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April 9th, 2011 - Nighttime Tornadoes

Fast forward quite a bit. Continued to track the storm north and west from Mapleton into the rolling hills of northwestern Iowa. Nighttime chasing is difficult/dangerous enough, and adding in unpredictable terrain just makes everything even more challenging. For this reason, we decided to stay back a bit and watch the tornadoes from a safe distance of a few miles. In hindsight, we probably could have gotten closer (jealous of the images of those who did), but I'm happy with what we saw. Each time we'd crest a hill, we would get a view of the extremely blocky lowering underneath the storm. It looked like it was ready to produce. Then you would drop down into a valley and only be able to make out the base. Several touchdowns probably occurred before we actually got to a good vantage to stop and shoot. Thank goodness we eventually did. It was absolutely surreal watching a tornado being illuminated by lightning, with no sound other than the inflow winds and distant voices of other chasers "ooh-"ing with every flash of lightning. Caught this first tornado near Arthur, IA and watched it evolve.

One of my favorite images of the night as this tornado transformed from a slender rope into a stout stovepipe. Absolutely incredible. You can see dirt getting lofted alongside the tornado. What a beauty this would have been during the day!

This thing was absolutely beautiful. You couldn't ask for a more well-defined tornado. You can tell how this one is just a solid, condensed drillbit tearing up the ground. Luckily these tornadoes were in a very rural area and caused no casualties. One certainly wonders what this tornado would have looked like in daylight, though.

Sorry about the graininess of these images. I figured it was better to get a sharp, grainy shot instead of  a smooth blurred one. Much easier to recover noise than blur too. Instead of trying to run these a million times through noise removal software, I'll leave you with the more natural versions.

Farther up the road now. Believe this was near Early, IA. High ISOs and Canon rebels do not mix well.

Put on my wide and took a shot of the storm structure as it was producing. Really glad I did, because I don't think very many people shot this. Tornadogenesis is a fascinating process, and I think this image really illustrates its complexities. Nice big cone under the base now.

We continued to track the storm to the east. We were just east of Sac City, IA now. Certainly didn't look like a tornado-producer at this stage, more of a HP monster.

One beautiful last supercellular stage before it passed to our northeast. Again, this would have been a beauty during the day. Smooth striations along the base, with a crunchy curling updraft above. And still a beefy inflow tail trailing on the left and right.

This is where we decided to drop the storm, as it was only taking us farther and farther from home. Turns out we should have stayed on it just a bit longer, as before long it would produce twin tornadoes near Pocahontas, IA (shot by fellow chasers Colt Forney and Kevin Rolfs). Oh well, I certainly wasn't disappointed with what I had seen! Sucks to miss cool ops like that, but you can't win them all, and in the grand scheme of things the day was already a win.

As we distanced ourselves, we got a fantastic view of the train of supercellular updrafts. There were three tornado-warned storms in a row, and we could see each updraft flickering away. This was the farthest east updraft, probably as it was producing the Pocahontas, IA tornadoes.

Check out those levels of inflow on the left. Surface-based, mid-level, and upper-level inflow. And a lightning machine. It's a good thing this storm was so electrically active, because that's really the only thing that made it possible to shoot. Without the lightning, we wouldn't have been able to see the tornadoes nor these gorgeous updrafts.

The updraft last in line cranked out a couple bolts just before we left. A severe-warned storm producing bolts over a tiny farmhouse.

And with that, we finally headed home after a long night of nighttime chasing. It had been a fantastic (and relatively local) chase, and I had finally bagged my first tornadoes of 2011! Nighttime chasing is certainly dangerous, and should only be done if you're experienced enough to deal with its challenges. Thank goodness I knew Chris, otherwise I doubt I would have even chased or seen anything noteworthy this night. Having experienced chase partners is the safest way to chase, and the best way to learn. Now that I've got some experience under my belt, I can't wait to bag a tor for myself!

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