August 3, 2012 Watertown South Dakota Intense Bow Echo

What a horrible year for storms this has been, from a storm chaser's perspective. Other than one 50 mile local chase in July, I did not even have a chase in July. And that's after really wanting one. Just hot hot hot and dry. This looked like a pretty good op in central South Dakota, so it was an easy decision. Storm mode went linear rather quickly, but this is fine when it does so in intense fashion like this one. Likely my best linear chase to date.

The above image was taken south of Aberdeen ahead of some storms. One was a supercell with a tornado warning further northwest. Problem was the storms that were going up right in front of it. Figured there was no sense trying to make that storm, as they would be converging by the time I got to it anyway. So watched it evolve from here with Evan and Brett, who were also chasing up there. Only good view thus far was a nice mammatus display overhead.

The center dot on this loop is the Aberdeen NWS radar. The storms converged and this happened(southeast of radar/lower and right from it). I flew east first, before it really bowed out, but was having no real view other than rain. More intense storms were evolving in the line just west of Redfield. I raced east to 37, then dropped south right ahead of the line to the highway between Redfield and Watertown. Before dropping south to that on 37, I put some distance on the storms. I then flew south on 37 rather fast. It was messed up just how fast this closed in down there. Heading south on 37 in this account now.

The location of this report is right in there about this time, west of highway 37 that I'm driving south on.


I thought I had plenty of room to reach highway 212 on 37 ahead of this, but well it was simply messed up how fast this closed in. Crap was hitting the fan as I hit 212.

The location of this report is along highway 37 where I'd just come from and in line with the other. I'm looking north towards that area.


It was pretty clear the most intense slicing part of this forming line was blasting just north and along highway 212, which I was now racing east on, with the beast biting at my heels at brake neck speed.

I later measured the distance from Redfield to Watertown on a map, then noted the time on radar it took for the bow part to travel it. This thing was averaging right around 60 mph down this highway. Imagine sitting on a highway and a car goes by at 60mph. Then figure that is how the shelf cloud was advancing down the highway. The first time I pulled over in front of it was flat out amazing to witness.

Flying east down highway 212, trying to get some distance to shoot it. A common theme would happen with cars that were driving east on this highway. Everyone was speeding big time. I kept thinking, these must all be chasers, but no, not that many chasers were up there and the few that were, were ahead of this on this highway. Saw like one other name on spotter network that was. All the very fast moving traffic were just travelers or locals wanting to stay out of that and having to really drive to do so. Consider a drive even through a smaller sized town. This thing ain't slowing from 60mph to go through that town. You hit the town and lose ground in a hurry.

It's barely even able to make a shelf yet/right now. The air is just blasting forward in that area so damn hard. You can tell it's wicked by just how low some of the clouds were. Some of that stuff jetting out of there was almost on the ground, barreling forward.

Hey cool barn! No time to stop for it. On this trip I was really thinking too, just how badly I need to try and find better stuff to shoot with storms and not always settle on the road and whatever field that happened to be there. Heck I was even talking about it with Evan and Brett and noting I don't ever think to move to the edge of the road at least. I'll just shoot and get partial road and off the road weeds, rather than trying a bit harder for a better shot. It would rapidly be apparent, that looking for a better op, was not going to be an option on this one. Zero time. To a crazy degree.

First stop. First point I learn to do the 3 point or 5 point gravel road turn before I start shooting. I haven't done it, figured I had at least some time.

Quickly snapping another. And here is how fast we are talking. Date Created: 8/3/2012, 6:05:26 PM This for the above image. I then do my 5 point turn.

My ass is rapidly engulfed, unlike any time in the past. I remember while flipping around looking at the clouds and being astonished by how fast they were going east. It looked like there was an expanding bomb exploding in there and pushing everything out. Here is how fast.... Date Created: 8/3/2012, 6:06:08 PM 40 seconds is all that separates the above 2 images.

The hard part about lines is as a chaser, a big part of you wants to experience the storm and be inside it some. But you get in there much and you just can't get back out when they are going so fast, so then you risk missing later portions. Same goes for hail storms. Be great to go looking for huge hail, but then what exactly do you miss later by not staying with things. On this one I was trying to do as much of both as I possibly could.

Once you were under the leading edge and in it, you really didn't have to worry about eastbound traffic coming out of there. There was none. They were stuck in there. I mean think about it. 80 mph winds driving rain and hail and whatever else. You'd have to do 60mph in those conditions, just to stay even with where you are in relation to it. I'd get in the lip and get some shots then start blasting east hard.

Racing east again.

Notice the westbound semi has his brakes on. Numerous times I saw westbound travelers braking and pulling off the road on something at the last second, just ahead of this thing. The speed it was overtaking things had to be a little shocking for them.

