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May 3, 2020

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The EPIC Ending to 2017 Tours - Tour 8 Northern Expedition

Epic, Jaw-Dropping, Amazing. I could keep going for days. The Northern Plains storm chasing season hardly ever disappoints. Tour 8 sealed the deal for an incredible ending to our tour season. The 2017 storm season was memorable, providing incredible sights of supercells and tornadoes for our guests from near the Mexico border to nearly Canada. Unlike 2016, which was a tornado producing machine, 2017 was a hard year for chasers and tour operators alike. There were several periods of longer than normal stretches of pleasant weather and many of the days of severe weather that should have produced tornadoes just didn't. That didn't stop us though, we pushed on for excellence, chased our tails off and gave our guests experiences of a lifetime! 

 

The Northern Plains are personally my favorite place to chase. The terrain, road networks, and most of all the storms! It's a storm chasing paradise! 

 

Tour 8 arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota for the start of the tour. After meeting and dinner we had some time to kill, so we visited Mount Rushmore right after dark. It's a really cool place to visit at night, they light up the entire display of our former presidents. When combined with a star-filled sky over the Black Hills, it's quite impressive to view and photograph. 

 

The next morning we met up early and headed west to Minnesota for our first day of storm chasing. Our target area for the day was Willmar, Minnesota. A warm front was setting up near the area with a surface trough off to our west. We were positioned so we could be in the play of both areas. Capping was quite strong this day and there was a risk that storms would not fire until after dark. 
The sun was quite intense this day and some of the moisture had started to mix out a little bit, which had me worried. Luckily as the storm system started to tighten up a new fetch of moisture moved into the area. Patiently waiting, we hung out keeping a close eye on the radar and watching convection starting to initiate. One of the updrafts we were observing suddenly started to break the cap and the upward motion of updraft had accelerated to tremendous speeds. The chase was about to be on! As we moved into position another storm off to our west on the surface trough had begun to take off as well. Now we were torn between storms, they both looked fantastic and both had the same potential to produce tornadoes. After a moment of pulling over and looking over some observations, we had decided to head west to the surface trough storm. We cruised down highway 40 west out of Willmar and soon we could see a large wall cloud and base. The storm had become tornado warned and as we continued our approach, large feeder bands began to form into the base. All you could hear in the van was the word WOW being repeated over and over again mixed in with the sound of camera shutters going to work. The first day of the tour was starting with a bang! Upon reaching the storm we dropped south to avoid the large hail and get into a position to photograph this beast! 

 

                                           Sunset back-lit supercell with wall cloud north of Montevideo, Minnesota.

 

This supercell was one of the most impressive of the year. The Northern Plains does it again! 

This storm was angry, producing crazy amounts of lightning all around us! At times, it was much too dangerous to get out of the van. The storm was moving almost due south and now the chasers were the ones being chased! Driving and stopping every few miles to avoid certain punishment from large hail. The National Weather Service continued to issue several tornado warnings on the storm. The radar was showing very impressive rotation and we could see it with our own eyes. The storm made several attempts at producing a tornado but it just could not get the job done. As darkness was falling we made some stops to photograph the spectacular lightning show. Other storms began to form and merge into our storm. Quickly the storm grew upscale into a linear mode and we began the hunt for food and a hotel. Amazing first day! 

 

The following day was spent as a travel day to get in position for some up coming chasing opportunity in North Dakota. We headed to Fargo, ND and spent the day meandering the beautiful country side. Once we arrived, we decided to live life a little higher, so we got our rooms at the Radisson in Downtown Fargo! It was awesome! One of the rooms had a Jacuzzi in the middle of the room and the other had panoramic views of downtown Fargo. Super awesome place! We always stay at quality hotels but sometimes we can treat our guests to really really nice places! (On tour 6 - 2016 we stayed in a 5-star hotel in Montana! That was amazing! ) After getting into our rooms we met back downstairs and walked the downtown area on the hunt for some high-quality steaks! We came to the HoDo restaurant which was said to have the best steaks in Fargo. They were not lying, they were outstanding!

 

Next morning I jumped on the computer and made my forecast for the day. It looked very promising. In fact, it looked like it could be the chase of the tour. Little did I expect, it would be one of the best days of the year. When forecasting and chasing it's best to never have really high expectations. You learn to take things day by day. 

After breakfast, we headed out west and explored a small town west of Fargo and look over more data. We found a nice park that was peaceful away from town. Observations showed that we needed to head north, so we decided to grab some lunch at Space Aliens Bar and Grill. A really cool alien-themed restaurant. I had the biggest and cheesiest grilled cheese sandwich ever! So good! Lunch was over and it was time to head back on the road. 
 

My target area was Northwood, ND. We got into position and kept a close eye on GOES 16 visible satellite. It wasn't too long of a wait when convection began to fire to our NW. Waiting patiently, we watched the sky and radar to see how our new infant storms were going to behave. I was closely watching for