April 09, 2011    

After the anticipation of a big storm weekend up-coming, my son Ryan and I made the decision to join Brian Stertz in Overland Park, Kansas and set out on a two day weekend chase-cation.  Our target for day one looked to be eastern Nebraska or Western Iowa.   We left early on Saturday and made a stop in our favorite conservation area, Squaw Creek, before heading up to the target.  After a short period on the Nebraska side of the river, we finally made the decision to move across the river to Iowa.  Thanks to the constant information by Jeff Piotrowski and Terry Schenk, we ended up southwest of Mapleton, Iowa watching a developing supercell.  The storm was showing great potential as we sat and watched it approach the town.  Many dust swirls and the occasional fingers and funnels. 

Southwest of Mapleton, IA
Meso approaches Wall Cloud makes its appearance

Occasional spinups
Funnel Cloud appears

As it just couldn't seem to get it's act totally together, we made the decision to reposition ourselves on a highway southeast of Mapleton, IA.  That required us to go into town to get to the highway.  We hustled back into town to make the move to the new highway to reposition, but on the way, it began to hail golf balls.  As we maneuvered back through town to the other roadway, we came upon a gas station with an overhang as the hail was pelting us and chose to make use of the cover until the hail stopped.  There was cover enough for two cars and there was an older couple parked under the other half. 

One open spot under the gas station canopy

About a minute after parking, the eeriness begins.  As we are sitting there watching the occasional golf ball bounce on the ground outside of the car, the power in the town goes out.  We all looked at each other as there was ZERO wind.  It didn't take long for us to decide something was not right.  The problem was that we had no visual on the storm as the gas station building was between us and the storm and there was still hailing falling.  Out we zoomed anyway.  As soon as we got out onto the street and got the view, it was obvious why the power had gone out.  Ryan's immediate shouts of "Tornado" and "Debris" were quickly followed by "gotta go, go, move it, move it!".  The tornado was two blocks away entering the town and throwing debris up into the air.    We sped out of the south side of town narrowly missing the encounter with the tornado.  We continued to stay just out of the tornadoes reach stopping multiple times to film and shoot pictures of the tornado.  It was a wide circulation without the typical funnel shape.  Little did we know at that time the impact the tornado was having on the town of Mapleton as it was reported to rip through causing damage to 60% of the town with some of the damage two blocks due west of the gas station where we sat at EF3 damage.  Where the gas station sat was listed as EF2 damage.  A close call for us for sure.  Ryan was filming the entire time and got some incredible video of this tornado.  The pictures of the damage on the Omaha, NE National Weather Service Page showed the damage and let us see how lucky we were to get out of the path just seconds before getting hit by the tornado.

As we shoot out of town, we catch a power flash. Tornado crosses the road.
Wall Cloud Rotates with the tornado still on the ground.

Tornado Tornado continues on.
Tornado begins to weaken.

For the next several hours, we continued to move east, then north, east, north, through the dirt back roads.  By this time it had gone dark, but the continuous lightning in the storms kept the bases of the storms to the north well lit.  It seemed almost every storm we were watching would rotate and tornado.  We observed at least 5 more tornadoes, most of which we can confirm on our video.  On at least one occasion, we had 2 on the ground at once in very close proximity to each other.

Funnel descends Tornado touchdown Tornado continues

Twin tornadoes, one by the telephone pole on the left and the obvious one on the right.
Several different rotations going on at the same time.


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Click on the link below to see video of some of these storms.

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