May 24, 2004 Chase

After my big screw-up on May 22, I was bound and determined not to repeat my failure two days later when another potentially-significant event presented itself. Because it was Monday, everyone else from our Saturday chase couldn't make it, leaving Eric and I to chase in his Jeep by ourselves. Our target was southeast Nebraska, and we left out early, with a gameplan that seemed fail-safe. The plan today was to pick a target, go there, and stay until we had a storm develop near us, and to not abandon the area if storms fired well-away from us early in the day. Everything seemed perfect as we rolled towards the target area.

We arrived in Nebraska early in the day, and decided to set up in Auburn to wait for initiation. We made a stop in town to top off the tank before getting into "chase mode", and I noticed as I was paying for my soda the local newspaper had a huge front page story on the devastating Hallam tornado from a few days before. It reminded me to stick to the plan today, no matter what.

We found an open spot just outside of town, and waited. We didn't have to wait long, because in less than an hour, a storm fired just west of us. It was moving relatively slow, and seemed to be coming right at us, so we were able to just sit there and observe it for a long while. After ten or so minutes, it became severe, and not long after that, it was tornado-warned. We continue to watch as the storm got closer, but precipitation started to fill in around the base and we lost our view. Soon afterwards, we started getting hail, and Eric, not wanting to have his vehicle trashed, moved us south to both clear the hail and to try and see into the updraft area again. We managed to steer clear of the larger stones, but were still having difficulty getting a good view through the rain. By now the storm was nearly upon us, and it was time for us to head east to stay with it. The only problem was, the Mississippi river was just east of us, and our roads didn't cross it.

We drove back into Auburn, to try and find our way through town and to the east, but the storm had begun to accelerate, and was now moving faster as-the-crow-flies than we could keep up with it trying to get through the middle of town. It was becoming obvious we wouldn't be able to stay in front of this storm, and once it cleared us to the northeast, we'd never get around it again. So as we sat dejected in Auburn, watching the storm race away to the northeast, we decided to do what we swore we wouldn't: abandon our target area, and race west towards other storms that had started to fire along the dryline. Though we had no choice this time, I was starting to get the same bad feeling I had two days earlier. Regardless, we turned our backs on the storm and raced west on US136.

We continued west through Tecumseh, Beatrice, and eventually Fairbury. Along the way, we heard repeated reports of multiple tornadoes from a storm that was going bonkers, and it seemed like we'd never get there. In Fairbury, we turned south on NE15, and could begin to make out the distant schematic view of our target storm, as the scanner continued to pump out tornado reports from spotters and chasers who were right underneath it. We kept driving south, and NE15 became KS15 as we crossed the border. After going through the tiny town of Morrowville, we came to US36. We turned west, and raced towards the storm, which was now well in view.

We drove towards Cuba, but stopped along the way, still east of there. The storm had occluded, and there was a very ragged-looking lowering buried with an area of wrapping precip. It began to descend, becoming a large cone funnel as it continued towards the ground. Neither of us said anything, but both of us were thinking the same thing. Just then, a spotter broke over the scanner reporting ground circulation near Cuba....we finally had a tornado. Over the next few minutes, the condensation gradually reached the ground, as this cone tornado became larger. After it reached its maximum size, it slowly began to weaken, eventually dissipating altogether after a few more minutes.

After the tornado ended, we turned around and headed back east, past KS15 north and onto KS15 south. From there we turned south, and drove to just north of Linn, where we observed a small snakey funnel before the storm cycled yet again. It wasn't too much longer before we realized this storm was on a downward trend. After seeing brand new towers exploding to our distant southeast, we decided to leave this storm to focus on the new ones which looked to be near Topeka.

Over the next hour or so, we methodically worked our way southeast towards the north side of Topeka, where we encountered the tornado-warned storm right at dusk. There were several chasers lined up along US75 south of town, as a mean-looking circulation hovered above. Although some were reported, we never observed a tornado from this storm. We continued south on 75 towards the next storm in line, which was also tornado-warned, but by now it was pitch black and viewing was impossible. Finally, in Yates Center, we threw in the towel. I felt jaded once again, as we'd just spent another significant tornado event running around all day chasing smoke, and only had a single brief tornado to show for it. Eric and I had never had much luck together chasing, and I'd just blown two excellent opportunities to end that streak of bad luck the past three days. I was pretty unhappy for the next few days.