April 13, 2018: Southwest Iowa Funnel Clouds


A chase presented itself on Friday the 13th in April this year in the far southwest corner of Iowa. A dry line/warm front intersection was in place with good instability, wind shear, and dynamics. Moisture was limited however, leading to high based storms and only a couple high based funnel clouds with no tornadoes observed anywhere in the target area. Storms quickly became linear toward sunset ending the severe weather threat. We managed to visualize a couple severe warned supercells near the town of Red Oak and Clarinda, Iowa toward evening. Overall I would consider this chase a bust, considering the potential that it had and moisture was fairly limited, retarding tornado potential significantly.

Date: April 13, 2018
Miles Driven: 770
Chase Partners: Kholby Martin, Cory Marshall, James Tompkins
Tornadoes: 0
Photogenic Tornadoes: 0
Largest Hail: None
Top Wind: ~30 MPH
States Chased In: Iowa


For several days out, a system made its appearance across the Central Plains on Friday the 13th showing great promise. However as is typical with this time of year, as the system got closer, its flaws were more defined and it become more questionable as to how much of a tornado threat would evolve with this system. The more clear target was across Southeast Oklahoma/Northeast Texas/Southwest Arkansas, however a secondary target was defined across Southwest Iowa into Southeast Nebraska. This northern target was the area in which we were more interested in due to distance, terrain, and potential storm mode.

For this chase it was Kholby Martin, Cory Marshall, James Tompkins, and myself (Ethan Schisler). We departed Galesburg, IL around 8:30AM and picked up James along I-80 near West Branch since he lives in Muscatine. Spirits were high and were west bound! We made great time getting to the target area taking I-80 west toward Des Moines and eventually southwest toward the Creston area where we staged for the afternoon. A Tornado Watch went up around 2:20PM for a high probability of several tornadoes within the target area and SPC had upgraded their forecast to a 10% probability of tornadoes within 25 miles of a given point.

High probability Tornado Watch issued for Southern Iowa

Storms were quick to develop near an intersection of a warm front/dry line east of Omaha and one storm quickly went tornado warned near the town of Red Oak, Iowa. Our group was initially apprehensive about these newly formed storms because they were traveling northward at an unfavorable angle in relation to the warm front, which would mean that they have little to no chance at producing tornadoes.

Tornado warned storm north of Red Oak, Iowa.

We weren’t able to catch tornado warned storm, however we were able to target other storms further down the line, which eventually led to us visualizing 2 modestly long lasting funnel clouds south of Emerson, Iowa off highway 59. These funnel clouds were high based in nature and did not touch the ground and appear to threaten at doing so. This particular storm gusted out after these funnels were produced and we were forced eastward at some newly developing storms that were also moving northward.

Funnel cloud south of Emerson, Iowa

The next storm down the line and further east was more visually impressive, however still lacked any features that were necessary for tornadogenesis. Lightning was quite prolific and it was during this period, watching the funnel cloud, that one bolt struck dangerously close to our position sending us running for the vehicle.


Lightning with high based storm near Corning, Iowa

We were able to shoot some footage here of the approaching severe warned thunderstorm, however it was largely as this point when we decided to call it a day and head back home. Overall this chase was pretty uneventful considering the expectations that we had and even those were quite low. The southern end of the target in Southwest Arkansas ended up producing several visually large tornadoes that a few chasers managed to capture. I’m not terribly upset at our decision to play further north as we were closer to home, in better terrain, and storm mode appeared initially like it was going to be more discrete and chaser-friendly. That is how the game goes though, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, you still get to chase another day.


Other Photos:

Shelf cloud near Prescott, Iowa

Base of a severe warned storm southeast of Prescott, Iowa

SPC Storm Reports:


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