The power and majesty of Mother Nature continually mystifies us. There are those who make their living trying to predict what she will do next, and those who just enjoy watching her beauty unfold.
Last week both of those sectors came together in central Nebraska, and converged in Broken Bow on Memorial Day. The storm chasing party included a tour group from Colorado, a film crew with the Discovery Channel, and the Weather Channel’s ‘Great Tornado Hunt’ crew.
The Chief caught up with the team at Pizza Hut in Broken Bow at lunch time Monday. The prediction of potential severe storms, some possibly producing tornadoes, brought them here.
Undoubtedly the most recognizable figure of the party was Mike Bettes of the Weather Channel. Mike has been part of the Weather Channel team for seven and a half years. A native of Tallmadge, Ohio, he now resides in Atlanta, home of the Weather Channel.
Mike received his bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science from Ohio State University. He says he became interested in becoming a weather man when he was just a young boy.
“When I was a kid growing up in the snowbelt of Ohio, it snowed constantly. My sister and I would watch the local weatherman, Dick Goddard, to see if we would have the day off from school because of snow,” Mike recalls. “We ended up watching him so much and we had so many days off of school that he kind of became a friend through the TV. Initially, that's how I became interested in weather.”
Mike is co-host of Your Weather Today with Stephanie Abrams, week days from 7-10 a.m. This is his fourth week on the road with “The Great Tornado Hunt,” a special series he is doing for the network.
He says he enjoys tracking severe storms and tornadoes. “There’s just something about the whole cat and mouse game,” says Mike. “It makes you a better meteorologist because you really have to hone your skills.”
Mike has obviously honed his skills quite well, winning an Emmy Award in 2001 for a series on tornado chasing in the plains
In this, the last week of his road trip, Mike made plans to hook up with a storm chasing tour group from Colorado, Silver Lining Tours, owned and operated by two of the world's most respected storm chasers, Dr. David Gold and Roger Hill. Hill was leading the tour making its way through Nebraska.
With the ever increasing popularity of storm chasing, Hill and Gold formed Silver Lining Tours in 1999, as a means of providing ordinary people the opportunity to get an up-close and personal look at severe storms, most notably, tornadoes.
Hill is retired from the U.S. Air Force, and says he has been interested in storm chasing all his life. His is the second oldest storm chasing tour company in the country, and attracts guests from all over the world.
“One of our primary objectives is to educate our participants about the earth's most powerful storms while watching them in real-time,” Hill explains of his company. “We also want to de-mystify the forecasting process, giving real insight into how we predict the emergence of conditions that favor the development of severe weather.”
The company offers six and 10-day tours, and Hill says every tour he took last year and every one so far this year has given his guests to view at least one tornado. He was excited to be able to travel with Bettes and the Weather Channel team for this week.
Guests on this tour included individuals from nearly every state, as well as several foreign countries. One of those was 21-year-old Max from Germany. Max is an agriculture exchange student at the University of Minnesota who ran across the storm chasing tour while surfing You Tube. He says it immediately peaked his interest, “and here I am!”
Joining Silver Lining Tours and The Great Tornado Hunt, was a British production crew filming a documentary series for Discovery Channel. Paul Stewart, from England, explains that the documentary is a wildlife series. “But tornadoes are wildlife too!,” he laughs.
The storm chasing crew spent a few hours in Broken Bow before heading north to Brewster, Taylor and Sargent, then toward Atkinson following a storm cell. They circled around and came south Monday evening, back through Broken Bow, intercepting a storm near Oconto and Eddyville, before heading east.
There was no shortage of threatening weather for the crew to follow Monday. The National Weather Service in North Platte issued a total of 34 warnings throughout the day and evening; 10 tornado warnings, 23 severe thunderstorm and one flash flood warning.
A total of eight tornadoes were reported by volunteer fire departments, local law enforcement, and storm chasers throughout the region. The largest hail measured 4 inches near Atkinson in Holt County. This grapefruit sized hail was reported by storm chasers between 5:10 and 5:17 pm.
Nickel to quarter size hail was reported in the Dunning/ Brewster area. A tornado was also reported by a storm chaser three miles east of Dunning, however there are no confirmed reports of any damage.
Hail measuring one and three-quarters inches was reported near Arnold. Strong winds caused perhaps the most storm damage in the area, with gusts of more than 50 miles per hour reported in Broken Bow, and 70 mile-per-hour gusts at Stapleton.
Custer County Emergency Management Director Shawn Owens says a couple of pivots were overturned in the Ansley area, and a grain bin was blown over about three miles southeast of Ansley. Owens says other than that, there was quite a bit of tree damage in Custer County.
There were also reports of gustnados in a couple of locations, both near Ansley and near Oconto. A gustnado is a short-lived, low-level rotating cloud that can form in a severe thunderstorm. They can be strong enough to cause damage.
Roger Hill of Silver Lining Tours says it is important to remember that storm chasing is not for amateurs - his guided tours include a team of professionals.
The Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes agrees with Hill’s warning, and says that while May is often considered to be the most tornado prone month, June is also extremely volatile.
Safety is of extreme importance to all members of the storm chasing team - both safety for themselves and for those in the areas they are chasing in.