May 22, 2004 Chase

We targeted southeast Nebraska on this day, which was anticipated to be a major outbreak type of event. Eric was back for his annual chasecation, and he and I rode in his Jeep Cherokee with Mickey, Chad, and Jo convoying with us. There were going to be multiple areas where convection could fire, and I opted for the warm front ahead of the dryline, thinking storms here would have the best helicity to work with for low-level shear. We arrived in our target area early, and decided to camp out at a highway travel store, just outside of Fairmont off US81.

It was going to be a long wait for initiation, so each of us found ways to pass the time; I spent most of the afternoon glued to a pay phone and my road atlas, periodically calling Dwain for nowcast information, while the others sat in a circle around an empty pop can, trying to throw small rocks into the mouthpiece. Hours went by, and eventually storms started to fire in all directions, but not where we were. I kept telling myself that our area would go eventually, and to be patient. After a few more calls to Dwain, I learned that some of the other storms well away from us were already tornado-warned, and a panic alarm started to go off in my head. I looked around and could see storms north and west of us, but there was still a lot of aggravated cu bubbling in our area. It had been over three hours since we arrived, other storms were already tornadic, and I was getting antsy. Finally, I made the call: we were gonna abandon this area and race west to meet the tornadic storms there. It was a huge mistake.

We busted west out of Fairmont on US6, through Sutton and Hastings, headed towards Minden. As we neared town, we could start to see the dark area to our distant southwest, as the core of our target storm was coming into view. We reached Minden just as the outer rain of the storm reached us, and then turned south onto NE10, headed towards Macon. The storm had already produced tornadoes, but what I saw when I glanced back to the east made my stomach turn: an H-bomb updraft from an exploding supercell, right where we'd been sitting all afternoon, now fifty miles away and moving away. I only had a brief moment to stew over that, as my attention turned back to the storm to our west. As we approached Macon, the base came into view. I had seen better, and was starting to realize I'd messed up bigtime. We continued south into Franklin, but turned back north because we couldn't see well from town. We rolled north a few miles out of town, and watched as the storm rolled in.

We were sitting facing west next to some old building, watching as the RFD surge crossed the highway a few miles to our north. There was decent rotation, but no tornado as the circulation moved over and east of NE10. A few minutes later, I glanced back over my shoulder to the northeast, and saw a white funnel snaking down behind the building. I immediately told Eric to head north so we could clear the building and see all of the funnel. We did just that, and after a quarter to half mile, spotted the now-dissipating tornado, in a field to our east. It managed to hang on for a minute longer, as the funnel stretched before disappearing altogether. After that, the storm started going down hill. Meanwhile, the one that had formed where we'd been was now going insane, producing tornadoes just east of our original target area.

We flew back east out of Franklin on US136 as we got word of a new storm forming in northern Kansas to our south. We had a jump on it and decided to race back east to US81, then drop south and cut in front of the storm as it moved out of Kansas. However, by the time we got to 81, the storm had already finished producing its tornadoes, and darkness had set in. There was nothing left to but lick my wounds, find a gas station, and start heading back home. The storm which went on to produce the infamous Hallam F4 tornado developed twenty miles south of where we'd spent the whole afternoon, about an hour after we left. A harsh lesson in sticking to your target.