Category Archives: Tornado

On a Mission to Pilger

tower

Pilger, Nebraska still stands tall

(“We’re on a mission from God”.)

That’s a famous line from the movie Blues Brothers. This seemed just about a important as getting the back taxes paid in time to save the orphanage from being closed. Except this wasn’t a mission from God  and this wasn’t a comedy. I was sent by Storm Assist, a collaborative effort by storm chasers to provide aid to communities directly impacted by damaging weather events.

I was given the real honor of delivering on behalf of Storm Assist (http://stormassist.org), funds for relief and recovery efforts currently underway in this close knit community we know as Pilger, Nebraska. after twin EF4 tornadoes terrorized this small farming town. Residents simply call it home and when I was on my way to meet them, I had no idea what to expect.

I had a pretty somber drive not knowing what I would see or feel and with the backdrop of cloud cover and appearing as though it was going to rain didn’t help the mood either. My heart began to sink low as I drew closer to town and when I finally arrived, my heart made its final decent deep into the pit of my stomach and my jaw literally fell in my lap. The first thing I saw were the mountains of debris of what obviously were homes and then just over my other shoulder were the empty spaces where they use to be.

Debris

These were homes

damage

Square block cleared out

24hr Gas Station

24hr convenience store and gas station with heavy damage

I made the left turn into town and you could see the total devastation to what was the hub of this town, the co-op. It provided grain storage, dry fertilizer and other chemicals, bulk deliveries of fuel, propane and oil. There was also a 24hr convenience store that provided gasoline and other essential items. It becomes kind of a gathering place in rural towns. It’s where you go for the local news and say hi.

I decided to park the car and walk around the town so I could really understand what I was seeing. There were some buildings but most were destroyed or otherwise completely gone. It was really difficult to visualize the town.

Slabs

Empty spaces

damage

Twisted metal

destruction

Total destruction

Mess

A mangled mess

Workers

Getting things working again

There are signs of the recovery currently underway as linemen and women are repairing the electrical lines. Utility workers were hard at work trying to restore those very crucial utilities many of us take for granted.  For the homes that were left standing , had porta potties placed out on the edge of their lawns.  I could hear one of the guys a few streets over shout in excitement as 1 more street had it’s water service restored. Orphan grain recovery teams are gathering whats left of Pilger’s life blood.

There was one thing that I expected to see, I don’t know why but I did, was the look of pity and despair. Not by everyone, just anyone. I saw none of that. What I did see aside from the workers were a few residents that still had homes, leave and head over to the volunteer area for an assignment. So I went too. I saw vehicles from SD, IA, MO and a good number of volunteers pitching in to lend a helping hand. Another older gentleman was tending what was left of his garden as a tarp flapped in the breeze while covering his damaged home going about his day. He joked a little and aside from the appearance of being in a war zone, life seemed pretty OK at that moment.

School

The school all blown out

forever

Cali lives forever

I stopped and took a small moment of silence to remember little Calista Dixion. We’ve all most likely seen the photograph of this little angel on the stretcher whom lost her life on that tragic day.  That photo is a reason so many of us feel deeply connected to her and this town. But she surely lives on in the hearts of all here in Pilger.

Flag

Showing strength and resolve

This flag is a recognizable symbol of strength and it’s sight provides comfort to so many in America in times of need. It was on was proudly on display in Pilger and gave me the sense that it represented their strength and resolve to pull through this very dark time. Thanks to the community and all of the people that support Storm Assist this town will rebuild. There is no doubt in my mind about that.

You can read details about funds provided to Pilger by going to http://stormassist.org

How can you help repair the normal to those affected by devastating weather like Pilger?

Please visit http://stormassist.org and consider making a donation. It really does make a difference.

Damaged car

Like a rag doll

foundation debris

Foundation debris

debris from the co-op

Mangled and twisted debris from the co-op

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5/30/2011 chase- A Family affair

This chase was the first time my wife has gone on a real chase. Sure we’ve played around with local t-storms after dinner together but never before has she committed to hitting to road and driving until the storms end. Until now!

On this chase I also brought along my neighbors. They moved here a few years ago and seemed to be freaked by any weather so I was stoaked they wanted to come along. They did bring their own vehicle just incase in was too much.

Mike Vetter met up with us in Lake Andes, our target, and hopped in the hot seat.

DSCN1841I could tell by the look in his eye what he wanted to do, go south into Nebraska. I cringed a bit because I had told my wife we would just hug the SD/NE boarder because she had to work at 4:30 am the next morning.

I never chase in the state I tell her I’m chasing. It’s always the next state or 2 away.My excuse is always “But they touch” meaning the states. I think deep down inside she knew we weren’t staying in SD. As we approached the Welcome to Nebraska sign I kept my mouth shut, but she noticed it, and before she could say anything I shouted  “see I told you they touch”.  But so far she was enjoying herself so we continued our play.

