Missed tornadoes and storms

Todd Lemery

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Jun 2, 2014
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Anybody who’s chased long enough has missed a tornado that still haunts them. Whether by making the wrong call, vehicle breakdown or something else, you missed one that you feel you should of had. The one you remember probably isn’t an EF0 that flipped over some lawn chairs while it was on the ground for those thirty seconds either.
Mine was the Chapman tornado of May 25th, 2016. Fresh off the Dodge City tornadoes the day before. One of my chase partner brothers announced that we had to hit an airport that day so he could fly home. This was a surprise to us. If someone has to go home then they have to go home so we headed to KC to drop him off and start our chase day there. Around Salina on I-70 we realized that we had to drop off our rental off at the Dallas airport and only the Dallas airport the following day when we were planning on heading back. ( it was a Sixt rental and Dallas was their only location for 700 miles) so we cancelled going to KC to drop our brother off and headed South to fly out that day rather then face an 8 hour drive to get to the airport the following day.
We were sitting in the airport when we started getting reports of the Chapman EF4 wedge that stayed on the ground for an hour while it crawled at 19 mph. To make matters worse we found out the reason our brother had to get home. It seems he felt his grass was in need of watering and he didn’t feel his wife could handle it. I don’t want to overstate it, but we weren’t happy with him.
Had the day continued as a normal chase day like it was in the morning, maybe, just maybe we would have been on it. There are plenty of misses due to poor decisions, but this one haunts me because we were in the neighborhood and left which gave us a zero percent chance of seeing it.
 
Mar 8, 2016
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Bloomington, IL
I'm right there with you on Chapman. My group played south that day by ICT hoping something would go up on that OFB/Dryline intersection only for LP supercell to go up and then die shortly after. Didn't think we'd be up there in time so we dropped south back into OK to pursue another OFB supercell(that did actually produce a tornado after dark, but we missed that one too) only to find out we probably could have caught the last 10-15 minutes of Chapman had we bailed north instead. The tension in the car was at levels I hope to never experience on a chase ever again...
 
Sep 7, 2013
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Strasburg, CO
I missed the Cope, CO landspouts because my wife got bored and I had to take her home. FWIW, I was in Last Chance when that decision was made...and I had to go west to drop her off at the house.

I also missed Simla because my wife made plans to go to Michigan that week.

My wife is currently in discussions with her family to visit them in Michigan the first week of June this year, which I take off yearly to chase/take a work break.

There's a theme here.
 
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To make matters worse we found out the reason our brother had to get home. It seems he felt his grass was in need of watering and he didn’t feel his wife could handle it. I don’t want to overstate it, but we weren’t happy with him.
What a nightmare. That's pretty much the main reason I'm not a fan of chasing with anyone other than my wife. People have...interesting priorities.

I've missed numerous big days due to graduations, weddings, work, and my family being drawn to have vacations in late May or early June (I've been fighting that last one a lot lately). The days I miss "the big one" because I'm not even out chasing don't bother me that much, but the ones where I'm actually out and miss something hurt the worse. I have three that come to mind right away (listed in order of pain caused):

1) IL on 12/01/2018: I've already covered this one in two different recent posts already, so I won't spend too much time on it. In summary, I preferred a more southern target closer to STL, but threw that away once storms began to intensify in west-central IL. After attempting to go after those and failing, I turned around to see that a storm had formed over my initial target that was now well out of reach and produced a couple strong, scenic tornadoes. This one probably hurts the worse because it was such an easy chase given I live in the area and the fact that it's still fresh.

2) OK on 05/18/2017: There was a High Risk mainly over western KS. I was chasing with my wife and another met who we'd chased with plenty before. Even with the greatest probability for severe being in KS, I preferred western OK. Our chase partner preferred KS in the High Risk area. He was driving that day and was pretty adamant about KS, so I caved and that's where we went. It was painful to watch as storms formed and rather quickly became severe and tornadic in western OK and northern TX. The cap was too weak that day, so there ended up being too many updrafts that mucked everything up about an hour or so after initiation and drastically lowered the tornado potential. We scrambled after a couple storms that were able to remain discrete as they drifted northward into KS, but they stayed weak and very lack-luster. It was a painful drive back to where we were staying in OKC as we passed through a couple of the tornado damage paths, then missed a stunning sunset with mammatus over OKC, followed by missing a great upward lightning event with all the radio towers east of the city. Seeing all of this would have been possible had we chased western OK. The tornadoes that day were nothing particularly spectacular, but when combined with that they occurred where I had wanted to go, missing the beautiful sunset, and missing the lightning display, this day left a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

3) IL on 11/17/2013: Another High Risk day, and another backyard chase. The greatest threat for tornadoes was focused on IL and IN. I had to work that day at 2pm, but could push it to 3pm if needed. Because of this, I couldn't stray far from home, so my target area was limited to southern IL. My wife and I drove east to get well ahead of a line of developing storms in eastern Missouri. These became tornadic shortly after crossing the Mississippi River, and we found a north-south highway that would allow for us to get in front of them. The storms were moving at break-neck speeds that day, so we were only able to safely get in position for the northern-most storm in a north-south line of three storms. If we were to go after the stronger storm just to our south, it was going to be close as to if we would make it in front of it before it crossed the highway or would have to core punch a storm moving 65+ mph that had strong rotation. We played it safe and watched the northernmost storm pass by, as there was no chasing it at these storm speeds, and of course, it produced an EF2 just as it got out of view. The storm to our south also produced an EF4 right around the time we would have been able to catch it had we gone after it. This event didn't hurt as bad as it could have due to how it was nearly impossible to chase given the storm speeds.
 
Jun 28, 2007
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Machesney Park, IL
Given that I was on the Joplin storm and bailed on it shortly before it spawned the EF-5 it would seem logical that this event would top my list…but it’s not even on my list. While there are many attributes of that tornado that would make it a career event for me the human impact is just something I don’t want to see. Place that monster 50 miles west over open land and I’d absolutely lament having missed it but I don’t lament having missed Joplin. No, the one that still haunts me is Bowdle, one of the most significant events that occurred on a chase day and I missed that incredible, magnificent and amazing EF-4 madness by minutes. To drive over 650 miles, accurately forecast the target (well…kind of) and miss the event due to a navigation error just kills me. Of all the tornadoes I’ve seen in my life that day had the distinction of experiencing a feeling of dejection while the film was still rolling on a tornado. There I am, filming a really nice, high contrast multi-vortex do its thing and then a spectacular occlusion occurs with near ground scraping clouds wrapping around and shrouding the circulation. I’m on that natural high that I often experience while witnessing an amazing display of mother nature…and in a matter of seconds it all comes crashing down. A guy comes over and asks to bum a smoke (ex-smoker for 8 years now!) and while I hand him a cig those four words I’ll never forget passed his lips… “how about that wedge!” I had seen all those tornado icons pop up on SN while I desperately tried to reach the storm and they only served to heighten my eagerness to finally catch the storm. But once I did and once I was watching a tornado they were basically forgotten and there I was in my ignorant bliss…until I heard those words. “Wedge, what wedge?” I demanded. “You didn’t see it? Damn, check it out” and he fetches his camcorder, hits a few buttons, opens the display, hits play and there I see it…Bowdle. No freaking way, THAT was what was happening? NO FREAKING WAY! Yes freaking way and his footage only served as a preview to the even more incredible footage I’d see in the days to come. That’s when the disappointment really hit and I really kicked myself hard for my failure. Silly, really, it’s just a tornado, something I missed, so what?? If I hadn’t chased or if I had been on a different target the impact would likely be far less (if any at all) but to have gone so far and gotten so close and then miss it due to my own error…ouch!
 
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Dec 8, 2003
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Southeast CO
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The most gut-wrenching miss I had early on in my chasing days was missing the White Deer F-4 of May 29, 2001. I had sat there on the north side of Amarillo watching the developing storm from initiation for quite awhile, but then decided to go chase some other stuff on the east side of Amarillo.

Another one was the first wedge of the day on May 15, 2003, because my ex gf had decided she was thirsty and we had to first go to McD's in Dalhart.

There have been plenty of others, but after all the chasing I've done I'm over them. I am extremely grateful for the memories I have.
 
The most egregious miss this decade for me is a tie between Cisco, TX on 5/9/2015 and Cedar Vale, KS on 9/1/2014.

Cisco was a mistake caused by the mind-boggling decision one person in the car made to choose the middle ground around Graham as we were leaving Wichita Falls. It was easily apparent that further south towards the 20 corridor had the best ingredients for the day and we could have made it but the stubbornness won out and we paused north of Graham as storms started going up and missed the rather nasty EF3 stovepipe near Cisco. What kills me is that the middle storm near Graham never looked anywhere close to producing and was moving across some of the worst possible terrain of north-central Texas.

Cedar Vale was more the result of bad roads than anything else. The Arkansas River cutting through at the border and north towards Geuda Springs made it difficult to keep up with the supercell as it was cycling. We let it slip a bit too far before we realized our mistake and it produced as the sun was going down while we were on the wrong side of the river.
 

Dan Robinson

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Jan 14, 2011
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I have so many of these - the ones that make you close to being physically ill and have trouble sleeping for a few days. It's interesting though as I get older, the nightmare days fade from memory faster, especially in light of the good days I've had and the realization of how blessed I am to have had so many successes. So this list of a few of my worst ones is in no way complaining.

- November 17, 2013: I missed two tornadoes close to home in my original target - one 5 miles away and an EF-4 25 miles away. I got suckered north by early storms and left my original target, and saw nothing. Had I stuck with my original thinking, I would have seen the 2 close to home as well as probably the 4 or 5 more the storms produced along I-64 to the east. Missing backyard events hurts the most for me.

- May 4-10, 2003: Mostly rookie mistakes resulted in a goose-egg during a record tornado week in the Plains and Midwest.

- April 27, 2016: Missed another series of backyard tornadoes due to a botched execution of the chase.

- June 16-18, 2014: I had the days off to go chasing, but decided against it.

And, in the non-tornado category:

- April 10, 2013, July 25, 2016, July 14, 2018 - Missed Gateway Arch lightning strikes. A good, clean shot of this has been at the top of my list of chasing goals for nearly a decade, and I've missed it *three* times. Once due to messing around with live streaming, the others due to bizarre storm behavior. Each one was devastating - more so than any of the missed tornadoes. I've been nearly-obsessively setting up downtown since 2010 for every single storm - it's simply mind-boggling to think how it would have happened once, let alone 3 times. I'm still trying, though.
 
Nov 13, 2017
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Illinois
I managed to miss the end of May, 2016 out of pure frustration that I had been stuck in finals during Leoti and Spearman in what I had expected to be the first time I was available in late May to get out and chase. I figured that the highlights of the season had happened and that I shouldn't bother. So I stayed cooped up in a nice, cozy dorm room north of Chicago while the cyclic storm of the decade (sorry 2019 - feel free to prove me wrong) roared on and then again as I had my doubts over initiation even occurring the following day.

Runner up goes to Pilger and Coleridge. Flat tires suck.
 
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Oct 10, 2004
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Blew golden opportunities to get both Pilger and Rochelle in '14-'15.

On June 16, 2014, my leaving-the-house target was Sioux City, Iowa by 3 PM, which would have put me in excellent position to get on that storm for at least a good part of the 4-EF4 show. All I had to do was stay on US 20 straight across Iowa. However, during a late morning data stop at Iowa Falls I saw a bunch of crapvection parked over the MO Valley and having seen too many setups bolloxed by that, decided I needed to get south of it into the sunshine. I took I-35 down to 80 to Omaha, which put me far enough behind the storm of the day to get to it just in time for the last gasp weak dust bowl tornado before the cell withered and died as it hit the air stabilized by the junkvection I had been worried about.

