Storm Chase Details

Chase Date: May 22, 2010
Miles Logged: 405
States Chased: SD
Tornadoes Witnessed: 10
Largest Hail Encountered: 1.5"
Highest Wind Encountered: 70MPH
Famous incident in the Farmers Field

Severe Risks: SPC Outlooks

Chase Recap:

I am writing this chase account a number of months after the Bowdle storm actually happened. This whole situation took a long time to comprehend. The whole “in the field” incident is still a day which is burned into my brain. It will forever be one of the craziest days and things that happened in my life.

Morning of May 22nd

We woke up the morning of the 22nd in Valentine, NE after getting in somewhat late the previous night. We left late and headed north towards Murdo, SD. I shared a room with Scott Bennett and rode up in his vehicle to Murdo.


My target was still a lot further north, towards Aberdeen. Adam, Danny and Scott liked along I-90. So we headed up to the truck stop in Murdo. We gassed up and met up with Bob Hartig, Mike Kovalchik and Bill Oosterbaan. They were watching the HRRR model and it was blowing up a storm slightly to the north of us later on in the day. Surface obs showed a decent surface convergence to our west, and we decided to position ourselves a little west to be on initiation.

We headed out to Highway 63 then headed north. I don’t think our original intention was to go so far north, but we just kept going north on 63. The cumulus field along the boundary was quite agitated.

Construction and Gettysburg Gas Station

There was some sort of crazy construction north of the Missouri River. We waited on what seemed like forever at a light to cross the river. Finally, we got the green light to go through and we found ourselves on one of the crappiest roads ever.

We made it north to US212 and headed east. We had fallen behind the cumulus field, so we had to play catch-up. The cumulus was overhead and becoming even more agitated as we crossed back over the Missouri river at Gettysburg.

Towering Cumulus near Gettysburg, SD

We stopped in Gettysburg and filled up our gas tank and tried to find some food. I think all of us picked over the last piece of pizza in the gas station food warmer, and all of us decided it probably was not edible.

Storm Time

Eventually we were on our way, and headed up highway 47 north. We caught up with the storm, which was still trying to mature. We watched it cycle multiple times before truly getting its act together.

Tornado Warning and First Tornado

NWS Aberdeen put a tornado warning on the storm early, giving extra lead time. The first tornado would eventually touch down approximately 2 miles west of Highway 47. We observed the tornado from the east, and watched it cross Highway 47 before occluding. Another tornado touched down, but it wasn’t totally apparent to me what was going on in the back seat of the Expedition.

First tornado touchdown of the famous Bowdle storm

We were blasted with intense RFD from the west. I kept suggesting we get north, but we stuck around in the RFD. Scott radioed us to tell us our tail light was hanging and about to fall off.

As the tornado moved to the east of the road, we headed north. We didn’t get far as the TIV was caught up in power lines and blocking the road.

Bowdle, South Dakota Wedge

We had to turn around and head south to the first dirt road option, and then east. Apparently our tail light came off completely. Props to L.B. LaForce for stopping to pick it up. The contrast was low, so we weren’t able to see the monster Bowdle, South Dakota wedge ongoing. You can see the structure in this video, but not very clear wedge footage.

Our view from the south of the Bowdle, South Dakota wedge tornado on May 22, 2010

Eventually we made it north to US-12 and continued east of Bowdle to highway 253 (approximately 10 miles east). This put us ahead of the storm and allowed us to get some incredible structure shots before we were treated to some photogenic tornadoes.

Bowdle, South Dakota Storm Structure as we headed east on US12

Roscoe Tornadoes

The next tornadoes happened to the west of Roscoe between Bowdle and Roscoe. Two beautiful tornadoes including a translucent tube and carrot shaped cone. The structure and tornado photo from above is one of the best tornado photos I have ever taken to this day.

Even the inflow is towering cumulus

We headed east to Roscoe and then north out of town on highway 247. As we sat in the notch of the storm, we watched a line of cumulus marching into the updraft. It was the most robust updraft I have witnessed to date. We witnessed another brief tornado that was wrapped in rain

Staying ahead of the storm

Eventually we headed east on 129th street and south on county road 9. At the end of 130th street, we stopped. We could see that the road existed and went as far as the horizon east. Bob Hartig, MIke Kovalchik and Bill Oosterbaan were at the same intersection, so we celebrated our tornadoes so far with high fives.

Inflow into the storm was incredible, with 40 mph winds easily. L.B. and Bill LaForce showed up, and returned Adam’s taillight to him.

Heading down 130th Street

As the storm neared, we hopped back into our cars and started east down 130th street. Each of our maps showed the road continuing through. We were using Microsoft Streets & Trips. While driving east, a beautiful cone tornado touched down to our west and turned into a stovepipe. There was another drillbit tornado that touched down in the field just to my north and west.

About 2 1/2 miles down the road, people started turning around in front of us. Why is everyone turning around? “The road ended”

Since the first vehicle to turn around was a smaller vehicle, we just assumed he meant that he was unable to get through. No, he really meant it. The road just ended.

So we did what every reasonable person would, we turned around. Unfortunately, we quickly realized that was not going to work either, as there was a stovepipe and drillbit tornado coming at us. So we turned back around and drove into a planted wheat field.