Our group arrived in Atkinson, NE  about 30 minutes before the storm and saw the Twistex team repositioning for another intercept. DSCN1851We topped off the tanks and started heading east for an intercept. Right to the south we could see the storm approaching. And boy was it mean. We jockeyed around for a bit to avoid the monster hail core. That was a good plan because that thing was putting down monster grapefruit sized hail and was a great looking storm.

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We decided to make a very aggressive play down a dirt road and got treated to a kickass gustnado that crossed about 100 yrds in front of us! It spun up real quick and was wound pretty tight.

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The word of the night was gustado after gustnado,.

We caught this monster near O’ Neill, NE

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(my wife filming this dirty thing)

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This storm had sick rotation and as it was going linear the stronger cells would break away causing these gustnado swarms. They seemed to be everywhere.

My wife and my neighbors seemed to be excited about our next trip.

5/22/2011 Central Wisconsin

Brent Koops, myself, Forrest Lambert, and Francine Lambert chased out in central WI following storms from Albert Lea, MN and intercepted cells coming out of eastern IA in Lacrosse, WI.

These storms developed ahead a cold front and produced large, hail, damaging winds and tornadoes.

These cells stayed tornado warned for a few hours and we were all over it. Only one problem. Wisconsin is loaded with trees and it made it very difficult to see anything related to the storm. It was difficult to see any storm features much less tornadoes.

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(pretty much the view the entire time)

 

DSCN1812We chased this storm from Lacrosse, WI up through Sparta, where a tornado struck the south side of town. The small tornado first touchdown just southwest of the city, crossed highway 27 near an auto dealership where it tossed a car. The tornado continued east northeast and crossed south water street on the south side of the city. The path continued along and just south of Walrath street before it lifted on the southeast side of town.

Damage was mainly to trees, windows and power lines. There was some minor damage to roof tops and sheds as well. One of the worst hit homes also had a car moved along with windows busted out.

From Sparta we continued on to Tomah where a tornado struck about 4 miles northwest of Tomah near County Road M. The tornado crossed crossed Interstate 94 north of Tomah. DSCN1825It proceeded east northeast through mainly wooded areas and we could see the damage path right through the trees.I was a bit tortured here because of the pine smell from the freshly destroyed trees.

Brent made mention of it right away. The last time we smelled this was 4/11/2011 near Early, IA dancing dangerously close to a tornado at night.DSCN1818

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From Tomah we continued on to the town of Nekoosa where a campground took a direct hit destroying 166 campsites. Fortunately, no one was killed or suffered any life threatening injuries. 

At this point we called the chase and checked in with local law enforcement to offer assistance but was advised all local and county resources were being shifted to the area and we could call the dispatcher and if they needed our help they would call us. I declined feeling at that point our assistance was not needed and we began our return trip to Sioux Falls.

This trip stung a bit because we were on tornadoes but could not get a good view due to the trees but I consider it a good chase and the intercept was successful and we did get on tornadoes. But in fairness to the rules there was no steak dinner. However we did enjoy what I eat for half ass tornado chases.052211201525
(for when you only half score)

The chase ended on a high note. We got out and chased. Intercept strategy was dead on. In the end we logged 920 miles round trip and spent about 14hrs in the car. Many chasers would consider this a bust but I view it as an opportunity to learn from mistakes. In this case a changed strategy for dealing with trees. 

Gustnadoes / Tornadoes 5/11/2011

While everyone was busting in KS I was treated to a wicked storm environment in SE. South Dakota. I and the the rest of the ExWx team are part of the KELO News chase team now so the local members (Joe Miller, Brent Koops, Greg Rardin, Mike Vetter) stuck close to home in the slight risk area while Mark Ellis, Jenn Miller, Cory Watkins, and Joe Quinn covered the KS Mod Risk area.

Brent and I agonized over the morning models and wish-casting an isolated cell somewhere west Denison, IA early evening. Sent a couple of messages out for opinions but no one seemed all that interested. KS was the topic in most minds this day. I was really starting to regret no making the run to KS, but work commitments kept me close to home. So there we sat, Koops and I looking at every run of the RUC hoping for a glimmer of hope for something to chase and once we saw all that liner crap our hopes quickly faded, but what the hell, we both stayed glued to the radar looking for that cell to pop, just to verify our forecast because we didn’t go to Denison after we saw the line of storms marching north.

Around 6:20 there it was just showing up on radar ahead of the line of storms, but it was a bit farther north near Haywarden, IA.

Out the door I went, Joe Miller and Greg were on it, and Koops sat out as he was further east and thought he would’t catch it. The storm was quickly tornado warned and the first tornado report went out around 6:30 (NWS eventually ruled it a gustnado).