To add insult to injury, a tornado hit just down the road from my apartment in Madison about midnight that night. Then the next day, I cap busted on the Iowa warm front and skulked my way home (wondering if there might be a tree through my apartment, based on the radar images and reports I'd seen the night before) while a nearly stationary wedge occurred back in eastern Nebraska.

The afternoon of April 9, 2015, I was IN Ogle County Illinois, but lost patience with the still-cool surface conditions I was feeling and occasional rain showers, so called a bust and started for home, getting there just in time to watch the debris ball on radar.

Both of these were before I had a smartphone/access to mobile data so I had to find free public wi-fi every time I wanted to check radar/models/NWS-SPC. The ensuing slow years have been doubly frustrating since I haven't been able to get on a setup of similar caliber since (June 22nd in both '15 and '16 were highly hyped HP grungebomb/after dark days, and any photogenic tornado days in this region most recently 12/1/18 have been low-key risk days that didn't look real good until the day of, at which point it was too late for me to get out of work/cancel other plans, and my scheduled "chasecations" have coincided with extreme dead periods and I don't have the financial resources to roam from one end of the Plains to the other and back after marginal setups).
 
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Jeff Duda

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Oct 7, 2008
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I would have liked to have seen the Rago, KS tornado of 19 May 2012. Fearing my (at the time) wife was starting to resent my deciding to chase so heavily in the spring over spending time with her, I decided to forego chasing this day to go to a wedding for one of her co-workers.
 
Jun 1, 2008
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Chattanooga, TN
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Missing Rolls OK is my biggest debacle. We'd settled on the target correctly and were lined up well. Nowcaster handed it to us on a silver platter, if we'd just take the said highways. Last radar image I saw it was starting to line out. Rather than trust our nowcaster, I talked the carload into heading south/away from it. No data is no excuse for two reasons. We had the forecast right in the morning. Nowcaster with data on the phone told us radar was improving again, cells becoming discrete and gave us the right cell. Rolls still makes me sick!

Missing Chapman would have been my worst disaster. However we nailed Doge the day before and we were still too high to care. In fact arrogance might have played a role in missing Chapman. We both thought it'd be an easy OFB chase east of ICT; then, back to town to meet other friends at Twin Peaks. Obviously Chapman was a day for the synoptic triple point. Oh well we still went to Twin Peaks, lol!
 

JeremyS

EF2
Mar 12, 2014
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Omaha, NE
I have a few that come to my mind:
1) Chapman, KS. My chase partner and I saw Dodge City the day before having driven down from Omaha. We both had to work the next day, but could have also just as easily gotten out of work as well. On the long drive home, we decided to sit out the next day figuring we would be too tired after arriving back in Omaha at 4am. Later, that day we still almost pulled the trigger, especially considering we would have only had to drive 2.5-3 hours, but again decided to sit it out. I remember watching the live footage of the tornado on TWC in the breakroom at work.

2) Rozel, KS. I did chase this day, but we stayed further north with all the "junk" that was along I-70. I do remember seeing the first blips on radar of the cell that would eventually produce Rozel and thinking we should move down south, but of course we didn't.

3) Quinter, KS May 2008. This occurred in my 2nd year of chasing, and was my first overnight solo chase. I chased the day before and stayed in Hays, KS. The next day I was in the right area, left Quinter and headed east for some reason, ended up on mud roads and got stuck for almost an hour until I was able to free myself, and by then I missed everything back to my west. This was back before I had any equipment. I remember listening to just the radio to try and get warnings, etc. and using a paper map to pick roads.

4) Bowdle, SD Never chased this day, but can still remember sitting in my basement in Omaha early that morning and thinking I really should make the drive up there and if nothing else see my parents that lived about 40 miles away. I watched it all on radar kicking myself.

