TempestTours®   Est. 2000

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Rare Bow Echo Tornado Chase, Montana, July 2, 2000
By Brian Morganti

When I woke up this morning I had two choices, head towards home and maybe catch up with some severe storms in northern IA late in the day...or head in the opposite direction for more isolated severe storms that should initiate in northeast Montana. Of course..I headed to Montana. I liked the area between Williston, ND and Glasgow, MT. There was good moisture pooling at the surface, strong insolation would aid in steep lapse rates, and helicity values indicated Supercells were likely. Upper winds were strong out of the southwest, while surface winds remained strong all day screaming in from the east.

Overcast conditions finally yielded to sunny skies just as I crossed the Montana border. Just west of Bainville several promising towers started to go up to my southwest. I filmed these and one quickly anviled out..detached, then the process started over again. It was still early and LCL's were just too high as every updraft was doomed to evaporate. Maybe if I got to a higher viewpoint where I could see in all directions? I drove past the town of Brockton on Route 2 and took a short drive north on Route 251 to a high point on the Fort Peckland Indian Reservation. I hooked up my dish and watched the tornado warned storms in Iowa for two hours, since there was nothing to watch in the skies over Montana! I fretted for two hours but decided to stand my ground..this was my last chase day and it really should just be a matter of time. At 4:32 PM CDT a SEV watch box was issued for several counties just to my west. Well all right then, this is more like it! I could see some weak radar returns just west of Fort Peck Dam. Time to get moving and head west. At 5:30 PM CDT all the counties in northeast Montana were included in the SEV watch box. Great!

Just west of Wolf Point I could see some fibrous anvils off to my west and a severe warning was issued for two cells in Petroleum County. These were moving northeast.  I began plotting an intercept course. By the time I got to Glasgow, one severe cell was just to my northeast over open country. I pursued this one only long enough to get a couple of quick photos since I wanted to get in position for the developing severe storm to my southwest.  Road options are, well..no option in Montana. Route 2 jogs hard NW just west of Glasgow, so I would have to connect with this storm a few miles west of town.

I set up my cameras to capture some lightning just as a pronounced shelf cloud was taking shape. Soon this shelf cloud took on an awesome multi-tiered laminar look and had several small needle shape funnels rotating around in its turbulent base. I had to blast back east quickly and soon had an even better view of this incredible shelf cloud. There was a large vaulted updraft base that raced ahead of the main shelf cloud to my southeast..this thing was HUGE and had a white/green swirled effect where the vault entered the mid level anvil area.

While I was filming this feature the wx-radio issued a TOR warning for this storm! I had to head east again and began to get rocked by 70 MPH outflow winds and rain from the south. Dust plumes were racing across the eastern horizon while I was being attacked by tumbleweeds from the south.

I stopped the truck just west of Glasgow and there it was...the distinctive dark stove pipe shape of a tornado partially rain wrapped to my SSE. Time was 8:11 PM MDT. Trees hid the ground, but there was no doubt in my mind that this was a tornado. I even captured one funnel center lightning bolt.  A later radar analysis from GGW confirmed this was in fact a bow echo tornado
located on the northern cusp of the bow.  The tornado lifted as it became completely obscured by rain. From my film point the truck was being rocked by 60 MPH outflow winds coming out of the south, but when I drove just 4 blocks into town the winds suddenly shifted 180 degrees and fed into the storm at the same intensity! Route 2 quickly turns east on the east side of town and that's were I wanted to be fast! About 5 miles east of Glasgow I noticed a man filming the oncoming shelf cloud. Could this be a chaser..driving a sedan..with no antenna..Hmmm. I turned around, and sure enough it was Dave Hoadley! We chatted a bit (he came out just for the weekend), but we soon had to race east again to stay ahead of this beast. I never lost sight of this awesome shelf cloud until well after dark. Even after dark the lightning continued to illuminate it's features..all the way to Williston, ND!