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Huge Tornado Outbreak

Nebraska & Kansas - May. 29, 2008

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Very large tornado in Kearney, Nebraska.

First sight of the Osborne, Kansas tornado.

TORNADOES - What an incredible tornado outbreak day. The Storm Prediction Center had upgraded their forecast to a High Risk of severe weather which is the highest level. We spent a few hours in Grand Island, Nebraska, waiting for the first storms to fire up. By mid afternoon, storms were building to our west so we blasted off to intercept. One storm became the dominant supercell and we moved to get into position. we played cat and mouse with it for a long time, waiting for it to produce a tornado. It finally did on the north side of the town of Kearney. A large wedge or bowl shaped tornado was moving through town. We witnessed many huge power flashes caused by the tornado tearing up power lines and transformers. We watched from just south of town as a long line of residents were driving south, fleeing the tornado. It looked like a hurricane evacuation. As the storm continued on, we followed but it eventually became clear that it was going outflow dominant and was dying. We heard sporadic reports on the radio of damage in town such as cars being flipped and even a train derailed.

After that, we were ready to call it a day, We saw a tornado and a huge supercell storm, we had even declared an official "end of chase". The group thought our chase day was over.

We were wrong... Very VERY wrong.

There was another cell south of us across the Kansas state line that was starting to look good on radar. I kept one eye on it as we drove south. It got better and better and eventually it took on a classic radar echo that acted like a beacon to us. The chase was back on. The storm was isolated, without any other storms nearby to compete for the warm, moist air so it was likely going to keep strengthening. There was still a bit of daylight left so we made the obvious decision to go after it.

The next hour was a surreal experience. This storm was a prolific tornado producer that put on a show for us. We saw tornadoes of almost every size and shape. I'm still trying to figure out exactly how many tornadoes we saw because it was difficult to tell sometimes when one tornado ended and the next began!

The first tornado had a dark, blocky look that appeared to our west. It had formed near the town of Osborne and had tracked over the local reservoir. It lasted for a few minutes and then lifted but the circulation in the clouds was still very violent. The storm dropped another tube very close to our position, so close in fact that we had to maneuver a bit south to get out of its way. The slender white tube was accompanied by an interesting feature - an anticyclonic circulation just to the south of the main tornado. This part of the clouds was rotating clockwise and had an associated funnel cloud. It passed to our north by a few hundred feet and the white tube condensed all the way to the ground. Several very close lightning strikes also reminded us of the other dangers of these storms other than the tornado. After crossing the road, the tube lifted and we took off towards the east to continue chasing the storm that was now moving away from us at close to 40 mph.

The tornado then morphed into a large, multiple vortex monster. It shifted shape and plowed off towards the town of Glen Elder. We drove due east, trying to catch up with it. we witnessed it twist itself into a cone shape, a thin tube, and a large dusty tornado with numerous separate vortices, all dancing around the main circulation. It was a sight to behold. As we cut north through the town of Glen Elder, we saw that the town had been hit. There were trees snapped off, large sheds damaged, sheet metal wrapped around fences and power lines down. We didn't know the full extent of the damage but emergency personnel had arrived on the scene and it was clear that the town wasn't too badly damaged.

Trying to keep up with the tornado proved impossible due to a downed telephone pole blocking our only path to keep up with the storm. It was getting too dark anyway, so we yet again declared an "end of chase" and turned around, now hoping for a meal and a place to sleep after our long, exhausting day. We were pleased to find a restaurant open in Osborne. The tornado had spared the town. Dinner was spent re-telling the tales of the day. We were done.

Not so fast...

On the drive south towards the Kansas interstate, we got our last surprise of the day. I was driving the lead vehicle on a dark road when, suddenly a deer appeared right in front of us. There was not enough time to swerve out of the way so all I could do was hit the brakes. People often talk about the "deer in the headlights" look, well it is true. The deer just looked at me and didn't move. Luckily, I had been able to slow down enough to minimize the damage to the van. I immediately pulled over to inspect the front end. The deer was gone and the damage was minimal. A few of the group went looking for the deer and found it dead in the ditch by the side of the road, the van suffered damage to the grill, the headlight assembly was hanging out and the radiator was bent but not leaking. There were tufts of fur in the grill and a small amount of blood on the headlight. All things considered, the damage was superficial. We duct taped the headlight into place and carried on, a little shaken but none the worse for wear.

In all, there were 55 tornado reports recorded and as of this writing, I'm not aware of any fatalities.

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The slender, white rope crosses the road near our location.

The new tornado to our northeast.

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It changes shape and grows.

Multiple vortices begin to appear.

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Several suction spots are now clearly visible.

A light gray cone appears.

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The cone circles around the main circulation.

The entire tornado becomes a wide cone with a large debris cloud.

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At this point, the tornado may have been going through the town of Glen Elder.

 

The Storm Prediction Center Outlook for the Day: