South Central Nebraska Tornadoes

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Storm Chase Details

Chase Date: June 20, 2011
Chase Partners:
JR Hehnly

Chasers Encountered:
Scott Bennett, Steve Polley, Eric Treece, Bob Fritchie, Jesse Risley

Miles Logged: 605
States Chased: NE
Tornadoes Witnessed: 3
Largest Hail Encountered: .75"
Severe Risks: SPC Outlooks

Chase Recap:

JR Hehnly and I woke up dead center in the target area in York, NE on Monday morning. We slept in as we knew it’d be a long drive home after the chase Monday evening.

After looking over models in the morning and getting breakfast at the Hampton Inn, we decided we liked where we were and didn’t want to move very far from York. Eric Treece showed up, and hung out with us in the hotel lobby. We eventually got into the car and gassed up and went and hid on the west side of York on a deserted road and waited.

We waited all afternoon, resisting the urge to chase after the bait which was producing multiple tornadoes from I-70 in Kansas northward to Kearney. As the tornado icons kept popping up, the thought we had made the wrong decision kept coming to the top of our minds. Our reasoning was pretty sound – Stay in York, and anything that fires that far east should move north or even northeastward and tap into the low 70 dewpoint air with east winds at the surface.

More storms had fired down near Salina, so it seemed inevitable that storms would fire and fill in and move off the boundary visible on Hastings, NE radar. Eventually we decided to move a little west on I-80 as more storms were going up near Grand Island. We didn’t go too far, just getting a little past Aurora before getting off the Interstate and heading south a couple of miles to watch the storms fire to our south.

The one going up near Clay Center was looking the best on radar, so we headed back east to be in position to intercept. We sat and watched the wall cloud mature, and then a funnel form. That dissipated and the storm cycled. In that time frame we headed back north towards I-80 and had to wait for the one lane bridge over the highway. Once we got through that, we went up to US34 before heading east a short distance. A long needle rope funnel was coming out of the side of the wall cloud, and we stopped and snapped a few pictures before it dissipated.

We got into hail some more, and Randy Cooper was reporting a cone tornado on the radio, so we were trying to figure out which direction we needed to go. I wanted to go west into the crap, JR wanted to go east. We ended up going east, and it turned out to be the correct choice.

Shortly after that, the main tornado formed and dropped to our south. We were in a perfect position to let it mature and come towards us. It ended up passing just 700 yards to our west before going north into the field next to us providing us an amazing white sunlit cone.

We stair stepped on the great gridded gravel roads for quite a few miles, staying east of the damage path and keeping up with the tornado. It was on the ground for probably 15-20 minutes before dissipating with an incredible rope out.

Eventually the third tornado formed, and became a fat stovepipe. We didn’t have a great view of it at first, but got closer and got a very violent view of it as it crossed about a mile away from us.

Eventually crossing the river near Columbus, NE became an issue, and we found a route to get across the river. The tornado had since roped out and the storm started taking on outflow dominant characteristics. We rolled into Columbus and decided to meet Scott Bennett, Jesse Risley, and Steve Polley for steak dinners.

The drive back to OKC was long, and we got back around 4 am. The adrenaline kept running most of the night, keeping me and JR wide awake till our arrival home.