Most Unexpected Successful Chases

Jan 16, 2009
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Kansas City
I have had a few 0% tornado days as I am sure most of us have had. So let’s hear some of your favorite unexpected or surprise successful chases.

This one was one of my favorites because everyone was heading to Wyoming or Colorado on May 5, 2015 where the SPC had a 5% (Ended up a great day there). I had consistently seen a chase chance around Topeka but it was conditional. We decided to save the long drive to the main target and try one hour from home. We were rewarded with the most unexpected and low top LP cell I had ever seen. People questioned the report due to the height of the storm and its appearance on radar. Video and photos proved that some days mother nature just has to drop some. This cell ended up dropping two tornadoes and its dying structure was amazing.

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Dec 8, 2003
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Southeast CO
www.youtube.com
I know these aren't what you mean, but I have 3 that come to mind quickly. The pics/vids aren't much, so I'll forego them.

In 1999 I exited a restaurant in Denver and intended to head south on I-25. Instead, I saw a storm with a HUGE lowering at Colorado Blvd and I-70, so I gave chase. It was my first-ever chase, and I saw several tornadoes and gustnadoes.

In 2007 I made my first trip to Ireland. While lunching at the cafe at Mizenhead I gazed out the window and right there was a waterspout, which I filmed for about 7 minutes! Mom said "They follow me".

One day I stepped out my door at home in southeast Colorado, and HOLY CRAP!!! there was a small tornado about a mile away. Actually, this has happened twice!
 
Sep 7, 2013
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Strasburg, CO
Also, I needed to get out. Like NEEDED to get out, so I went after a shitty little storm south of the house to shake out the cobwebs and make sure all the gear was working. The cell made a hard right turn, went tor warned and dropped a non-condensed confirmed tornado on 21MAY2018. You can see the dust whirl bottom left past the telephone pole. I only saw a couple other chasers and that was well after the tornado.

21MAY18_001.jpg

21MAY2018_TOR REPORT SPC.JPG
 
Mar 8, 2016
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Bloomington, IL
For me it would have to be May 20th, 2017. After being annoyed I couldn't drive down to Oklahoma/Texas for the 16th-18th sequence due to work, I felt obligated to play a semi-local setup with a Marginal 2% Tor risk that didn't seem like it would be anything beyond multi-cellular storms growing upscale into an MCS quickly starting along the Illinois/Indiana border near Hoopston, IL. Despite the fact that it was still a 3 hour drive from the NW side of Chicago to my target area, it was a Saturday and I'd also missed quite a few chases in Illinois in the weeks prior (also because of work) so I bit the bullet and targeted any storms that formed near a warm front that had set up across the area. To my astonishment as small convective showers started to initiate, one cell immediately began to strengthen drastically and completely dominate the area around it as it began to rotate and become a supercell. In a relatively short time it began to take on the telltale structure of a mature supercell:


With a storm motion of maybe 15-20kts to the NE at most, a perfect 1-mile road grid, and a mostly classic supercell, this was one of the most leisurely chases I've ever had with hardly any need for map usage. After several cycles it managed to produce my first and only Indiana tornado near Remington/Wolcott, and what a beauty she was!




The audio the video conveys pretty well how excited I was to get something so photogenic on an otherwise marginal looking day!
 
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Todd Lemery

Supporter
Jun 2, 2014
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Mine was around 2008 in Southern Kansas. My twin and I had been chasing and none of the storms in the area seemed to be doing much of anything so we decided to head for Wichita to spend the night. We were coming up to a road that we had to turn on and noticed a couple of cars parked alongside the road looking at something. We turned the corner shortly after and were really surprised to see a tornado roping out about 100 yards off the road in a field. We never had a clue there was a tornado on the ground because we had called it a day and weren’t paying attention. If you were in one of the cars park alongside the road watching the tornado, I was the moron that drove past you that day.
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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St. Louis
stormhighway.com
I've never seen a tornado on a day that I wasn't trying to chase for one. The closest I've come is a couple of funnels about 2 miles from home near Mascoutah, IL on August 12, 2013. They were produced by a thunder-less rain shower. One persisted for 14 minutes. This *may* have had a ground circulation, but with the tall corn I couldn't get a visual. This cell had another oddity, a series of "micro" rain shafts about 20 feet wide that didn't move at all.

