Storm Chase Account by Jonathan Finch
My wife Rosa and myself chased alone. Sean Lyon was in another car. We occasionally met up and chased together.
A very intense shortwave trough moved across the northern Plains on June 17. A deep surface low tracked from central ND into eastern ND during the afternoon. South and southeast of the low, a cold front swept rapidly across the state at about 40 mph during the afternoon. A warm front developed during the day as cool surface air generated by overnight convection retreated northward. This warm front extended from east of the low to the east into northern MN. Further west, an occluded front extended from the surface low northwestward into southern Saskatchewan. By early afternoon, surface based CAPE values were between 3400 and 4000 j/kg depending on what you use for the surface observation.
Rosa and I were fairly excited about this day. I thought that the best chance of seeing a tornado would be along the warm front underneath the upper jet or in the left front quadrant of the upper jet. But exactly what time would the supercells develop? Where along the warm front would the most intense and most isolated storms develop? We thought it might be an early show. We spent the night in a little place called "The Bunkhouse" in Washburn, ND located about 40 miles north-northwest of Bismarck. The place was a clinic that was converted into a lodge. Rosa and I slept in the X-RAY room and Sean stayed in the examination room. But why pay $90/night for a place to sleep when little mom and pop places like this one is $40? I am not known for being a tightwad, but I also dont like to throw away money. I was a little depressed from ignoring a tornadic storm near Faith, SD the day before. Since it was a long drive from Bowman, ND, where we ended our chase on June 16, to northeast ND, we opted to drive through 1 am on June 17 to get into striking distance of the target area.When I chase storms, I make every attempt to get to the best area for chasing and in plenty of time.
We left the motel at 11 am after a late start. Sean left about 30 minutes before us. I thought that the big show would be in northeast ND. I decided to go east on Highway 200 instead of Interstate 94 since the interstate was too far south. I knew we needed to hurry. We had to punch through a storm west of Carrington. But since it was well north of the front I knew that the chance of being hit by a tornado were minimal. I made it to near Cooperstown by 240 pm and took a picture of the initial towering cumulus. These were hard to see since I was north of the warm front with some low cloud cover. However, I was determined to stay north of the warm front and wait for storms to develop to my south. Then at 311 pm I photographed an incipient CB looking east from Cooperstown. Here is another picture taken at 313 pm. The low clouds had broken north of the front and the surface winds were still from the east-southeast. This storm quickly became tornadic. The first funnel we saw was at 324 pm and 325 pm. We relayed this to the National Weather Service in Dodge City (where I work) and they relayed it to NWS GFK. Then GFK called me to confirm. Perhaps I should have called this in as a funnel cloud since I coudn't verify that it was on the ground. But given this favorable environment for strong tornadoes, I felt a sense of urgency and was in a state of excitement tempered by nervousness. As soon as we saw this funnel we got stuck in road construction!! I was really mad. It took about 10 minutes to get north of the construction. Here is a picture of the storm at 331 pm as we were sitting in construction with the storm moving away from us. We saw a tornado at 337 pm well off to our northeast. We were just south of Finley looking north-northeast. Here is another picture of this tornado taken at 338 pm. I called NWS GFK and notified them of this tornado. After driving to just east of Sharon, I looked off to the east and saw a large CB with a possible tornado underneath at 349 pm!! The suspected tornado was 26 miles away and behind some trees!! I was still on the phone with GFK after I called them and said that the tornado north-northeast of Finley tornado was no longer visible. This tornado was very close to the GFK radar and was in the cone of silence. I was able to corroborate to GFK that the funnel cloud reports from the Mayville area were legit and that there was a tornado in progress. We got a clearer view of the tornado at 349 pm as we passed over a hill heading east on county road 23 about 4 miles east of Sharon. In this picture you can see the entire storm with tornado at the bottom on the back side of the storm!! Here is another picture of the tornado taken at 349 by my wife Rosa. We drove a few miles east near the hair-pin curve in the road and took another picture of the tornado at 352 pm with a zoomed in version. We could still see the entire CB!! This is probably about 18-20 miles away. Here is another picture of the tornado and CB at 355 pm. These pictures were taken at 357 pm as the tornado widened. This picture was taken at 359 pm. The tornado may have been at its largest at 401 pm over open country. By 408 pm the tornado contracted in width but was still very intense and was about to inflict F4 damage on a home near the intersection of highways 23 and 15. Here is a picture of the tornado at 414 pm. At 415 pm the tornado was still clearly visible. The tornado is seen roping out at 417 pm. The tornado is still visible at 418 pm as it continues to rope out. The next tornado occurs around 434 pm about 3 miles east of Emerado. This tornado is not obvious in my picture. I thought it was a tornado at the time and this was confirmed by damage east of Emerado. This tornado continues through at least 438 pm. The new wall cloud looks ominous in this picture at 443 pm and in this picture at 445 pm. A funnel cloud develops by 447 pm and then a probable tornado by 452 pm. Here is the tornado at 454 pm, at 454 pm, at 455 pm , at 456 pm , at 456 pm. Here is another tornado at 503 pm. Here are twin tornadoes at 503 pm. Here is the tornado at 504 pm. Here is a different funnel (tornado) at 506 pm.
Luckily noone was killed by this violent EF4 tornado that traversed a path from just north of Mayville, ND to 7 miles south-southeast of Emerado over a 31 minute period. I do not know if the tornado touched down as early as 347 pm, but when I first saw the base of the storm at 349 pm, a tornado was already in progress. By this time the tornado was probably 3-4 miles north of Mayville. The forward progress of this tornadic storm was 33-38 mph.