May 16, 1999

The day it all started(me and actually chasing)

Leaving town on my very first actual storm chase. I had been wanting to start chasing and this was the day I grabbed maps and actually did so. There were two very large storms, one just to the northwest of town and the other about 20-30 miles south of town. The one nw of town is already tornado warned. I figured this was probably just radar detected, because the storm had just gone up and rotation probably hadn't made it to the ground yet. I grabbed my video camera and headed east across the Missouri river into Iowa (aprox. 4 mi). While driving east through Blair this is the only storm structure I could see looking nw. It was very grungy looking and I was about to chase a tornadic HP for my first chase.

I crossed the river and pulled off(in far western IA now). At this point there wasn't much happening with the storm. A couple friends call my cell phone and ask me to wait there, so I did. I waited and watched what I belive to be a developing wall cloud. The storm was beginning to move away and my friends hadn't shown up yet, so I had a decision to make...I left right away.

I head east down highway 30. As I was driving under this structure the wind picked up and was actually blowing weeds out of the ground and moving the car around. As quick as it came up it quit. It didn't dawn on me till later that it could have very well been some kind of circulation on the ground. It didn't make any sense, because it was very calm out. There was absolutely no wind.

While driving down the highway the tornado reports started coming out over the radio. They announced a confirmed tornado with the south storm moving east-northeast. I had another decision to make. The storm I was on wasn't showing me a whole lot, but the one to the south already had a tornado. I wasn't sure to how fast they were moving at this point and didn't know if I could keep up with the one I was on. The situation was turning into a real dilemma--until the storm I was on decided to show me something. I noticed something going on to the north of where I was. The portion I was under earlier was starting to lower. I pulled onto the first road north I could and looked north toward the storm. This was my first view of a funnel and only second of a rotating wall cloud. I was getting excited.

I followed the road north toward the storm until I saw my road options north go to crap.

Within 5-10 minutes of viewing the funnel and rotating wall cloud they decided to disappear. At the same moment they dissipated a short-lived circulation formed at the surface. Now I'm back to wondering if I should have went south. I wasn't sure if that was all she wrote or not.

I decide to stay with it and see what happens. I followed the gavel road east to the south of the storm. It started to show quite a bit of rain developing near the location the funnel was.

I felt I was falling too far behind the storm. As I was nearing the bluffs I came upon a volunteer fire dept. truck watching the storm. They were crawling down the center of the road at about 5 mph and didn't care that I was behind them. I finally got around them, after ridding their butt enough to get the point across. As soon as I got around them and turned to go north along the bluffs a funnel had already started coming down again. This funnel was hard to see with all the rain around it and the dark storm and the bluffs behind it, but it was in their and I was going to catch it. My first tornado! I was flipping out at the sight.

It quickly dissapeared into the rain. I head north in a hurry. I wasn't sure how fast this storm was moving and I wasn't going to lose it. I didn't realize until later that the storm was moving very slowly. As I was heading north I pann the camera over towards the bluffs where I thought the tornado would be. I didn't realize until about the 7th time watching the video that there was a tornado within a half a mile from me(I did not see it at the time). It's in the upper right hand corner of this picture. It's a bit more obvious on video.

After heading north for what I guessed was long enough I decided to finally head into the Bluffs. I didn't like the idea of getting lost in the bluffs, but I went anyway and that's exactly what happened. As soon as I got into the bluffs the road started twisting and turning. Within 5 minutes of entering I see the tornado for what I thought was the first time.

I thought I was driving south, but was actually heading straight east. I paralleled the tornado following it east as I was to the south of it, still thinking we were both moving southeast. It finally became apparent to me that I was actually seeing a tornado when the rain bands around it let up a little. On video I'm like, "there is a tornado in there." There was and that is. It isn't that easy to see on here but you can see it in the center of the image.

Within 2 minutes of following it, as I was crossing it's initial damage path, it became wrapped in rain again. The tornado is about a mile down the road to the left of the damaged trees hidden in the rain. As I pass the tree damage I noticed a semi trailer laying out in the field on its side. I have no idea where the semi itself was. I'm guessing someone had the trailer for storage and that is where it ended up.

About a minute on the other side of the damage path the tornado shows itself again. The same time this happens I start noticing police lights ahead. For some reason while chasing it I couldn't believe I was seeing a tornado. I think it had something to do with it being the first one I had seen and the fact that it was wrapped in rain.

When I come to where the police have people stopped, the tornado begins to widen rapidly before disappearing into the rain just as fast. I was leaning clear back into my passenger seat and still couldn't keep the rain from hitting my camera. This is the last that I see of any tornadoes. I wished I would have seen the next one, because it was more scary having not seen it.

BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED TORNADO WARNING NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OMAHA/VALLEY NE 422 PM CDT SUN MAY 16 1999. THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN OMAHA HAS ISSUED A * TORNADO WARNING FOR... HARRISON COUNTY IN SOUTHWESTERN IOWA * UNTIL 510 PM CDT * AT 422 PM CDT... DOPPLER RADAR AND SPOTTERS INDICATED A TORNADO 21 MILES NORTH OF DOWNTOWN OMAHA OR 6 MILES SOUTHWEST OF LOGAN...MOVING NORTHEAST AT 10 MPH. * THE TORNADO IS EXPECTED TO BE NEAR...LOGAN AROUND 445 PM CDT PERSONS IN THE WARNED AREA SHOULD TAKE SHELTER IN A BASEMENT IF AVAILABLE. OTHERWISE GO TO A SMALL INTERIOR ROOM ON THE LOWEST LEVEL OF YOUR HOME OR BUSINESS. EVENT LOCATION REMARKS (CST)TIME

While I'm about to find out that I'm lost, I had no idea this was being issued right were I was headed. This was a new larger tornado that formed sw of the one I just left.

As the police stop us and redirect us to a "safer" spot I think I'm heading back south to the west side of Mo. Valley. What I'm actually doing is heading straight east. I get back to highway 30 and turn left(ENE) thinking I'm going to be going into Mo. Valley. Things didn't look familiar and this is when I finally realize I'm either lost or somewhere I just don't want to be at this time. Then my phone rings and it's my parents asking where I'm at. I told them I wasn't sure yet. They then tell me that another tornado has formed and that it was heading straight for Logan. Right after they said this I seen the green population sign for Logan. I'm heading right into Logan. Panic sets in big time at this point. I couldn't see any signs of a tornado from where I was. I didn't know whether to turn back around and possibly head towards it or to go into Logan and find some place to take cover. I drove around Logan looking for someplace to take cover. I decide to stop at a gas station and take shelter there. When I get to the door I find it is locked. There were already a bunch of people inside taking shelter. Finally someone comes and opens the door.

The mother of the gas station manager just happened to work for the local police dispatch. He told us she said that it was heading straight for Logan and it was now a mile and a half wide. I was like man, why did he have to tell us that. This gas station is made of tin, tin walls and a tin roof. Panic was now increasing from an already pretty high point. I had already seen a tornado so I now knew it was actually possible that this next one could be real too. Within about 5-10 minutes of being there tennis ball sized hail starts falling. This makes a very disturbing sound on a tin roof. Very loud thud, after very loud thud, on and on. About 5 minutes after the hail started falling the power went out. This was pretty scary, because I noticed that there really hadn't been any thunder. This was the slowest moving storm ever. It hailed for literally 30 minutes. I was at that gas station for a half hour and the whole time they kept repeating on the news that people in Logan should be taking cover that it was heading straight for us.

There was another storm chaser in the gas station from Nebraska that I had been talking with while I was in there. We both decided that it was probably safe to go back out after being in there for 30 minutes. Once outside we guessed that the tornado had passed just south of us while we looked south at some fast moving cloud tags.

After I was sure it had pasted I left and headed back down highway 30 until I ran into a road block. This is where the second larger tornado started and where I would have driven towards if I had known where I was when coming out of the Bluffs. This was my first actuall chase, so I have an excuse for getting caught off guard. It won't be the last I'm sure.

Here is a small radar image showing the southern supercell and mine just north of it. Both storms produced tornadoes.

I came in behind the first tornado near Calhoun and got video of it from time to time as it was wrapping in and out of rain. I was driving on roads that weren't on the standard map I had at the time. After getting redirected by some police I thought I was driving south, but instead I was heading east. Once I got to highway 30, I thought I would turn east into Missouri Valley, wrong. I drove right into Logan as they were broadcasting a very large tornado heading into Logan. Inside this town you couldn't see out, because of hills and trees. I didn't want to make a big mistake and drive out of town into an approaching tornado so I did the only thing I could, I took shelter in a gas station with a lot of other people, including another chaser from Nebraska. I'm really lucky that second monster tornado did not go a couple more miles to the north...so is everyone in Logan. It was wide and it was violent.

The tornado that passed just south of Logan turned out to be 1/4 of a mile wide, not a mile and a half like the manager informed us. Not that it would have mattered being in a tin building. These two tornadoes caused a fair amount of damage, injured 16 people and took the lives of two. It certainly could have been worse. It was Logan's high school graduation day and there were many parties going on in the town. Most of the tornadoes that occured this day were within 30 miles of downtown Omaha.

National Weather Service Photos (both tornadoes were F3's)

Magnolia/Calhoun Tornado. The tornado I saw.

Magnolia/Calhoun Tornado

Logan Tornado: Pontiac Grand Am