Via a thread post on Stormtrack, Dan Robinson and Tim Vasquez have outlined storm chasing fatalities since the inception of storm chasing.
The above bar graph graphic,
produced by Robinson, illustrates all the storm chasing fatalities (which is
fifteen) since the inception of storm chasing.
Robinson, with the help of Vasquez, wrote extensively about eight separate incidents which lead to the deaths of storm chasers’.
2nd April 1984:
The first “in the field” chaser death, Christopher Phillips was a twenty-one
year old OU meteorology student from New Jersey. Phillips died when he swerved
to avoid a rabbit and his car rolled over into a ditch in Oklahoma.
11th July 2005:
Norman, Oklahoma resident Jeff Wear was killed on Interstate 20 near Kilgore,
Texas after he hydroplaned in heavy rain and struck a flatbed truck head-on.
Wear was returning from a chase to intercept Hurricane Dennis.
6th June 2009:Fabian Guerra of Chicago was killed on
Interstate 80 in Iowa when he swerved to avoid a deer, crossed the median and
struck an oncoming tractor-trailer in the early morning hours of June 6th.
Guerra was heading to Nebraska to meet up with two other chasers for a chase in
the area later on that day.
4th February 2012: Andy Gabrielson was killed on Interstate 44 near Sapulpa, Oklahoma in a head-on collision with a drunk driver going the wrong way on the highway. Gabrielson was on his way home from a chase earlier on in Oklahoma.
31st May 2013: Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras and Carl Young were killed when the El Reno, Oklahoma Tornado overtook their vehicle. Richard Henderson, resident of Oklahoma, was killed by the Tornado when he went out near his home to observe the storm and take pictures. Something we didn’t know! A fifth fatality involving a likely chaser was uncovered by researchers studying the Tornado and its impacts.
12th July 2015: David and Mildred Frank were killed when a storm chaser ran a stop sign near the town and collided with their vehicle. We have to stipulate that the Franks were not chasers. The chaser survived with minor injuries and was later criminally charged, receiving a ninety-day suspended jail sentence and one year probation1.
28th March 2017: Corbin Jaeger, Kelley Williamson and Randall Yarnall died
when the Yarnall/Williamson vehicle ran a stop sign near Spur, Texas and
collided with Jaeger’s vehicle. This particular incident has been in the news
recently, as Jaeger’s family has filed a civil lawsuit against The Weather
According to the thread post, Yarnall/Williamson were chasing and live streaming in “official capacity” for The Weather Channel at the time of the crash.
Thank you to Dan Robinson and Tim Vasquez for putting this together. We learnt a lot from it and we think others will as well. That’s why we’re writing about it! We recommend that you read the replies in the thread, it’s worth it.
FYA: There is another thread on Stormtrack which lists/memorialising all storm chasers who have passed on – read here.WE URGE YOU TO TAKE A LOOK AT IT!
1: A subsequent civil suit by
the family yielded a one hundred thousand dollar judgement. Fatal accidents
have happened at the same intersection before, and residents had submitted
previous complaints. The chaser despite being in the vicinity of severe storms
and posting about them to his Facebook page prior to the accident, states he
was not “actively” chasing at the time of the accident.
WE’RE SO HYPED ABOUT THIS! The Tornadoes in this game look incredible.
Developed by Little Cloud Games, Storm Chasers is an early-access1, action-simulation game where the goal is to capture the best shots of Tornadoes without dying…
…An in-depth overview, produced by the
developers, about the game can be read below.
Be one of those intrepid storm chasers that tracks deadly tornadoes in this online multiplayer video game. Your goal is to shoot the best twisters pictures without dying because of powerful winds and flying debris. Feel the challenge of correctly forecasting and intercepting storms with the optimal vantage points before other players. Get into your car, travel through a big detailed map, activate pods and get as near as possible to snap the best photos. The features of the game can be found below:
GAME MODES – Single player missions to learn the game basis. – Online 1 vs 1, 2 vs 2 or 4 vs 4 modes to play against other storm chasers. – Multiple game mechanics: Photography, Outbreak, Tornado Control… etc.
ENVIRONMENT – Realistic tornadoes physics with strong winds and props destruction. – Big detailed map inspired by Tornado Alley landscapes. – Changing weather conditions and time of day.
GAMEPLAY – Complexe photographic evaluation algorythm: distance, focus, visible debris… etc. – Multiple cars equipped with weather radars to spot storm activity. – Tornado PODS with a flat base to measure wind velocity and direction at ground level.
Other elements of the game include:
Image gallery to manage all of your photos and share on Steam.
Editable online FM radio station to listen inside your car.
You may see a flying cow, just saying!
You can find all the system requirements here. Watch a brief Storm Chasers gameplay video below.
1: As you can see in the opening paragraph, this is an early access game. Essentially meaning, it’s on the market, however the developers are still working on it. HOWEVER…
…Having played it for a little bit already, we can firmly say it’s a lot of fun. We cannot wait to see the final product.
With that being said, You can purchase the game for yourself here. You can read more of our blogs here.
Please enjoy our interview with Bill
Kranski of Twisted Expectations Storm Chasing.
What first got you interested in
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
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
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.
Please enjoy our interview Gabriel (Gabe) Cox of Tornado
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
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
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
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
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.
Please enjoy our interview with Colt
Forney of Basehunters Chasing.
What first got you interested in
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
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
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.
stories is a new series of articles in which we give chasers the chance to share
their most memorable chasing experience. It will then be presented in the form
of a story.
The first storm chaser story comes from Manitoba Storm Chaser Jordan Carruthers. Carruthers tells the story of his close range intercept of the May 2019 Tahoka, Texas Tornado. So without further ado, please enjoy!
