May 29, 2000

Hershey, Nebraska Tornado &
The Great Wall Of Dust

Chase Account by: Scott Blair.


Chase Team: Scott Blair, Jason Politte.

The weather setup for this day was very similar to the norm of the 2000 chase season. The pattern was complex with an area of low pressure developing over SW Nebraska. A stationary front was aligned west to east from the low. A cold front moving southward aided in providing strong convergence. Jason and I decided to target the area just north of the surface low and front near West Central Nebraska.

We departed the hotel in Wichita, KS by mid morning. Around late morning, we began to become confused with the outlook. After having high confidence in our forecast, we were amazed listening to NOAA WX Radio. The Hazardous Weather Outlook in Hastings, NE was stating that "storm spotters would not be needed as the severe weather potential is low." NOTE- They would later receive over 35 severe/damaging wind reports.

We arrived in Holdrege, NE and took I-80 westbound around 2pm. By 3:00pm, we began to notice some fuzzy anvils in the far distance. We briefly called Geoffrey Calhoun for a quick update. We were informed of a recently issued Mesoscale Discussion by SPC for our target area. We continued west on I-80 and arrived in North Platte around 4pm. The anvils to the NW were becoming better defined and we discussed possible intercepts.

Around 5:00pm, we arrived in Ogallala, NE and decided to chase a well structured cell to the NW. We hit Hwy26 and became impressed with the strong updraft and rain free base. This was the southern most storm, so this was a big plus. By 5:30pm, we parked off Hwy 26 about 13 miles north of Big Springs, NE. This position provided a good view of the lower level structure. About fifteen minutes later, a smaller cell to the southwest merged with the main storm. This seemed to help the storm organize as a nice rain free base developed. Due to the merge, no other cells were present near or south of the storm, which prevented any seeding. The storm slowly crept ESE which moved it closer to our location. Several microbursts occurred as rain foots would develop and send out dust near the foots. A few individual gustnadoes developed in all the turbulence. This was a pretty sight, adding in a good shelf cloud and colorful fields.

The situation became a little more serious at 6:15pm as the storm organized and a strong shelf cloud developed. The shelf began to slowly sink towards us around 6:30pm, but a new concern developed. While the cell acted normal, cyclonic rotation developed along with a few significant inflow bands on the southern side of the storm. Some contrast problems looked possible and a large area of dust was being kicked out just to the north, so we slightly bumped to the east. We soon discovered that me would not escape the pocket of dust, so we pulled off to shoot video and record the wind gusts off the anemometer. The wind hit quick, sending tumbleweeds, copious amounts of dirt, and a gust to 55mph. We reported the gust to the NWS LBF, who issued a severe storm warning for our area in Keith County.

It was important to keep good position in this situation of a developing MCS. After briefly heading north of Hwy61, we easily decided that we should turn around and take Hwy61 southbound to I-80. A little after 7:00pm, our supercell began to go through significant changes. The shelf cloud rushed ESEward across I-80. Usually, this would indicate an outflow dominated storm. However, this did not occur as a large, rain free updraft developed in between the shelf and the precip shaft. Shortly after, a well developed updraft formed south of I-80 with a lowered area and several inflow bands. Around 7:45pm, a sustained, smooth funnel developed near the lowered area. A tornado warning was issued at 7:50pm by the NWS LBF as radar indicated strong rotation (see warning below). By 7:55pm, a weak tornado connected with the ground causing a rapid process of dust to rise up into the updraft and around the tornado. The tornado became quickly shrouded in circular wall of dust. The tornado touched down about a mile away from our location near mile marker 168 on I-80. A rather impressive inflow jet, helped by the outflow, flew into the weak tornado. The jet was a narrow stream of severe wind that damaged at least six highway signs on I-80. By 8:00pm, strong outflow from the precip shaft sheared the inflow jet into outflow and cut off the updraft of the tornado. The tornado and meso quickly became outflow dominated and dissipated. In the process of shooting stills and video outside, the pop of outflow was so strong that my car was violently rocking back and forth. My camera was flipped over as a screw came loose on the tripod holder. And if that wasn't enough, the camera battery blew off. Talk about severe winds near 70mph!

While the outflow looked to steal rest of the spotlight for the day, the storm made one final attempt at 8:15pm. A large funnel wrapped up under a favorable area SE of LBF. Dust clearly rose into this feature. While this area was too far away to see rotation, its quite possible this was another tornado. However, due to its position in the storm, this would probably be considered more of a gustnado. Either way, I do not count this feature as any "nado" until further evidence exists.

