Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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Tornado outbreak in Nebraska: Severe storms affect southern areas of state: May 22, 2004

EXPEDITION VIDEO 1: Tornado sirens sound in Franklin, NE: Storm Highway Video Clip
EXPEDITION VIDEO 2: Storm observers discuss possible options while lightning bears down: Storm Highway Video Clip

By DAN ROBINSON
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ALMA, NE - An outbreak of large tornadoes occured across Nebraska on the 22nd. The following is a journal of the day's expedition. Times (CDT) are approximate. Photos can be enlarged by clicking on each thumbnail image.

We (Pete McConnell, Fabian Guerra, Damon Shaw and I) left Norfolk early after a great cover the day before. We headed south to Hastings, where we did a library data stop. Storms had already fired to the west, and the plan was to let tail-end Charlie come northeast to us where we felt the atmosphere was better primed. We parked south of Minden to wait, but when our cell went bonkers on radar and tornado warnings started appearing, we decided not to wait and to head down to Alma to meet it. After hearing reports from this day, we must have missed the Alma area tornado by minutes. We stopped once north of Alma for some shots of the awesome mammatus stretching horizon to horizon:

35mm slide:

Once we reached Alma, new convection was firing ahead and southeast of the dominant supercell, producing large raindrops and frequent CG lightning. Anxious that the new convection would either evolve into a new storm or otherwise contaminate the inflow of the cell west of Alma, we drifted east about 3 miles and stopped to watch a huge rain-free base now visible to our west:

Digital photo:

A wall cloud formed under the base and looked very promising before rapidly evaporating. We headed back west to Alma to get a better view, but the stubborn precip to the south was apparently cooling the inflow and our storm began gusting out as we watched from the south side of Harlan County Lake. We knew we needed to get east where the new meso would likely form, but never could catch up - the storm was blazing northeast. We did see several funnels try and descend at Franklin as the town's tornado sirens wailed ( RealVideo, 1.3MB ), but we lost the race with this storm as it moved on to the NE. We did have a stunning view of the flanking line and mammatus to our east as we tried to keep up:

Digital photos:

Approaching Highway 81 north of Hebron, it was obvious that everything was going outflow-dominant except for new cells we could see in Kansas to our south. It was now dusk, and our chances of a good intercept were all but gone. Stopped at a gas station in Hebron and met up with Dave Crowley, Justin Teague and crew who had just caught the big wedge near Daykin. With possibly tornadic storms bearing down on us, we headed south between two cores, barely missing large hail. Stopped a couple of times in northern Kansas for lightning shots, then the plan was to stay overnight in Manhattan.

Due to graduations, hotels were booked in Manhattan and Topeka and we were forced to keep driving. Pete, Damon and Fabian were running low on fuel and had to turn back to Topeka, where they eventually were able to find a hotel. The rest of us continued south, not finding a hotel room until a long, exhausting drive to Yates Center, Kansas at 3AM where we ended the day. Tomorrow would be a down day to relax in Tulsa and have a steak cookout - or so we thought.

NEXT EVENT: Nice surprise Oklahoma supercell and lightning on May 23

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