May 22, 2010 Bowdle South Dakota Violent Wedge

Ok to set the stage for this, I needed a new video camera after busting the LCD on my HV20. I've never been impressed by the thing anyway, especially lower light at all, but it was better than the Sony HC1 I had/have. Already a bit low on funds and sales, so couldn't exactly afford a new vid cam. Especially with a whole year of chasing to go, as it's just getting started for some of us that can pick and choose all year long. But that is a problem itself. I always fear catching something insane and not having a higher quality video camera...then regretting that fact. Plenty of chasing to go, requiring money and a video camera I can't afford on top of it. So I decided to just get the video camera, a Panasonic TM700 and try my butt off to just pick and choose chase days better. And oh yeah, pray for some sales lol.

Right off the bat I had a decent looking day in TX(looked like more ne NM beforehand) and then a high risk in OK the following day, the 19th of May. Skipping the 18th was easy, that's a chunk of change to get down there with motel room for a day. I then convinced myself to skip the high risk in OK, mostly due to lack of cap and early storms making an outflow boundary. Seen that setup enough times just back build storms all day long and be a mess. I don't regret missing those two days at all. High precipitation supercell tornadoes with massive amounts of chaser headaches, eh, yeah. I mean if there will be chaser headaches(we all add to that) the storms better be damn good. And that is another thing. The longer you chase, the less you care for ok stuff. At least when it requires any deal of a distance drive. The same ok storm experience near home isn't the same when you had to drive 8 hours one way and spend a chunk of change doing so. Like I can enjoy about anything near home. When I drive somewhere I hope for something special. Not that it happens very often anyway! I wouldn't have minded seeing the one nice early tornado that day. But I'm sure not sick over missing it, and that is my goal. Don't skip or miss the great stuff, as rare as it is. Number of tornadoes doesn't matter at all either. 1 great one is worth more than 100 things you can call a tornado. Anyway, this is probably something better served by a dedicated section on it. Point is, I'm trying my butt off to be more selective. I have no choice, plus I'm not crazy about chasing every single setup anyway. 30-40 in a year is more than enough and probably too many. 25 is probably a nice amount.

This day didn't look like something extremely crazy would happen. Looked like extreme instability and shear further west you go. Cap was a pretty big issue too. This is just the day before or morning of thoughts, not as the day went...the time you have to decide. What it had going for it though....location. I even told another chaser this thought before hand. It seems you get to I70 and north and storms just have a lot easier time producing crazy structures. Especially like highway 81 and west. Though I'm still not overly a massive fan of high plains way west. I think those produce more garbage than crazy structure, in relation to areas a bit more east.

Maybe that is all crazy talk too!

So anyway, left with the new vid cam and a ton of other things, thinking, I'm chasing in south central SD today. I start to look at the ruc model as I head west out of Sioux Falls. I was like, "yay" I'm chasing north central SD or North Dakota today lol. This is why you leave early to give yourself room(not that I did this 2 days later for nw SD..sigh). It showed extreme instability up there along a lifting warm front. I didn't like it was lifting the front into ND by 7 though. For all you know, you drive that much further and the cap wins, which was a decent possibility.

As I drove north I noticed some "roll clouds" which marked the front well or possibly an outflow boundary too. These were very strange "roll clouds" however. They were quite beefy and looked like shelf clouds out there in lines. Back to the ruc for a second. It was going insane with low level shear along that front, I think showing the low level jet ramping up to 50 knots. I swear whenever you see extreme instability AND strong shear together....you don't get to see storms. Capping wins 9 times out of 10 in those cases.

By the time I reached Redfield SD, SPC mesoanalysis page was showing 6000 SBCAPE and 5000 MLCAPE, north of a triple point, around where the dryline intersected a warm front. I think someone said the SPC significant tornado parameter was at a 9 where this storm happened. Pretty rare to get this to happen.

The target was pretty damn obvious by afternoon, get to that triple point north of Pierre. And hope a storm can fire, but don't court on it.