This time I pull over I turn my car around before doing any shooting. I hop out and get some with the corn real quick. Date Created: 8/3/2012, 6:13:44 PM

Looking south same spot. Date Created: 8/3/2012, 6:14:21 PM 37 seconds separates the previous 2 images. This should be just west of Clark SD. Lovely mammatus field out ahead of the storm. I've seen articles before that more or less stated, if you see mammatus you are behind a storm and safe. News flash, they happen downstream as well as behind.

Nice knowin ya GMC.

Just about time to go.

Going east fast again.

Hey a lake! No time to stop. Man I could use something cool to put with it, but no time to look.

I'm driving along, having gained at least a small bit of ground again, when I see this white cross and a roadside chapel next to the road. No way. Slam on the brakes, pull over and jump out of the car and shoot fast fast.

Why hello there photo op. Think how easy it would have been to not land right on this. Say I decided to make my stop a mile before or at that one lake I just passed. I'd then be inside it trying to escape as I drive by this spot and zero time. I was looking for a spot just before here, so it about happened. But yeah, it's not that far off and still doing 60mph down the highway. I worked this storm best I could. The last hour solid has been as fast paced as it gets.

If I ever get something interesting beyond the storm with my photos, this is how...an utter accident. I'm not even good enough to notice the stuff I do go by that could have been on accident, while not looking. I could have so so easily not even noticed this if I was chasing like normal. I'm probably 1 in 100 on chases for actually trying to find something interesting to put with storms. I just never am even trying or wanting to. I'm lazy like that with them. But this day it was on my mind, but it felt really pointless on a storm moving this fast, where you are already being overtaken just by doing a 3 point turn on the gravel road you stopped on. So yeah, I was rather chipper when I saw this. I almost didn't. Cross and a chapel and a wicked storm.

When on something with no time it's good to have a good handle on shooting things fast. It doesn't have to be hard.

I've never used a tilt-shift lens before, but I was rapidly wishing I had one. I'd try and hold the lens down best I could to stay away from the perspective tip, but yeah it was getting far too wide far too fast to worry too much about it.

Run around and shoot! God apparently wanted that flag.

Only now I notice the perspective tilt could work here. Also notice there is a 10 foot tall pheasant in that yard over there.

The lights have now come on the cross. The angle for the flag here wasn't working so well, as the roof of the chapel kept getting in the shot if I panned any higher up.

I'm not sure if that truck over there lived there or not. Probably not. They were westbound and pulled in there as this was hitting.

About time for me to go again, dang it.

Nearing Watertown now, shelf still hauling ass. This portion of the storm/line/bow could not have taken a better route. Watch the radar loop again. The rest of this line didn't look like this did. Just that small part that bows right down the highway. I've learned with lines to hedge your bets north. Often the south end you will see the outflow come off things first. You can see on that radar loop it does that from the get go(real faint fine line). I thought the first section I took east at the start of things would be the spot. But that wound up more in the notch of that curl and not at the apex of it and it was a lot of crapper showers feeding into it there and little for a view. Knew then I'd have to at least get down to another east highway, which was 212. Can't believe how hard that was to do in time.

In Watertown now. I was beating a lot of slow traffic in the 4 lane section, only to get behind some very old folks doing 20 under the speed limit in this construction zone. Seriously a solid 15-20 under the posted limit. Never fails. Notice in the pic above the guy on the bike. This reminds me of that tsunami video of the guy that walked out into the dry areas, then all that water came back as the tsunami and he just sorta realized he was done and kept walking.

I somehow get to the highway south out of town before it hits, which was my hope. I knew there was no chance to get east through town. So I hoped to let it get me here some, then escape south this time and back out ahead of things down there, as that section was moving slower.

Bout time to flee south. Going south was rough at times. This whole time, anytime I was in strong winds, they were just blowing east with me. Going south would change that. Several times it was really pushing my car over into the other lane.


That is just south of Watertown and just east of that highway. I know I was driving south in that. It kept surprising me a bit.

Sunset south of Humboldt.

The op with the corn being blown around was pretty cool but would have been better with better lightning.

Finally a worthwhile chase day! If I can't have supercells or tornadoes, I will for sure take this chase any day. I have a stock section for things other than lightning, mammatus, tornadoes, or supercells called storms general. I've always noticed just how dang lacking it is. Well because yeah the other things are the biggest draw. Well this one chase will be making that a little better. Oddly enough it's kinda easier to get cool supercells or tornadoes than it is worthy lines. And this line wasn't that crazy for a shelf but it was good. Coolest aspect about it was just the speed and dirt machine, all with good structure too. Just kinda nuts how hard it is to get an epic shelf. I still don't really have one that would fit epic.

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