May 5th, 2019, is a day that will not soon be forgotten, this day started off like any other chase day, we woke up, picked our target, and hit the road. About an hour after reaching our target the storms began to fire, one to our north and one to our south, It was decision time which storm do we go to? They both looked similar on the radar and were in similar environments, so we had a 50/50 chance of picking the right one.
We happened to notice that the one to our south was developing over a town named Ropesville. So now it was obvious which storm we needed to head for, as we got closer to this cell we started to notice it was attempting to do a classic ‘right-split’. This meant the southern half of the cell was feeding into a better environment and splitting off of the northern half which was in a less than ideal environment. THIS WAS GOOD NEWS FOR US!
After determining which direction the southern half of the cell was going to go, we hopped in our truck and started moving to get into better position to intercept it again, as we were traveling to our new spot. We ran into a couple of storm chasers that we knew from Australia so we pulled over on the side of the road and watched the storm for about 15 minutes, during this 15 minutes the storm did something that we weren’t expecting.
It turned into a high precipitation (HP) storm which is not what we wanted, this meant that if this storm produced a tornado, it would likely be rain wrapped and invisible to our eyes. We continued to watch this storm struggle to stay alive as it became outflow dominant, which in layman’s terms meant it was spitting out all of its potential energy and dying…BUT THEN SOMETHING MAGICAL HAPPENED!
The storm ran into an outflow boundary that was sitting to its south, and when this occurred, it quickly began to rotate right beside us. As we were traveling south towards Tahoka, Texas, my guest in the backseat started shouting, “Look on the ground, Look on the ground”.
I turned my head to the right, I quickly saw what she was shouting about. There was a large area of dust beginning to spin on the ground about one-fourth of a mile to our east. So I quickly pulled the truck onto the side of the highway and hopped out, video camera in hand, and started determining what was happening.
There was no real Wall Cloud or funnel present so at first, I was thinking this was just a Gustnado being caused by the gust front (outflow) of the storm. However, I began to notice the rotation within it. THIS WAS A TORNADO! As I stood on the side of the road, filming the development of this tornado, it began to condense. It quickly became a large, dusty stovepipe Tornado. THIS HAPPENED RIGHT BESIDE US!
I happened to look behind me to see if there was any traffic heading towards this that I had to warn, I noticed a large wall of dust heading straight for us. This was the Rear Flank Downdraft (RFD), if we became engulfed by this RFD we would no longer have visual of the Tornado. There was a possibility of being hit with debris that was picked up by the Tornado.
THAT WAS WHEN I MADE THE DECISION THAT WE HAD TO MOVE! We had three choices,
Stay between the Tornado and the RFD.
Try to beat the Tornado and get to the other side of it.
Drop back behind the RFD and possibly lose visibility.
I chose option two! I hopped in the truck, punched the gas pedal and started racing the Tornado. I started catching up to it, however it came very obvious that we were not going to be this thing. As I was travelling south, the Tornado was travelling southwest. It became clear we were getting closer to each other, so I pulled over onto a median. I watched the Tornado as it crossed the highway about two hundred yards in front of us. At this point in time, we were still in a safe position between the Tornado and the RFD attached to it.
Having watched the Tornado cross the road a mere two hundred yards in front of us, I was once faced again with a decision – moving south or moving north through the RFD. I looked behind me and noticed a clearing in the RFD that I could easily punch through, and get a better overall visual of the Tornado. So essentially, that’s what I did. I turned the truck around and started driving through the RFD. Once I got through, knowing we were safe, I pulled onto a pull-off on the highway. I hopped out of the truck and carried on shooting. What I saw was one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen!
This big dusty stovepipe Tornado was pulling dust from miles around it. It was like a scene from the movies, I knew I had to stick with this thing. I quickly hopped back in the truck and started heading south, chasing the Tornado once more! By this point, the RFD was in a position that it wasn’t obscuring our view. However, it was beginning to drop hail in our path. So now, we had to be cautious and stay as close as we could to the Tornado, without getting into the hail. Every time we would start getting into the hail, we would pull over and let it move away from us again.
By this point, the Tornado was becoming severely rain and dust-wrapped, becoming harder to see. We were driving south on the highway and happened to notice the Australians that we ran into earlier parked off to the west of the highway. We pulled in behind them and began our celebrations, we showed them our photos, and they showed us the photos they captured. We just sat there describing what we just experienced.
This was the moment that we decided to call the chase off, as we could no longer see the Tornado, due to dust and rain. It would be far too dangerous to intercept it once again. Find some of my favourite photos in the gallery below.
Wow, what a story. Thanks to Jordan for sharing his story with us. Links to Jordan’s social media outlets relating to chasing can be found below.
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.
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.
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.
So, the question is. How close have you got?
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…
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.
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
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.
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.
Original post can be found here. Like Meteorologist Tony Laubach’s Facebook page here.
Meteorologist Tony Laubach has given us permission to turn his Facebook post in an article. It’s a much-needed read for chasers that head to Tornado Alley from across the world + homegrown ones.
So with that, enjoy the thoughts from a Twister-era storm chaser.
Originally posted: 23rd May 2019.
This will get a little personal, so bare with me. Somewhere over the years, I’ve lost the ability to really get things from my head into words, so this may be much more ramble than I intend it to be. But it’s important for me, and thus I am going to give it a whirl between arm-chair chasing this moderate risk.
(this was published the day after that event)
Over the last few years, I’ve seen a change in my storm chasing philosophy. I come from the Twister-era generation of chasers, and that’s kinda by circumstance as that movie came out around the time I was learning to drive. I consider myself an “Enemy Wind” guy (1992), which was really the first tornado special I saw that introduced me to the concept of storm chasing. In the years between that and Twister, I accumulated a bunch of tornado VHS tapes, and a lot of those had some parts that talked about the idea of storm chasing. I learned, read up, etc, and fortunately my first opportunity came to me in my backyard back in Ohio where I had success on my first chase in 1997 (almost a year to the date of Twister’s release).
