|May 5 2012
McCook, Lake and Moody Counties
Pipestone and Murray Counties
What looks good in theory doesn't always become reality. This statement couldn't be more true
when referring to what was supposed to happen this day and what did happen. Southeast South
Dakota looked primed on the model data leading up to this day. May 5 2007 was a HUGE day
for us and it looked like the same area would be under the gun again. A warm front would lift
out of Nebraska and set the stage for a surface low to be the triggering mechanism for the
explosive development of supercells with a very real threat of strong tornadoes. Then the
morning of the 5th happened. A MCS tracked across southern South Dakota sending a very
strong outflow boundary down into Nebraska just a few miles north of highway 20.
After killing time with some chaser friends in Randolph, NE on the warm side of the boundary (More like HOT. To a
Minnesota guy who is used highs around 60 degrees, a heat index of 93 was just brutal.), Cailyn and I headed north to
cross over to the cool side and wait. The juicy air was rapidly mixing out and the cu fields were drying up right before our
eyes. It was 90/73 on one side and 66/60 on the other side. BUST! What a waste. Or was it?
Up in the cool air back in SD with easterly surface flow, a cell developed over Mitchell and quickly went severe. The cell
was not in an environment to produce tornadoes, but the helicity and shear was awesome. A trio of supercells developed
and slowly made their way off to the east / northeast. We had already made the call to head back north and were near
Yankton, SD so the intercept would be easy going right up highway 81. Cailyn and I stopped just south of I90 to look at
the impressive gust front the cell had formed. Remember, a supercell will have a shelfy looking area where the cold
outflow is exiting the storm, be it outflow dominant or not.
Video frame off of the GoPro between I90 and Salem. This is the lead supercell of the three. It was slightly elevated so it
couldn't tap any surface moisture. Not that there was any to begin with, but my point it there was a minimal tornado
threat with these storms. Golfball sized hail and 80 mph winds were reported with this cell.
Cailyn is now the same age as Cullen was when we were part of the Twister Sisters reality show. So, she has the interest
and patience to hit the road with me to learn why the clouds do what they do. Pretty decent chase partner other than the
flowered pillow and leopard print fleece blanket she brings with for the drive home! All in all, the time spent in the
vehicle is good for both of us. Everything from homework for school, to a geography lesson, history and math become
part of the day. It's all about connecting with your kids.
Time to head north and get into the hook of this baby. If you look along the horizon on the right side of the image, you
can see a thick inflow band screaming west into the updraft area.
Lights out. You can really see the inflow / outflow interface region on this shot. Keep in mind these are at 11mm so it is
RIGHT there. With the slow forward speed, I didn't have too much concern staying up in the notch of the hook at night.
Considering how bleak things looked a couple of hours ago, this supecell was a welcome sight to salvage the day. Besides,
it was on the way home and each chase mile was a mile closer to home...the way I prefer it to work.
Jim Brandenburg is one of the biggest influence I have in terms of my photography. It's all about the light. A lot of newer
chasers ask me for tips on how to make their storm photographs "pop". Yeah, it can be done in post using one of many
good software applications out there, but it all starts with the light. Pay attention to what is going on.
After making a quick pit stop in Flandreau, SD we headed east out of town on county D. We stopped originally to shoot
some lightning, but looking back towards town below the hill, the lights of the town were casting this really cool orange
glow to the base of the gust front. While working on this page, I see there is a bit of red lens flare on the left side of the
image. Thanks Tonika.
Cell is right on top of us and still producing 70-80 mph winds. Time to head east. My final point about the light is to be
aware of what it is doing and use it to your advantage. You can have two photographers or chasers standing in the same
spot with the same opportunities to shoot. The one who captures the light in a unique way will have the image that "pops".
One last view to the northwest looking at what would normally be the sweet spot on a supercell. Since this one was not
tapping it's juice from the surface, this was going to be as good as it would get. I thought...
Jogged east and north. Stopped near the MN/SD border as a few big inflow wind gusts nailed us while driving which got
my interest to see exactly what the storm was doing.
Inflow was still increasing and gusting upwards of 40 and sometimes 50 mph. Scud tags started forming under a new
About now Doug Kiesling, who was north of my postion , called wanting to know if I could see into that area and what
was going on as he only had a partial view. Note the inflow tags on the right side of the image screaming west into that
area. This was the only attempt I can honestly say this cell made an attempt at truly being surface based.
Now this was really is as good as it got. After this it went right back to being a wind and hail machine. As we continued
east in the notch, I noticed an LSR pop up on my screen for large trees down and a canopy blown off a trailer 7 miles
W/NW of Pipestone. The spotter who made that report was one of my high school buddies, Bill Folger, who lives near
Pipestone with his wife and kids. Pretty cool how small the world is sometimes. Shortly after, the cell really puked and
started to line out as the three training supercells merged into the usual late night linear mess so we headed for home with
only a couple of bouts of heavy rain and some small hail. The night ended at 2:15am in the driveway a lot better than
what it looked to be a blue sky bust in Nebraska.
Click the image above for a collection of video clips from the night.