Jul 25, 2019
Pine City, MN: Moderate Risk Turned Derecho

Although I’ve been out looking at clouds during tornado watches and warnings before, I may put this down as my official first chase. My knowledge and experience with severe storms is minimal, but I thought this storm was interesting enough to be shared. The following events happened during a tornado-warned storm, but my footage only documents what happened as the storm approached and then what it was like to be inside my car as softball-sized hail totaled my vehicle.

The day started with parts of Minnesota already at Moderate Risk. To me, this meant greater chances of a tornado. As a novice, I didn’t really think about how severe the rest of the weather could be. I asked a person on twitter where might be a good place to camp to take photos. He suggested northerly, so I packed up what I thought I’d need and headed out.

Before I reached my targeted destination of Hinckley, Minnesota; I received a tornado warning via my cellphone. I went to the nearest gas station, which was just south of Pine City, to assess my situation. According to the radar app, the warning was actually to the west. All the clouds appeared to be to the north and heading easterly. Since I had just come through some serious construction to the south of me, I decided to stay put. Given the circumstances, I thought I was in the safest area to take photos and document my new adventure.


As the storm progressed, I was soon to discover that I was pretty much in the worst place I could possibly be in Minnesota at that time. Although Wisconsin wound up receiving the worst of this storm, at least 2 different news vans showed up at my location to talk to various people that got extensive hail damage.

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What radar looked after the storm hit my area.

No tornado was spotted during the warning, but several were later reported as the storm pushed into Wisconsin. According to several news reports and NOAA, “A record strong jet stream by mid-July standards in the Pacific Northwest punched into the northern Plains and southern Canada just north of an east-to-west oriented frontal boundary that stretched across the upper Midwest. These ingredients combined to provide both the extreme instability (hot, humid air near the ground topped by relatively cool air several thousand feet aloft), moisture and source of lift (the frontal system) for this squall line of severe thunderstorms. An atmospheric sounding taken at the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen, Minnesota, Friday evening found a measure of instability known to meteorologists as surface-based CAPE was the highest on record, there. This prompted a rare "potentially dangerous situation" severe thunderstorm watch from NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, which mentioned potential peak wind gusts up to 105 mph possible. According to Storm Prediction Center warning coordination meteorologist Patrick Marsh, the last time the SPC issued a watch with that high a potential thunderstorm wind gust was in mid-June 2009.” - quoted from TWC.

I have a small YouTube channel that initially focused on my journey to lose weight, but I've wanted to start incorporating how my body image has affected some of the goals I’ve wanted to achieve. Storm chasing has definitely been one of them. As I mentioned before, I documented most of my experience of that day. I broke it into 3 videos to help those that may only want to see one aspect or another. Part 2, is definitely the one I’d say best suits this forum. It’s a tad dramatic, but I did try and break down how the storm developed using time stamps and personal footage.

I show more of my car’s damage in my third video, but I will share some of the photos here.
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My back window, shortly after the storm.

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The large dent is an indication at the size of the hail as it went through my back window.

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There is nothing left of my driver's side window, but you can see 2 of the hail still inside my car.

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The front windshield. Thankfully, I was able to drive home.

Looking back on that day, I go back and forth between feeling like a cautionary tale; to feeling like it's probably a right of passage for anyone that goes out looking for severe weather. If nothing else, I'm hoping it delivers a strong message of the difference between romanticizing the idea of storm chasing; to the reality of the dangers and risks that are involved, even when you're trying to stay "safe".
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First of all, welcome to the hobby. I always recommend going out with an experienced chaser before you try to chase on your own, and this is a good reason why. That's an expensive lesson!

For radar, I would recommend you switch to Radarscope, which will give you a better visual of the hail. Then run away from anything on radar that's white.

I would also recommend you take a local NWS skywarn spotter training class. And if you're really excited about storm chasing, take the classes on SpotterNetwork, and pass the test before you head out again.

Best if luck fixing your car, or replacing it. I hope your next chase goes a little better.
Jul 25, 2019
Thank you for the welcome and for the advice! I purchased Radarscope about 3 weeks ago. Nothing Pro yet, but I have been using it and trying to get the hang of it. In fact, I just got back from 2 weeks in Puerto Rico, where I used the radar to see when storms were coming. Talk about timing. White on radar? I've seen pictures of others using the reflectivity modes, so I've mostly been sticking to that. Would the white be in precipitation?

I don't know how many times I've looked into those classes and then chickened out. I'm working myself up to take them next time. The more storms that happen in the area, the more I'm realizing just how much I've loved them and been putting off actively chasing them. My husband is super supportive at letting me go out, but he really hates it when I ask him to join me. It's kept me from going out locally for many years now, so last month I finally decided to not wait anymore and just go for it. Personally I'd love to find a chase partner! I've been trying to follow chasers in Minnesota on Twitter, but I'm also hoping that maybe some of the local members on ST and I can create a dialogue. Maybe they'll like my vlogging and editing style enough to give me a chance to collaborate.

I'm still waiting on my driver's side window to be ordered and put on my car. I guess I also learned which window company not to use next time. Since the car is already totaled, I'm just going to make her my official chasing car. I walked away with a check over $2800. I like to joke and say I actually made money on my first chase, but I also know that money will go back into the car with preparation and future damage. In fact, my husband suggested that I may want to order an extra driver's side window for next time. That way I can get my windows repaired faster. See? Supportive.