April 8, 1999 Chase

Jeff, Dwain, and myself all piled into Jeff's Ford Tempo and headed to Missouri on a High Risk early this morning, much like we had the year before chasing in Illinois. Our target was northern Missouri, because that's as far as we figured we could get before dark, despite the fact we liked southern Iowa better. We headed northeast on I-44 until we got to Rolla, where were stopped at a McDonalds's. When we walked inside, we noticed they had a television...and it was playing the The Weather Channel. Thrilled by this surprise luxury, we ordered our food and ate inside while watching. After we finished, we jumped on US63 and headed north.

We stopped in Vienna to make a nowcast call and check out the sky. The incredible wind shear in place was clearly evident, as you could visually make out the different cloud layers, and how they were criss-crossing one another. After about ten minutes, we got back on the road and continued north. We passed through Jefferson City and eventually arrived in Columbia. Once there, we decided to find a bar and see if we could talk them into letting us watch The Weather Channel for a few minutes. We found a place, and a very accommodating and attractive bartender named Mickey allowed us to sit and check out the radar for a bit. We thanked her afterwards, and promised that if we came back through on our way home, we'd stop and have some drinks and tip her well.

As we were leaving Columbia, still northbound on US63, we felt we could make it into Iowa before dark, so that became the plan. We drove to Moberly and then Macon, where we stopped for gas. I was becoming concerned, because the NOAA radio had been quiet for a long time. I couldn't understand why there was no spotter chatter or warnings. While Jeff and Dwain were still inside the store, I started to fumble with the scanner, and suddenly realized I'd inadvertently hit the "direct" button, which had locked down the scanner to just one frequency...no wonder we weren't hearing anything. I clicked the button back to the "off" position and suddenly the scanner came alive, blaring a tornado warning for a storm west of us that we couldn't even see. When the guys came back out, I told them what was happening, and we all jumped in the car and blasted west on US36 headed towards a confirmed tornado.

As we drove west, the storm slowly started to come into view, through the dark skies. By the time we reached the intersection of US36/MO3 near Callao, an RFD cut was becoming visible through the haze. We jumped out of the car, and after a few seconds, scud began to form on the backside of the RFD notch. In my inexperience, I mistook this for a developing tornado. The rearflank downdraft cut began to become clearer and clearer, until it began to reveal a large wedge tornado. As the RFD continued to cut in, the tornado took on the appearance of a large cereal bowl, as it raced by to our northwest at around 50mph. As it began to move behind a hill, we decided to jump back in the car and head back east on US36 to Macon, then turn north onto US63 towards Atlanta, where it seemed to be heading. I wheeled the car around and headed back east, as the tornado's left side began to angle straight down, giving it a true, sharp wedge appearance.

We raced east, fighting an insane crosswind as the tornado's inflow was incredible. Not long afterwards, the inflow winds ripped down a billboard just ahead of us, so we quickly pulled over to call 911 and report the tornado and associated damage. Just as I was making the call, the wind picked up a portion of the billboard, and sent it flying across the road right in front of us, nearly striking a moving truck. I reported the tornado and sign damage, and then we jumped back on the road in an attempt to catch the tornado as it crossed US36 further north. We flew east back to Macon, jumped north on 36, and headed towards Atlanta. We'd lost precious time by stopping when the billboard came down, and were now hopelessly behind the tornado, which had already crossed our path and moved northeast. We never saw it again.

We found a damage path near Atlanta, but decided to head back south since there was no chance of catching our original storm/tornado. We stopped in Macon again, where I called The Weather Channel and told them about our video of the sign blowing across the road. They were interested, but said they didn't have a satellite truck anywhere near us. We didn't feel like waiting around or searching them out, so we decided to just head back to Columbia, and make good on our promise to Mickey the bartender. We were exhausted but happy as we strolled back into the bar, but Mickey's shift had ended earlier that evening so we missed the opportunity to return the favor she'd done us. We sat at a table and enjoyed a few brews, before starting the long journey home with another successful marathon chase under our belts.