Nebraska Tornado Day
Stuart and O’Neil Nebraska Tornadoes June 9th 2003
Storm Chase Log:
On this storm chase, I left Greeley Colorado about 7 am Monday June 9th 2003 and headed out towards Valentine which is west of Stuart Nebraska where I filmed the first tornado. The second tornado I filmed on this chase was further east nearer O’Neil Nebraska. I loved chasing in the Stuart Nebraska area and will always have fond memories of the Basset tornadoes I filmed in 1999.
Driving north towards Valentine from interstate 80 I headed north on 83 which is a beautiful drive, taking you past the Valentine Wildlife Refuge. The wetlands at the top of these giant sand hills is worth the trip alone. As soon as I arrived in Valentine I went to the local Library to check the Internet for the latest weather data. While in this very friendly library I donated a copy of my book. There were a few other storm chasers there, so we chatted for a bit. I told them how it was clear to me that the dry line, the lower dew points were too close to Valentine for it to be the point where tornadoes might form, so said I would head east on hi-way 20. Once on back on the road I noticed storms building just to my north. I called in for a radar check after about 20 minutes of heading east on 20 and nothing significant showed on radar yet.
When I arrived in Ainsworth I headed north on 183 to get a better look at the building storms and to determine how strong these storms were. I lost all cell phone use at this point so I had to go it by eye only. Without radar of any kind I would have to determine which storms looked the most powerful and choose to follow what appeared to be the best. Within about 20 minutes a few storms were building rapidly just to the west of 183 in Keya Paha County, Nebraska, with one looking like it had the ability to build higher than other storms. Where all the other storms appeared to hit a ceiling and stop building at that level, this one went farther up and continued to build upward with great intensity. It was located just to the west of Springview on 183. This is something I look for when chasing by eye. Many times, if you are in the right area, the first storm to build higher than the others around it will be the best storm to follow. This is not always the case so you must be ready to change course if need be. I continued driving north until I came to hi-way 12 east keeping my eye on the one storm while looking for others that may do the same. 20 was my first paved road east that would allow me to follow the storm I had picked out so now I had to decide if this was the storm I would commit to. I decided it was and so I headed East towards Burton Nebraska driving very slow and for short distances, keeping an eye on the one storm, moving maybe a mile at a time, and then stopping to watch it develop.
Keeping an eye on the storm
Each time I stopped I watched to see if this storm looked as though it was getting stronger. I determined it was getting stronger and was showing signs of rotation already. The sides of the cloud were layered and it was easy to see the whole cloud was rotating faster than any others around. Several other storm chasers joined me at this point. About 5:15 pm a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for this storm, when it was moving over Springview Nebraska. The storm continued to move east so I followed it to about Mills where a tornado warning was issued on the storm. Many more storm chasers were now in the area, along with what appeared to be NSSL or NWS researchers chasing as a team.
The storm now begin to put out several short-lived small tornadoes. Some spotters called the report in to the Local authorities and the report was relayed to the public by the NWS NOAA weather radio. Debris was seen beneath a large area of rotation at the base of the storm signaling the beginning of a tornado forming. Road 12 came to a T where it intersected 137. Since the storm was now moving more south than east I took hi-way 137 south. I stopped at a beautiful ridge overlooking a valley with a riverbed at the bottom.
The Tornado magnet house
At the top of the hill I pulled into the driveway of a resident of the area. I noticed the owner was working outdoors so I drove up next to him to ask permission to sit in his driveway. As I talked with him it was clear he had no idea the storm had a tornado warning on it. I informed him of the danger. He then told me over the years he had lost 2 roofs to tornadoes already since living on this picturesque hilltop. Obviously this was a typical tornado path for the area. I call these spots mini tornado alleys. They exist all over the US. Some areas just seem to get most of the tornadoes for those counties, making them miniature tornado alley areas. As a storm chaser I always ask the locals where most tornadoes usually move, and they almost always have an accurate description of these mini tornado alleys. As the tornado continued to form, it caused rotating ground disturbance telegraphing me that it was still strengthening. Hail about the size of golf balls started falling so the owner of the home let me pull under an awning attached to his house. This probably saved me from losing a windshield at this point. The tornadic storm slowly moved south of my location so I thanked the homeowner for his hospitality and got back on the main road heading south. The road was now lined with many storm chasers, local police, emergency officials of all kinds, all watching this dangerous storm slowly beginning to produce a tornado.
