Storm Chase The Dakotas

Storm Chase The Dakotas

The day started in Rapid City, South Dakota and ended 36 hours later in Denver, Colorado.  It was a tough chase day but well worth the lack of sleep and the 1,033 miles of driving.  If I had to remember one thing about this chase day that stood out in my mind, it was my night in Rapid City.  The bed at the Inn and Suites where I had stayed the night was so comfortable.  The morning arrived too quick and the ritual of looking at maps, looking at the weather, and trying to decide where the target area would be for the day was becoming second nature.  Today, I would head for Aberdeen, South Dakota and wait along the state line between North and South Dakota for the storms to fire.

Probabilistic Tornado Graph
2015 June 02: Graphic showing the SPC Outlook for the day.


I crossed the state line into North Dakota and keep driving towards a supercell forming on the horizon.  It was taking shape nicely and I could see that an overshooting top had appeared above the supercell.  I said, “Okay, I’m sold.”   A few moments later the supercell became severe warned and I felt pretty good about the target for the day.



I drove into the severe warned area and stopped along the side of the road to scout out a vantage point.  On almost every chase, I would stop, get out of the vehicle, and look around.  One of the most difficult aspects of the chase is being patient and not getting tunnel vision on one storm.  I stop to assess, to slow down, to minimize tunnel vision, to stretch the legs, and look at options.



The vantage point was good and there were other storms firing on the horizon all around me.  The closest storm was a good option and I wanted to get closer to the supercell.  Linton, a small town or like a dot on a map, would be in the direct path of the supercell and my target area for an intercept.  Arriving in Linton, the storm looked pretty amazing dancing out on the plains.  I wanted to get even closer to the base of the supercell but I had concerns about the road network.

2015 June 02: A supercell west of Linton, North Dakota.


I called a friend in California, yes I have a few, and asked if he would consider nowcasting for me.  Chris agreed, and it made this chase day go much smoother.  With Chris nowcasting, I could have a second pair of eyes on the weather, the radar, the roads, chaser streams, and I could pinpoint where I wanted to be should this supercell, or one near me, produce a tornado.  Chris had confirmed what I was looking at on the ground; the road network was dismal on the east side of the Missouri river and the storm was moving in my direction.  A light rain fell and I moved to another vantage point where a group of storm chasers had converged.

2015 June 02: Storm Chasers watch a supercell near Linton, North Dakota.


I wanted to get even closer to the base of the supercell.  I said that right?   With no roads to the west which would take me directly into the storm path, I drove north on the highway and found an intercept point to shoot and watch the storm.  The supercell was spectacular, but it appeared to be dissipating.  I decided the next best option would be to chase the storm near Bismarck.

2015 June 02: A supercell near Linton, North Dakota.


I drove north to a major interstate which would take me into the heart of Bismarck.  Parked on the side of the road, I installed the hail protection on Drones because the storm looked fierce and there were reports of hail.  I wasn’t absolutely sure if I was going to run into some hail, but I didn’t want to find out after the fact.  It was time to take precautions.  Who needs pretty?  It just had to work.

2015 June 02: Hail protection on the chase rig Drones.


Chris and I discussed the next move.  He liked what he saw near Bismarck, and I liked what I saw in the opposite direction near Jamestown.  With storms out on the plains, what you see on the horizon can easily be 150 miles away.  Looking at the storm near Jamestown, east of my location, I could see it building.  Bismarck was only 25 miles away and was super tempting to head west for the supercell parked at Bismarck.  I sat on the side of the road, watched the mammatus clouds above, and contemplated the next move.

2015 June 02: Mammatus clouds east of Bismarck, North Dakota.


Here was the next move: drive west towards Bismarck, the only show in town.  If only it was that simple.  The storm to the east was just eating away at me so I called Chris to get an update on the progression of the storms in the area.  We discussed Bismarck and Jamestown.  I remember Chris stated “You have to go with your gut on this one” because I was torn on which direction to go.  I got off the interstate, just shy of Bismarck, and decided to turn around and head east for Jamestown.  Now I’m going east.  Committed to the east option, I drove towards Jamestown but realized the storm would be out of reach by the time I arrived.  I turned south and drove to a new storm near Edgeley, North Dakota.

2015 June 02: A supercell near Edgeley, North Dakota.


I arrived in Edgeley but the storm was just out of reach and I decided to break off the chase at this point.  Edgeley was about as far east as I was willing to drive.  I turned to the south and drove to Aberdeen, South Dakota.  Just outside of Aberdeen, I saw this storm firing up to the east and chasing it was super tempting.  If I was to make Wyoming by the morning, I couldn’t stop and change direction, I had to keep driving south.

2015 June 02: A supercell east of Aberdeen, South Dakota.


The overnight drive was challenging.  I was sufficiently tired before the drive to Wyoming but I had to stay sharp because there were many dangers on the road this night.  Dodging deer in South Dakota kept me awake on that leg of the drive.  At about 2:00 a.m. in the morning I crossed the South Dakota border and arrived in Valentine, Nebraska.  I considered Valentine to be the half way point and I was thrilled to make it there in good time.  Outside of Valentine, I drove right into some heavy rains, gusty winds, and extremely poor visibility.   It was painfully slow going.  Arriving in North Platte just before dawn, I was extremely tired and worn out from driving through some major storms.  I stopped right outside of town and took a cat nap before continuing on the road to Cheyenne, Wyoming.  I was extremely tired but happy because I was in a good position for the next chase day.

2015 June 02: A double rainbow appears near Linton, North Dakota.



Post Chase Data

Chase Day:  358 miles / 5 hours 43 minutes

Rapid City, South Dakota to Sterling, North Dakota (East Bismarck) 358 miles (5 hours 43 minutes)


Overnight Drive:  675 miles / 9 hours 47 minutes

Sterling, North Dakota to Valentine, Nebraska:  491 miles (7 hours 41 minutes);

Valentine, Nebraska to North Platte, Nebraska:  131 miles (2 hours 6 minutes);

North Platte, Nebraska to Ogallala, Nebraska:  53 miles (53 minutes)


Chase Day:  1, 033 miles

Total chase miles: 3,674 miles


Graphic showing SPC outlook for chase day.
2015 June 02: Graphic showing the SPC Convective Outlook.


Graphic showing the SPC Probabilistic Tornado Outlook
2015 June 02: Graphic showing the SPC Probabilistic Tornado Outlook


Graphic showing SPC preliminary storm reports
2015 June 02: Graphic showing the SPC Day 1 Preliminary Reports with one tornado in Colorado.


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