5) Coleridge, NE 2014 This was the day after Pilger which I saw, and I suppose I was still coming off of the high of seeing such an amazing event that I decided to stay at home/work for this day. Sucks to see a stationary tornado and a storm produce for over 2 hours only 2 hours from your house.
 
Aug 27, 2009
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I haven't had my biggest miss yet - but I have had a few that have been quite painful.

1. Chapman, KS, 2016 - Same story as everyone else. We chose the wrong target, saw the radar image, thought it was too late (it wasn't, it turned out), saw the photos. Still, Dodge City is the remaining memory of that season.

2. Laramie, WY, 2018 (x2). We were nowhere near in going for that target, especially the 2nd beautiful one, but the season was super slow at that time and it felt like this event cemented the feeling that we would bust the rest of the week (which is pretty much what happened).

3. End of May 2013. I ended up choosing early May as my chasecation in 2013. 10 days where the highlight was a decent sculpted LP supercell, but also included 6 complete down days. I am not 100% sure if I would have liked to chase Moore/El Reno but those were such historic events and in such high contrast to my slow season.

Number 4 could be Simla, CO, as we chose KS that day (even though we were chasing WY the day before). Still, at that point I wasn't sure I actually wanted to be close to a tornado as my chase partners had different opinions on chase safety as I :)
 
Aug 22, 2015
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Hastings, Nebraska
My big haunting one happened this year with the Tescott Wedge on May 1 2018. I started from my dorm in Kearney Nebraska and headed south towards the Kansas border. I got gas right at the border and checked the models and satellite and noticed the first storms going up 30 miles to my south. So I set off and soon noticed big towers going up right over me. The ones closest to me rapidly intensified into discrete supercells. I decided to stay on these as they rode the Kansas Nebraska border. Long Story short I was watching a tiny little ef0 dance through a field as I saw streams of other chasers on the Tescott wedge. I was mad because if I had kept my original southern target, I would have seen it also. Still stings.
 
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Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
I have so many of these, which is either a normal result of chasing 20+ years or is because I just plain suck. I think I am the George Costanza of chasing. If you remember the episode where he recounted all his failings and hard luck in order to win an apartment from an Andrea Doria survivor, this will sound just like that:


Jamestown KS wedge 5/29 2004 - all happy and giddy with a satellite tornado, having fallen behind the main meso that went on to produce a wedge. Maybe I was a bit rusty after being unable to take a 2003 chase vacation.

Hill City KS wedge 6/9 2005 - almost right under a rapidly rotating wall cloud that failed to produce; later saw one tornado from a distance and still later a tornado at Zurich; but much like @Michael Towers post above, I was demoralized after running into Bill Reid and him asking me, “did you see the wedge!?!” Umm...., no...

Quinter KS 2008 - saw the first one emerge from the rain near I-70 but wasn’t in great position on that storm to begin with. Stayed with it too far north and screwed up trying to intercept 2nd Quinter.

Kearney NEB 2008 - was on this storm but somehow failed to stay with the meso, missed the tornado, and ended up trying to outrun and ever-expanding precipitation shield. Maybe in 2008 we were a bit rusty, after being unable to take a chase vacation at all in 2007. (Haven’t missed a year since, although some trips have been short).

Canadian TX 2015 - on my way to a southwest KS target, paused in the Canadian area, liking the sky, liking the data, but stubbornly sticking to my original target, perhaps enticed by SPC products highlighting that area before highlighting the TX panhandle

Dora NM 2015 - was on this storm only by luck, not by targeting; we were simply on our way back to DEN for flights home the next day. But when it looked like it was lining out, we allowed it to just pass over us, only to learn that we somehow missed an almost Campo-like tornado, probably blocked from our view by the rain. This bothers me quite a bit because I’m not even sure how we let this happen and it was salt in the wounds from Canadian when it could have easily been our redemption.