Where is the storm heading?
The tornado seemed to follow the Holt and Rock County line finally moving more into Holt County. I continued driving south until I came to Newport, which intersected with hi-way 20. The funnel was north of 20 and east of Newport so I headed east on 20 to intercept its path. I realized I was only about 20 miles from where I filmed the Basset tornadoes in ’99. This area is classic tornado territory and clearly a mini tornado alley for the region. It wasn’t long after leaving Newport I was approaching the city of Stuart where the funnel dropped lower.
It now formed into a classic funnel, but still hadn’t reached the ground as yet. But it was only a few minutes later before it set down a classic tornado on the ground. Many other chasers were in the area photographing the event including a few storm chase tours.
I setup my tripod and Sony TRV 900 next to another storm chaser’s tripod and we both begin filming a beautiful tornado to our north. Just a few hundred yards to our right was a chase tour setting up their cameras, and it appeared the NSSL or NWS guys had their cameras out also. Cameras on tripods filled the parking lot. Sirens in the city wailed as a tornado warning was issued for the city. Most residents took shelter as this dangerous tornado made its way just to the north of it sparing the city of a direct hit. Some cars passing by stopped to find out what all the fuss was about. The tornado stayed down for about ten minutes moving very slowly to our north, heading east towards Atkinson.
Time to move
Although still looking impressive, it appeared to me the tornado was losing power so I picked up my camera and headed towards Atkinson leaving all the other chasers behind. While driving east on 20 I lost sight of the tornado, but looking all around, north, south, east or west it was clear several tornadoes were forming and about to set down. I could not believe how active the clouds were all around me. It was clear just about any storm I picked would produce a tornado, and they all did. Just north of 20 just past the city of Atkinson a large wall cloud formed on the storm closest to me. I continued traveling east, where just to the north and east of me the wall cloud begin to form into a huge tornado. Now I was watching the second tornado of the day, but this one was much larger. I believe I was the only storm chaser who filmed this large tornado, but there were multiple tornadoes on the ground so chasers had their pick, I got lucky and filmed this large one.
It was only a few minutes before the tornado picked up in intensity around Emmet Nebraska where it reached F3 intensity on the Fujita scale and at times was over 1/2 of a mile wide. A farm in its path was completely destroyed.
The Stove Pipe Tornado
At this point it was clear I was filming a very large and destructive tornado. It was looking like a real monster and was shaped more like a stovepipe. I zoomed in slightly on it in this photo, look how large the tornado is and how small the large trees were in comparison. It was in this area the tornado destroyed barns, grain bins, and carried farm machinery a quarter mile. I sat there for about 10 minutes filming the tornado when it became clear I needed to move east to stay with it.
Getting in front of the tornado
I drove east on 20 staying slightly ahead of the tornado which weakened some. As I neared the city of O’Neil where the tornado seemed to intensify, but only for a short time. There was so much dirt and debris it was hard to see the funnel. At times you could make out as many as four tornadoes within the one main wide tornado. The ability to see the multiple vortices within this tornado was difficult because the view was blurry and obscure at best with so much debris in the air.
The tornado continued changing shape. Sometimes it was one tornado losing speed, then two, then three. They all might come together into one more intense tornado only to quickly split apart and separate into several smaller ones again. It was as though the tornado intensity could not stay focused. The tornado and it’s winds fluctuated, intensifying and then dying down only to intensify again.