Back then, there was no social media, barely any world wide web, and you actually had to KNOW Meteorology in order to have any kind of success. After my chasing debut and first tornado in ’97, it took three years before I nabbed number two in Oklahoma (during my one semester living in Moore), then it was another three years before I nabbed my next five during the 2003 season. My breakout year was the following year in ’04, which included amazing chase days on May 12 and May 29, both here in Kansas. Things took off from there.
Point being, it took a LONG time before I got to a point where I felt comfortable with chasing, and lets face it, remotely could consider myself a “good” chaser. And because of the lack of social media, I was forced to actually engage with other chasers in the field. I met many in my early years, and they all took me under their wing. We had short caravans of vehicles that prowled the plains, often only a couple of those vehicles having mobile data of any sort in the car. I got my HAM radio license so I could communicate, and that’s how it worked. I listened to their observations, how they navigated storms, and it brought me to a new level. All this while struggling through a Meteorology degree, which I ultimately would FINALLY get many years after starting.
It took patience, it took persistence, and it really took a HUGE investment not only in money (which lets be real, was probably the least of the investments when compared to the others), but in time and effort. If you wanted to be good, you wanted to see tornadoes, you had to know what they hell you were doing. And it took years to get to a level where I felt I could say that with some confidence. It’s called patience, earning your way… it’s a lost art in so many areas these days. Kind of like the art of storm chasing…
Between Twister (1996) and the Discovery Channel era (2007), I think there was a lull in the increase of chasers. In fact, I ponder the notion of knowing how many Twister-era chasers survived that stint. With lower success rates and freelancing video had not yet exploded into what it is today, I wonder how many regulars back then made it. Sure, there was probably a slow incline in the numbers, but I recall most of the people I saw were the same groups year-after-year. I think tornado tours originated during this time as well, but they, too, were very limited in numbers.
So then came Discovery Channel, and thus storm chasing became mainstream. Social media was becoming a thing, and forecast models had increased in their accuracy. The boom had begun. And I think this is also when you really started to see storm chasing become a business. Multiple tour groups sprang up, freelance video companies multiplied, and access to earning money to offset costs was much easier. Success rates were also going up, and the introduction of “spotter network” combined with updates from the field allowed a lot of novice chasers to follow others, and suddenly the newbies were enjoying success by literally riding coattails. And better forecasting models made it much easier to forecast where to be.
Discovery was a trigger, arguable THE trigger, and when it introduced people to storm chasing, it was a wildfire out of control. And it just grew, more people got their gas tanks filled through video selling, models got better to the point where people didn’t have to know Meteorology, and suddenly there it was. And the trend that has not slowed since. Now high-risk days are more about navigating traffic than seeing storms and tornadoes, and what once was a enjoyable down-time post-chase activity of watching a couple tornado videos from an event has turned into 100 of the same views of tornadoes from people, whom a majority of, don’t know how to shoot video in any real capacity to make it an enjoyable viewing.
“But Tony, you were on Discovery Channel. Didn’t you contribute to this process?” , In a word, yes. I was on Discovery Channel as part of Team TWISTEX for three seasons (well technically two, I was in the opening credits for the fifth and final season, but never appeared in an episode; a topic for later over a drink in a bar). We had a mission that was focused on science, and we took advantage of the chance to gain some exposure for our work, and lets face it, get some funding for a project that did not have the luxury of the exposure that groups such as VORTEX 2 had. We did our best to portray ourselves in the most professional light we could. We were not parading around as “Extreme Meteorologists”, and the work that was done in the field during TWISTEX has actually be published in countless peer-reviewed papers and academic journals. We took the risks we felt were necessary and as comfortable as we felt we could. We did not intentionally drive into tornadoes for “research”. We tried, even against the odds of favorable editing in post-production, to portray our group in the most professional, respectful manner to which we could. And we did so in a way that allowed the least amount of opportunity for production to later dramatize us. And I think we did a damn good job, even into the last season which was a gratuitous stretch of reality, lets be real. We took advantage of the stage we were presented in hopes we could display a side of chasing that I think really needed to be displayed. Did it ultimately work? That’s arguable. But it’s my hope that a few of those out in the field are doing good work because they were inspired by Tim’s passion and work-ethic to better the sciences, and do so in the most professional, respectful, and passionate way possible.
The passion, though, has been replaced with something else… I don’t even know what to call it anymore. The need to sell video, the need to garner social media followers, the need to do something. I don’t know… there’s a term for it, and it’s escaping my mind. It’s different, it’s much different. And it’s not good, let’s be real. Storm chasing is now a sport, and it’s a sport where the players as a whole are not very good. It’s about competition, who can get the most extreme video the quickest, who can get the closest, get more social media likes, whatever. I’ve fallen off the grid over the last couple of years, clinching to my close friends and long-time chase partners I’ve accumulated over the years. My social media following is much larger than I would come to expect given the relative lack of posting I do in the grand-scheme of things. But it’s something I’ve built over the years, and something I am proud of. But even still, my lack of posting is apparent is a lot of instances outside of my day-to-day chasing.
