Albert Lea Tornadoes – June 17, 2010
When I left work to chase on June 17, I did not believe we were going to see much. I figured we would see a good wall cloud for 15 minutes, then everything would squall out. The conditions looked solid, but I knew there was a massive amount of energy in the atmosphere, which usually means things will turn into madness quickly. However, with only one chase in me for the year, I decided to go out anyway. Little did I know what I was in for: A more intense chase day than my Manchester intercept of 2003.
I met my chase partners for the day, Marcus Hicks and John Stone, in Sioux Falls. We grabbed burgers at McDonald’s (our unfortunate, yet frequent chasing food) and headed out of town. We picked Marshall, MN as our initial target, but found ourselves in Lake Benton because of a better road network. The day started out slow:
For some reason I was asleep for this shot…
After a short wait, we began to see storms firing to our northeast. We made the decision to play this activity, and started driving toward Marshall. These storms were moving quickly – at least 40mph. This made catching up to anything extremely frustrating. For the longest time we watched the back of some huge cells:
We chased the back of these cells for over an hour. They gained strength, and I knew one of them was going to go tornado warned quickly. However we just were not making progress on these cells, and we had to somehow get 20 minutes north, while still staying infront of the cells. Based on what I was seeing, I came to the rotton conclusion that it was going to be extremely difficult to catch up.
I made the decision to head south toward some cells that were really starting to gain prominence. As I made the decision to do this, the cell to our northeast went tornado warned. Great, an obvious miss.
Right after I pulled the trigger on this change, I made a major navigation error that sent us east instead of south. Embarrassing. It took me a couple minutes to get over being flustered, but after getting my head around our plan, I picked a cell 30 miles to our south near Mankato, MN. It was tornado warned, and had an excellent wall cloud:
We grabbed some good shots of this storm, then our road network failed us. We were on the south side of the river, and this storm began a track north. We were 30 minutes from an option north. So much for this cell.
At this point I was getting pretty agitated at our position. I knew I had jumped cells more than once, and I was in danger of steering the team into a tornado day with no tornadoes – not something I wanted accomplish.
My last ditch idea was to go south to I-90 to catch a tornado warned storm near Albert Lea. With another 30 minute drive, I had to make the right decision. The storm looked outstanding on radar, so I made a “hail mary” decision to go after the storm. As we drove under the updraft, I saw something that I knew was a wall cloud, but it looked like it could be more:
As we rounded the bend, what was below this beast came into full view:
It was a large multi-vortex tornado that was quickly forming into a wedge:
This mean tornado quickly grew in strength and size. This is a shot of the twister as it entered a powerful EF-4 stage:
This wedge lasted about 20 minutes, then was absorbed into the main precip core. Within 5 minutes, in its place, a new tornado formed:
Here is my tornado shot for the day. Due to my inexperience with a new SLR camera, it didn’t turn out too well:
After this small tornado dissipated, a new wedge formed to our east. This was an even more mean looking beast than the last one. Although it was bigger, it was only rated an EF-3 – probably due to the fact that the circulation was less concentrated:
After this tornado, we noted more rotation further to our east, and we moved east of I-35 to see more. We drove out of the rain core, and observed strong rotation directly above us. We all watched intently, and while staring, John yelled “there’s a tornado over there!”. We looked to our north, and sure enough, another cone tornado had formed 100 yards to our north. Contrast was bad, so I never got a good still shot of this tornado. See the video below.
We drove up to the back of this slow-moving twister and observed power flashes, substantial damage, and debris on the road. Some careful driving and watching out for hanging power lines allowed us to continue our pursuit of this tornado. I was very concerned about the power lines, but none of them were on the road. It was a close call. Here is a video of what we witnessed:
After observing a few more bad contrast, short lived tornadoes, the cell fell apart. What a cell it was! On our way home we observed some serious damage. A grain silo was completely ripped from its foundation and collapsed:
In this image, a home is moved 20 feet off of its foundation:
Tornadoes are brutal to trees. These trees are stripped completely:
After taking a few days to ponder the event, I’ve concluded this was the best chase day of my life for a few reasons. First we saw multiple wedges and EF3-EF4 tornadoes – an incredible intercept for any chaser. Second, I have never been this close to a powerful tornado. I am not an advocate of “driving up” to tornadoes, however I believe we were at a safe distance. Getting this close allowed me to observe the insane winds that these tornadoes had. It’s just an incredible experience to watch God’s power in such an intense setting.
Overall I am very fortunate to have seen this event at close range, escaped with no injuries, and walked away from this with incredible video/pictures to remember it by.
Why we Chase
Tornadoes are nature’s most violent phenomenon with winds at over 250mph, causing massive property damage, injury and ocassionally death. Sadly on this day 3 people died, one of which died because of the tornados we tracked.
There isn’t a known method to prevent tornadoes, so the best we can do is warn people. When we see dangerous weather, we report what we see to the NWS through Spotter Network. We submitted a report as the tornado churned north of Albert Lea. Although we’ll never know for sure, our hope is that our report may have saved lives.
There are few chasers this far north, and many times on this storm we were the only chasers in our area. We hope to provide valuable real-time information to help warn people of the danger they face imminently.
Of course, we also chase because of the thrill of watching a 250mph tornado touch down 200 yards away. It’s an experience I will never forget.
Credit where it’s due
Some of the photos and videos were taken by John Stone and Marcus Hicks. We used all available cameras/camcorders to capture the event, and some of the shots were no doubt taken by others. Thanks for allowing me to use them on my site!