Day Four – Morale Boost

Our adventure in the Northern Plains started with a fairly early wake up call in North Platte, NE to be able to make our target in west central South Dakota by storm initiation. As we blasted north, I warmed a Super 8 cinnamon roll on the dashboard.

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It’s good luck, or something.

The geography in that part of the country is interesting – we always hear about how flat it is, but that part of Nebraska is dominated by sand hills. Unsurprisingly, data connectivity on our drive out of Nebraska into South Dakota was pretty bad and we were, to an extent, flying blind. Fortunately for us, very little changed during our drive and we were able to just keep an eye on cumulus development.

Storm Chase Day 04Another one of our stops was at a historic train bridge across a river in either northern Nebraska or southern South Dakota. It had a pretty nice view, especially of our field of building cumulus clouds! The stop was abbreviated and we had a quick lunch before continuing on our path north. By this time a weak, unimpressive cluster of storms was initiating in northwest South Dakota, so we headed off in their direction. Upon reaching them some hour or two later, we were greeted with some underwhelming storm structure.

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A view of part of the updraft and some precipitation.

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A half-hearted initial attempt at a shelf cloud.

Our disappointment was fortunately short-lived. As we kept up with the storm jogging east, the shelf cloud built into a much more impressive stacked-pancake kind of structure.

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It was hard to process this and keep it looking natural.

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Taking a shelfie!

I took way too many photos as we headed east. The shelf cloud continued evolving and looking meaner as the storm clawed its way out of an unfavorable environment and into better parameters.

As the storm increased in intensity and began to bow out, we really appreciated the road we were on – it was a high speed route moving due east that had a bridge across the Missouri River. So unlike usual, we were able to stay out ahead of a rapidly propagating bow echo as it chased us toward our lodging for once!

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Sadly we had no syrup to go with these stacks.

Our crossing of the Missouri showed us a really impressive view of our storm. We had a brief stop prior to the crossing (left) that let us take a moment to appreciate structure before we hopped on the bridge to cross the river. The fact that the storm was still alive despite the poor environment was astounding to me – and it just continued building, and building, and building…

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A view of our storm looking south across the river.

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…and a view looking back north. Angry!

After our river crossing, we saw a massive amount of dust getting kicked up under the forward flank of our storm.

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A brief gustnado? You decide!

As the storm continued kicking dust up to our south, it eventually formed a really neat illustration of how air masses interact at the leading edge of a linear storm. The dust fills the area that is downdraft, and air being updrafted into the storm flows over it keeping it corralled.

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This is a textbook example.

We finally had to disengage and blast east, but we were treated with quite the show while we retreated. Our setup isn’t quite as clear this morning as we were hoping it would be, but I think we’ll be going after something tornadic in Minnesota later on today.

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I love a shelf cloud that says “I’m gonna kill you!”

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