Look, I’m not trying to denounce people (I do denounce highly the dangerous behavior and carelessness exhibited all-too-frequently). I know this has carried a largely negative tone, but I’m happy to a point that we’ve inspired people to pursue this. And it’s not my place to judge others by their motivations behind pursuing storms. I’m expressing my thoughts on the matter. But where I am coming from is probably that of an old man perspective. The ability to simply be able to do something does not translate into one actually doing it. The lack of experience clogging roads has become dangerous, and it’s both the new and old. When you factor in those reasons I stated above, it makes anyone dangerous in the wrong circumstances. And it’s truly a miracle of miracles that incidents like what happened in Texas when long-time chasers recklessly killed a young chaser haven’t happened more. It’s truly a matter of time, and it’s not anywhere out of the realm of possibility that a much larger scale incident will occur due to the excessive amount of people being out on higher end days.
I’ve adapted… and not in the way I wanted or even envisioned to. A lot of people come back at me and say “if you don’t like it, don’t chase”. And while it’s not to accommodate their requests in any way, here I am sitting out a moderate risk day (started this on 5/22) to type this because I’d rather not go out of my way to chase a high-stress event. I’ve definitely come into a different place in regards to my chasing in recent years, and sitting out higher-end days is not something that bothers me as much anymore. Does that mean I will sit out every high end event from here through the end of time? No, of course not. It just means I am going to be highly selective on those I do opt to take part in. And these last last couple, in the midst of a very busy pattern with plenty of opportunities coming down the pipe, I decided to sit out.
It helps living in the Alley now, which was one of the reasons why I came out here. I’m not limited to a “chasecation” any more. I can be move selective, the opportunities will come to me. It’s called getting older, the idea of being out for dozens of days in a row just doesn’t have the appeal as it once did. I will get scattered chances to see storms all year long, and that’s a big reassurance. I’ve settled down in life a bit, it isn’t about how many tornadoes I can cram into a week, or how many miles I can drive (which trust me, still add up faster than I can keep up with), it’s about enjoying the storms a bit more. I’ve focused on picking up my Nikon more, filling up my wall with beautiful storm structure, lightning and tornadoes. I still have a job to do around that, but for me now, I just want to return to something earlier where it was about the storms, and get in those moments between work. Which is much harder to do when you’re in a high-end, higher-risk situation.
I’ve enjoyed very much the lower end days, the rewards of seeing beautiful storms and tornadoes and have done so in environments that allow me more focus on the skies and less on trying to survive the masses. I’ll have plenty of opportunities for higher end setups as a result of the job I work here in Kansas, but the days of going out of my way for those types of intense setups are highly numbered. And as much as it amazes me to say it, I’m not bothered by this nearly as much as the younger version of me once was. There will be other storms, other tornadoes, and I will see more than my share in the years to come. I’ve taken that step back, and have really come to appreciate that more in the last couple of years. I want to enjoy the weather again as close as I can to how I once did when I started.
Look folks, higher risk days are NOT the days to try to get your first tornado. They’re not the days you go out on if you’ve only chased a couple times, and certainly are not the days you want to venture out solo if you’re chasing experience can fit into a shot-glass. Baseball players who swing a bat in batting practice in the minors and drill a home-run on a slow hanging slider don’t immediately get to start in the World Series. They start small, and for many, it takes years to get to a point where they can make that start. I know many of you do not understand the idea of patience, persistence, actually taking the time to learn something. But that experience grows, and it will get to a point where you won’t be a liability on higher-risk days. There are ALWAYS going to be tornadoes, and the ones you really want (the photogenic, non-damaging rural tornadoes) tend to gravitate toward lower end risk days, and they always have fewer people. Remember, learning about chasing is knowing the weather, and it is VERY difficult to focus on the weather when you’re constantly navigating traffic and have your heads in a computer screen. And look, there is more to chasing than just tornadoes. Seriously, let that sink in a little. There is so much you’re missing out on.
Go chase, enjoy mother nature. By all means, please do. But start small, learn it. Appreciate it. Grow with it, and eventually you’ll get there. I did, lots of us did, and I enjoyed the journey, even as it took years to get to that point. You have so much more at your disposal than I, or many of us early-generation chasers did, tools that can help you grow and learn. Don’t just use it. Absorb it. Take a step back and think about those days you go out, do you know why? Do you understand how the forecast works? Or are you simply driving to the center of an outlined bulls-eye? Think about that, wouldn’t it be cool to understand WHY you’re chasing something. Then again, maybe you just wanna see tornadoes, and that’s cool too. But you have no idea what you’re missing, and it’s a blessing and a curse. If you truly understood what myself and others have invested over the years, you’d be as envious of us as you would lucky you weren’t us. Because it hurts to see what chasing has become in the last few years. It was never meant to turn into what it has today.
My final piece of advice… obviously I am not your father, nothing I have said here as advice is meant to be an order and probably has gone in one eye and out the other. And while you don’t have to listen to all that, please be sure to listen to this. Be respectful out there, be professional. While the practical obligations of chasers are largely up for debate, I feel we all owe it to ourselves and others to treat this activity with respect and professionalism. I understand how one can get caught up in the moments, and I am as guilty in this as anyone from time-to-time, but you have ALL THE CONTROL over what you put out for public consumption. If it’s your first tornado, or your 500th, act like you’ve been there before. Remember that many times over, these acts of nature that you may be rooting for and cheering on like a bunch of drunken high school students are doing awful things we cannot imagine to others. No one needs to see the levels of disrespect that are flung across the medias of the world now-a-days. Respect this craft. Respect the laws. Respect others. Be professional, and perhaps we can all go out there and do this thing and enjoy the moments while actually contributing something productive to the science and in some other ways, aid those in the paths of these things. Above all, be safe and be smart. And remember, your actions out there are not only being captured by you, but by every single other person out there with a camera. And if you’re acting carelessly, doing stupid stuff, you’re going to get called out for it. And you should! And when that happens, don’t get defensive, don’t go off in a huff, LEARN FROM IT. We’re all guilty of those moments, we’ve all been there. But for God sake, LEARN!
