IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CHASER #5 – BILL KRANSKI OF TWISTED EXPECTATIONS STORM CHASING

Please enjoy our interview with Bill Kranski of Twisted Expectations Storm Chasing.

What first got you interested in Tornadoes?

I first became interested in chasing tornadoes when I heard my first tornado siren go off as a young kid.  Like many other chasers, instead of going to the basement for shelter, I would go outside to look.

That day I did not see a tornado, but it was enough to send chills down my spine and really perked my interest. That was a day I knew for sure that I wanted to see a tornado in person.

How did you become interested in storm chasing?

I have always had a passion for anything weather related, and nature related, from a very young age I would go from window to window giving my mom constant updates as to what the clouds were doing.

This passion would continue all the way into adulthood when I would try to photograph lightning strikes, wall clouds, or any other cool looking clouds. Then the movie Twister came out and that really perked my interest that people actually go out and look at storms.

At first, I thought it was just a weird hobby that I had picked up and didn’t really ever see anyone doing what I was doing, at least not in my little area of Western Wisconsin.

How did you get into chasing?

I chased locally and regionally when I was a teenager and early on in adulthood. Back then it was a lot harder, you would look at radar data via dial-up internet and then decide to go chase a local area.

I never had radar data in the vehicle, just me, my car and a camera.  Then I really slowed down on chasing when I had a kid; I had a lot more responsibilities, and between work and raising a child I never made the time to go chasing.

Then as my child was getting older, he started showing some interest in it, and he was also getting old enough where I felt ok to get back into chasing. Plus, I also have an amazing girlfriend that would watch my son before he was old enough to stay by himself.

That was enough to really get me active in the chasing community. I started watching a lot of great videos, went to storm spotting class, and got first aid and CPR certified. Then I really got active again, eventually forming a team with Steven Solie, Twisted expectations, which we currently have six members on our team.

How long have you been chasing?

I have been chasing on and off for twenty five plus years. In the last 3 years I have become more active, but I started when I could first drive, unless you count going from window to window as chasing.

Why do you chase? Do you do it for fun or do you have a purpose?

I think seeing the amazing things that mother nature does is astonishing, anything from sunrises, to sunsets, tornadoes, snowstorms, lightning, squall lines, great landscapes of our country and everything in the middle is just one of the many reasons.

I also chase because I feel like if I am spotting and can get people five, ten, fifteen minutes more warning time, it could save lives. Radars work great, but there is still a lot that radars cannot see and that is why spotting and chasing is so important still.

Plus, the more people that are certified to help with injured people the better in my opinion as they may be the first person on a scene, and you could possibly be the difference in helping someone survive or not.

It’s suffice to say you must have been in some close calls. Have you ever been hit?

I have been in the outer circulation one time while chasing.  This is definitely not where anyone wants to be, but never in the main part of the tornado.

So, the question is. How close have you got?

This year while in Missouri on the Carl Junction tornado, I was working in from the western side of the storm, and we had just got done driving through an area with quite a bit of tree damage and also debris still in the air (small of course).

That’s when I noticed something very strange happening, along with all the wind, I was watching the front of my car and the rain actually started to be pulled up from under both sides of the vehicle, which is when I knew I was too close.

I pulled over and after reviewing my three sixty footage, I could see that what I was driving into at the time was a huge rotation and figured out for sure I was too close.  Another time I was too close, I had some very strong winds, just after a tornado had hit, and it was bending power poles quite a bit.

Last question we have to ask… Do you ever fear for your life?

There were only two times I have felt in danger while chasing, first time was when I had my son with and storms were moving north-northeast at fifty five-sixty miles per hour, we were north of Holmen, WI and I noticed a bear’s cage structure headed straight towards us. 

Which in a great road network is not as bad, you can pick an east road or a south road, but here in Western Wisconsin we have hills, curvy roads and lots of trees. I picked an east-northeast escape route knowing the storm was moving more north, well it took a right turn and kept heading straight toward us as we were trying to get out of the way, going through river valleys, wooded areas and lots of hills.