I could see the tops of some convection as I headed west on 20. They soon began to anvil out. By the time I got to 83, the storm was tornado warned. The first warning on the thing was a tornado warning. That doesn't happen very often either. Plenty of chasers around by then, but thankfully not an insane number by any means. I soon wondered why the heck I drove west of Hoven to 83. I tried one little option off 83 but it wasn't paved. I said screw that, after seeing just how wet, flat, and flooded that whole area was. Saw two power poles tipped over, presumably because they were in water/real soft ground. It was early yet anyway. So I back-tracked back down to 20 and went east to Hoven. Then north on 47.

I began encountering more chasers and soon became annoyed. Tooling around at your own speed limit on the road is inconsiderate. If your intention is to pull over.....signal so! That and get it done already. No shoulder, hey, maybe keep going and find somewhere else. "Ahhh the road will work." I kept going north, hoping to find a spot. Soon I found one right behind Steve Peterson. Had been talking to him most of the day on the cell phone.

We didn't have to sit there very long till it began to produce what would become the tornado of the year(and then some most likely).....(Ok so I wrote this before the year continued to go crazy...so who knows on tornado of the year). Best tornado I've ever seen, as well as best storm experience ever. And I thought I'd never know a best. At least for now I'm certain. Problem here was no shoulder on the highway. The other one was powerlines on the wrong side like always! The third was an area of mud, if I wanted to pull in to get the powerlines out of my shot, as I mount the video camera to my window. The fourth I guess was the fact we were directly in the tornado's path. Pretty sure it went RIGHT through here. I was like, do you think I can pull up on that? Steve says, well you do and get stuck that thing is coming right at us. I've found getting a Mustang stuck is pretty darn simple lol. Somewhere around that time he also asked, "So which one of us is going to have the most balls and stay the longest." I think I then said, look down there, as chasers moved north or were parked. Which got a "damn it" out of Steve. Why? It's easy to get close if you don't have congestion concerns. If you have to rely on others to not do 30mph in a 60 while they watch from just ahead, well it just makes things more tricky. I kept backing up right here just so I'd know no one would pull in behind me, because people will! People will block your ass in somewhere without giving it a second thought.

Video grab now as it gets closer. I hate early stages of tornadoes where the path is harder to predict precisely. They tend to loop to their left, then center more clouds around above them and go right from there again. That is what this was doing. Clearly going left to right hard at first, then stop and not go left to right while looking at it. It's actually going back left a hair in the above time frame. So yeah if you ever use that whole, "if it's moving left or right it's not coming at you" thing, well it doesn't always work so simply.

I wound up leaving a little before Steve, just didn't like having a bit of an area for someone to pull in right behind me. That and every time I try a close intercept I leave early when it's still early, planning for a better close intercept a bit after that. Man how it never works out though(just look at the Wakita chase before this one). It was only 1-2 miles to get up to the east-west highway 12.

I get up there and go east and right away encounter a slow chaser driving along watching it, rather than getting somewhere and pulling over. Pissed me off. Think it was about 30 in a 60. Like pull the hell over or get going. This as the tornado moves up at us from the southwest. I had plenty of time, but I wanted to get to a spot and set up! And of course this isn't a chaser only issue, locals are just as capable. Heck seems fire dept folks might be the worst at it. All just individuals when it comes down to it. I really do think the speeder is far less of a danger than those trying to drive along and watch at half the speed limit.

Anyway I've now found a spot to pull over. They make those! A fire truck was parked on this gravel road watching when I stopped. They left at the same time. Being very close to the track again, I again found myself worrying about others pulling in here and delaying me from fleeing if need be. I then back across the highway into a little gravel pull off that had my name on it.

Video capture from that little pull off. Things start to get even more interesting now. With my camera I'm using my 17-40 which is like 10-25mm or so on a crop sensor camera. It's ultra wide and is very misleading on how close stuff actually is. Video captures do a lot better job. It's getting real damn close now, but I think it will miss me to the west. The most important part was that I was backed in this spot and could flee very quickly. Made sure to keep the front out far enough to the shoulder that no one would block me in. Notice the chasers still coming east, just north of that tornado. It gets a lot more crazy in that regard lol.

