June 21, 2003
Looking to the south-southwest. I thought that because clear skies were only a little bit to the west, that this storm wouldn't materialize. However, five minutes later, there was intermittent rain and hail for about 15 minutes.
Just before it started raining and hailing, we observed this tornado to the north-northeast. It looked like it was near Wilton, but reports put it 9 miles south-southeast of Mercer - or about 20 miles away. It surprises me that it would be that far away. Reports also say that the tornado was on the ground for about 15 minutes. FYI, this photograph is obviously out-of-focus.
The afternoon of
Prior to leaving –
around mid-afternoon – I checked the radar and satellite view of the
clouds and weather watches and saw that the threat of severe weather
didn’t look imminent. I know that the
On the drive out, I kept
a watchful eye on the clouds to the west; there was no convection
I got to my chosen hiking
location and started a fun activity – looking for bright, multi-colored
blister beetles that can be found on Milkvetch plans. I found a number of
them and took photographs.
I looked directly west and saw that out of nowhere, the sky had turned
blue – not from the lack of clouds, but because a shower or storm was
developing near Center, ND. I soon noticed some other clouds getting
darker with building convection, mainly to the southwest.
continued the hike and looked at spiderwort plants that hadn’t flowered.
I decided to work to the top of a butte where I saw some beautiful purple
flowers and checked on the growth of 10-petal blazingstar plants.
walked a little further west – about one-third of a mile from the
vehicle, I noticed more convection building in clouds to the
south-southwest and also to the west and northwest where there was rain. I
saw occasional flashes of lightening and heard some thunder – but it was
still a long ways away.
got to the turn-around point – about one-half mile from the vehicle and
took photos of a “hot-pink” pincushion cactus flower. I also spotted a
prairie lily that would be spotting a beautiful orange flower in about one
this point, I decided that I needed to get back to the vehicle. The storm
didn’t look threatening, but I wanted to get back just in case.
worked back, a line of dark clouds formed from the southwest to the
northeast and followed me. However, it didn’t look like a storm would
got back in the vehicle and drove three-quarters of a mile to the south. I
got out of the vehicle and took photographs of the storm looking directly
west. Right past the dark clouds overhead, and just a little to the west,
it was clear out and I thought, “this storm will be over in minutes at
glance to the northwest showed that rain was developing and the storm
could be strengthening to the north.
drove another three-quarters of a mile to the top of a hill, turned the
vehicle around and faced north. I noticed an area to the northeast of
first thought was that there were gusty winds ahead of the storm. But then
I quickly realized that it was a tornado and I grabbed my 180 mm lens and
started taking photographs.
about the same time it started to suddenly rain, with lots of big drops.
watched the tornado for 2-to-3 minutes. Then it either dissipated or the
rain obscured my vision.
the hail started. The only escape option was to drive to a cut in the road
– and I placed the vehicle right up against it. It rained and hailed,
continuing for about five minutes.
the rain and hail stopped, I backed up the vehicle about 20 yards on a
slick, wet, gumbo dirt road; I just about had to put it in
then started to drive towards the highway, and the rain and hail started
up again, so I parked under a couple of trees for another 5-to-10 minutes.
it was all over. The storm was to the east.
storm reaffirmed something that I realized. Storms can build quickly and
suddenly, out of nowhere. I had watched storms develop all my life, and
this one seemed like it was all talk and no action.
I know that this storm would develop right over me, I would have been
somewhere else, like home.
back, it was a thrill to see a tornado for the first time in my life.
However, I’m glad that I got to see the beauty of the tornado from a
safe distance – because who knows – where it developed wasn’t that
far away, and it could have developed right over me. Yikes!