Chapman 2016 - like many, were in the ICT area but we saw this storm go up on radar while en route and could have gone after it. But it seemed ridiculous to go after the first thing that had popped up, then 80+ miles away. If ICT didn’t work out, we stupidly had in our minds the contingency prospect of our first decent sit-down dinner in Wichita after five nights on the road chasing. Probably a bit complacent and less aggressive after Dodge City, figuring nothing could possibly be anywhere near as good as that anyway.

2018 - missed three consecutive tornado days - WY due to bad targeting, CO landspouts due to poor field adjustments along the OFB, and Dodge City by sticking with the supercell in northern OK, influenced by the ICT AFD that seemed to think the greater tornado risk was along the KS/OK border.

The above was in chronological order but I left the worst for last.

The entire last two weeks of May 2013 was one screw-up after another. Missed Rozel by starting in the right area but chasing the first storm up to the north as it turned to crap. Missed Shawnee by sticking to my original target just a bit too far north nearer the triple point in Enid. Missed Moore by heading down toward Duncan and somehow missing the tornado down there too. Completely blew the Bennington forecast and was down in the OK panhandle. Missed a tornado somewhere in northern OK on May 30 because we got stuck in the mud. I know this thread is about missed tornados, but to make my 2013 failure complete I also missed the Nebraska LP because it was 6pm, the skies were still blue, and I had a three hour drive back to Hays where I had already booked a room because it was Memorial Day weekend. And then to cap it all off, I went home on May 31 as scheduled, instead of changing my travel plans to be able to chase El Reno.

Like @Alex Elmore, I don’t get as upset about missing things when I just wasn’t on my chase vacation, but I can’t help wondering if I could have chased Hallam Nebraska in 2004 if I hadn’t pushed my trip back a day in order to attend a church committee meeting, or Bowdle SD if I had flown out on a Friday night instead of feeling obligated to stay at work to help a client with a project that turned out to be aborted anyway... When I finally flew out to DEN on that Saturday, I saw the massive anvil out the window.






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Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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St. Louis
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I have another soul-crushing miss to add to this thread, again in the non-tornado category. After buying a high speed video camera in March, the "big shot" I was after was upward lightning hitting the Chicago skyscrapers. And so, I have prioritized it, making a total of 7 trips to the city since mid-June for mostly garbage storms up to this point.

It is a 5-hour drive each way from my apartment to my spot just outside of the Loop. I spend anywhere from 3 to 8 hours there waiting for storms, and I don't go home until the last electrically-active cloud is at least 15 miles away from downtown. Many of these trips have involved leaving after midnight in order to arrive downtown in time and to avoid the all-encompassing morning traffic jams on the city's highways. I can't afford to go up there every time there is the slimmest chance of storms - I'd have made 20 trips since June if that was the case. I have to make my own forecast and decide which ones are worth the drive.

On the days leading up to this September 3rd, models had been showing an MCS getting close enough to the city to put me on watch for the 8th trip that morning. Like before, I set my alarm for midnight and went to bed at 4pm to prepare for the long day ahead.

When I awoke and started looking at data, all of the short term models - the HRRR, the RAP and the 3K NAM - all had storms either dissipating or weakening long before reaching northern Illinois, let alone the city. On mesoanalysis, the MUCAPE gradient ended at the Iowa border to the west, with RAP and HRRR showing little eastward progression. In my experience, once storms begin outrunning the MLCAPE gradient, they are on their last legs and typically don't last much longer. The MCS maintenance parameter is another one that I have found useful, and it too cut off in the same general areas. Radar trends also were not very promising, with the trajectory looking more easterly rather than southeasterly, just like the models were hinting at.

So, seeing a scenario I'd seen many times before in which storms died well before reaching the city, I decided to stand down.

At 5AM, the radar trends started to become worrying. The southern end of the MCS was still very much solid, and mesoanalysis showed the LLJ was pushing the MUCAPE gradient rapidly eastward. There was no way I'd make it in time, especially with morning rush starting in 2 hours which would make the drive in more like 6 and a half hours instead of 5. I could only watch lightning and radar data as this unfolded between 7 and 8am: