Shaun Kelly N0JDT) and I departed the Twin Cities at 7:30 am CDT headed for Nebraska and the SPC-issued moderate risk there. We had just looked at data and seen that the outflow boundary from the departing convection was pushing all the way south to the Oklahoma/Kansas border. Seeing that, we really thought we were idiots to go anyway, but I hate changing my plans once I've gotten excited about a trip, and Shaun is eternally an optimist about storms.
We drove all the way from Minnesota through Nebraska in east winds, clouds, and cool temperatures. Obviously, Nebraska was pretty much shut down for seeing any afternoon storms. It was going to be a long drive to even have a chance at seeing anything, so we elected not to do any stops for data and instead had Scott Woelm call us from home to give us an update. I had looked at the RUC before I left and thought something elevated could fire in western Nebraska, but seeing as how that area was now totally overcast, even if it did fire, we wouldn't be able to see it. With Scott's update, the surface low and warm front were in western and central Kansas, with sunny skies south of there, so our only option was to blast south until we saw the sun. I was worried about doing that, because Kansas was supposed to be capped, but I knew it was our only shot, so south we went. Shaun, at my request, calculated how far we could get by 6:00 pm. His answer: "Oh, about to Stockton, KS"
We turned south at the Elm Creek exit (U.S. Hwy183), reaching Philipsburg around 5:30 pm, where we stopped for gas and food. The sun was poking through. We called Scott again, and he told us there was an MCD out for an area roughly from Hill City to Hays, just to our south. That was encouraging, but I still wasn't too hopeful, expecting just towering cumulus. We left Phillipsburg around 5:50, with our broken clouds now a solid overcast again.
Then, the skies cleared, and RIGHT in front of us was our STORM!!!! Obviously a baby, but it looked good, and so the chase was on!! After hitting road construction in Stockton, we elected to do a core punch, a little nervously, because the skies looked pretty dark. Alas, things were not all that bad, because there really wasn't much rain at all, and maybe pea size hail, if that.
We got south of the storm (seeing a good beaver tail on the way) and observed the main updraft tower from the south side. There, we ran into a throng of other chasers, including Howie Bluestein and Vortex 99. Seeing that the main updraft tower was just to our northwest, we decided to drift back north to put ourselves just east of the updraft base. There was a very distinct low-mid level inflow tail into the base, and as we got closer and the base revealed itself through the haze, we could see good upward rising motion into the base. Then, very quickly, we noticed a nice horseshoe shape RFD punching right through. It was time to stop. Right now.
We set up on tripod, and the storm produced almost right away. The tornado lasted for about 11-12 minutes, starting out as a nice cone, but gradually thinning down to a rope, before it dissipated at 7:06 pm.
(Click here for all the tornado pics - about 175k)
We then looked for more development somewhere else, but there was none. The base really became disorganized, scattered, and diffuse. We drifted northeastward and soon found ourselves in the same flat gray stratus we had driven through all day. The storm had just completely died. Looking back on my video, it sounds as if there was no lightning or thunder during the tornado. There are certainly no flashes in the video.
We decided to stay overnight in York, Nebraska. On the way, what could have been the remnants of our storm re-erupted just south of Red Cloud, Nebraska. We drove through some pretty electrically active, heavy storms with some small hail.
There were numerous other chasers around (I think just about everyone was there).