In the back of my mind I was thinking that I better not harm my son, my family would never let me down for this. The other time was when the telephone poles were bending over so much and there was no visibility on a gravel road, also with trees on the side, maybe not as scary as the time with my son but was enough for me to rethink how I chase. I studied more and started researching areas better before chasing.

This led me to take better routes and live to chase another day.

Thanks to Bill for taking the time out to talk to us. Links for Twisted Expectations Storm Chasing’s website, Facebook and other social media outlets can be found below.

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IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CHASER #4 – GABRIEL (GABE) COX OF TORNADO TRACKERS

Please enjoy our interview Gabriel (Gabe) Cox of Tornado Trackers.

What first got you interested in Tornadoes?

I’ve had an obsession with dark skies for as long as I can remember. My parents have a photo of me at 3 years old; I am asleep outside on the lawn after having spent hours watching the clouds. Apparently it was a common occurrence and, no doubt, the start of my love for the sky.

That transitioned into a full-on obsession with tornadoes when, as a kid, I heard reports on the news of towns being struck by these incredibly powerful storms. It just completely blew my mind that a cloud could turn into this larger-than-life force to be reckoned with.

I think the mystery surrounding them also peaked my interest and no amount of books or VHS tapes could satisfy my curiosity. My childhood room was a weather museum filled with posters, tracking charts, tornado experiments… really anything storm related.

How did you become interested in storm chasing?

Even though I had this full-blown obsession with tornadoes as a kid, it wasn’t until 1995 (when I was in fifth grade) that I was made aware of this group of people called, storm chasers.

It was a National Geographic special called ‘Cyclone’ which aired on TV that introduced me to the idea that people could chase storms… and sometimes even get paid to do it! I knew on that day what I was going to do with my life.

How did you get into chasing?

For me, the journey into storm chasing was a less conventional route. I knew in fifth grade what I wanted to do, but after graduating high school with less than stellar math SAT scores and being denied by meteorology programs in several colleges, I questioned my path towards a life of storm chasing. I began realizing that I was right-brain dominant (majorly).

That made me suitable for more creative endeavours, but it left me struggling with anything revolving around analytics or mathematics, which makes up the majority of meteorology. So I thought the dream had hit a dead end and I pursued a career in my other passion, film making, instead. Unknowingly, this set me up for storm chasing in more ways than one. 

How long have you been chasing?

I’ve been chasing storms since the first day I got my license. Having grown up in Maine it mainly consisted of sub-severe thunderstorms or blizzards. My first tornado encounter was actually while I was twenty one, working for a small independent film company in Jacksonville, Florida in 2009. I was sitting at my desk, facing the St. John’s River that runs through downtown, and noticed a funnel like shape above the tree line.

 I hoped on my bicycle and rode towards the river. Sure enough, a large waterspout was sitting 1/4 mile away from me. After it dissipated, and I had ridden back to the office, a second waterspout ended up moving onshore and directly over our building. It was my first tornado and my first opportunity to document one. It reawakened my determination to somehow make storm chasing part of my life.

Why do you do chase?

I really don’t think I could NOT chase. Before I could drive, I was chasing storms on foot with my point-and-shoot camera in the field across from the house I grew up in, letting storms roll in towards me while I watched wide-eyed. As soon as I got my license I was out chasing any cloud with a dark base. For me, there’s something intrinsic about it.

There’s always been a fascination. For a time, after I got married and had kids, I tried to tuck it away and bury it in the “I’m responsible now” folder of my mind. But I lucked out and married an amazing woman who called my bluff and pushed me to go out whenever I could. And I’m so glad she did! The feeling of being under a massive supercell, in close proximity to a tornado, or surrounded by the screaming winds of a hurricane are indescribable.

For me, storms are my cathedral; a place to experience awe and wonder but also to be reminded of my place in the world and to be humbled. There’s no way to fully describe the sensation of it.

Do you do it for fun or do you have a purpose?

It’s interesting that you chose the word “purpose”. There’s been a real journey for me revolving around that word. By nature, storm chasing is fun for me. I’m instantly 10 years old jumping up and down any time I’m under a storm and watching lightning streak across the sky. Part of why I’m out there is to share what I see with people who are, like I was for so many years, unable to experience that beauty and raw power for themselves. But then there are moments when storm chasing is not fun.