No storm, no tornado, NOTHING is worth your life out there. There will be plenty of storms, plenty of tornadoes… you don’t have to see them all, you don’t have to sell them all, you don’t even have to be there for them all. Know your limits, respect your skill set, and grow them all over the years you’re out there. No one is asking you to stop chasing, we’re just asking you respect the craft a little more, take a step or two back and appreciate and respect what Ma-Nature has to offer. This coming from one of the old guys in the craft now. Happy Hunting out there!
Thank you Tony for allowing us to publish your excellent piece to a wider audience. Take a look at some of Laubach’s work below, it’s worth it!
Update #2: A statement from the subject involved in the incident has now posted a statement via his Facebook account – read below.
“So I was involved in an altercation in Roberts County, Texas last night. I was under the impression that if you don’t want somebody trespassing, you have signs, which I always watch for.
A rancher from the area pulled up to me and flatly said “GET OUT”. I then proceeded to tell him that I didn’t see any “no trespassing” signs, and at that point he got out of his vehicle with a fireman, to which prompted me to get mine.
Huge misunderstanding, I’ve talked with the Roberts County Sheriff on the phone, and we came to an understanding. I will be getting a trespass citation, but otherwise it has been take of.”
Update:Minutes ago, we exclusively received a statement from Roberts County Sheriff, Dana Miller in regards to the incident.
“We received a call about 5:20pm from the ranch manager of Mesa Vista Ranch, owned by T. Boone Pickens, that a trespasser was on the ranch.The trespasser was three miles into the
ranch and had to pass multiple No Trespassing signs to be in that location.
The Ranch Manager, Keith Boone, approached the vehicle and asked the trespasser to leave, the trespasser pulled a gun on Mr. Boone.The vehicle was described as a Chevy Trailblazer with Kansas plates 784EBP with a yellow light on top and storm chaser decals.
The subject was described as a man with a dark beard and a baseball cap on. The trespasser said he was going to call the Sheriff.The Ranch Manager said he would do it for him because he works with the Sheriff’s Office Storm Spotting, with the Volunteer Fire Department, and has a good working relationship with us.
The spotter went down another road and the Manager approached him again and the spotter told him that he was “tired of messing with these Red Neck Mother Fu**ing Farmers and Ranchers”.The Ranch Manager them explained to the trespasser that he also had a gun and it was bigger than the trespassers. That is when the man decided to leave.”
Miller told us that subject involved was not apprehended – so keep an eye out. Christopher Homen is the deputy sheriff you see in the video below – original post.
Original post:The above featured photo was captured Pike as the deputy sheriff talked to chasers.
Details are vague at this time, we await a press release from the relevant authorities – including an affidavit. At this time, all we’re going to write about is what we know.
Police are searching for a “storm
chaser” who pulled a gun on farmers yesterday while chasing severe weather in
the southern Plains – Texas to be precise.
This story was first brought to our attention by a fellow chaser and good friend, Emily Pike, when she posted the following photo on her Facebook account
Pike then went live on her Facebook account to talk about the above-mentioned scenario;
In a strongly written and rightly worded article, Matthew Cappucci of the Capital Weather Gang shared a perspective on the mobs/aka noobs ruining storm chasing.
At the start of
his perspective piece, Cappucci stated that he heard “grumblings about the
downsides of storm chasing for a long time” – suffice to suggest we’ve heard the
Those downsides include: poor driving habits, traffic jams as cars converge near significant storms.
Cappucci concluded on this particular subject of the downsides of chasing by stating: “It had always been on my mind, but four years of venturing to the Plains had taught me it was just something with which I’d have to live. I’ve always brushed it off as an unavoidable by-product of chasing.”
Cappucci moved on to the subject of
which this article is based upon – YESTERDAY’S SEVERE WEATHER RISK!!!
started on the above mentioned subject by stating “he witnessed first-hand the
practices” that would drive him away from storm chasing.
Cappucci put a
six bullet point list on some of the things he’s encountered – which can be
vehicles parked perpendicular to roads – blocking major intersections.
chasers with red/blue police lights, “pulling over” others to clear their path
to the storm.
jams two hundred cars deep.
parking on/in the road to take photographs – blocking traffic.
“barrelling” down a one-lane road at stupid speeds in our opinion – ninety miles
driving on the wrong side of the road.
captured by veteran chaser, Daniel Shaw perfectly illustrates a scenario which
played out on Monday – see below.
Suffice to say, the dangers speak for themselves.
In his perspective piece, the Capital Weather Gang contributor stated his biggest fear wasn’t weather related; it’s other chasers.
Yesterday, an incredibly significant and photogenic Tornado swept passed Mangum, Oklahoma – find our articles on that here. here and here
Highway reported just one injury, thank god. It wasn’t caused by the adverse
weather conditions… It involved two vehicles with storm chasers…
You can read the rest of Cappucci’s perspective piece here, we wanted to give you a taste. Now on to our take…
chasing community has been unbelievably lucky when it comes to the lives of
1: Chasers have died in past traffic/Tornado
incidents, however out of respect for family, friends and colleagues, we did
not want to mention their names in this particular piece. However, our
thoughts, prayers and love remain with above mentioned individuals.
believe the crux of the issue comes from the amount of chasers on the road. Then
it comes down to the do it yourself storm chasers/amateur that have been
spurred on by popular TV shows, Netflix documentaries etc. Not forgetting to
safe to suggest it’s not just amateur chasers contributing to the issue.
Professional storm chasers are also contributing to the issue – even making it
worse! Sorry to say…
…With a lot of competition
in the industry, many are taking it to a whole new level in order to get the
best, most up close video. This tends to mean taking needless risks, not to
mention putting others at risk. You know Cappucci makes an excellent point on
“Branding things as “extreme” gets clicks and views. That makes money. And across the board, we’re much more likely to celebrate an “extreme storm chaser” than we are a “safe storm chaser.” You’re not going to turn on the TV and see a headline that reads “storm chaser records tornado from a safe distance.”
