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May of 2003 had a record 516 tornadoes. The old record of 399 set during June of 1992 was smashed by this incredible tornado outbreak. These records are based on modern record keeping started in 1950.

What added to the abnormal tornado season in 2003 was the interesting fact that after May 16th, Oklahoma did not record one single tornado until after January of 2004.
It was the longest period without a tornado in Oklahoma since 1950.

 

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Stuart and O'Neil Nebraska Tornadoes June 9th 2003
Tornado Tim Chase Log:
I left Greeley Colorado about 7 am Monday June 9th 2003 and headed out towards Valentine which is west of Stuart Nebraska where I filmed the first tornado. The second tornado I filmed on this chase was further east at O'Neil Nebraska. I loved chasing in the Stuart Nebraska area and will always have fond memories of  the Basset tornadoes I filmed in 1999.

Driving north towards Valentine from interstate 80 I headed north on 83 which is a beautiful drive, taking you past the Valentine Wildlife Refuge. The wetlands at the top of these giant sand hills is worth the trip alone.   As soon as I arrived in Valentine I went to the local Library to check the Internet for the latest weather data. While in this very friendly library I donated a copy of my book. In the library was another chaser, Tom Pascale so we talked about the storms for a while. It was clear to me that the lower dew points were too close to Valentine for it to be the point where tornadoes might form, so I headed east on hi-way 20 and noticed storms building just to my north. I called in for a radar check after about 20 minutes of heading east on 20 and nothing significant showed on radar yet.

   When I arrived in Ainsworth I headed north on 183 to get a better look at the building storms and to determine how strong these storms were. I lost all cell phone use at this point so I had to go it by eye only. Without radar of any kind I would have to determine which storms looked the most powerful and choose to follow what appeared to be the best. Within about 20 minutes a few storms were building rapidly just to the west of 183 in Keya Paha County, Nebraska, with one looking like it had the ability to build higher than other storms. Where all the other storms appeared to hit a ceiling and stop building at that level, this one went farther up and continued to build upward with great intensity. It was located just to the west of Springview on 183.  This is something I look for when chasing by eye. Many times, if you are in the right area, the first storm to build higher than the others around it will be the best storm to follow. This is not always the case so you must be ready to change course if need be. I continued driving north until I came to hi-way 12 east keeping my eye on the one storm while looking for others that may do the same. 20 was my first paved road east that would allow me to follow the storm I had picked out so now I had to decide if this was the storm I would commit to. I decided it was and so I headed East towards Burton Nebraska driving very slow and for short distances, keeping an eye on the one storm, moving maybe a mile at a time, and then stopping to watch it develop.
 
Each time I stopped I watched to see if this storm looked as though it was getting stronger. I determined it was getting stronger and was showing signs of rotation already. The sides of the cloud were layered and it was easy to see the whole cloud was rotating faster than any others around. Several other chasers joined me at this point and one is driving by in this photo. About 5:15 pm a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for this storm, when it was moving over Springview Nebraska. The storm continued to move east so I followed it to about Mills where a tornado warning was issued on the storm. More chasers were now in the area, along with what appeared to be NSSL or NWS researchers chasing as a team.

    The storm now begins to put out several short-lived small tornadoes. Some spotters called the report in to the Local authorities and the report was relayed to the public by the NWS NOAA weather radio. Debris was seen beneath a large area of rotation at the base of the storm signaling the beginning of a large tornado forming. Road 12 came to a T where it intersected 137. Since the storm was now moving more south than east I took hi-way 137 south. I stopped at a beautiful ridge overlooking a valley with a riverbed at the bottom.

At the top of the hill I pulled into the driveway of a resident of the area. I noticed the owner was working outdoors so I drove up next to him to ask permission to sit in his driveway. As I talked with him it was clear he had no idea the storm had a tornado warning on it. I informed him of the danger. He then told me over the years he had lost 2 roofs to tornadoes already since living on this picturesque hilltop. Obviously this was a typical tornado path for the area. I call these spots mini tornado alleys. They exist all over the US. Some areas just seem to get most of the tornadoes for those counties, making them miniature tornado alley areas. As a chaser I always ask the locals where most tornadoes usually move, and they almost always have an accurate description of these mini tornado alleys. As the tornado continued to form, it caused ground disturbance off and on telegraphing me that it was still strengthening.  Hail about the size of golf balls started falling so the owner of the home let me pull under an overhang attached to his house.  This probably saved me from loosing a windshield at this point. The tornado slowly moved south of my location so I thanked the homeowner for his hospitality and got back on the main road heading south.  The road was now lined with many chasers and local police officials watching this dangerous tornado grow in strength.


The tornado seemed to follow the Holt and Rock County line finally moving more into Holt County.  I continued driving south until I came to Newport, which intersected with hi-way 20. The tornado was north of 20 and east of Newport so I headed east on 20 to intercept the tornadoes path. I realized I was only about 20 miles from where I filmed the Basset tornadoes in '99. This area is classic tornado territory and clearly a mini tornado alley for the region. It wasn't long after leaving Newport I was approaching the city of Stuart.

The tornado was now forming into a classic funnel, but hadn't reached the ground as yet.
Finally after only a few minutes it set down a classic funnel. Many other chasers were in the area photographing the event including a chase tour.


