Full chase video and damage
Timelapse video of the tornado (1:28)
Sometimes when you chase, everything just works out perfectly. This was most certainly the case on the day of
October 4th, 2013. Let's take a step back first, however, and rewind a few days. Because of atypical global model
agreement, by October 1st, it was becoming apparent that the 4th had the risk of a potentially significant severe weather
event across portions of the Northern Plains or Upper Midwest. This agreement led the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) to
issue a Day 4 region outlined in their 4-8 day outlook produced daily.
At this juncture, grumblings of a possible chase within the Atmospheric Science department began growing
louder. As the models and the Day 3 outlook held serve, the planning stages were in full force. Three graduate students
(Zachary Hargrove, Brittany Peterson, and Matthew Eckhoff) and one undergraduate student (David Agee) began to discuss their
options and obligations for that Friday (the 4th) to even see if a chase was possible. Everything seemed to slide into
place, and the trip seemed destined to take place, boom or bust. By 1730 UTC (12:30 CDT), the SPC had issued a Day 2
moderate risk of severe weather for our general target area in northwest Iowa with a 45% chance of significant severe
weather in the outlined area.
In order to make sure we arrived at our target with plenty of time to spare, we made the decision to meet in
the parking lot of Clifford Hall at 6:00 AM on the 4th. Still dark outside, we piled in Zack's car and headed out on what
would prove to be an incredible journey. Our initial target was Sioux City, IA, which is about 401 miles from Grand Forks,
ND and approximately a 5 hour and 40 minute drive with no stops. Early on it appeared that the best environment would setup
in northwest Iowa near the triple point and/or the warm front, so we wanted to make sure we were on the east side of the
Missouri River. There are not many crossings on the Missouri so it is very easy to get stuck on the Nebraska side and lose
a storm while chasing.We arrived in the Sioux City area around lunchtime. However, as we reassessed the data it was
apparent that we would probably need to get a little further south and maybe eventually west. The low seemed to be moving
northeast a bit slower than the models had forecast from the day before. We were still hesitant to commit to Nebraska
because of the river issue, though. Therefore, we decided to drive 39 more miles south on interstate 29 to Onawa, IA where
we would eat and wait on storms to eventually fire. Onawa was attractive because there was a bridge crossing in case we
decided Nebraska was the smart play. While there, we met up with two other cars of University of North Dakota students who
also made journey and changed a headlight. Waiting is the hardest part of storm chasing. There is so much nervous energy
hiding just beneath the surface and there is always that fear in the back of your mind about a bust and a long drive home
empty handed. This time of waiting is when one typically second and third guesses strategy.
Shortly after lunch at 2:40 PM CDT, the SPC issued a tornado watch for our area until 10:00 PM CDT.
The watch contained a high probability (70%) of two or more tornadoes in the outlined region. Things were
looking promising; we just had to make sure we were in the right location and on the right storm.
After we finished eating, the decision was made to drive further south where an apparent residual outflow boundary from
early morning convection had setup. The Missouri Valley, IA exit on interstate 29 also afforded us a river crossing, so we
decided to get off there. Analyzing the latest visible satellite imagery and SPC mesoanalysis, it had become clear that if
we were going to see supercells in the daylight, we would have to cross the river and bet on Nebraska. By 3:00 PM CDT, we
started seeing our first radar echoes just west and west northwest of Columbus, Nebraska.
The two separate cells just before the merger and then the resulting merger.At this point, we began to head west quickly on Nebraska state route 91. Ultimately, the other two cars from
UND chose another strategy and decided to stay in Iowa. Our chase was on and the familiar nervous adrenaline began pumping
through our veins. After a long time in the car, we finally had a storm to chase. We watched the storm evolve on radar
from over 50 miles away as we raced towards it. It seemed to blow up and fall down, over and over. The storm was having a
hard time breaking the cap, making us second-guess the aggressive decision to hastily speed towards it. We began to see the
storm's anvil as we approached and it did not appear to be very healthy. A new cell formed on the initial storm's outflow
to the south as the northern cell seemed to right turn ever so slightly. It was obvious we were going to have a cell
merger. Cell mergers can be a positive or a negative when chasing. Sometimes a storm cannot handle a merger and a swift
death ensues. Sometimes, however, a merger will enhance the relative vorticity in the immediate environment and cause the
resulting new storm to explode. On this day, the storm exploded. Observing from a dirt road just off of US highway 275
northeast of Stanton, Nebraska, we could see the two rain shafts from the separate cells just before the merger.
Our view of the storms just before the merger.
