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Today was the chase day that almost wasn’t.

We spent most of our day traveling north from Limon towards better instability. We stopped for a while and had lunch in Fort Collins, then stopped again the rest of the afternoon in Pine Bluff, NE.

Big cells popped up in Nebraska way off to the northeast, and we targeted them as we stopped in Pine Bluff for what was supposed to be a quick gas and bathroom stop. The gas station attendent was high as a kite and took forever to process the gas payment. By the time the numbers had worked through his pony-tailed skull, those cells had rapidly weakened on radar. We decided to stay put for a few hours.

Skies were clearing and it looked like nothing would develop. Finally, the atmosphere destabilized enough directly to our north and some blips appeared on radar. We drive a few miles east to Kimball to sit just a little longer.

Roger came on over the CB radio. “We only have one chance today. I want to wait for just one more radar scan, folks. If this storm intensifies, we’re going for it.”

We waited. The new scan came in, and it looked favorable. “Let’s go!” The chase was on. Vans 1 and 3 began to pull out of the parking lot. Bill turned the key of Van 2, and nothing happened.

He turned it again. Still nothing.

He reached for the CB mic. “Roger, van 2 won’t start.”

Roger came back, “Are you kidding?”

And that was the death of van 2 for the day. The van had electrical power, and they tried jump-starting it, but the engine was not even turning over. Meanwhile, we were watching the storm in the distance go absolutely ballistic. The backlit updraft tower was rock-solid and completely vertical, and soon formed an anvil. I was literally pulling my hair out watching this happen as van 2 sat stranded.

Luckily, Dr. Dave Gold had shown up in his SUV, and the eight occupants of van 2 piled into the other vans and Dave’s car. We left the van in a dirt parking lot and were off chasing the day’s only cell.

As we approached, it was apparent that this was a nice supercell with textbook structure. However, it was sucking in a lot of scud and had the apperance that it was ingesting cold air. It had a great lowering that soon got its act together and resembled a healthy wall cloud that was rotating broadly.

This was an exceptionally beautful cell. The large updraft base was matched by the heavy precipitation pouring down the forward flank downdraft. Mid-level winds sculpted the updraft into two stacked plates. The ragged wall cloud was constantly shifting its shape and ingesting cloud after scud cloud. It was really mesmorizing to watch the whole storm mechanism work as a whole, as if it were a piece of precise yet powerful machinery.

As the forward flank downdraft ramped up and began dumping rain and hail, you could watch as the cold air was striking the ground and being sucked back up into the updraft. The upward motion was very rapid, and if it had been timed with an RFD downburst, a tornado would likely have resulted. However, the RFD never came, and within five minutes the cold air had completely choked off the updraft and the wall cloud completely disappeared.

Roger took van 1 into the core to try to pick up some big hailstones for Boeing, but there was nothing larger than golfball-sized and he abandoned this mission. We met up back at the broken van and transferred our luggage, had dinner in Sidney, NE, and made out for (surprise!) the Days Inn of Ogallala.

We’re crammed in the van on the way there now. The tornado watch never really panned out, and we got the only big storm to go up in the entire watch area. While today didn’t turn out to be a phenominal severe weather day, it couldn’t have turned out any better! We got some great pictures of a very photogenic storm, and were very lucky we didn’t miss the storm completely with the mechanical difficulties.

Tomorrow looks to be a great day, so I hope they can get van 2 fixed in time.

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