June 13 started out as the
last day of our 2001 tornado chase. It finished by both Bill and myself
witnessing the biggest tornado either of us has seen. We set out from Luverne,
Minnesota late after the previous day of chasing and headed south to Lincoln,
Nebraska. We didn't have a lot of time for forecasting so we headed into
the general area that was predicted to produce severe weather. We pulled
over near Seward to collect data and debate the potential of several cells
developing nearby. We looked at the radar image of the cell south of us
and almost at the same time a tornado warning was issued on weather radio
for this cell. We looped around the area to get in front of it and into
position for a possible tornado. We got out in front of the cell and came
back along Highway 34 towards it. At about this time the local radio station
started issuing urgent warnings for "a large tornado on the ground". Both
of us saw a large lowering above a nearby hill and thought it looked like
dozens of other ones we had seen, but as we reached the top of the
hill a truly incredible sight came into view. A huge tornado, maybe a third
of a mile wide was about 5 miles directly in front of us.
The two speeding tickets received in the previous two days were quickly forgotten as we raced directly toward it, stopping once for filming. We stopped about a mile from the monstrous tornado as it crossed the road in front of us and continued to watch it until it became wrapped in rain several minutes later. I found it amusing that other motorists drove seemingly blindly toward the tornado until the last minute when it was right in front of them, cars were stopping, doing sudden u turns and driving onto side roads etc. (I have no idea how you could not see something that big) It quickly got dark and we moved out of the area
as a line of severe storms continued to move through the area.
In the morning we returned to the area and documented the damage. Several houses were completely leveled, the occupants sheltered in the basement as their entire house was shredded, their cars were carried over 300 yards and dropped in a nearby field, hardly recognizable. Tractors, harvesters and other heavy machinery was tossed around and left in mangled heaps. The smell of diesel fuel hung heavy in the air from overturned tractors and leaking ammonia and propane from broken tanks at a nearby tank facility made conditions quite unpleasant. Large trees were snapped off a few feet above the ground as if by a giant weed whacker ! Another family told of hiding in the basement of their house fifty yards from the tornado described actually looking out of the basement right up the inside of the tornado as it passed over! It never fails to amaze me that the people in these rural areas can remain so friendly and helpful despite having their homes destroyed and being descended upon by hoards of media filming, taking pictures and asking questions. One friendly host even laid fresh mats down for us to step on as we toured their partially destroyed home.
We spent many hours filming the damage and speaking to the people who were hit by the tornado.