Chase log with video:
http://stormhighway.com/blog2013/aug1213a.php

aug1213a.jpg
 
Aug 27, 2009
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I have never seen a tornado on a non-chase day but the closest to that I guess was Russel, KS, 2012. We were in Iowa on our 2nd last day and our last day, when we needed to get back to OK, was not looking good (I remember a 0% tornado risk on SPC for that day, the day before). In the morning it started looking better and as we drove down towards south KS (where we had to go anyway!) it even started to look good. It eventually ended up in two tornadoes: one just before sunset, and one at night.

I have also seen two waterspout funnels on non-chase days. One was during a vacation in Thailand and one on the island of Åland (Finland). I was pretty much as excited about any US tornado both of the occasions, due to the unexpectedness of it all. Typically, my friends who have been with me, have had a hard time understanding that excitement: "Is that little cone thing what you are excited about!?".
 
Jun 1, 2008
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Chattanooga, TN
www.linkedin.com
March 2003 Colorado ski trip had concluded. Our drive back to Wichita included a slight risk in Kansas. Oh but Colorado gonna Colorado, lol. We'd just left Denver. I was shocked a rope dropped probably 15-20 miles away from us (great visibility as usual in CO). It was already to our northeast as we traveled east on I-70. Adams/Arapahoe County Special. Camera was packed away with beautiful ski pictures, but we could not stop in this case to get it. Continued leisurely at the speed limit and it dissipated a couple minutes later.
 
Aug 9, 2012
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Galesburg, IL
www.facebook.com
I saw one on May 1, 2006 driving home from Peoria back to Galesburg. It was off in the distance, pretty sure it was a landspout.

May 9, 2016: I saw 2 tornadoes in Western IL along the warm front, I was doing my final for one of my classes and I got out of class, drove south and there were tornadoes ongoing underneath rain showers.

June 21, 2018: I headed out of my house south of Galesburg to watch some storms as I do during the summer. I got one cell in Southern Knox County and tracked it east where it picked up a tornado warning as I saw a funnel descend about halfway down. Other spotters confirmed it as a tornado, which I did see dust getting lofted when I first noticed the lowering.

July 16, 2015: Probably one of my top chases ever. There was a 2% out for tornadoes, but the atmosphere said different. Showing significant tornado parameters spiking over 5 and high CAPE/shear combo along the warm front. Kholby Martin and I tracked one supercell from Burlington Iowa to Galesburg, IL seeing numerous tornadoes (losing count) including a couple significant tornadoes. It was somewhat soured by coming up on Cameron, IL right after it took a hit by a strong tornado.

All 4 of these events were 2% days.

0% days I only have 2 stories:

May 23, 2017: I saw a landspout tornado near Maquon, IL right around sunset. There were 3 tornadoes in the state this day. I saw a funnel about 3/4 to the ground after this that may have been a tornado. NWS confirmed the landspout as an EF-0 tornado with 85 mph winds.

August 16, 2018: I almost saw one last year on August 16th but I left the storm and went to lunch lol. About an hour later it produced a tornado in Fulton County, IL. I'm pretty sure it was a landspout, but still burns.


Those are my war stories. There are probably many more but those few come to mind at the moment.
 
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I have two, one on a day when I was chasing (but did not really expect to see a tornado but did) and the other when I stumbled onto a rather photogenic funnel cloud on the first day of a trip to California.

On September 29, 2014, I had spent most of the day making arrangements for an upcoming trip. There was a slight risk that day on the eastern plains of NM and the southeastern plains of CO, but I was too busy to go anywhere near that far. There was also some chance for strong to marginally severe storms closer to my home in Pagosa Springs, CO, Once I finished the travel plans I took a look at radar. There was a very strong return on both the Albuquerque and Grand Junction radars near Farmington, NM in an area where the radars usually don't pick up much because of distance and mountains blocking the beam. I knew this was an unusually strong storm for this area, and figured I could intercept it near the intersection of routes 84 and 64 west of Chama. I decided to head out, and soon was getting peeks through the mountains at a rotating cloud base to my southwest. As I approached the aforementioned intersection, driving through up to quarter-sized hail, I noticed some wild cloud motion, and then this tornado appeared just a half mile in front of me:



This was my first New Mexico tornado, my first tornado west of the Continental Divide, and my first September tornado. It was also quite amazing that the highest temperature I saw on my car thermomenter up to the time of the tornado was 48 degrees F, and the elevation where the tornado occurred is around 8,000 feet. This was only the second tornado ever in Rio Arriba County, NM, and ironically, the first one happened on the same date many years earlier.

