Cyclone Road


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Bowdle, South Dakota area tornadoes 22 May 2010

I missed the first several iterations of the Bowdle wedge but considering I nearly missed the whole show I'm thrilled at the outcome.

With Scott Blair, Derek Deroche, and Lauren Hill, I trekked from Alma, Nebraska (just north of the Kansas border) to Valentine to Murdo, worried that because we hadn’t seen a single cu as late as 21z such an explosive environment might go to waste. At the gas station where we met Paul Sirvatka and the College of Dupage vans, and where Paul showed us the impressive maps he'd drawn earlier in the day, I decided to stay put until some hint of initiation appeared.  Scott, Derek, and Lauren went ahead to Pierre, and a few minutes later Scott called and told me to look *behind* the gas station: a towering Cb. Needless to say, I made haste.

I paralleled the storm to its south as the first tornado formed, and Scott and Derek described it on the radio. The updraft circulation was rapid, spatially disorienting. Scott remarks on his website how the stout RFD seemed to peel away layers of updraft and I think this is true. The motion was so vigorous that it wasn't perfectly clear what was tornado and what wasn't.  It was a carousel and obviously the marker of a violent storm.

My ears popped well before I could see the ground circulation and RFD rocked the car. When I stopped for a quick photograph, a farmer pulled up with his entire family crowded in the cab of his white Ford pickup. He rolled down the window and said, “Are you chasing that?”

“There’s a tornado in there,” I said. I thought it was important to convey the most important information first.

“I know,” he said. “It’s headed for our house and we got the hell out of there. Hey, you see those grain bins?” He pointed to a group of tall silver bins a mile to the northeast. “It’s headed directly for those bins. You ought to get up by those bins!” He was genuinely excited at the prospect, I believe, that the bins might fly into a million pieces and someone, a chaser like the ones on television, would be there to film it. Or more likely he wanted to go himself, but knew it was the wrong thing to do with his wife and two children onboard. He told me the back roads were in good shape, and I raced off for the bins, but the tornado veered north and missed them by a quarter mile.

My first view of the tornado with the grain bins immediately south of the circulation.

The wedge. 2343z.

I paced the tornado for a while, shooting intermittently and dodging traffic. I went north somewhere around Roscoe and filmed the next tornado, a much better behaved funnel and cone that touched down around 2352z.

Later I dropped back down to SR 12 and stayed ahead of the convoy before finishing the day in Aberdeen.

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