Like when I ran into a mile-wide damage path before first responders had arrived, or when I watched neighbourhoods being torn apart by a Category 5 Hurricane. That’s when the reality of what can happen when these beautiful monsters interact with humanity hits hard and I have to recon with why I’m out there in the first place. Enter: purpose. I’m not a scientist or meteorologist.

I’m not out to study how storms form. I’m there because something deep inside pushes me to be there. There’s been a massive amount of guilt coming home after some storms, where I drive away from communities who have lost everything and return to my family. Hurricane Harvey was a breakthrough moment for me though. I decided to sit that storm out. I had a gut feeling that I wasn’t supposed to go, and I’ve learned to never second guess those moments. But in observing the storm from the outside, I noticed something amazing.

 In the aftermath of the storm, the one thing that moved people from across the world to act in kindness to the victims of the storm were images. Photographs and videos were being shared across every available platform and the response from people was empathy, love, and generosity. It’s not really a hidden secret that images can be used to influence people, but for me it was an epiphany as to how important capturing those moments can be. That’s a huge reason I now often refer to myself as a weather journalist.

It’s suffice to say you must have been in some close calls. Have you ever been hit?

I have had two really close calls. The first was a rain-wrapped tornado that formed on the leading edge of a squall line at dusk. My chase partner and I pulled off the road immediately when we noticed rotation on radar.

The blinding rain and fading light made it impossible to see, but within a minute I saw the rain curtains quickly shift directions and knew to hold on. The tornado moved directly over us, rocking the car back and forth, and it was over in a split second. We were extremely lucky that it was very weak, otherwise our car would have easily been tossed.

The second close call was in Canton, TX during the April 29, 2017 outbreak. Through a series of unfortunate events, my car ended up in a flooded ditch with me alone and no way to communicate or receive information. The last radar scan and report I had seen showed a confirmed rain-wrapped mile-wide tornado heading towards me.

I was convinced I was going to die that day and filmed a goodbye video to my wife and kids. Miraculously, the tornado turned north and then north-northwest causing it to miss my location by just over a quarter of a mile when it was at it’s widest and strongest point (EF-4). Had I not slid into the ditch, I likely would have blindly driven into it after losing my means of communication and radar.

Two other tornadoes moved near my location while I was stuck; one lifting just to my south and the other (an EF-3) tore through Canton less than two miles to my east. It was definitely a day I won’t soon forget and, as is the case with every chase, it was a learning experience.

Last question we have to ask… Do you ever fear for your life?

The close calls I wrote about above are truly the only times where I have feared for my life, and they proved to be invaluable lessons for our chase team. There have been moments of concern over my safety, but not to the extent that I’ve feared the worst like in those two instances.

For the most part, fascination and excitement are the dominant feelings when I’m out chasing. With the proper experience and precautions, storm chasing can be a safe and enjoyable endeavour. There is certainly always the risk of danger (lightning strikes for one *shiver*), but those risks can be minimized with education and safe practices.

Thanks to Gabe for taking the time out to talk to us. Links for Tornado Trackers website, Facebook and other social media outlets can be found below.

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IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CHASER #3 – COLT FORNEY OF BASEHUNTERS CHASING

Please enjoy our interview with Colt Forney of Basehunters Chasing.

What first got you interested in Tornadoes?

Growing up in Kansas, severe weather was always a part of my life in the spring. I’d say when I was five years old, I would have to run over to our neighbour’s house to use their basement during a Tornado warning. From that point forward, I was hooked on Tornadoes.

How did you become interested in storm chasing?

I would read books and watch videos on storms and Tornadoes and wanted to see them first-hand. It’s safe to suggest I probably owned every Tornado VHS tape ever made including home videos.

How did you get into chasing?

Before I got my driver’s license, I would have my parents drive me to a hill outside of town to watch storms approach. Once I got my driver’s license, I was chasing every chance I got. For the first few years, I just chased locally, within a couple counties from home. I then expanded to chasing tens of thousands of a miles a year in 2008.

How long have you been chasing?

I have been chasing since 2005, almost fourteen years already. Wow, time flies when you’re having fun.

Why do you chase? Do you do it for fun or do you have a purpose?