The other one was northeast of Cortez, CO, on the first day of a drive to California on May 19, 2015. I had stopped a couple times to photograph strong convective snow squalls to my north over the highest mountains, but that was all I really expected to see that day weatherwise. However, as we drove through Mancos, CO, between Durango and Cortez, I saw what looked kind of like a funnel cloud under the base of a lower-elevation storm. Then I realized it WAS a funnel cloud, so I stopped to get a couple pictures. Here is one:



As far as I know this never touched down, but reports from local spotters did lead to a tornado warning.
 
October 12, 2012 in the Texas Panhandle for me. As I remember it, there was a conditional risk for tornadoes just south of a lifting warm front ahead of a shockingly well defined dryline for the time of year. A good number of people ended up further west chasing the 5% tornado risk that shifted across what seemed like the entire Llano Estacado throughout the day. The tornadic supercell of the day ended up initiating somewhat later than anticipated while we were sitting well north of it in Dimmitt (we'd been sitting in Plainview most of the afternoon and bailed north after some crappy attempts at CI). We caught up with the storm at Hale Center, and after exiting I-27 managed to cut through the hook and get a view of the first weak tornado. The storm produced two more weak tornadoes but I was shocked we managed anything given how dim the prospects for initiation looked earlier in he day.
 
Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
Campo. My chase partner and I were having lunch in Lamar, and he was contemplating using the day to catch up on work remotely and not even chase. I didn’t want to write off the day, but wasn’t expecting much either. After lunch, I was literally on the toilet in my hotel room when he called to tell me there was a tornado warning. We hit the road without even checking out of the hotel. The drive to the updraft was the longest 90 minutes of my chasing career, but we made it hours before the tornado first touched down.
 
Jan 7, 2006
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Norman, OK
www.skyinmotion.com
21 May 2011 (Sulphur/Ada, OK): big CAPE day with very questionable low-level shear and fairly veered low-level flow. As close by as it was, I wasn't even planning on chasing until a friend talked me into it. That morning, I would've put the realistic ceiling for the day at a nice sculpted sup with a brief tornado; certainly not two cyclic producers with exceptional structure.

11 October 2011 (Alanreed, TX): a SEE TEXT day virtually no one paid attention to that served up some of the best structure I've ever seen, and some of the best non-tornado photos I've ever shot. This is one of *VERY* few cases where I can remember seeing something truly awesome with no chasers visible anywhere nearby, and only a small handful chasing the event at all.

7 November 2011 (Tipton/Manitou/Ft. Cobb, OK): OK, the forecast soundings looked pretty good, despite the skinny CAPE profiles. But once you've been chasing a few years, climo is hard to ignore, and you just don't see truly high-quality Plains setups in November. I still think this is the best individual sup I've chased in OK after all this time -- in a month that climatologically has to account for < 1% of all OK cyclic tornadic sups.

28 May 2013 (Bennington, KS): needs no explanation here, I'm sure.

9 May 2016 (Katie/Sulphur, OK): same, but for whatever reason, I was initially even less "engaged" in this chase than even the Bennington day. I meandered south from OUN and got right under the sup over Elmore City with the thought of playing in hail and maybe casually following the storm east. In hindsight, this day had more potential than I gave it credit for, but still. The shift in mindset over a 10-minute period from sitting outside Elmore City casually watching CGs -- kinda wondering if I had wasted my time driving an hour for the storm -- to racing south towards a Pampa-esque stovepipe was far more extreme and surreal than on any other big day I've had.
 
Jun 16, 2015
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Oklahoma City, OK
quincyvagell.com
I've been known to chase a lot of junk throughout the years and sometimes it's the "MRGL" days that wind up the most unexpected, especially in the northern Plains. Not all of these chases below are from that area, but many of them are. None of these events were prolific tornado producers and most were lower-end days, but that makes them even more unexpected.

June 28th, 2014: This was not supposed to be a chase day, nor was it a memorable day for most chasers (not a big event and no thread on here), but it was probably the night that I first fell in love with Nebraska. I got to a hotel in Lincoln, NE late in the afternoon on the 28th, prepping for the next day's chase. After checking in, I noticed a few blips on radar showing up to the northwest. I decided to give them a shot, since it was a relatively short drive. An expansive shelf cloud formed just as the sun was beginning to set, putting on a show in the western sky. I watched the storms slowly inch southeastward over the course of the next several hours. Later in the evening, I sat in a field with fireflies and constant lightning in the distance. The storms were not particularly severe, but it was the first time I had really watched storms in the Plains for any length of time without seeing many chasers around at all. I was still relatively new to chasing at this point, so it was a very new experience. Even though I had been in northeastern Nebraska less than two weeks earlier for a historic set of tornado chases, there was something about June 28th that was, in a different way, nearly as magical. https://www.quincyvagell.com/2014/06/28/nebraskan-night/

