North Central Iowa storm chase

2009 hasn’t really been my year in regards to storm chasing.  So with that, my expectations for this day weren’t that great.  A warm front was moving north across the state, putting us back into the 90’s for temps with the usual accompanying high humidty levels.  A low pressure system was forecast to move in from the NW, riding along the front.  Forecast indicies weren’t the best, however there was just enough shear for the SPC to outline Northern Iowa in a 10% tornado risk for the day.

Not getting too excited about the day, I looked over things again several times before finally deciding to head out the door.  After having my last couple of chases end with nothing but a tan, I wasn’t too positive anything would happen.

After fueling up, I headed out of town about 1:45pm cdt.  I decided to head to DSM and wait for the 3pm data to come in and have a go from there.  Things to continued to progress as expected, so I continued to head north, along I-35.  After reaching Ellsworth, Iowa on Hwy 175; I made a quick pit stop at the local truck stop and again narrowed down my target.  Things were just starting W of Jewell.  It looked pretty disorganized on radar, but hey, it was more than I’ve seen my previous couple of chases.

Things quickly got interesting as a persistent wall cloud formed.  Initially it didn’t look like there was rotation.  Then the first in a long series of Tornado Warnings was issued for the storm.  I departed my vantage spot, near Stanhope, and starting moving east.  At least this storm was only moving at 15-20 mph as opposed to the majority of the storms I’ve chased in the last year.  I followed the storm east.  Just over I-35 I ended up on Co. Road R77 with LOTS of other chasers and spotters.  This is where the fun really began.  As the storm continued it’s eastward motion, it maintained the wall cloud almost the entire time.  At times it would rotate, other times not.

Following Co Road D41 east I maintained a great visual on the southern end of the storm basically the entire time.  Just E of the intersection of D41 and D36 in Hardin County, I found a field entrance pointed north and pulled in there.  This gave me a great view of the entire storm. (I love Iowa’s flatness!) As I continued to watch the now rapidly rotating wall cloud, it began to drop a funnel. Come on!!!  Finally all things came together and a tornado was born!  Luckily, I had video rolling at the time and got it on video.  I snapped a quick still pic with the digicam while picking up my phone to call it in to the NWS.  No sooner had I hit send, then the whole tornado completely dissapated.  The entire tornado lasted probably approx 30 secs. I phoned it in to the NWS anyway.  I continued east on D35, stopping again at various point along the way to watch the interesting storm.  Thanks to the flatness in Northern Iowa, we had a great view of the storm the entire time.  I met up with fellow chaser Steve Polley and some locals on one of the many stops along D35.

Even with the tornado sirens blaring in many of the small towns, there were droves of people out and about.  I guess Tornado Warnings just don’t mean what they used to any more.  Instead of taking cover, many people it seem want to venture outside instead.  I guess you can’t win them all eh?

I continued on the storm until the town of Reinbeck.  I finally decided to call it a night as the storm was ahead of me a good ways.  About the time I decided to call it, is when another tornado was reported near the town of Dike.  This tornado was the only one of the day that actually caused any damage.  This tornado was also short lived, but caused some damage to a farmstead per reports I’ve read.

I turned around in Reinbeck and headed back towards the ranch, stopping in Marshalltown for a bite to eat with Steve Polley as we were both heading the same direction.

Overall thoughts: It was a very fun chase.  I’d forgotten how much fun it can be chasing a slow moving storm.  One weird note of interest: I probably only saw 6-10 CG’s the entire time.  Not much lightning at all for a tornadic storm.

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