June 24, 2003 Editorial: A Summary of the Manchester Wedge

by Jim Bishop

Posted January, 2005

As a meteorologist and a storm chaser I take pride in my forecasts. One day in June I was in O'Neill, Nebraska analyzing the weather conditions which were coming together in northeastern Nebraska and eastern South Dakota. The setup was just shy from perfect. A warm front was slowly lifting north into South Dakota in response to a strong shortwave trough. The shear, moisture, and instability profiles were incredible and the cap was perfect. I knew a tornado outbreak was going to unfold that afternoon/evening.

We drove into South Dakota as storms began to fire along and north of the warm front. We had a decision to make- go after the storm to our north or the storm to our south. Our now-caster relayed information that reflected very tall echo tops on the northern storm. I also knew the low-level shear was better up there. I made the decision to remain after that storm. This turned out to be the best chase decision I have ever made.

We ended up seeing six tornadoes that day. But the best was tornado number two. As we drove east through the rain and hail core I was expecting to see another tornado, but nothing could have prepared me for what was about to happen.

We were in the vault of the supercell looking south at a rapidly rotating wall cloud a few miles away. Seconds later a cone funnel developed and touched down. It took on an elephant trunk shaped appearance and multiple vortices made for a spectacular tornado. The tornado circulation lifted for a couple minutes as the wall cloud circulation grew larger.

Slowly it seemed nearly the entire wall cloud descended towards the ground. Any rain that had been falling had stopped. The large bowl funnel grew into a wedge tornado, nearly stationary! As it slowly tracked northeast across a field of green grass, it approached a patch of trees. The wall cloud circulation was incredible as this large wedge tornado seemed to continue growing in width. After the tornado had gone through the trees all that was left were twigs in the ground. The supercell causing this tornado was a low precipitation/classic hybrid. This became apparent when the sun shined through the clouds just enough to truly illuminate this ½ mile wide tornado as dirt with a tint of orange and red filled the funnel. At this point the tornado was less than ½ miles to our east-southeast. Since the rear flank downdraft was beginning to occlude the tornado, it was now moving more north than east.

I backed the car up a couple hundred yards and watched the tornado destroy a small town along the road. Like an explosion the tornado destroyed one lone house on the edge of town. The roof was ripped off and then the walls were shredded as winds greater than 200 mph demolished this house. Debris filled the wedge-shaped funnel and circulated around it as if connected as a single mass. The sound of a jet-engine filled the air as the tornado continued its track to the north and began to shrink in size.

The tornado now had a stove pipe appearance as it raged on to the north. We stayed to its west as trees and other debris were lifted by the tornado and carried into the air. After a spectacular rope stage, the tornado became wider again as the updraft intensified. Finally, after nearly 30 minutes, the tornado roped out just before crossing the road to our north. The supercell went on to produce three more tornadoes that day. None were anywhere near as impressive as the second tornado.

Not only was this an amazing experience that I will always remember. But, as a meteorologist, I forecasted this tornado outbreak and succeeded as a storm chaser by witnessing several tornadoes. To top it all off I witnessed one of the most photogenic wedge tornadoes captured on video

June 24, 2003 Chase Page


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