The Spencer SD Tornado of 30 May 1998

Chuck Doswell's storm intercept account

Saturday, 30 May 1998 - supercells/tornadoes

By Chuck Doswell


What a wild day! We left GLD at about 10:30 am, driving toward the strongly-worded SPC outlook in IA. The anticipated high plains activity was a mistake, and we had a long ways to go. All through NE, we were buried in milky cirrus and Mexican smoke. By the time we got to OMA, it was clear that IA was going to be a major bust, so we went north on I-29, toward FSD. Once there, we could see anvils of a line of storms so we decided to head west on I-90. We could make out a line of mushy-loking towers and a scalloped anvil (bad) that looked weak and multicellular. Continuing west, the anvil began to harden up, and I could make out "knuckles" under it. Thus, it was clear that the mushy towers were in front of the real burner, so we turned north on US-81, and then immediately west on SD-38. As we drove through Spencer, hardly noticing it, we could see some of the base, and some sort of a lowering that went to the horizon. A few miles west of Spencer, we came on a gaggle of chasers (incl. Bill Bunting and Dave Beusterein) ... Mike Foster came up seconds after we arrived, then the DoW radar, and a bunch more. According to Bill, the storm had produced a nice condensation funnel to ground, but was now shrouded in dust. A modified version of this image to enhance the dust cloud can be seen here. As the storm moved east-southeastward, it was passing to our north, then to the northeast. Modified versions of these images can be seen here and here. The debris column dissipated and the RFD wrapped strong around the mesocyclone, between us and the action area. We went back along SD-38, and could see a black wedge/tube wrapped up behind the RFD, and cloud elements along the south edge of the wall cloud racing from left to right, nearly overhead. As we roared eastward, the road took a northeast jog ... there was a sand/gravel pit just west of the road and the RFD was whipping sand/gravel across the road. Mike Foster was just ahead of us .. he stopped and so did we. The only way to get ahead of the storm was to go through the tornado, which was probably about 1/2 mile or so away ... unbeknownst to us, it was hitting Spencer (we'd forgotten there was a town there!). Since the storm had cut us off, we went back west a short way and cut south on a gravel road and promptly got lost trying to get south of the Interstate. By this time, the storm just behind the Spencer storm was producing a tornado, near Emery, SD [a modified version of this image can be seen here] ... I had no cameras with me and it was raining so it was tough to stop and grab something. Finally, we hit a paved road that crossed the I-90 and I used the 35 mm camera with a 24 mm wide angle to get some shots. At one point, the second storm's tornado had seemed to dissipate and then we saw 3 tornadoes at once: a nice cone [here is the modified version] about halfway to ground with a debris cloud, a rope condensation funnel to ground, and a "dirt dauber" (debris with no condensation funnel at all) to the southwest of the other two. The evolution of all this was rather unclear, as we were struggling to find paved roads. By the time I got out my video camera from the back of the Blazer, I discovered to my horror that I had shot the Spencer event with no tape in the camera!!!! ARRRRGGGGHHH!! I got a few minutes of the rope-out of the cone (described earlier) ... the rope and the dirt-dauber had long since dissipated. By this time, it was well after 9 pm, and we were running out of daylight well behind any good storms, so we bagged it and headed to Yankton for the night. We ran into Bill McCaul and his wife at a restaurant in Yankton, so we swapped stories and celebrated as best we could, at that point unaware of the deaths in Spencer, which we heard about when we finally settled in for the night. My wife's first tornado and my first killer tornado.


GLD east on I-70 to Colby, northeast on US83 to KS383 to US36 to Calvert to US183 to Alma, NE, northeast to I-80, east to OMA, north on I-29 to FSD, west on I-90 to US81, north to SD38, west to Spencer to SD25, south to Emery, south on to SD42, west ... then back east to Bridgewater, SD to US81, south to YKN.

NOTE: Chuck's storm intercept stories for the whole 1998 season are available here.

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