“The radar’s looking good – I think we might actually get a chance to catch something.”
After six hours of driving through the barren wilderness that makes up western Nebraska and another four hours of waiting in a busy rest stop outside of Sidney, we finally had a direction to move. With the radar pulled up on an iPad, we drove east towards Ogallala, and then south toward Imperial, Nebraska.
By the time we stopped just south of the little town, the storm had increased in size and intensity. As we pulled off the highway and onto the gravel side-roads, we watched the radar for any change.
Tornadoes rarely happen near the end of the severe weather season, but that doesn’t mean that epic thunderstorms won’t rear their ugly heads. Severe thunderstorms are characterized by their ability to produce tornadoes with little to no warning, and often have wind gusts of over 58 mph and hail that is an inch thick or larger. These conditions are enough for most people to stay indoors and wait it out. For storm chasers, this is exactly the kind of storm they want to catch.
Storm chasing isn’t an exact science. While weather models and the various warnings put out by the National Weather Service are generally precise, it can be hard to determine on the ground the best position with which to start a chase.
KETV meteorologist and reporter Alex Alecci served as a Skywarn spotter for a number of years before joining the team at Newswatch 7.
“The warnings are highly accurate,” Alecci said. “The weather has to be happening [for a warning to be called].”
Skywarn spotters are weather enthusiasts living around the United States that help the National Weather Service provide more accurate warnings to people living in different regions. They are required to take a course with the NWS before they can be certified to spot for changing weather patterns. If they see hail, flooding or a tornado on the ground, Alecci said they call a number and report their findings.
For storm chasers, this information is crucial to understanding where a storm may develop, and position themselves accordingly. The accuracy of the predictions, as well as the reports from spotters near their position can mean the difference between life and death if a storm develops into a tornado. It’s not something that a chaser wants to get wrong, as it could mean being caught in the path of the most violent type of storm that the Midwest faces.
While the storm we chased didn’t develop a tornado, it was an incredible experience watching it take shape. We stayed south of the storm, following it as it moved northeast and picked up speed into South Dakota. After almost two hours of chasing, we lost it. We just couldn’t keep up, but the adrenaline rush of following such a massive cell and the beauty of nature’s fury is a feeling that will stick with me for a long time.
Plus, there’s always next summer.