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October 20, 2017

Serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul Metro Area

By Ryan Sandberg, Metro Skywarn Spotter

The beginning of my 2015 storm chasing season had been a slow, and frustrating start.  I was working with a storm chasing tour company as a forecaster/guide, and after being on the road for nearly 3 weeks already, I had still not seen any tornadoes.  Disagreements on forecasts, and chase decisions, as well as some vehicle trouble, had resulted in a few missed tornadoes.  Upper level winds had been lacking most of time I had been out, which resulted in a lack of photogenic supercells thus far.  I finally saw my first decently structured storms on May 22nd near Limon, Colorado, and on the 24th near Lamar, Colorado. 

The night of June 3rd, we stayed in Greely, Colorado after witnessing a “maybenado” north of Cheyenne, Wyoming near the town of Lusk.  The models were pointing at a potentially exciting day the next day in north west Kansas.  The storm prediction center had issued an enhanced risk area for northern Kansas the morning of June 4th.  My initial target area was near Colby, Kansas, and was hoping to get on the road early to make the drive to north west Kansas.  However, we got a late start on our morning and by the time we were ready to chase, it was getting late to make the long drive to Kansas before storm initiation.  We found ourselves parked in the city park in Fort Morgan trying to figure out a new plan.  I was still pretty flustered about not being able to be on the road to Kansas, but knew that upslope storms in Colorado were still in play.  After analyzing weather models, a new target area became apparent, and we headed for Limon. 

On our way to Limon from Fort Morgan, I kept an eye on the models and radar as storms began to fire a little after 1pm.  Just before 2pm, the Storm prediction center issued a mesoscale discussion for much of north east colorado, stating that thunderstorms would be strengthening and that a tornado watch was probable.  By 2:20pm, there was a tornado watch out for parts of north east colorado.  There were two supercells exploding to the north and south of Limon.  After watching both storms for a while, it was apparent that the storm to the south would be the dominant storm, and the chase was on. 

We travelled south down I-70 to Limon, as the first tornado of the day was forming to the west.  Finally, after 3 weeks on the road, I had my first tornado of the season. 

We took highway 24 south west out of Limon, and headed toward the storm.  We ended up on the side of the road about 10 miles from the tornado to take pictures, but getting closer to this monster was achievable.  As we headed closer, the storm moved south across the highway into farmland south of the town of Simla.  Our options were to stay on the highway, north of the tornado and get a brief view of it before getting hit by the hail core, or to find a way to get south and follow the storm.  Wanting to get closer and into a better position, I guided us to dirt road that went south out of the town of Matheson, about 7 miles east of Simla.  The storm was slowly moving south, and the road paralleled the storm perfectly.  I got us into position slightly ahead of the tornado and from there we watched the storm produce 8 tornadoes in all as it slowly made it's way toward us. 

To make this day even better, the storm produced one of the most photogenic updrafts I have ever seen.  The Simla tornado day was by far one of my best chasing achievements, and will always be one of my favorite days of chasing.

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