Close encounter of the dangerous kind
I decided to get a close up of the tornado passing so in O’Neil I drove north about two miles on 281. It looked like the tornado would pass just to my north by about 1/8 of a mile at this point. Large hail was being reported so I butted up my car against a 30-foot building, which would make most of the hail and wind go over the top of the car. The roof acted like an airfoil moving everything higher over me. Then the unexpected happened. The tornado moved more south than east and came far closer to me than I anticipated or planned for. A horse trailer next to me exposed to the full winds, begin to move on its own. The wind made the light rain and large hail fly by horizontally. I noticed some objects flying by the edge of the building at incredible speeds. Trees just 50 yards away begin to snap at the tops, the wind speed was nothing like I had ever encountered before, and that is when I realized I was on the edge of it. This was my first close encounter with a strong tornado.
I heard a few more large bangs on the car and then the wind reversed direction in an instant and now was blowing at me, so the building didn’t help anymore. Hail hit the car as it rocked back and forth. Finally it let up and I could see the edge of a huge tornado moving slowly to the east away from me. The sun started to shine through so I got up turned on the car and drove out of the yard I had hidden in. As I pulled onto the street I begin to film some of the damage next to where I was at. To my surprise large trees were snapped like small twigs. I came up to what looked like a destroyed garage. I stopped to ask the owner who was outside assessing the damage what should have been there. He acknowledged it use to be a garage over the now exposed objects. This was one exciting chase day I will never forget.
Tornado Tim’s video of the chase below.
Tornado Reports for the day
|2300||UNK||10 S MILLS||KEYA PAHA||NE||WEAK TORNADO DUST CLOUD ON GROUND 2 MINUTES JUNCTION OF
HWY 12 AND COUNTY RD 137 (LBF)
|2330||UNK||1 NE LINDY||KNOX||NE||REPORTED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL. (OAX)|
|0003||UNK||5 W SARGENT||CUSTER||NE||(LBF)|
|0004||UNK||4 W ARCADIA||VALLEY||NE||(GID)|
|0011||UNK||1 N ATKINSON||HOLT||NE||(LBF)|
|0014||UNK||HOLT COUNTY||HOLT||NE||AST (LBF)|
|0015||UNK||8 N ATKINSON||HOLT||NE||CONE TORNADO ON GROUND FOR 10 MINS… (LBF)|
|0015||UNK||6 N STUART||HOLT||NE||(LBF)|
|0015||UNK||2 S WINNER||TRIPP||SD||REPORTED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL. (UNR)|
|0016||UNK||5 W SARGENT||CUSTER||NE||(LBF)|
|0024||UNK||4 S COLOME||TRIPP||SD||(UNR)|
|0029||UNK||1 N EMMET||HOLT||NE||(LBF)|
|0030||UNK||3 E ATKINSON||HOLT||NE||(LBF)|
|0030||UNK||3 N ATKINSON||HOLT||NE||2 TO 3 MILES EAST FO ATKINSON DISSIPATED AND REFORMED
RPTD BY O’NIELL POLICE (LBF)
|0035||UNK||HOLT COUNTY||HOLT||NE||1/2 MILE WIDE MOVG EAST (LBF)|
|0035||UNK||8 N ATKINSON||HOLT||NE||(LBF)|
|0037||UNK||6 SE HARTINGTON||CEDAR||NE||REPORTED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL. (OAX)|