I chase for fun and as a hobby. I submit reports to the National Weather Service as often as I can as well. I have chased on a research project once back in 2012 – Project ROTATE with Center of Severe Weather Research out of Boulder, Colorado.

It’s suffice to say you must have been in some close calls. Have you ever been hit?

Oh yes, I have had some close calls. In 2011 after dark near Appleton, Wisconsin, we narrowly missed getting hit by a rain-wrapped Tornado. Another instance was when we got stuck in a wheat field. Our dirt road failed to continue east after all maps showed it did. We ended up stuck with several other chasers whilst several Tornadoes narrowly missed us. I could write a book that day! As for getting hit, no.

So, the question is. How close have you got?

There have been a couple instances where I have been right on the edge of the outer circulation of weak Tornadoes.

Last question we have to ask… Do you ever fear for your life?

Honestly, no. A few instances made me a bit nervous for a while like the two mentioned above. I was worried we might get flipped or hit with some debris, but never got that feeling like I was going to die.

Thanks to Colt for taking the time out to talk to us. Links for Basehunters Chasing’s website, Facebook and other social media outlets can be found below.

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IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CHASER #2 – TIM MARSHALL

Please enjoy our interview with Tim Marshall.

What first got you interested in Tornadoes?

I was always interested in the weather and kept daily weather observations when I was a kid. However, a Tornado struck my town on the 21st April 1967. I was ten years old and the destruction I saw (F4/EF-4) made me want to study Tornadoes for the rest of my life. The track passed about one mile north of my house. My house was not damaged, but a neighbour on the block lost some siding.

How did you become interested in storm chasing?

I heard about storm chasing back in the 1970s. They were doing that the University of Oklahoma (OK). On the 23rd May 1974, storm chasers tracked down a Tornado that hit Union City, OK. I really wanted to see a Tornado from a distance instead of being in one.

Photo credit: Ryan McGinnis

How did you get into chasing?

My first ever chase was in 1976 in northern Illinois. I didn’t get serious about chasing until 197 when I went to Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas (TX). I saw my first Tornado in May 1978 near Edmonson, TX as I drove to Lubbock to attend graduate school.

Just to clarify, how long have you been chasing?

Since 1976. I have chased every year since.

Photo credit: Ryan McGinnis

Why do you do chase? Do you do it for fun or do you have a purpose?

It’s safe to suggest I chase for many reasons. To challenge myself forecasting, learn about Tornadoes and of course, photograph them. I’ve been a part of five projects with the Center of Severe Weather Research (CSWR) where we dropped instrumented pods in front of Tornadoes. We had great success on the 9th May and 24th May in Sulphur, OK and Dodge City, Kansas.

It’s suffice to say you must have been in some close calls. Have you ever been hit? 

I’ve been close but not hit directly, thank goodness. On the 9th May 2016, we deployed a pod cat close range and as we were leaving, a house lost a roof next to our truck + power lines went down. Lucky enough! We drove away just in time.

Photo credit: Ryan McGinnis

So, the question is. How close have you got?

Outer circulation

Last question we have to ask… Do you ever fear for your life?

Not really. I know what I’m doing and I get serious and focused when a Tornado is near…

Photo credit: Ryan McGinnis

Thanks to Tim for taking the time out to talk to us! Please be sure to read Tim’s short bio – which you can download and read by clicking the download button below.

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IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CHASER #1 – BRANDON CLEMENT OF WXCHASING

It’s all about the chaser is a new series of interviews we conduct with storm chasers – in particular those who chase Tornadoes.

To start the series, please enjoy our interview with Brandon Clement of WXChasing.

What first got you interested in Tornadoes?

I moved from southern Louisiana (LA) to central Mississippi (MS) in 1997. In southern LA, Tornadoes weren’t really common. It was Hurricanes that had my interest. Once in MS, I kept hearing all these Tornado warnings. One day when I was in college, they had a Tornado warning. College staff tried to force everyone into hallways that just wasn’t for me. I ran outside and could see this huge, well-structured supercell bearing down on me.