Matthew Cappucci, Capital Weather Gang
significant amount of money involved, the dangerous and somewhat shocking
behaviour looks set to get worse. Illegal driving can’t be policed, why? They’re
dealing with the severe weather situation. You can’t limit the number of
chasers, tourists that go chasing…
2: However, we’ll come on to that
It’s going to
have to take something drastic in order to hastily get discussion underway in
ways the industry change.
2 One idea we had was that chasers would
have to get a special type of licence which allowed them to chase3. Here
in the UK, you have to have a special licence to drive a lorry (semi-truck) for
In order to get that licence, you’d have to take an enhanced & relating test. Why can’t the same be for chasers? It’s an idea we’re going to sleep on and comeback to post in this blog.
FYI: The definition of noob can be found below:
“A person who is inexperienced in a particular sphere or activity, especially computing or the use of the Internet.”
police are trying to locate and arrest man facing serious charges of child
The man we’re talking about is KOCO Channel 5
storm chaser Lawrence McEwen.
real interested in getting him in custody and taking him off the streets,” The
chief of police for Noble, Keith Springstead said.
On Friday, a warrant for arrest was issued for the
“He has not been taking into custody at this time.
We are looking for him along with other law enforcement entities to try and
bring his capture,” Springstead said.
News 4 (news channel for Oklahoma City) confirmed the U.S. Marshal’s office is now helping in locating McEwen.
“We’ve been to his house. We even have given
information of other places that we believe that he might have been or where he
is going. We are using everything at our disposal to try to put an end to this
situation, and get him into custody,” Springstead
IF YOU’RE IN THE AREA:
Noble police said
they have investigated locations in Norman and in Oklahoma City looking for the
If you have any information on his whereabouts, we strongly urge you to contact the police in Noble.
“We have one thing to say. Don’t tarnish every chaser just because of this P.O.S. Chasers saves lives! Not ruin lives, like this scumbag!”
JUST FOR YOUR INFORMATION: The Tornado mentioned in this story was the F4 that stuck Bright, Indiana, continuing through Fairfield, Ohio (OH), before dissipating on the edge of Mason, OH – were Dickerson lived.
So without futher ado, here is Dickerson’s story.
“June 2nd, 1990: It was a day that seemed no different from any other late spring Saturday for fifth-grade me. There was one week of school left, and I was champing at the bit to get my summer vacation underway.
It was also my grandfather’s seventy birthday and we were set to jump in the Mercury and head to Columbus to join the rest of my family in celebration.
I was never much for collared shirts at that age, but I found compromise with my mom in the form of a white shirt with negative shaded dolphins against turquoise spray paint patterns; pretty standard fare for the twilight of eighty’s dude culture before it was swept away in a tidal wave of flannel and Seattle slacker chic.
Being the first one ready, I decide to go outside and amuse myself in the front yard with some of my toys, making sure to heed my mother’s instructions not to get dirty.
I didn’t stay outside for long, though.I couldn’t. It was the most humid day I had ever experienced. Even at that age, it seemed like an anomaly to me.
I had always grown up outside, playing in the woods, the creeks near my house, and running around in nature through all four seasons.
My folks always encouraged me to go out and explore what I read about in my nature magazines and science classes, and I had fully embraced that as far back as I can remember.
Even as a child I had developed a sense of being in tune with my outdoor surroundings, and I knew right away that there was something different about that day.
There was an oppressive haze that instantly caused sweat to bead up on my face, exacerbated by the sun beating down with a relentless intensity that was unheard of that early in the spring.
While strange, it didn’t register as a warning, and I retreated to the air conditioning thinking only that it foreshadowed a nice hot summer with plenty of days spent at the YMCA pool, sprinkler runs, and squirtgun fights…
…and how I would be having a lot more fun if I could change into my bathing suit and enjoy the gift of an August day presented two months early.
What I couldn’t see, couldn’t know at that age, was that the blanket of moist air saturating the landscape was instead a warning sign.
High above and to the west, ingredients were being poured into an atmospheric gumbo, and the burner was set to high.
The party was pretty standard fare for me at that point in my life. Being the oldest of the grandkids, I was always disappointed at being relegated to the kids’ table with all my younger cousins who, though only a few years younger.
It seemed miles away to almost-eleven-year-old me. Though I tried, my appeals to join the adults at their table once again went unheeded. After we finished eating, we all took a family photo that still hangs in my grandmother’s house.
The party went late into the evening and the sun had long since set by the time we returned to the car for the two-hour trip back home.
There was never really much to see along the stretch of I-71 between the Cincinnati suburbs and Columbus, even during the day, and much less so at night.
So between the boredom of an uneventful night drive and exhaustion brought on by the oppressive heat that stretched even to Columbus, I fell asleep.
It wasn’t a sound that woke me up, it was the light. In the fog that surrounded me as I slipped out of sleep, it seemed as if I had closed my eyes in front of a television in a dark room, the flickering and pulsating growing with intensity until I finally found my way back to consciousness.
Half awake, and slumped across the middle of the back seat, I remembered that I was in the car and figured we must be getting close to home.
All those flashes, the intensity, the constant strobing could only mean one thing; the fireworks finale as King’s Island closed for the night.
At that time, the massive amusement park was one of the only landmarks in my town, and every night the fireworks were visible from my house.
I always knew exactly when ten o’clock struck because the sky would illuminate, followed by the low booming that shook the summertime sky and signaled curfew for us neighborhood kids, our own nightly send-off after days full of of baseball, skateboarding, and frog-hunting.