|0039||UNK||3 NE COMSTOCK||VALLEY||NE||REPORTED BY STORM SPOTTER. (GID)|
|0040||UNK||3 NW COMSTOCK||CUSTER||NE||(LBF)|
|0042||UNK||3 NNW DALLAS||GREGORY||SD||REPORTED BY PUBLIC. (FSD)|
|0044||UNK||12 NW HILL CITY||GRAHAM||KS||ON GROUND FOR 15 MINUTES. REPORTED BY OFF-DUTY NWS
|0044||UNK||20 NE HOXIE||GRAHAM||KS||REPORTED BY OFF-DUTY NWS EMPLOYEE. (GLD)|
|0044||UNK||25 NW HILL CITY||GRAHAM||KS||ON GROUND FOR 15 MINUTES. REPORTED BY OFF-DUTY NWS
|0050||UNK||10 E COMSTOCK||VALLEY||NE||(GID)|
|0055||UNK||1 W COMSTOCK||CUSTER||NE||MASSIVEE TORNADO MOVING EAST (LBF)|
|0057||UNK||HOLT COUNTY||HOLT||NE||MASSIVE TORNADO MOVING SE (LBF)|
|0101||UNK||2 E COMSTOCK||VALLEY||NE||TORNADO IS SURROUNDED BY RAIN (GID)|
|0110||UNK||2 N GREGORY||GREGORY||SD||REPORTED BY PUBLIC. (FSD)|
|0119||UNK||12 NW HILL CITY||GRAHAM||KS||REPORTED BY OFF-DUTY NWS EMPLOYEE. (GLD)|
|0120||UNK||3 NE SERGEANT BLUFF||WOODBURY||IA||REPORTED BY STORM SPOTTER. (FSD)|
|0122||UNK||1 W ARCADIA||VALLEY||NE||(GID)|
|0143||UNK||1 SW ORCHARD||ANTELOPE||NE||BRIEF TOUCHDOWN. DID MINOR DAMAGE TO SMALL OBJECTS.
REPORTED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL. (OAX)
SPC tornado watch issued
URGENT - IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
TORNADO WATCH NUMBER 491
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
255 PM CDT MON JUN 9 2003
THE NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER HAS ISSUED A
TORNADO WATCH FOR PORTIONS OF
NORTH CENTRAL NEBRASKA
CENTRAL SOUTH DAKOTA
EFFECTIVE THIS MONDAY AFTERNOON AND EVENING FROM 255 PM UNTIL 900
TORNADOES...HAIL TO 3 INCHES IN DIAMETER...THUNDERSTORM WIND GUSTS
TO 70 MPH...AND DANGEROUS LIGHTNING ARE POSSIBLE IN THESE AREAS.
THE TORNADO WATCH AREA IS ALONG AND 85 STATUTE MILES EAST AND WEST
OF A LINE FROM 15 MILES NORTH OF PIERRE SOUTH DAKOTA TO 35 MILES
SOUTH OF AINSWORTH NEBRASKA.
REMEMBER...A TORNADO WATCH MEANS CONDITIONS ARE FAVORABLE FOR
TORNADOES AND SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS IN AND CLOSE TO THE WATCH AREA.
PERSONS IN THESE AREAS SHOULD BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR THREATENING
WEATHER CONDITIONS AND LISTEN FOR LATER STATEMENTS AND POSSIBLE
DISCUSSION...CAP CONTINUES TO WEAKEN ACROSS WW AHEAD OF SURFACE LOW
AND VIGOROUS UPPER LOW NOW MOVING OUT OF THE NRN HIGH PLAINS. IN
ADDITION... MODIFIED 18Z SOUNDINGS FROM RAP AND LBF INDICATE MLCAPES
BETWEEN 1500-2500 J/KG ARE ALREADY IN PLACE...AND FURTHER
DESTABILIZATION IS LIKELY TODAY ALONG NRN EXTENT OF 60+F SURFACE DEW
POINT AXIS. STORMS SHOULD DEVELOP QUICKLY IN THE NEXT 1-2
HOURS...AND GIVEN THE BACKED BOUNDARY LAYER FLOW AHEAD OF SURFACE
LOW...LOW LEVEL SHEAR/HELCITY WILL BE ENHANCED AND INCREASE THE
THREAT OF TORNADOES.
AVIATION...TORNADOES AND A FEW SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS WITH HAIL
SURFACE AND ALOFT TO 3 INCHES. EXTREME TURBULENCE AND SURFACE WIND
GUSTS TO 60 KNOTS. A FEW CUMULONIMBI WITH MAXIMUM TOPS TO 500.
MEAN STORM MOTION VECTOR 27020.