July 15th, 2015
Barring any late-season surprises, this will likely end up going down as the "chase of the year" for me. It's been an unusually quiet storm season here in Nebraska, with severe setups being few and far between. There was one significant tornadic day that I didn't chase in southeast Nebraska, but the tornadoes occurred after dark and would have been difficult to chase. I'll take daytime structure over nighttime tornadoes 9 times out of 10. Especially if the structure is anything like it was on this day.
I headed out of Omaha around 11am with fellow chaser Cody Ervin. Our plan was to meander down to Lincoln and play a little disc golf while waiting for the atmosphere to show us its cards. Ended up playing an entire 27-hole course! Grabbed lunch at Subway and before long, headed south to Hebron, NE where there was a boundary with some agitated cumulus. Had some weak returns show up on radar to the west, so we headed west on highway 136. Mike Hollingshead was under the "storm" to the west and said it had a surprisingly decent base, but it was clearly struggling against the cap. Really nothing impressive and slowly all inflow features dissipated as the updraft died entirely.
Things felt pretty hopeless here for a while. Just a hot afternoon with dwindling cumulus now. Of course, the theme of this year seems to have been for things to fire late late in the day. You'd usually expect storms to grow upscale around 4 or 5pm, but things didn't want to on this day (and many other days) until after 7pm. Farther south and west, several cells began to take off. They weren't severe, but they were the best attempt at anything interesting thus far, so further south and west we went.
North or South storm? Decisions, decisions...
Still going west on highway 4 here. The updraft of the closer northern storm looked pretty promising!
Eventually dropped south off of highway 4 towards Invale (just east of Riverton) to intercept the right split of the northern storm. Looking pretty good, and thought we were set for a bit. However, there were some concerning features to note...
Nice base, but starting to get rained on from the left (southern storm). Never a healthy sign.
Precip from the southern storm raining into the northern storm's base spelled death for the northern storm. Just when we thought we were set! Drove south into Invale and headed east out of town on highway 136 towards Red Cloud to stay ahead of things. Roads at Red Cloud presented a tricky decision that would affect the rest of the chase. Stay on the highway on the north side of the Republican River, or risk taking dirt on the south side?
We took the dirt. Above is a map of pretty much the entire "on the storm" part of the chase.
After a short wait at the one-lane bridge south of Red Cloud, we were on our way to our dirt road. It was straight and went all the way through to the next north/south highway, so we felt pretty confident that it would work as storms were tracking pretty much due east. Our first stop (just after getting on dirt) was the longest of the day as the storm was slow and still organizing. This allowed us to document the growth phase of this cell, as well as a couple of timelapse sequences.
Decent base developing some nice inflow bands. And more importantly, clear to the south!
Cody shooting the storm as it grew and began looming overhead.
Check out the more surface-based inflow getting sucked in now. Not bad!
Getting rounder! Nearly overhead now, time to get east.
Felt pretty good about things now. Followed our trusty dirt road east and got in front of the storm again. Every time we looked back, the storm seemed to have taken on a completely different shape!
Really starting to pile on the striations now.
Another stop farther east. Thing just kept getting rounder and rounder.
Cody shooting the beast.
Getting right up under the storm really paid off. While it looked impressive from our angle, it was a rather small storm compared to most. If you were more than a couple miles away from the base, it didn't look terribly impending.
14mm on a full frame looking straight up. Safe to say the storm was right on top of us!
Took a quick panorama before bailing east again.
Really, really round.
Wider panorama a couple minutes later with a couple more striations. Tough to accurately represent a storm in such a wide panorama. Top of the frame would be directly overhead/craning your neck back. Left to right covers about 170 degrees of the horizon.
The storm was pretty much right on the Republican River now. We had reached highway 78 which went north into Guide Rock. However, we were faced with another tough decision. North up to highway 4 now that the storm was closer to it, or continue on dirt roads to the east/south of the main precip core? Initially opted to go north on pavement, but before we could get up to the east/west highway, the core stopped us in our tracks.
Didn't want to go north into golfball-sized hail now, which was pouring down about a hundred yards to the north. This was the view overhead/looking south. We're right in the vault portion of the storm, basically squished in the narrow window between the updraft base and precip core. The shot below is a panorama of 7 vertical 14mm frames. Imagine the hail falling right behind you.
Someone is getting abducted at the end of that road.
Followed our River Road now (just left of the highway in the above image). Looked really curved and jagged on maps, which is never a good sign as it usually indicates a poorly-maintained road. Not the case this time, luckily. The road worked out perfectly, giving us a good angle on the storm and a good route to get out of the way of the impending core.
Beautiful meso now! Starting to show signs of "shriveling" but still looking impressive.
A rare "supercellfie" of yours truly.
Vertical pano before leaving showing the striations above. They gave a really nice sense of the storm's rotation.
Sunset under the meso. Really starting to shrink in size now as it lost all severe criteria.
Met up with fellow chasers Stephen Locke and Shane Link while shooting this scene. Pretty cool to see so few chasers on a storm, but the few you do see are ones you know and respect (like Mike Umscheid). The storm developed some interesting Kelvin-Helmholtz-like waves as its updraft shriveled into nothingness.
Back in the "vault" now starting the drive home on highway 136 north of Bostwick. Bye-bye, shriveling storm!
Another chase in the books. Easily the best of the year structure-wise for me. 2015 has been a fairly quiet year, but I'll take good summer structure in my home state any day over chasing with the crowds in Oklahoma in April/May.