Tag 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

Welcome to the jungle….

After about a decade of turning down chasing in the jungle I finally went on 3/2/2012. I quickly realized why I didn’t go before. It’s not fun and games as the song says. You can’t see squat through the trees. I do think I saw bigfoot, but then again it was only a brief peak through the forest.

It was a great chase don’t get me wrong, I was just not properly prepared and did not have a good strategy in place for dealing with the trees.  I chased the trees in WI but Dixie Alley offers a whole other challenge. The main one being the road network. Every town had a spider web leading out of town, but with 10 years of the grid system I had become spoiled.

Those of you that know the way I chase, know that there is not a road I will not take to get to a storm. With that said we discovered within that spider web the roads were very narrow and full of switchbacks that prevented us from attacking the storm like I am use too. But this chase afforded me an opportunity to learn new things as each chase does, but this was a little different. It wasn’t weather I was learning, it was about a completely different style of chasing. Chasing the Dixie Alley jungle is unique.

This by no means a bust chase. One thing I pride myself on is target and timing. My targets are usually spot on, and as far as timing is concerned, my ADHD prevents me from sitting for any length of time. So I focus on time of initiation to prevent that. Those that chase with me like the many times we just drive right up to tornadoes.This doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens more times than not.

Ok back to this chase. Carl Brakke was my chase partner this trip and our target was Bowling Green, KY. As it turns out it was a great target. One problem, we got there early. If you have been paying attention, this is bad. Our timing was based on storms that would be rolling through KS and MO overnight and early morning with severe potential. Our plan was to intercept these by about the time we hit St. Louis. Which we did. Had a SVR warned hailer roll through right on time. So this was no bust and gave us high hopes for the day.

We arrived in KY about 10am as planned but unfortunately gave me way too much time to make adjustments to the playbook for the day. Storms were fireing in IN and there was no way I would be sitting still with storm in my reach. So off to IN we went, traveling those switchback roads for an intercept. FAILED at the river. I was so damn frustrated it began to cloud my decision making process. I was in such a hurry to score on the trip that it didn’t matter it was only 11:30.

DSCN4196By later afternoon we were intercepting a storm near Sturgis KY, redemption was within our grasp. We cut through town with the tornado sirens blowing like mad and people wandering around not concerned one bit. I’ll save that for later.

We could see a tornado as we made our play just outside of town and the storm was booking at about 50kts (57.6 MPH). So we crushed it to get a better view but that was not happening. So in classic Marcus fashion, I punched in. We could not get close enough. Capture_rainwrapped

Once the rain went horizontal and the trees started laying over I knew well enough to get out of there. The road was only as wide as a driveway and there were cells right behind this one and picking up speed.

Got out of the core but never could catch these storms again. The roads we were on sucked and it appeared the closer we got to catching them the faster they moved.

We bugged south towards Nashville, TN as it was in the crosshairs missing the tornado by about 10 minutes but the storm continued putting down decent hail so we stayed on it.

DSCN4203 

Never did produce another tornado but we were satisfied in a great chase. Next time the jungle will not get the best of me.

First chase of the season 1873 miles and a double overnighter. That boys and girls is my kinda chase.

 

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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.

DSCN1810
(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

DSCN1821
DSCN1815

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. 

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.