June 2nd, 2015: Again, not a big chase day, but it ended up being a headache for me that ended on a more pleasant note. It was the first time I've chased in North Dakota and it was very unremarkable for most of the day. Storms struggled to intensify and just before dusk, a deer jumped out in the middle of nowhere and totaled the front end of my car. I'm not sure if I was even chasing anymore at this point, but as I remained parked off the road in frustration, I noticed that a collapsing thunderstorm to the east looked much more impressive than one would have probably expected, based on radar. I didn't expect to have my car wrecked that day, but I also didn't expect to see decent storm structure after most of the day was a relative snooze-fest in the chase department. https://www.quincyvagell.com/2015/06/03/sunset-structure/

September 20th, 2015: This was perhaps one of the craziest plans I've ever had. I drove from Atlanta, GA to the Texas panhandle for what was a small target for a single, conditional chase day. Wind shear was low-end and instability was modest, but the ingredients were just enough for a long-lived, slow-moving supercell. I don't believe I saw anyone out chasing at all as I watched the storm grow and evolve. That was the first time I used the term "panhandle magic," a term I've used quite a bit since then. Compared to the previous two chases, the storm event map for this on SPC looks very bare, with only three total severe reports. By the looks of the storm, one might have expected more. https://www.quincyvagell.com/2015/11/14/panhandle-magic/

June 13th, 2016: I started the day in South Dakota, planned to chase in Colorado, but had no idea I'd see a tornado in Texas... After visiting Mount Rushmore the day prior, I left southwestern South Dakota for eastern Colorado. It was a long drive to get into position and after finally getting there, I was not thrilled by the messy nature of the storms. While striking out in Colorado once again (I had no tornadoes yet in the state in my young career and very few quality chases), I made a last ditch effort to the Texas panhandle, where a mesoscale setup was becoming increasingly favorable for severe storms. Just north of Amarillo, I watched an expansive, lowering wall cloud develop. A few funnels formed from time to time, but there was no tornado, yet. I went in for a closer look and for a few minutes, I watched a tornado form, just as the whole system went from photogenic to a sloppy mess of wind/rain/hail. The area was not outlined for a tornado threat via SPC at 13z, but went on to get a 5% delineation by 01z. https://stormtrack.org/community/threads/2016-06-13-reports-co-ks-mt-nm-ok-tx-wy.29253/

August 3rd, 2016: This was one of those setups in which there were a lot of severe storms, but contrast was fairly low, storm modes were messy and most who were chasing were probably left driving in circles and/or hopelessly parked on the side of the road in frustration. It was almost sunset and radar looked like trash. Storms were not showing much rotation at all, but out of nowhere, one of these blips on radar quickly produced a tornado near Warwick, ND. The chase went from 0-60 in a flash and I found myself chasing a towering updraft, producing a tornado, back-lit by sunset. I didn't get particularly close, but in this case, that allowed me to get a better view of the storm's structure. https://www.quincyvagell.com/2016/08/04/north-dakota-tornado-aug-3-2016/

August 9th, 2016: One of my favorite non-tornado chases to date in terms of storm structure. The chase day was off to a slow start before an intense supercell formed in southeastern Montana. I began chasing the storm as it moved into northwestern South Dakota. Multiple supercells produced a show, along with a prolific mammatus display. https://stormtrack.org/community/threads/2016-08-09-reports-mt-nd-sd.29317/

April 12th, 2018: This was my first wildfire chase and I had no idea what to expect. It ended up being the beginning of a historic wildfire event across western Oklahoma. Watching miles and miles of wildfires up-close was something I had never experienced before and I'm not in any rush to do it again. Even though it wasn't really a storm chase, it was certainly unexpected. https://www.quincyvagell.com/2018/04/16/wildfires/

May 11th, 2018: I meandered out to the Texas panhandle once again for a very conditional chase. Low-level moisture was lacking, a sizable capping inversion was in place and convergence was weak, so expectations were tempered. A wildfire ignited near Goodnight, TX and I attempted to go in for a closer look. Traffic detours shot that plan down fairly quickly and as it worked out, a dry thunderstorm ignited about 15 miles to the northeast. This fire-induced thunderstorm went on to evolve into a supercell. The thunderstorm created new fires with later lightning strikes and I think it's safe to say this was an unexpected outcome for the chase day. https://stormtrack.org/community/threads/2018-05-11-reports-tx-wy.30182/

In general, I've had some marginal or otherwise low-expectation chase days wind up producing either prolifically photogenic storms and/or otherwise fascinating storms to chase. This is probably why I continue to chase just about anything that I'm able to, as you never know what you might find out there...
 