A progression of radar images right as the Wayne tornado began to form and intensify. Our position is marked
with the white bulls-eyeIt was around the time of the merger that others observed a weak rope tornado just west of Stanton,
briefly touching down. However, we were too far away to see it. We made the decision to go back east on US 275 until
reaching state route 15, where we would turn north and parallel the storm as it moved north-northeast. Highway 275 had
bridge work every 5 miles or so and we quickly fell victim to one of these locations just before we reached 15. At these
stops, there were traffic lights to manage one-way traffic. We came up behind a long line of cars and a red light, which
would have stalled us for a critical amount of time. The storm was now tornado warned, rapidly intensifying, and the
derived storm track showed it moving at 50 miles per hour. We had to do something fast or we would lose it. Just before
the stopped traffic, we turned north onto a dirt road barely on the map. It was poorly maintained and we realized quickly
that we would never be able to catch the storm on this road. About two miles later we hit a better-maintained dirt road and
turned east. In another mile, we finally hit our initial target road of state route 15 and turned north. We were back on
track. As we raced north, the sky quickly became dark as night and a very strong mesocyclone signature presented itself on
radar. It was becoming evident that this was turning into a monster. If we could make it before the storm crossed 15, we
had little doubt that we were going to see a large tornado.
Our initial view of the Wayne, Nebraska wedge tornado.The storm began to make a subtle right turn and the forward speed slowed, allowing us to catch up swiftly. Because of the
many hills in this area of Nebraska, it was difficult to get a view of the mesocyclone. As we finally reached an area that
flattened out, what we saw took our breath away. Basically, we were staring at a gigantic slightly rain wrapped wall cloud.
We couldn't tell if anything was on the ground from our distance, but there appeared to be a number of small vortices
dancing underneath the ground scraping cloud and confirmation came later that the tornado was a vast multi-vortex tornado in
its early stages. After disappearing behind some more hills for another mile or two, we reached another viewpoint. What we
saw took our breath way. The tornado had morphed into a stout wedge.
Our view of the tornado as it crossed the road in front of us. The white seen at the base of the tornado is not a
break in the clouds. It is groundwater being sucked into the tornado.Running on pure adrenaline now, we slowly pushed north, making sure not to get too close. We wanted to see this
thing cross the road, but we did not want to accidentally get into the outer circulation. It was at this time when the
tornado widened to a 1.38-mile wide monster EF-4. The tornado couldn't even fit into our camera viewfinders. As we were
only about a quarter of a mile away from the outer circulation, the rear flank downdraft (RFD) pelted us with 50-70 mph
winds. The roar was unlike anything we had ever heard before. It sounded as if Niagara Falls were right in front of us.
Violent motion was visible on the backside.
Before and after images of the destroyed house. The angle is not exact because the before picture is taken from
the best Google maps image available.At this distance, we let the tornado pass and paced ahead to assess any potential damage and eventually
catch back up. Here and there, we saw minor structural damage to farms and homes that received a glancing blow. As we
moved closer to Wayne, the scene became more troublesome. Whole cornfields were flattened and the strong smell of freshly
cut grass filled the air. Shortly after, we came across a terrifying scene. On our right a house was almost completely
destroyed. Calling the chase, we jumped out of the car and raced to see if there was anyone home. As we approached the
house, a family was struggling to pry open their cellar door from the inside as some debris had blocked their way. We
helped them up the steps and steadied them as they had probably just been through the most terrifying ordeal of their
lifetime. The husband, wife, and three daughters were badly shaken up, but completely unharmed. We waited for emergency
personnel to arrive on scene and they gave the family a ride into Wayne to meet up with other loved ones. The house was
about 2 miles south of Wayne
Images of the damaged industrial complex in Wayne, Nebraska.Getting back in the car, we saw that another storm was forming behind the initial storm and it
was developing rapidly. We moved into Wayne and tried to move east, but the main road was shut down because of damage.
Trying to navigate through back roads we came upon an industrial complex that was completely destroyed. The damage done
here was the source of the EF-4 tornado rating. We eventually learned that this complex just recently shifted to a four day
workweek, so when the tornado struck, no one was present.
Possible lifting funnel cloud.Blocked in by road after road, we finally decided to take the long way around town and were back on the
road trying to speed up to the new supercell that was now tornado warned with a confirmed tornado on the ground. The road
we were on dead ended at the river and the hook was quickly approaching the road. We had maybe one shot to see the tornado.
Unfortunately, our view from the backside of the hook was completely shrouded by rain and hail. Eventually, we were able to
look north after the storm passed the road and glimpse what appeared to be the lifted funnel cloud as the circulation was
We were losing daylight fast, but we finally crossed the
river again just south of Sioux City, Iowa and tried to go after one more storm. However,
we simply did not have enough light. This final storm produced the day’s only other EF-4
and put on quite a show lightning wise from a distance. Meandering through northwest Iowa
back roads, we eventually made our way back to interstate 29 and stopped for a steak dinner
in Vermillion, South Dakota where we uploaded our footage to the media. Some of the video
was featured on the Weather Channel and ABC’s Good Morning America. After dinner we made
the long journey home, still running on adrenaline. This was same storm system caused the
crippling blizzard in western South Dakota. While we were too far east to experience the
snow, we did run into some very strong winds thanks to the very tight pressure gradient and
hazardous fog/mist near the SD/ND border. By 4:30 AM, we were back in Grand Forks.
The chase was an ultimate success. The target was good, the decisions made during
the chase were excellent, and we saw a violent tornado that did not kill anyone.
It was definitely an experience that none of us will ever forget.
Map of the chase: