Ekalaka smacka backa

June 7, 2005 by
Filed under: Summary 

SHORT VERSION: High based funnel in Black Hills. Slide camera died. Watched supercell evolve from quasi-linear crap and produce tornado 45 miles away in SE MT. Escaped ugly nasty Bowman bow.


Elke and I headed NNW from CDR across western SD. About 10 S of RAP we noticed a high based funnel from a cumulus cloud to the W, over the Black Hills. The funnel was as long as the Cu was deep. I managed to get two zoomed slides of it before the funnel dissipated, and before my camera’s light meter started acting flaky. Then the light meter blinked out altogether, and all power was gone…couldn’t even click the shutter. So I used a backup battery — still no power. OK, maybe that backup was no good anymore; it has been several years.

We stopped in RAP, bought two new batteries…and neither of them worked either. My camera was — and is — absolutely dead! It probably resulted from a fall down the stairs at the motel in CDR jarring something loose, but now I have an utterly useless slide camera. It’s the only of our cameras with 200+ mm zoom capability; so I told Elke, “Watch, we’ll see a tornado today, but it will be so far away that we’ll need my camera to document it.”

Mark those words.

Three small Cb went up right in the forecast area jus SW of the MT/ND/SD line junction, as if on cue. We watched them from the first towers W of Buffalo, as they formed in SE MT S of Broadus. As observed from the W side of Rhame ND, they moved NE toward Ekalaka and merged, looking like linear string cheese for awhile. The roads between us and them either sucked or were nonexistent; and we weren’t confident going all the way to MT Highway 7 because they either were *on* that road or could right move across it, cutting us off. So we continued to observe from far away, accompanied by the tandem of David Fogel and Keith B. Brown, who had just joined us in Bowman.

Fortunately the air was clean and we had a great view across a broad basin between Bowman and Ekalaka. I had to use binoculars and/or the tightest possible zoom on my camcorder to make out details, though!
About 5 pm MDT, a base 40-45 miles to our WSW lowered in between two widely spaced precip areas, and began to form a wall cloud. Precip started pulling W and SW around this wall cloud, which lowered rapidly and began to rotate vigorously. At times, it appeared the ragged scud tendrils beneath were scraping the ground, but even through binoculars my view was too distant to ascertain if any weak multivortex features were
Meanwhile I tried to call in the rotating wall cloud to BIS for relay to GTF (didn’t have GTF’s number)…but couldn’t get through. Suddenly a narrow, arched, southward-tapering condensation funnel appeared to the left of the lowest scud, beneth the SE rim of the wall cloud. The condensation reached at least 5/6 to the ground for about a minute, and briefly lowered to ground level. [This was confirmed later with somebody else’s video from Highway 7 that appeared on TWC.]
It was my first Montana tornado — as seen from over 40 miles away in ND. I tried to call it in again to BIS (call truncated) and GGW (busy signal). I finally gave up and called it in after dissipation to Dan McCarthy at SPC for relay to GTF. I mentioned that the mesocirculation was getting deeply buried in rain and that the tornado had dissipated. Tornado time was 2325-2327Z. Warning went out about 10 minutes later for Carter and Fallon Counties for a tornado “seen by trained spotters at 533 PM MDT.”

Had my still camera not died, I would have already had it tripoded with the 200 mm zoom and doubler and taken a clean, 400-mm focal length slide of that hose; but instead, I’ll have to be content with video (yet to be reviewed).

Apparently it spawned two more hoses that we didn’t see, based on a later spotter report of a “rain wrapped tornado” from GTF (Mr. Hill’s, I presume). Then Bobby and Scott, positioned near the Buffalo SD VOR, saw a later tornado similar to ours, also distant W.

We watched the convection take on a strung-out linear look again, then begin to bow NE toward our W. Another apparent bow echo appeared on the southern horizon. We watched the “kink” or “notch” in between the bows from the W side of Bowman, because rapid cloud base rotation and a small wall cloud developed there. This is the place one would expect such a process, but once again it was very distant and we could confirm only rapid rotation of scud between cloud base and ground…no tornado.

Though this inflection-point meso was T-warned, it got slammed by rain quickly. The southern bow formed a curving wall of greenish-blackness roaring straight at the appropriately named hamlet of Bowman. Above the rapidly advancing death-murk lay shark’s teeth formations, arranged in a great sweeping arc from SE-SW beneath multiple striations, the apex of which began chewing its way at us as if on full scale attack. The storms were threatening to smack us halfway to Hudson Bay, and it was time to go! We blasted ESE on Highway 12 to avoid getting absolutely reamed by that nasty, ugly bow, and barely made it. Keith’s Threat-Net display showed a pronounced, figure-9 bow echo when viewed later.

The MCS farther S caught us on the way to lodging in Selby SD, with some pea size hail there. The most beautiful moment of the day was after the gust fromt surged about 5 miles ahead of the precip area, watching continuous lightning set the inner chamber of the arcus aglow, from between that chamber and the core. The effect was much like running a disco strobe inside a giant band shell. Just amazing.

Now the challenge, besides forecsting mid-late week severe, is finding a camera shop somewhere that can diagnose and fix this in one morning. I don’t hold out much hope.

My anticipation of photogenic storm structure failed to materialize because of too much convection in close proximity, combined with a blend of synoptically, orographically and convectively generated high clouds impinging from the SW. But I was satisfied nonetheless: A supercell developed in the forecast area and put down a tube that I somehow actually witnessed. It’s hard to complain about that set of events.


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