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Some nice answers!

There are a few days I've set out to chase and thought 'a tornado is possible today' but then the tornado which developed (which, in some ways, is a bit of surprise anyway on this kind of day) was vastly over expectation!

I think Campo, CO, on May 31st 2010 has to be my stand-out winner for this. This was a pretty marginal day all told for severe weather overall - we arrived at the storm in the early afternoon at Springfield, CO, and basically ambled south with it over the next 5-6 hours or so! Of course, it looked pretty cool and we saw a few funnels (the earlier tornado eluded us by hiding behind the precip) - but nothing could have prepared our collective eye to what unfolded just to our south! The perfect tornado!

Bennington, KS, on May 28th 2013 was another - of course, given the set-up and quite juicy airmass I was somewhat confident that a tornado should be 'do-able' - but not the size and longevity!
 
May 1, 2017
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Chicago, IL
7/11/17. when i'm pretty sure, based on my 30 sec long exposure i caught tornado/waterspout over lake Michigan (left from lightning). We had like six rounds of storms that night and morning and i was about to hop into my truck around 9 am. Some of these storms were supercells according to GRlevel2analyst readings and they were in transition into linear storm mode. I reported this, gave the permission to NWS Chicago to use the photo but after that silence. And there was something over the lake around 2 am!

Waterspout over lake Michigan 7/11/17. by Nikola Pavlovic, on Flickr

4/29/17. Funnel / or maybe tornado over Farina IL, some wind damage was reported around. This area is like border of NWS St Louis and NWS Lincoln, and great example of bureaucratic labyrinth. I reported this to NWS St Louis and got only silence.
All these events stayed in shadow of unfortunate and sad thing which happened around Canton TX.

This boy was classic example, and my first MCS funnel / tornado. And my confirmation of a lesson what to follow in MCS.

Farina IL 4/29/17. by Nikola Pavlovic, on Flickr
 
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Todd Lemery

Supporter
Jun 2, 2014
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Menominee, MI
I have to include another tornado that surprised my brother and I around 2010 in Northern Texas. We were watching the business end of a slow moving supercell that couldn’t quite get it done. Another much smaller cell popped up just to the SE of the storm we were watching. When the NWS gave it a severe warning we looked over our left shoulders to take a look at it and saw a really nice tornado already planted on the ground. It lasted about 1 1/2 minutes and shortly after it dissipated the NWS posted a tornado warning on it. That was a good lesson on paying attention.
 

Jack R. Jester

Enthusiast
Feb 19, 2018
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3
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Dunlap Illinois
I saw one on May 1, 2006 driving home from Peoria back to Galesburg. It was off in the distance, pretty sure it was a landspout.

May 9, 2016: I saw 2 tornadoes in Western IL along the warm front, I was doing my final for one of my classes and I got out of class, drove south and there were tornadoes ongoing underneath rain showers.

June 21, 2018: I headed out of my house south of Galesburg to watch some storms as I do during the summer. I got one cell in Southern Knox County and tracked it east where it picked up a tornado warning as I saw a funnel descend about halfway down. Other spotters confirmed it as a tornado, which I did see dust getting lofted when I first noticed the lowering.

July 16, 2015: Probably one of my top chases ever. There was a 2% out for tornadoes, but the atmosphere said different. Showing significant tornado parameters spiking over 5 and high CAPE/shear combo along the warm front. Kholby Martin and I tracked one supercell from Burlington Iowa to Galesburg, IL seeing numerous tornadoes (losing count) including a couple significant tornadoes. It was somewhat soured by coming up on Cameron, IL right after it took a hit by a strong tornado.

All 4 of these events were 2% days.

0% days I only have 2 stories:

May 23, 2017: I saw a landspout tornado near Maquon, IL right around sunset. There were 3 tornadoes in the state this day. I saw a funnel about 3/4 to the ground after this that may have been a tornado. NWS confirmed the landspout as an EF-0 tornado with 85 mph winds.

August 16, 2018: I almost saw one last year on August 16th but I left the storm and went to lunch lol. About an hour later it produced a tornado in Fulton County, IL. I'm pretty sure it was a landspout, but still burns.


Those are my war stories. There are probably many more but those few come to mind at the moment.
I live just in Dunlap and saw that same cells on June 22nd and August 16th 2018

June 22nd
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June 21st
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August 16th
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