But there was no sound. Half-asleep, the expected report and rumble never came. The car was virtually silent aside from the hushed conversation between my parents and barely audible radio, both reduced in volume in consideration of the sleeping kids in the backseat.
Eyes half-open, I inquired to my dad, “are those the King’s Island fireworks?”, he replied, “No son, that’s lightning” and, as if I were struck by a thunderbolt myself, I was instantly awake and sitting straight up. It was indeed lightning.
The most fantastic lightning I had ever seen. The sky was as if it were midday, the darkness outside lasting mere fractions of a second as the landscape was illuminated by the incredible power surging within the clouds above.
I have always had an adversarial relationship with lightning. At times, it seems that we are destined to be intertwined throughout the course of my life, like a hero and villain who require and respect each other to even exist.
For the longest time I was crippled by a fear of lightning, stemming from a strike to our house in Colorado that imprinted my early consciousness as a toddler.
Seeing it shatter a massive oak in a friend’s backyard in a shower of sparks and a deafening bomb blast of thunder a few years later didn’t help.
Later, as a teenager, I would watch in horror as a lightning bolt struck down a man mere feet from where I was standing while working at a waterpark.
I will never forget being first to rush out with a lifeguard as we tried in vain to perform CPR; the look on his face, eyes half-rolled back in his head, burn marks above the left eyebrow, gone from the plane of existence before he even hit the ground, all while lightning continued to flash overhead in a taunting, threatening manner.
But as a child, my parents, ever encouraging me to learn about the natural world, pushed me to read about storms; that the more I understood them, the less I would fear them. And I devoured any reference material I could.
While most kids were reading comics and spending their allowance on baseball cards, I was wearing out my library card on every weather book I could find and begging my mom to go to the mall so I could spend an hour in The Nature Company devising a plan to maximize my lawn mowing revenue.
At first, it didn’t really help. The tornado book I read and re-read hundreds of times (Disaster! Tornadoes by Dennis Fradin) first gave me nightmares.
I imagined myself in Wichita Falls, Texas on April 10th, 1979, the still image of the multi-vortex tornado from the book bearing down on me with no place to hide.
Waking up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding like a machine gun and then awakening my parents almost banned that book in my household, but those nightmares soon subsided.
That book made such an impression on me, and I too on that book in the form of a number two pencil with the name ‘Chris Dickerson’ repeatedly scrawled in adolescent chicken-scratch in the checkout catalog on the rear binding.
I returned to my elementary school as a high school student and the librarian actually let me keep the book as a memento…
…and maybe because it was obvious that I was really the only person that ever read it. I still have it to this day. In the backseat of the car, I was transfixed by the awesome display of energy erupting all around me.
My sister, always a heavier sleeper than me, was still oblivious and fast asleep in the seat beside me, while I was simply staring out the window, speechless. Nature was flexing her muscles and I was in awe but at the same time perplexed.
Why wasn’t there any thunder? Why couldn’t I hear anything? And where was the rain? I had driven through many storms and even with the typical din of a family of four I could always hear the thunder outside.
Here I was in an almost silent vehicle, and the fireworks that seemed relentless made almost no sound.
Like many midwestern kids, I had grown up with the misnomer of ‘heat lightning’, which is actually just regular lightning too far away for the thunder to audibly travel. But this was different.
This wasn’t a flash or two on the distant horizon, a faint flicker off the summertime haze heralding a distant storm.
This was something different, something menacing. As the landscape rolling by presented itself in an eerie fluorescent staccato, I recognized landmarks ten minutes from home and came to a sobering conclusion.
Whatever was coming was big, and we were on a direct collision course with it. But at least I would soon be home.
We exited the interstate and entered our neighborhood close to midnight, the familiar shapes of the houses and yards that were my summer playground now appearing foreboding as the shadows ricocheted in different directions underneath the electrical maelstrom.
The scene that usually accompanied a nighttime storm, the sky drowned out by the low glow of the streetlights and homes was gone.
The streetlights weren’t even on. The lightning was so bright and constant, their solar sensors were confused into thinking the sun had returned.
The neighborhood, as was typical for that time of night, had mostly retired for the evening, turning out the welcoming interior lights, creating the uneasy surrealism of pitch black punctuated by electric white.
When we pulled up into the driveway, I stood for a second, just staring at the surreal landscape above me.
I wasn’t paying attention to the chime from the car signaling that mine was the last door open, nor did I immediately register my parents commands to follow them inside before the inevitable arrival of a deluge of rain.
I just stared up, mesmerized by the thrashing, low-hanging clouds racing eastward. Where normally the sky was not visible beyond the ground clutter, I could now see directly up into the black heart of the approaching storm.
The clouds were lower than anything I had ever seen in my life, roiling, turning, and advancing with a speed and ferocity I had never seen.
It almost seemed as if I could reach up and grab a tendril from the world’s angriest cotton candy machine churning just above my head.
Maybe it was only a few seconds, but it seemed longer, and I then turned and shut the door. As if right on cue, I heard the most ominous sound I knew. Less than a mile away came the unmistakable wail of the tornado siren.
Even though the thunder had begun to catch up to the lightning and the wind had picked up, whistling through the trees and bushes, the banshee scream of the siren cut through, its crescendos rising and falling while it circled high on its post.
The sound, normally competing with typical midday background noise when testing, was now amplified in the absence of human activity in my small town.
It seemed like it was right across the street. Never in my life had I heard the siren activated other than during testing. First Wednesday of every month, noon, five minutes or so.
It was always sunny, humid, a nonchalant reminder that it was still there, but never more than a cool sound on an otherwise innocuous day.
