and began moving to the southeast.


This storm and another one to it's northeast moved into Cheyenne County, KS where it prompted a SEV warning...but radar indicated they were quickly diminishing in intensity.  I stopped just south of Vona to film the rain filtered colors at sunset, then finished the day at Burlington, CO since the storms to my east had ended their light show.  167 miles logged.

JULY 31, 2004:     Saturday - Sioux Land Supercell

I woke up early for the long drive from LIC to the Sioux Land in hopes of finding a sweet spot in an otherwise diffusely defined area where severe storms may initiate.  A quick review of the ETA and RUC confirmed the best area to be would be somewhere in the extreme northeast corner of NE or the southeast corner of SD. The big negative for today was the lack of a convergence.  That being said, a good southerly surface flow was in place the plowed into a somewhat weaker flow near the NE/SD border...perhaps this would be enough lift to get the first storms going.  Anyway,  I wanted to get moving, so I picked an initial target of Norfolk, NE to Yankton, SD...I figured I could re-define my target along the way if need be.  The first weak radar returns appeared as I was heading north on route 81 near Norfolk.  Two were near Sioux Falls and a third. but smaller, cell was located to my northwest near Lake Andes.  This would become my target storm because it was closer, moving towards me, and was the southern most cell in what appeared to be boundary connected to the storms further to my northeast.  This storm pulsed a few times, so I kept hoping it would get going as it moved into the better instability to the east.  It never happened, and I wound up wasting precious time. 


Around this time I received a call from Martin Lisius giving me an update on the latest data.  I was just telling him how lame the updrafts looked to my north, even though they certainly looked more enticing than the Lake Andes Storm, which was now just to my west near Crofton, NE.  I no more than uttered a few more sentences and I exclaimed to Martin that the updraft to my north had now suddenly exploded and that I had better get moving north.

Fortunately for me, the storm to my north was barely crawling to the ESE and I had a good road network to get me there.  I still had well over an hour of daylight left, and the western of the two storms to my north was just under 50 miles "the crow flies".  Also, it was nice to have the explosive updraft in view for the entire ride north.


By the time I reached Yankton, my storm had gone severe and a warning was issued for both Turner and Lincoln County.  Shortly after a tornado warning was issued for the storm further to my east along I-90.  It didn't matter, I had found my target storm and I was determined to get a good look under the base.  I cut east on highway 18 and soon had a perfect view of the base structure to my NNE.  There was a persistent wall cloud present and the entire base was taking on a nice circular shape.  I was time to begin the old south and east maneuver, and I took advantage of my first photo op near Hurley, SD.


I dropped south on highway 10 towards Viborg on route 19 and soon took advantage of another photo op back to my north.


The storm was now tornado warned and several shear markers began appearing on the ThreatNet just to my NNW.  I saw several ominous lowerings, but could not confirm rotation or any debris whirl on the ground.  I'll need to study the video though to be certain.   What a beast of a storm...well worth the 600 plus miles driven today!  Once again I dropped south and stopped again along route 19, or about 5 miles northwest of Centerville to watch the approaching storm to my north (towards Hurley).  I filmed at this location from about 8:48 to 9:10 PM CDT.  FSD has a tornado report 3 E of Viborg at 8:54, however according to the above pictures which were taken at that time, the main updraft area was still to my north. Another storm report lists that 4 people were trapped due to tornado damage 4 N of Centerville at 9:10.  I have video of a large lowered wall cloud/funnel that was taken looking to my northeast at that time, however upon review of the video I cannot determine any debris on the ground. The last picture below was taken with my digital SLR camera at 9:07 PM CDT in an attempt to capture lightning.  A few minutes later at 9:10 the lowering becomes much more dramatic as I zoom in just over that grove of trees with my video camera. I will put up a video grab later when I have more time.  Anyway, this would have been looking to my NNW shortly before the 9:10 tornado report.


I then continued south on route 19 for about another 1/2 mile.  It was now getting dark and the lightning activity increased dramatically.  For the next hour I was treated to one of the most amazing light shows I have ever seen!  There was continuous lightning (CC's, CA's and Anvil Zits) and continuous thunder for at least an hour after dark.  What a great way to end the last day of my chase vacation (maybe)!  Note:  According to my camera's time stamp, the following series begins at about 9:30 CDT looking to my northeast on the first picture, and later towards my east and southeast towards Centerville which was about 5 miles to the southeast of my film location. 


AUGUST 1, 2004:    Sunday - Nighttime SD Supercell

Not a whole lot to report for today.  I waited and waited for storms to initiate in my target area between Brookings and FSD until about 6 PM.  Other than a few elevated attempts at convection, I saw fact the only towers I saw all afternoon from my lookout point were the ones in this picture.

