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South Dakota Tornado Outbreak and Intercept, June 24, 2003
By William T. Reid

I never really thought that I would see a storm like I saw on Tuesday
evening.  Ever. 

On Tuesday, June 24, I watched the same storm produce tornado after tornado after tornado for more than an hour, with two or more tornadoes on the ground at the same time, THREE different times!  It was simply unbelievable.  The Weather Channel is currently showing someone else's video of the storm that we saw --- it is Wednesday morning at 1 a.m. now in Sioux Falls ---- and the video shows three tornadoes on the ground concurrently, with even a fourth funnel beneath the large wall cloud.  This activity occurred near Centerville, SD, in Clay County and Turner County, south-southwest of Sioux Falls.

Here is how the day went---and how darn lucky we were.

On Monday the four guests and Chuck Doswell arrived in Denver for the final tour of the season, Tour 6.  Later that afternoon looked like a BIG supercell and tornado day near North Platte, and we were able to get there by 6 p.m.  But, a strong cap prevented storms until dusk.  We had some fun with severe storms south of Ansley after dark, and stayed in Kearney for the night.

The outlook for Tuesday appeared fantastic for tornadoes, if the cap would break.  The cap was very strong again over Nebraska, and I was nervous that it might prevent storms again in and around my initial target area of Custer County, in the middle of the state.  By late morning we were heading north from Kearney, and the thinking by then was that we probably would have to head farther, towards U.S. 20 in Northern Nebraska, where convergence was better.  Very humid east winds were over SE SD, with more southerly winds in north-central Nebraska.  Dew points were near 70F in NE, and mid 70s in SE SD! 

The sky during the early and mid-afternoon looked good, as flat cumulus and stratocumulus were widespread.  This told us that, at least, there was no strong subsidence, and that the cap seemed more breakable than yesterday.  After lunch in Ansley, the attendant at the gas station allowed me to sit down at the boss's computer in the filling station to check the latest data.  We needed to go further north until we started to hit SE or E winds --- at least as far as U.S. 20 from Bassett to O'Neill.  At Taylor I elected to take 183 to Bassett instead of 91 and 11 to Atkinson.  This decision came back to haunt me.  I like to error to the east when there are strong SW winds aloft, as on this day, but Bassett seemed to be a little closer to the best convergence at the time.  When we arrived in Bassett around 4 p.m., radar began to show a blip of a cell southwest of Mitchell, SD, well to the northeast.  Well, this was quite a ways outside of our original target area, but it was also obvious that the cell was in a fabulous spot, meteorologically, for tornado production.  The observation at Mitchell was 86 over 77, with an east wind at 10 knots!  It would take about two hours to get to the cell, IF it wasn't moving away too fast.  We decided to commit to it, as there was nothing else going up yet that was within reach in Nebraska.  About an hour later, near Naper, we could see the BOMB updraft to our NNE.  It had overshooting tops one after the other, and soon we could pick up the Mitchell radio station.  Their reporters were
watching a tornado with the storm!  Oh great --- we are missing the show, we thought.  The cell was still a good 60-70 minutes away as we crossed the Missouri into SD.  We decided to head east on 46 through Wagoner, and then go north on 37 to Mitchell where we could intercept the storm.  The cell was moving NE at 20-25 mph, and we were despondent.  If I had only taken
the road to Atkinson, I could have been on the Mitchell storm an hour sooner!   It seemed like it took forever to try to catch this cell, which was slowly moving away from us as we zigzagged to try to catch it.  As we neared our north option, Road 37, another strong cell was developing to our SE, and it was a little closer --- maybe 50 miles away.  We were also hearing of new tornado warnings in northeast Nebraska.  Now we were REALLY down in the dumps.  There seemed to be several tornadic storms, and we were driving and driving with nothing nearby. 

Tornado warnings flew for a cell between Yankton and Vermillion, to our SE, and new huge storm towers were in front of us, to our east.  Along 46, near Lesterville, we had a monster updraft to our east, but it was moving quickly north.  It was a "Left-mover"!  The chances of this becoming tornadic were slim and none, and once again our hopes were dashed and we felt like we would wind up with little or nothing.