Spirit Lake To Bryant Area Tornados
24 June 2003

This day would not quit. What we saw along highway 14 would have been a great chase day if there were nothing else. We were not only able to see the full life cycle of tornadoes, but also watch the towering storm top above the rotating wall cloud. This was another adventure that seemed impossible to top. Looking east it became obvious the show was not over. Another large wall cloud was spinning up and would not wait for our arrival before dropping the first tornado. By now we were locked in with many other chasers traveling down the highway, although some had stayed in the Manchester area to gather equipment or still shocked by what they saw. We headed east and watched a straight and narrow tornado hit the ground a few mile north of the highway. We were traveling through an area of hills and trees making the storm shots a bit more challenging then we got an opening to take the image on the right. For some reason it didn't turn out very good though, but still good enough to show the scene. Finally we reached the road north toward Spirit Lake which was east of the tornado cyclone. As we traveled toward the storm we saw the churning wall cloud off to our west-northwest. Were were again in good position to see new tornadoes form. Quickly another tornado formed and sent up a debris cloud, but this one didn't last very long. Then another tornado formed, this one larger and it would put on a more typical performance like we had become accustomed to seeing from this outrageous string of supercells. Still, it was apparent this supercell was weaker than the previous storms. This huge and almost overwhelming event was finally beginning to wind down.


All images and text
© copyright Gene Moore


The Spirit Lake area tornadoes were different than many of the others we had seen that day. First, they were not as large and they were closer to the rain. This indicated to me the jet stream shear was decreasing with time. The tornado shown here is right up against the rain wall and obviously weaker. I did get a shot of it earlier when it was a thick funnel, but I was having some camera problems and it didn't turn out very good. This tornado was fun to watch and the dissipation stage strung out for a mile.


funnel pointing at debris cloud on the right

The thin rope persists with a debris cloud on the ground. Meanwhile another updraft developed to our north and was getting cranked up to produce tornadoes.

This wall cloud was just to our NNW and gave us strong backlighting, in fact a bit too strong as some shots turned into a black and white silhouette. This first tornado was brief and between rain shafts.

two small tornadoes

Back to the rope out stage still playing out to our west. The local birds must not feel threatened as they circle in the updraft near the funnel (those tiny black dots). This was the final stage before the funnel lost contact with the ground.

A second tornado formed to our north from the new wall cloud. Debris can be seen in the image rising up over the trees. I'm not sure if the small dots in this image are (dumb) birds (they would have been close to a dangerous circulation), or pieces of debris from a structure. The remains of the other tornado and debris cloud can be faintly seen on the far left side of the wall cloud.

The series above shows a very classic tornado formation and elephant trunk funnel. This one was fun to watch and we had a front row seat when the needle end of the vortex shot to the ground. In the final shot the tornado developed a helix configuration in the trunk of the funnel, then it lifted off the ground.

These shots would be the last tornado of the day we would photograph, but not the last one we saw. As I stated earlier the tornadoes were getting closer to the rain, the one shown above was just to the south of the vertical rain wall. After this tornado dissipated we drove east with twilight turning to darkening skies. While traveling through Erwin I saw another tornado, a large funnel buried in the rain. This tornado was south of Bryant, although numerous trees kept us from getting a good view. I rattled off a few still images while we were traveling to get into position, but it was too dark for the camera to capture the event. This tornado was later listed in the Storm Prediction Center's log which confirmed what were were seeing. Finally we lost the low contrast tornado as it got buried in the rain.

Meanwhile new storms with tornado warnings were moving toward our area from the southwest. Suddenly we realized the chase was over as the NOAA Weather Radio screamed with more warning tones. There was a new threat of tornadoes buried in the rain after dark, I wanted to get clear of the trees to watch for trouble. We worked our way south through the high wind and intense lightning of a couple of supercells. We reached Brookings then Sioux City where tornado sirens were wailing in the darkness. As we cleared the most intense supercells it begin to sink in, we had seen and photographed almost all of the 14 tornadoes that day. This was a new record for me and it was not set in Kansas, but South Dakota.

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