At 6PM I decided to go for broke and go after the severe warned cells that were located along the ND/SD border near Mobridge.  They were moving SE at a pretty good clip, so I figured it was possible to make an intercept right around nightfall.  I was worth a shot, since it was apparent that these storms would be moving into a very unstable atmosphere.  It was around this time that SPC moved the tornado watch box westward to include a good part of eastern SD.  I made it to Miller just after dark, and had a pretty good view of the structure being lit up by lightning just to my NW.  The storm was expanding in aerial coverage, and picking up forward momentum.  I was able to get some decent video of the light show, but very few still images---the mosquitoes were eating me alive!  The storm was now in Sully County with a SEV warning, but was beginning to lose it's supercell characteristics on radar.  The storm then had its chance to chase me...all the way back to Huron.  I filmed the wind driven rain and some small hail from a car wash in town, and then went a little south to film the light show as it moved east.  Not at all what I was expecting for today, but not a total bust either.

AUGUST 2, 2004:    Monday - Mitchell SD Supercell

I was bound and determined to find one more "daytime" supercell before making the long trip back to PA.  Both the ETA & RUC showed a Theta E ridge oriented WNW/ESE along the NE/SD border to about the Winner Area.  This coincided well with a CAPE bulls eye in western IA/MN, so that any storms initiating along the Theta E ridge should move along the quasi stationary frontal boundary right into an area of extreme instability.  I also liked the surface wind convergence just east of the surface Low located in SC SD.  I set my initial target at Platte, SD and waited....and waited, and waited some more for the surface convergence area just to my west in Brule County to initiate explosive thunderstorms.  What was taking that SW so long to arrive anyway !?  By 2:00 PM CDT the only storms that had initiated were from a line of elevated storms back to my north where I started my day, in Huron, SD.   By 3:00 PM these storms were looking a little better, and were being monitored for a WW.  I was beginning to fear the 15C CAP was going to win out in my target area, so north I went after the elevated storms in hopes that they may become surface based with time.  They didn't, and I gave up on the idea along I-90 near Mitchell.  And worse, a couple of storms did ignite just south of my target area in Nebraska.  Had I been patient, I could have made it to these storms in about 45 minutes from I would have to drop south of Yankton, and then east towards ONL.  I made it to these storms just in time to watch them croak and die.  It was now nearly 7:00 PM and I had nothing to show for my efforts. 

I was just about to give up and book a room when I noticed a very nice supercell had exploded back to my north along I-90 west of Mitchell, SD.  Now wait a dog-gone minute, had I stayed in Platte I could have been on that cell within 20 it would take me over and hour and it would be just about dark by then!  Determined, north I went again (I no longer needed a map or GPS).  Just as the sun was setting I stopped to take a good look below the base and take a few pictures from along highway 37 just south of Corsica.


I then went north to highway 44 and then drove west towards Platte again (ugh!).  I could see a well defined updraft tower above a nice oval shaped base, but I didn't stop to take any pictures.  A few miles later I decided to stop and film the lightning activity while there was still some ambient light remaining.  The main rain/hail core was now moving to the SE and was located about 20 miles to my NW along I-90 a few miles west of Mitchell.


This storm began to weaken, but a new cell formed directly on its heels back to the NW.  I zoomed in to film some of the lightning from this storm before calling it quits.


Today it seemed as though every storm pulsed and died before it got a chance to really get going, and I'm not really sure why this happened given all the instability in place.  I would have understood if the CAP had won and no storms initiated, but once they did I expected to see at least one of two long lived supercells.  Anyway, that's it for me...I really do have to head back home tomorrow, but it's been a fun trip!

Weather Set-Up during Trip Two 2004


The synoptic pattern featured a quasi-stationary boundary in place from MN west-southwestward thru parts of SD/NE into eastern CO on most days with a NW flow aloft.  Imbedded in this flow seemed to be an endless series of short wave troughs or disturbances that acted as a "kicker' for storm initiation.  Fortunately, the arrival of these SWT's often occurred near the time of peak daytime heating.  Overall temperatures were cooler than normal, but adequate moisture, instability, lift near the boundary, and wind shear were generally adequate for supercell formation.

Interesting Factoids:

Total Miles Logged for Trip Two:                6166                    Total 04:         14,867 

                                                                               Including Tempest:        17,217

Average Miles per day Trip Two:                  513

Total Days on Road Trip Two:                        12                 Total 04:              37

Total Days in Chase Mode Trip Two:               7                  Total 04:              27

Severe Storm Intercept Days Trip Two:            6                  Total 04:              22

Tornadoes Intercepted Trip Two:                     0                  Total 04:              20+

Average Time to Bed:                                                2:45 AM

Gas Prices Paid Trip Two:                            Ranged from $1.69 (Vermillion) to $2.09

                                                                        With average of $1.89