Wide angle still again. Right now it's forming a larger bowl up there, which is starting to spin very rapidly. While at the same time the ground level action wasn't overly intense.

Still the ground level action wasn't violent. Pretty freaking cool on video none-the-less.

This is a 100% crop from the 5D II of the still above. Tim Samaras and the Discovery Channel crew are pulling over just down the road. The 17-40L vignettes horribly on a full frame camera wide open. I found stopping to F7.1 gets rid of as much as stopping down past that does, for the most part. So F7.1 is a good number for me to use till I can replace that lens with one better on a full frame camera. It required me to bump the iso up some. It's 1250 on these I believe. Plenty clean at 100%, you'd never see that on a print I don't think.

Again a 100% crop from the still before.

And again another 100% crop. What is the difference now? 3-4 people are outside those vehicles! Producer, camera man, and Tim I presume. The wind was strong enough you can see those trees going right on over on video. The ones that aren't going right on over are being de-branched. I'm not sure they could have had any idea just how that was evolving above at that time down there under it. That widening, violently rotating cone/bowl that was forming above that stuff was about to plant big time. The other decieving thing right then was the pretty fast south to north progression of the vorticy action going on. Seemed like that whole area was just passing the highway quickly and was soon to be on by.

It's planting now, right by them. Again another video capture. I think the increasing rear inflow jet scared the bejesus out of them now. They get back in and leave, evidently having dropped a probe. I'd venture a guess they weren't thinking it was about to rapidly go as violent as it did or as wide as quickly as it did.

Wide angle still with them leaving and a very violent wedge back there.

It was rather tough doing stills and video here at the same time, thanks to a new vid camera I didn't yet have a good handle on and the fact I don't think it has an infinity lock for focus. I'd flip it to auto-focus and then right back to manual to make sure I was getting it right. Things were also getting extremely soaked in raging wind blown rain. I couldn't even see what was on my lcd, just water running off it. This brand new video camera, first day out, is swimming already lol. I really did fear I was going to kill the thing, as much water was being driven into the side where the lcd would close, if it were closed. It's funky with closing, as closing and opening the lcd turns it off and on unless you are recording. The power button is inside there too and supposedly it can just be used that way, but that's all tricky given it is inside the lcd door which turns it on and off. So needing to keep checking focus and that whole deal I just left it open. Later on the audio sounds like the camera is drowning lol. Thankfully the rain was at least partially being blocked by the small hood and just the angle of the wind, so the lens was somewhat dry for a while.

Notice the very dark color just off the ground on the left. An intense rear inflow jet was blasting north there.

I can't begin to explain the motion and how close the violent wedge actually is to me. A collar cloud was now forming around that wedge, racing right over me. I had to keep reassuring myself the main tornado was missing me here and being under this stupidly intense collar cloud wasn't going to get me blown away. It's more of like a, well I'm here right now deal, I guess. I really liked that spot. Some wedges that is essentially what is making up their outer visible edge. A "collar cloud' on the ground. While the true violence is inside there. It was simply amazing being right under and on the edge of that. You look up and can see the edge of violent motion going around. I think there is a thrill seeker in all of us. Some just borderline on stupid with it I guess. I'm really rather cautious. I rarely get very close because of that I guess. But so many times I've been ready to, but the safe option to do so doesn't pan out. Like Wakita not producing a nice strong tornado soon enough. Thought ahead and found a good spot with an option to quickly get closer or bail and it just didn't happen. The other problem with me is wanting structure so often when there's no tornado. This time it worked here. It's difficult for me to think of any videos of storms with as violent of motion as is directly off to my right in the above shot. Just some hyper rotation around the tornado right now.

Dominator going by, wedge right there, ultra wide angle shot again.

Video again, same location. The motion was simply frightening really. I am not sure if that is rain right there under the edge of the collar cloud or actually cloud vapor.

