CHASE DEBRIEF: Fighting Terrain and Poor Roads in Pursuit of a Supercell

DSC03402Hopefully people in Missouri won’t take this personally when I say this, but the Show Me State made it difficult for mother nature to show us anything on Friday.  That’s because a difficult road network and some unforgiving terrain prevented us from getting a better view of a supercell we tracked across most of Missouri.  That supercell later moved into Saint Louis where a suspected tornado caused widespread damage in portions of the city, including its main airport.

But back to our chase.   We spend the morning and afternoon traveling into central Missouri, and not a moment too soon.  As we approached Columbia we were tracking a developing line of thunderstorms.  One particular cell caught our attention and we moved south to intercept it.  As we did so, a tornado warning was posted and we felt confident we were in the right position to let the storm come to us.  At this point, we could see the structure in the storm to our west and could tell the rotation was becoming more prominent.

We decided to stop in a man’s driveway near the town of Ashland.  We alerted the man of the rotating wall cloud heading his way and he joined us as we snapped some photos and video of the rotation.  We spent about 10 minutes there watching it draw closer.  But after a couple rounds of hail (and the sound of much larger hail falling to our north), we decided to continue moving south to try and stay ahead of the rotation’s base.  We moved a couple miles to the south where we again pulled over to get a good look at the wall cloud.  We were not able to stay long as rain and hail again forced us to continue moving south.

Eventually we wound up unable to get near the storm as the road network proved difficult.  To the west and south was a river and to the east and north was a very large cliff that preventing us from seeing the storm’s base just a mile or two north of us.  All we (and many other storm chasers out on the road) could do was just keep moving and hope the terrain would cooperate eventually.  That never really happened until about an hour later when we managed to find some flats near a river and get another look at the rotation.  Even so, we did not see anything that was really threatening to produce a tornado.

DSC03428After winding up on another hilly road with no visibility, we ended our chase after driving into heavy wind, rain and hail. We let the storm pass before continuing on our way.  That’s when we pulled over and found some very large hail  You can see the in photos to the left that we found hail of around 3” in diameter!  This hail fell in the Gore area west of Saint Louis and had been on the ground for approximately 10-15 minutes when we found it.

This is when we decided to make the 5-6 hour journey back home.  What we didn’t realize is that the supercell we had tracked for the better part of 3 hours without producing a tornado was now about to do just that.  At this hour it is believed this cell produced at least one tornado in the greater Saint Louis area.  At the time that I wrote this article, the damage in some areas was extensive, but the injuries were not serious.  That’s the final bit of good news at the end of a long day in Missouri. 

There were a lot of ups and downs and the terrain of the state did little to help us track this storm.  But in the end we walked away with some pretty good video and some fantastic images of our chase.  I enjoyed the day long excursion and I can tell you I’ll be happy to keep my next chase right here in Iowa, there are very few cliffs and hills to get in the way Smile

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