Into the farmers field

The tornadoes were getting closer, and we bailed into the field. I didn’t realize at first we were even in a field. I thought mostly that we were on a couple tire tracks or some other very unimproved road. From the back seat, I could not tell but we had turned south into the field. About 1/4 to 1/2 a mile south along the fence line we ran into flooding. So we went further into the field to try and go around the flooding. Eventually we were all stuck, and had no where to go. As Adam said in the footage above, “Is this just game over?” is how it seemed.

Multiple tornadoes were spinning up nearby, including a multi-vortex, stovepipe and drill bit. One vortex quickly spun up next to our car, hitting one of the puddles around 50 yards away.

Eventually the winds turned to the west and we were able to breathe a sigh of relief. Hail started falling, so we repositioned from facing east to facing west. The thought is that it would be cheaper to replace a windshield over a rear window in a Ford Expedition. Somewhere in the heavy rain here, we became really stuck.

We’re stuck in a farmers field

Heavy rain continued for what seemed like forever. Eventually it tapered off and finally ended and we all got out of our vehicles. A lot of relief that we survived. Then reality struck. What were we all going to do? We were stuck, and would most definitely need a tractor to pull us out. Furthermore, we were on someones planted crop. Would the owner help us out? Had his house been spared in the tornado?

Danny and Mike decided to start walking out of the field in search of help. At some point news came back to us that help was on the way in the form of local tractors. Then a light comes skipping across the field, and it’s Jeff Piotrowski. Apparently he had gotten stuck up by the edge of the road, and managed to eventually get himself out.

Nightfall and abandoning vehicles

Bart Comstock and a local farmer showed up. Apparently they had tractors, and could pull us out but needed permission of the owner to do so. Bad news was that the farmer whos field we were in was pretty upset and the sheriff was up at the road. We were told at this point that it might be a few days before we’re getting vehicles out of the field.

So the question became – What next? Mike Umschied was able to get his car free to the section line, so legally the cool farmer could pull his vehicle the rest of the way out. Adam and I were planning to just camp out in the vehicle, but eventually we all decided to head up to the road. Bob Hartig showed up as we were packing our stuff up and thought we were able to drive. As he found out, we were stuck and we were all about to hike out.

From Field to Gas Station

The 4 of us started dragging all our gear up the mile or so walk to the edge of the field. I grabbed everything since I had no idea when we would be out, and I needed to be back at work sooner rather than later. There was a F-250 Superduty waiting for us as we got back to the road we bailed off of. The driver told us to put our things in his truck, so we did. He ended up being the farmer who owned the field. Adam and I interacted with him to try and diffuse the situation. I’m sure he just realized quickly we were just a couple of idiots.

Someone in our group got arrested?

Somewhere around this time, we found out one of the people in the field had just been arrested, and the rumor was that we were all being arrested. Arrested?

It had to be somewhere between midnight and 1 am by the time we finally got out of the back of the white truck, and I still don’t remember the reasoning, but the farmer dropped us off basically in the middle of the 2.5 mile stretch of road leading to the field. We were greeted by the other farmer, who told us all to hop in. He gave us a lift to the shell station in Ipswich, South Dakota where we were dropped off with all of our belongings in the middle of the night. The power in town was out and it was very dark.

The Sheriff finds us at a Shell Station in Ipswich

Bart was going to pick us up and take us to Aberdeen, however, he ran out of gas. Mike was apparently going to bring him gas. While we were sorting this out, the cops found us at the shell station. First thing out of his mouth was “Good, I was looking for you guys”. He ran each of our licenses and threatened us that he’d have warrants issued if we didn’t pay the farmer. Our checks came back clean, and the cop was almost out of gas himself, so he took off in search of fuel.

Somewhere around 4 am Mike Umschied shows up at the shell station to pick us up. There were 4 of us and gear and not enough room in Mikes vehicle. The plan is that Danny and I will ride with Mike to Aberdeen to get some cash from an ATM and hotel rooms.

We hit up the ATM in Aberdeen and I pulled out my limit for the day. Danny did as well and we’d have enough for bail. Now to get some hotel rooms.

Hotel Nightmare

It’s 5am at this point and the first hotel we tried was full. The second hotel we tried was the Super 8 and they had rooms. Good news, 2 rooms with one smoking and one non smoking. Both of them double beds. Danny and Adam would share one room, and Scott Bennett, Mike Umschied and I would share the other. I got stuck with the smoking room, but I didn’t even care at this point. I gave the girl my credit card, and paid for 2 nights for that room, with a request to move to a non smoking room the next day. She said this shouldn’t be a problem.

Someone is in the room

Danny leaves, and goes to his room. Mike walks outside to get his stuff, and I walk to the room. I open it, and there’s luggage already on the floor, and people sleeping in the bed. After some searching around, we found some additional rooms at America’s Best Value Inn. We went and got checked in. It was after 5 by this point, maybe 6am when Scott showed up.


I got my toothbrush, and a shower before checking out and having Bart drive us to the Super 8 to check in, then taking the owners of the vehicles back to the field at 3 pm. The Farmer had agreed to pull everyone out, and it would only cost us the low price of $400 per person. I gave Adam my cash, and told him to take it in case he needed it.

After a few hours, Adam showed back up with the truck. He had paid for his share in cash, and gotten addresses so that we could mail checks. We went to Walmart to get new shoes and beer, then met up with other chasers at the Best Western to trade stories and drinks. I got myself a steak to celebrate an amazing day. A day I would never forget.