Then I noticed in a parking lot was Tom Pascale the chaser I had talked with in Valentine getting his tripod setup. I setup my tripod and Sony TRV 900 next to his tripod and begin filming the beautiful tornado to our north. Just a few hundred yards to our right was the chase tour setting up their cameras, and it appeared the NSSL or NWS guys had their cameras out also.
Sirens in the city wailed as a tornado warning was issued for the city. Most residents took shelter as this dangerous tornado made its way just to the north of it.

Some cars passing by stopped to find out what all the fuss was about. The tornado stayed down for about ten minutes moving very slowly to our north, heading east towards Atkinson. Although still looking impressive, it appeared to me the tornado was loosing power so I picked up my camera and headed towards Atkinson leaving all the other chasers behind. While driving east on 20 I lost sight of the tornado, but looking all around, north, south, east or west it was clear several tornadoes were forming and about to set down.  I could not believe how active the clouds were all around me.  Just north of 20 just past the city of Atkinson a large wall cloud formed.  As I continued traveling east, just to the north and east of me the wall cloud begin to form into a huge tornado. We were now watching our second tornado form, but this one was much larger.

It was only a few minutes before the tornado picked up in intensity around Emmet Nebraska where it reached  F3 intensity on the Fujita scale. 

At this point it was clear I was next to a  very large and destructive tornado. It was looking like a real monster  and was shaped more like a stovepipe.  I zoomed in slightly on it in this photo, look how large the tornado is and how small the large trees were in comparison. It was in this area the tornado destroyed barns, grain bins, and carried farm machinery a quarter mile. I sat there for about 10 minutes filming the tornado when it became clear I needed to move east to stay with it.

I drove east on 20 staying slightly ahead of the tornado as  I neared the city of O'Neil where the tornado seemed to intensify. There was so much dirt and debris it was hard to see the funnel. At times you could make out as many as four tornadoes within the one main wide tornado. The ability to see the multiple vortexs within this tornado was blurry and obscure at best.  Some kind of sideways tornado shot out the side as seen in this photo. The sideways tornado is to the left of the main tornado just above the brightly lit background. Below are two video captures of the best views I could get with my camera of the seperate tornadoes.

This tornado continued changing shape at this point.  What was once a nearly 1/3 mile wide tornado was breaking into smaller tornadoes within itself. Sometimes it was one tornado loosing speed, then two, then three. They all might come together into one more intense tornado only to quickly split apart and seperate into several again. It was as though the tornado intensity could not stay focused.  The tornado and it's winds fluctuated, intensifying and then dying down only to reintensify again. I think it was going through a disorganized process of spinning up and winding down between one large tornado to several small tornadoes, never seeming to hold onto any one form for any significant period of time.

I decided to get a close up of the tornado passing so in O’Neil I drove north about two miles on 281. It looked like the tornado would pass just to my north at this point. Large hail was being reported so I butted up my car against a 30-foot building, which would make most of the hail and wind go over the top of the car.  The roof acted like an airfoil moving everything higher over me.   Then the unexpected happened. The tornado moved more south than east and came far closer to me then I anticipated or planned for. A horse trailer next to me exposed to the full winds, begin to move on its own. The wind made the light rain and large hail fly by completely horizontally. I noticed some objects flying by the edge of the building at incredible speeds. Trees just 50 yards away begin to snap at the tops, the wind speed was nothing like I had ever encountered before, and that is when I realized I was more in the tornado then on the edge of it. 


I realized I had made a stupid mistake and left no way to escape. I was stuck in my car and had to ride out the tornado in the worst possible location. The large building seemed to be holding, but large debris passed over the top of the car and flew by the sides of the building.  Just then the wind let up and I thought I was finally safe. I wasn't. A second blast of tornado winds blew from within this larger tornado and again the winds picked up to incredible speeds, more debris, more hail flew by. Finally it let up and I relaxed for a moment. Then to my surprise a third tornado gust hit again, taking the trees just to my north and breaking them down even further. As this let up I was not relaxing anymore, I sat there wondering if it was really over.  It wasn't.  Again one more time the winds went crazy, this time the worst. A very large bang hit the car so I crawled onto the floor of the car expecting this was the last thing I would remember. This is where my video ended.   I laid there on the floor expecting the worst.  Later,  when replaying the video I saw what hit the car. It is in the last 4 seconds of this video you can see a large board slam into my car barely missing the window. I now understood for the first time why tornado damage can vary so much as the winds in this tornado were not consistent but changing consistently.

I heard a few more large bangs on the car and then the wind reversed direction in an instant and now was blowing at me, so the building didn't help anymore. Hail hit the car as it rocked back and forth. Finally it let up and I could see the edge of a huge tornado moving slowly to the east away from me. The sun started to shine through so I got up turned on the car and drove out of the yard I had hidden in.   As I pulled onto the street I begin to film some of the damage next to where I was at. To my surprise large trees were snapped like small twigs. I came up to what looked like a destroyed garage. I stopped to ask the owner who was outside assessing the damage what use to be there. He acknowledged it use to be a garage over the now exposed objects.  I was in extreme danger sitting where I did and if I had it to do over again I would not have stopped there, but stayed at least a half a mile away next time. I guess maybe chasers are given one chance to be stupid, at least I just had mine. I knew better then to get so close to such a large and destructive tornado.     Tornado Tim
PS. I ran into several other chasers just north of O'Neil after it lifted. Check out the site of  Jerry Witz and his friends at www.mesotracker.com. Hope to see them out again next time.

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