By 8:30pm, the cell was becoming less organized and was finally evolving into a MCS. With this in mind, we decided to blast east to get ahead of the storm. While heading east on I-80, I was amazed at the amount of dust that began to surround us. Pockets of dust were moving in all directions, which was a sure sign that the outflow had taken control of the day... and did it ever! We poked out of the dust around 9:00pm. As we continued east, I thought, "Well, we can pull off soon and get a normal ole shelf cloud." When I actually turned to look in the mirror, I couldn't believe it. To the west stood a five layered shelf cloud with a WALL OF DUST. From the ground up to the shelf cloud, a thick wall of dust extended across as far as the eye could see. Amazing! I shot some breathtaking video of the wall of dust throughout the rest of the daylight hours.

Night fell upon Nebraska, and we decided it would be wise to grab a hotel room in Grand Island. We didn't want to mess with this MCS. Numerous reports of 100mph winds and significant damage were coming out of Dawson County, the same County we had viewed the wall of dust in. We missed the Grand Island exit and ended up 20 miles east in Aurora. We reluctantly turned around and headed for Grand Island. Needless to say, we didn't make it in time. While backtracking west, we were slammed with the first pocket of severe wind that automatically flung my antennas off and knocked the anemometer back. I quickly pulled off to reinstall the antennas. As we slowly moved west, the wall of dust nailed us. A sustained wave of absolute blinding dust covered our cars. I immediately alerted Jason to go no faster than 35mph, as everything was orange. After a few smaller waves of dust, the outflow slightly let up and light rain fell. We recorded a gust to 65mph and viewed two semis that had been blown over. We reported this in and finally made it into Grand Island around 11pm. After getting unpacked at the Howard Johnson, we celebrated with a meal in a local diner. The drink was great, Dr. Slice. The food was terrible. But hey, what an amazing chase day. Easily one of the best chases in the 2000 season. -Scott Blair


****Tornado Warning issued by the NWSFO LBF****
BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NORTH PLATTE NE
750PM CDT MON MAY 29 2000
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN NORTH PLATTE HAS ISSUED A *TORNADO WARNING FOR... NORTHWESTERN LINCOLN COUNTY IN SOUTHWEST NEBRASKA UNTIL 815PM CDT. AT 748PM CDT...LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICALS REPORTED A FUNNEL CLOUD 4 MILES EAST OF HERSHEY...OR ABOUT 8 MILES WEST OF NORTH PLATTE...MOVING EAST AT 20MPH. THIS IS A DANGEROUS STORM SITUATION. ACT QUICKLY...IT MAY SAVE YOUR LIFE. THE SAFEST PLACE TO BE DURING A TORNADO IS IN THE BASEMENT. GET UNDER A WORKBENCH OR OTHER PIECE OF STURDY FURNITURE. IF NO BASEMENT IS AVAILABLE, SEEK SHELTER ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF THE BUILDING IN AN INTERIOR HALLWAY OR ROOM, SUCH AS A CLOSET. USE BLANKETS OR PILLOWS TO COVER YOUR BODY AND ALWAYS STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS. A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL MIDNIGHT CDT TUESDAY MORNING FOR NORTHWESTERN NEBRASKA.

****Special Weather Statement by the NWSFO LBF****
THE TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR NORTHWEST LINCOLN COUNTY UNTIL 8:15 P.M. CDT. AT 8:04 P.M., DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A POSSIBLE TORNADO 4 MILES WEST OF NORTH PLATTE OR 8 MILES EAST OF HERSHEY MOVING EAST AT 45 MPH. THE TORNADO IS EXPECTED TO BE NEAR NORTH PLATTE AT 8:15 P.M. CDT. THIS IS A DANGEROUS SITUATION. ACT QUICKLY, IT MAY SAVE YOUR LIFE. THE SAFEST PLACE TO BE DURING A TORNADO IS IN THE BASEMENT. GET UNDER A WORKBENCH OR OTHER PIECE OF STURDY FURNITURE. IF NO BASEMENT IS AVAILABLE, SEEK SHELTER ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF THE BUILDING IN AN INTERIOR HALLWAY OR ROOM, SUCH AS A CLOSET. USE BLANKETS OR PILLOWS TO COVER YOUR BODY AND ALWAYS STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS.

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