Same time but with wide angle still. You can see just how far away that ultra wide view makes things. The very short part on video I pan over there right now is sick how fast things were spinning. Not sure why I went back to the highway with the video there. Drives me nuts now and each time I see it I head slap myself. I was pretty caught up with the dirt racing across the road I guess. That and the spin above me. I don't even remember noticing how close the wedge was or how intense it was.

Again the difference between video camera view and an ultra wide angle view on the still camera. The edge of the violent tornado is probably about a block down that gravel road.

Too bad the contrast sucks now. I actually wish I had stopped with stills and shot video so I could concentrate on cleaning the water off it. Contrast was so bad cause the collar cloud was so low it wasn't letting any light in there.

It was now doing stuff like the back side of the Andover KS tornado from 91. Lifting intense vortices. It is quite interesting to note intensity levels though. It now looked not so intense but yet intense. It did this later. Like rfd coming down just right and making the thing start spinning violently.

I couldn't leave this location right away because the inside of my windshield was now soaked. It was seriously as wet as if it was on the outside in rain. I turned the wipers on and was like, ah crap. Then grabbed a sweat shirt from the back and tried to clean an area off so I could go. I also had to try and get the camera a bit less drenched too.

Going east now towards Bowdle. Insane structure.

Violent collar cloud motions again and surely violence in the wedge. It was rated EF4 without going through much of anything, thankfully just missing Bowdle to the north. Bowdle would probably be another Spencer SD had this gone just 2 miles further south.

Beast of a storm

I'm now just north of Bowdle. Massive wedge moving east.

When I stopped here there were tons of cars right on that hill. My nerves were a little shot now, from the close passing just a few short minutes ago. I was ready to get close again but not if I had to rely on chasers getting out of the way. All the cars I saw there, with this closing in, I said screw that and backed in here. At around 18 seconds into this clip of Jason Montano's you can see my black Mustang on the left: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztQ6FrM5g3c I didn't exactly feel like going up on that hill then, to hopefully have a spot to stop. I saw this open spot and just backed in and shot from there. I wish I would have driven up there. 1 block makes a massive difference. It was still amazing here though lol. But just look at his video and then this wide angle shot above. See just how misleading ultra wide is lol. Sure does capture it all though.

Violent wedge can be seen just left of that pole, as strong wrapping rain bands plow by.

The end of the world right down the road. Just look how low the stuff is ahead of it pulling back west into the black hole. A cop was blocking the road up there, so it's not like one could have gotten much closer at first anyway. Then again I doubt he'd come after you at the time.

A not so hot vid capture, but it shows the deal better.

I was surprised just how long it ended up taking to cross the road. I have no clue why I didn't think to try and drive up there now. I have a problem of being blind in thinking ahead so much. Had the thought crossed my mind I'd have driven right up there to the thing now. And that is my problem, it honestly doesn't at the most obvious times! I'm thinking, dry crap off again, including the inside of my windshield again and drop back south to go east and catch up with things. Often the first tornado is left behind like this, as the storm reorganizes further east. Soon as I got east of the storm again, shortly after this, it started to produce another good tornado. I then saw a couple more and also got northeast of the structure north of Roscoe SD. I let it pass JUST south of me there, hoping for violent hail, but that was a let down.

Got this intense mammatus display south of Aberdeen a ways. Some of the mammatus had mammatus lol. Seriously, look at the one towards the right.

One of my favorite storm things to see.

After I'd chased for several years I realized one thing about why I chase. I would often relate why I chase to the Columbus NE 1998 supercell and tornado shot by a "crazy" farmer. It is the definition of a storm going crazy. Crazy structure and extreme tornado, whatever extreme really means. I mean you see enough of certain structures that seeing them again doesn't do much after a while. Especially if you had to drive far to do so. I can enjoy most anything from home. But anyway, that deal in a nutshell explains why I chase. I want to be there when something like that happens. I'll enjoy other crazy things thoroughly as they come, and wish I'd stayed home on most other typical things. But it's just that kind of stuff that I want to be there when it happens.