The cell was actually moving NW heading right for me. I got off at the Canton exit in SD and watched as the line approached. Straight line winds were about 45-50 MPH and I sat as the shelf started to pass overhead. Just to my northeast I could see a bunch of dirt being picked up so I followed.

There was a series of gustnadoes / tornadoes along the outflow boundary out in front of that line of storms that came in through just NW. of Canton. As the OFB interacted with new cells that were popping up it created just enough spin to cause the frequent spinup tornadoes on the front edge of the storms.

Gustnadoes / Tornadoes

Gustnadoes / Tornadoes

There was plenty of black dirt for the spinup tornadoes to pick up, making them visible.

Turned out to be a great day. Makes up for the bust to Sunday before.

Tornado strikes 4/9/2011

I want to preface decisions I made this night will continue to play in my mind for a very long time. This blog is not about tornado counts or bragging rights, it’s about 1 chase and 1 decision that sets off a chain of events Brent Koops, Cory Watkins and I will will never forget and has changed the three of us forever.

We starting planning this chase on Tuesday and Cory made arraignments to fly from OK, to SD and arrive Friday evening. He made it as far as MSP and had to spend the night at the airport for a flight out in the morning. Picked him up at the airport about 9:45am and the journey began. We first stopped at the pizza ranch in Rock Valley, IA and met up with the rest of the group Brent, Joe Miller, Joe’s wife Jill and Greg Rardin for lunch and make our final plan for the chase. Joe selected Onawa, IA as the perfect staging area for our chase to begin.

We arrived at a gas station just off the interstate where we met up with Ben Holcomb and Scott Bennett and shot the breeze waiting for storms to fire up. DSCN1238 Other chasers arrived and everyone was getting jazzed about what was to unfold. Models looked fantastic, SPC had a moderate risk for the area.

I’ve had the flu since our KS chase a week prior and should not have even been there but we all knew it would be big. However I for one was not expecting that what would later unfold would affect me on so many levels.  I should have known though after a large bee (the only bee) landed in my shirt and stung me in the back, mother nature was not going to be very kind to me.

DSCN1271 Towers popped up and we all took off a through the next hour we all jockeyed around for positioning and as the storm took off and went tornadic the group pretty much put their own strategies in play and we all broke apart. DSCN1329DSCN1304

I will fast forward past the positioning details and get right to the tornadoes we encountered. We were just between Ida Grove and were heading toward Arthur when everyone’s worse nightmare happed. We were struck by a tornado! This is the moment we went from chasers to chased. A moment earlier we were watching a funnel/tornado form just off to our left. It was like watching through the strobe light. 1 second it would appear touching and then next not so much. While watching this we continued on not paying attention to another merging cell. There was a pick up a couple of hundred yards or so in front of us when suddenly he stops on a culvert bridge right in front of us and debris suddenly flowed across the road like a blinding sheet as we were pushed to the right, we could barely see the truck. in_tornado

The car began to shake violently and the reflectors on the side of the bridge were twisting back and forth looking like blinkers flashing on and off. The car lifted slightly in the rear and was pushed further to the right. Just at that moment the rear window imploded and sent glass and debris flying into the car. All of this happened extremely fast and immediately after the window blew I stomped on the gas and got out of it. We drove like a bat out of hell for about 2 miles and stopped to see what had just happened and to make sure we were all ok. It was amazing not a cut or bruise on any of us. But this is what we saw from the back window. Image1

We continued to track this storm that appeared to be dropping tornado after tornado. As we continued on this storm we could see a wedge forming. To top it all off data was non existent but we could clearly see the wedge and headed toward Newell. This was bad decision number 2. At night perspective changes and distance and timing are all out of whack. We missed our east west and found ourselves staring down this wedge. That’s a slight stretch, but we were close enough to notice the air was filled with the smell of pine. You could smell the trees being ripped up. Cory called 911 and reported our location and the damaging tornado. This is when the chase stopped. We knew what this tornado was doing and we rushed to Newell and expected the worse was coming. We sat just looking south out of town and the power went out. The tornado was tearing up farm homes. We punched up through the hail core to get back around and on the damage path and helping people as we found them. We lost a few minutes in the hail but were able to get back on things.

We found an older couple where the tornado chewed through a tree grove on their property.  Large trees moved more than 10ft but luckily  the home was spared. DSCN1415DSCN1396DSCN1399DSCN1403DSCN1408DSCN1409DSCN1412

A little further down the road was another home that was badly damaged. Other chasers had arrived moments earlier and pulled the man from this badly damaged home. I was amazed that the grass a completely flat pointing towards the home. I looked as though a steam roller flattened it.