In all honesty, I had no clue what I was looking for but damn it, I wanted to see it. I made my way to my car, figured out the wall cloud was the area of interest and ended up following it almost a hundred miles. Never saw a Tornado, really have no idea if it was all that close to producing but really enjoyed what had just happened. It was at that moment that I wanted to know everything there is to know about severe weather and Tornadoes.

How did you become interested in storm chasing?

Living in southern LA, Hurricane Danny hit in 1985. I was five years old at the time and spent the entire day/night glued to the window. My parents had to appreciate the babysitter they had just found but I found a passion for life. From that moment on, I was always interested in storms. I watched The Weather Channel all during Hurricane season, hoping I would get a visit from one. That passion grew and in 1992, I had a friend with a driver’s license take me to the outer edges of Hurricane Andrew during its landfall in LA.

In 1995, I finally had my driver’s license and drove to Pensacola, Florida to intercept Hurricane Opal. From that point forward, I’ve missed very few Hurricane landfalls in the U.S. In May 1995, the New Orleans area and the Northshore had record rainfall that produced some pretty incredible flooding. I found myself fascinated and driving around to different areas to see it. I’ve always had a secret passion for flooding. The passion for extreme weather quickly grew into Tornadoes and relating-events.

How did you get into chasing?

It was just a natural progression for me. I loved weather, watching it and wanted more than any one place received. As soon as I got my driver’s license, I knew the next logical step. Go to the weather, instead of waiting for it to come to me. I’ve also always craved knowledge about things that interest me. At a young age, I began reading and learning about everything and anything I could.

How long have you been chasing?

I’ve been actively chasing since the late 90’s, so a little over twenty years now. I didn’t get really hardcore into chasing until 2003. This was when I started to really prepare chase vehicles and take off to chase weather anywhere and anytime I could.

Why do you do chase? Do you do it for fun or do you have a purpose?

First, it’s just a passion of mine. I have a love for witnessing Mother Nature’s power. I love the challenge of a forecast, positioning and then the pay-off. Getting the best possible of a big Tornado or a Hurricane. Over time, I figured out how to make money to offset expenses. As the income grew I finally decided I could make a full time out of doing what I love most. So now I’m getting paid to do what I love and it’s just wonderful!

It’s suffice to say you must have been in some close calls. Have you ever been hit?

I like to be close but also understand there is a time and place for a close intercept. Many of the Tornadoes I’ve tried to get really close to, I have. One of the days I wasn’t trying to get close was also the day I got closest. The El Reno, Oklahoma (OK) Tornado in 2013. I was observing the Tornado from a couple miles away before a series of unfortunate events unfolded. When trying to reposition as the Tornado approached a road that was on Google maps simply wasn’t there. This wasn’t really a big deal, however I had to reroute, costing me a couple minutes. The Tornado grew into a monster and picked up forward speed. The next route involved getting south of the Tornado on the main highway.

Unfortunately when we got to the main highways, Oklahoma State Police (OSP) blocked the appropriate exit. Even when we tried to go around them, they pulled the car in front blocking us. It was at this point, I knew I was in trouble. As OSP forced traffic from a four-lane highway onto a one fifth gravel road, it became quite congested with traffic. Having sat in traffic for a couple minutes, I concluded that if I didn’t take any action, the Tornado would hit us. I tried to drop south on a gravel road and should have had plenty of time, however I didn’t realise the winds around the Tornado hadn’t condensated yet. I was in the Tornado far before I thought I would be.

As I’m driving south on this gravel road, the gravel started getting pulled off the ground. My car was getting pulled off the road, a wheel barrow came flying across the road and into the Tornado. It was at that point where I knew I had to find a place to try and ride it out. I was very lucky. Other than the El Reno, OK Tornado, I’ve been hit numerous times by quick spin up Tornadoes in a line of thunderstorms. None have been of any significant, most just fun.

Last question we have to ask… Do you ever fear for your life?

In the El Reno, OK Tornado, I thought it was all going to come to an end. Mental preparation from the years of chasing and a lot of luck was all that saved me.

Thanks to Brandon for taking the time out to talk to us. Links for WXChasing’s website, Facebook and other social media outlets can be found below.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram

Thanks for reading our first It’s all about the chaser interview, stay tuned for the next!