Not this time. In those days, tornado forecasting was still in its infancy. The first prototype Doppler Radar would not see installation until months later, with an operational weather Doppler not seeing action until two years had passed.
Meteorologists relied on radars designed in 1957 and 1974 to gauge the severity of a storm and the process was far from perfect or even conclusive.
Confirmation was dependent on interpreting old technology and reports from trained spotters. Warning time could vary from ten minutes to a few seconds, and that was if a warning could even be issued in time to save property and lives.
While far more advanced than the days of the early fifty’s and prior, when the government explicitly prohibited on-air use of even the word ‘Tornado’ for fear of inciting panic, 1990 is primitive compared to the advancements we take for granted today.
Every one of my worst fears seemed to come true at that moment. All the images from the books, all the scenes of destruction, houses ripped away, cars mangled…
…flooded into my brain. I feared that any second, a monster tornado would appear from between the houses across the street.
That it was nighttime and we were the only ones outside, the only people that seemed to even exist right then and there in a neighborhood devoid of human presence, seemed like a nightmare that had suddenly come to life.
How much time did we have? How bad was it going to be? Would I live or die? These aren’t usually things that cross your mind at ten, but beneath that ominous sky, lightning all around, siren howling that somewhere in the black churning waves was a killer on the loose, these thoughts arrived.
Standing there, not knowing what direction it would come from, or when, but knowing it was out there somewhere, I have never been more scared of anything, ever, as I was at that very moment.
Thankfully my parents were prepared and we had a plan. My mother took us to the basement in the alcove that served as my dad’s office.
We had some extra mattresses that my dad positioned to protect us just in case. My dad went back up to turn on the TV and I followed, though scared out of my mind, because I wanted to know what was going on.
There was no local programming on Channel twelve that night. Tim Hedrick had pre-empted everything with a live broadcast regarding an ongoing tornado outbreak across the region.
While the normal breaks alerting the citizens of Cincinnati to severe weather were usually bland, dry and at times unwelcome, there was a sense of tense urgency in this broadcast as confirmed tornadoes were slicing across the Tri-State at the most dangerous time possible.
My dad sent me back downstairs after I caught a glimpse of the radar displayed on the television screen, the usual green and yellow replaced by large splotches of red; confirming my suspicion that this was as strong a storm as I had ever experienced.
I pleaded with my dad to come downstairs with the rest of us and he followed.
We huddled in the basement listening to the NOAA weather alert on a small radio we kept for fishing trips at the lake with my grandfather whose party we had just recently left.
The broadcast seems almost campy by today’s standards, but there was no ambiguity about the situation at hand (Below is a clip of the NWS broadcast about forty five minutes before we turned it on).
We remained in place for about an hour. The silence that had preceded the storm was shattered by the repeated explosions of thunder as the storm moved right overhead.
The power failed, and the basement was transformed into a frightening cave of strange shapes as the lightning lashed through the small windows at ground level, casting shadows from boxes and various items at infinite angles while I struggled to hold onto my little Siamese cat.
The rain, swirled around the updraft and held aloft as the storm marched east, now came roaring down in a deafening torrent that lashed the sides of the house like a jet engine on full power.
At any second, I expected to see the ceiling torn apart, to be sucked into that inky blackness, and for my nightmare to follow me into real life and take me away. But nothing happened.
Gradually, the roar of the rain and wind subsided, and the thunder became more distant. The cacophonous wail of the siren had ceased.
The reverberating barrage now replaced with an almost ghostly silence of wind-blown water gently hitting the windows, interrupted only by the sump powering up and pumping water out into the side yard.
As a freight train approaches full of sound and fury, high pitched and screaming, but leaves only faint echoes as it recedes into the distance, so was this storm as it continued on its rails eastward into Clermont County and beyond.
I walked out into the back yard to watch it on its way, the lightning retreating but still snarling and the clouds still low and evil.
The wind had shifted and the hot humid air mass that seemed so thick only hours before was replaced by a brisk, cool wind from the north that made the remaining showers feel much more chilling.
I had survived my first tornado warning, and I had emerged completely unscathed. I wondered how lucky I was compared to others that night.
After feeding off nothing but adrenaline and fear I was completely exhausted and decided to spend the night on that mattress in the basement, just in case.
I knew the tornado threat had passed, but I didn’t want to take any chances. Looking back at archived information available online, that day was quite a significant day for severe weather in the United States.
While today I use the SPC outlooks daily, I was unaware of their existence at age ten. On June 2nd a high risk level, the highest possible, was issued, warning of almost certain widespread severe weather.
From June 2nd, overnight into June 3rd, there were sixty six confirmed tornadoes across the Ohio Valley from Illinois through Indiana, southern Ohio, and northern Kentucky.
Although my house was not hit, the tornado that prompted the warning for my town lifted only about a mile from where we gathered in the basement. This tornado was rated as an F4, the second most powerful rating a tornado can garner.
Overall, this outbreak would produce thirty seven tornadoes in Indiana alone, the most ever for that state in a single day, even breaking the record of the ‘Super Outbreak’ of 1974. Seven tornadoes were rated as F4, and nine people lost their lives.
For me, June 2nd began innocently enough, but ended with me confronting my greatest fears. Little did I know how much that fear and adrenaline would drive me over the next twenty five years of my life, nor did I anticipate the impact of that night on my future.
Never did it cross my mind that only five years later I would embark on trips in my little Mazda pickup, no longer the hunted, but the hunter.
The tables would soon be turned. What had once chased me underground, fearful and uncertain, would soon become my quarry and the object of countless pursuits against reminders to be careful and sideways comments of others who could never understand my passion.
I had always been interested in storms, but June 2nd, 1990 was the day they became a part of me.”
An incredible story, thanks to Dickerson for sharing it.