We continued check homes on the way to Virina where we encountered more damage.  We checked in with the fire dept. on the scene and we were told of a command post location and to check in there. It wasn’t there. That’s for another blog because many doubt my actions this night, but it’s on video.

At the end of this chase we are thankful to have survived and the 3 of us have bonded like brothers. I cannot even begin to describe the emotions I went through on this chase as we went from chaser to victim.

Here are a few shot of the car

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This is not something I ever want to do again. God had his finger on the car and he chose to spare us.

4/22/2010 Tornado near Pampa, Tx

ExWx Chase team members Derek Davis and I (Marcus Hicks) headed down to TX for the tornado outbreak.

We arrived in Childress, Tx about 11:00 am and stopped for lunch and to check the models again. All the models still confirming we had picked the right target area. The area was under cloudy skies and the temps in the upper 60’s but tornados were going to happen we just needed to wait for the cloud cover to clear out. This is where paitance comes in. Headed down to the Comfort Inn to use some free wifi and shoot the breeze with other chasers, who like us were just waiting. There were cells severe warned in the OK panhandle and I had begun to doubt myself as Rob B told me earlier in the day to go to the panhandle, but it was too late and I was pretty sure I was right I just needed to wait.

Cloud cover finally started clearing around 5pm and there were cells starting to pop up. We decided to just get out of town to get a better view and quickly decided to jump on that first cell that prompted us to get out of town. That turned out to be a great call as this cell produced multiple tornados and baseball sized hail which took out my windshield and beat up the stealth pretty good. We chased until it got dark and then headed toward KS, for the triple point the next day. I will post about that later.

Here are some photos and video of this tornado.

 

 trying for triplets

 

 

Chasercon 2010

Summed up in one word, WOW!.
Chasercon was a three day event hosted by Roger Hill and Tim Samaras and features speakers from various backgrounds presenting various topics:
Jon Davies – Wheres the Tornado
Tim Marshall – May Tricks of 2009
Dr. Josh Wurman CSWR VORTEX2
Dr. Howie Bluestein – Mobile Doppler Radar Data Collection during VORTEX2
Dr. Erik Rasmussen – Whats Left to Learn about Tornados
Chris Novy – Safe and Responsible Chasing
Jon Davies – Pick a cell, any cell: Chase targeting issues
Greg Stumpf – NSSL
Dr. Greg Forbes – Severe Weather and Flash Flood Forecasting

The opportunity to meet other chasers and listen to these experts is certainly a trip worth taking.

I think the biggest take away for me was the opportunity to talk to other chasers face to face and get their perspectives on different topics that have been sticky points brought up on various discussion forums. Another big take away for me after talking with other chasers and these experts was, I didn’t know what I didn’t know until this event. Such as gaps in my forecast knowlege, I discovered that the method of forecasting was very flawed and it directly impacted my chasing. With this discovery, a whole new area of learning opened up as well. At the same time some other areas of limited knowlege have had some dots connected and the light turned on so to speak.

There were also vendors displaying various new tools and new products. My favorite vendor was the ChaserTV booth. What a great buch of guys and gals associated with CTV.

This trip overall was a huge learning experiance for me and my main reason for going. I know with these new skills and increased atmospheric awareness my chances of chasing success has greatly improved. But I also know that my learning is not over and I have a long way to go in my forecasting but I feel I am far better prepared for 2010 then I was for previous seasons.

If you are chaser this is a must attend for many many reasons.

2009 Chase Season Recap

Well 2009 wasn’t a total bust as far as storms go. I sat out alot of chases that ended in busts, but the ones I did chase provided me the opportunity to show my daughter the ropes. She is now offically a stom nut/chaser. She still has lots to learn as well as myself but another way to stay connected with my family is fantastic. My wife also chased a few times with me and proved to be a useful navigator. Her (wife) only downfall is she is impaitiant and says “If it’s not going to drop a tornado then get in to the purple this is boreing” referring to the large hail core.
This season I also learned alot of things about my current chase partners, some good and some bad but now it’s all on the table. 2009 also gave me the opportunity to meet up with some new people and chase with them.
Robert Brown made the trip down from Washington state to chase on the plains and brought with him fantastic forecasting skills that allowed us to get on the best storms every chase. During his time here it was action packed. Chase day, down day, chase day, down day. That allowed him to see what he came for and also allowed me to show him our beautiful city of Sioux Falls. I also met Derek Davis who himself turned out to be a valuable asset and chase partner. This chase season also included Jennifer Jones from SDPB (South Dakota Public Broadcasting) who interviewed me and rode along on a chase for the Dakota Digest segment on SD Public Broadcasting radio. Also streamed LIVE video of severe weather to a local TV station so the community can see whats happening.
All and all it turned out to be a great season for me and I can’t wait for 2010.