Tornado Tour - 2004
May 9 - June 2, 2004
(click on pictures to see larger picture)
This year, I was able to drive for Storm Chasing Adventure Tours (SCAT) and this was a very eventful 20 days on the road. As always, the chase is not for the faint of heart or soft butt. We were able to locate storms producing funnel clouds or tornados on about 8 of the 20 days on the road. Most of the other days, we were able to observe severe weather. Our first encounter was on the first day with a tornado and about 1/2 dozen funnel clouds near the Oklahoma/Kansas border. I don't have many pictures of this event as I was driving. Chasing and shooting photos take concentration.
Our next event was on the 3rd day of the tour when we were near Attica, Kansas. We were surrounded by about 100 other chasers and the clouds were rotating in the area. We stopped and found some large hail to entertain us.
As it turned out, I was driving again, when we spotted a tornado in the distance. We headed toward it as other chasers were also going that direction. This was the tornado on the Weather Channel that had the house lifting off next to the tornado. We were cut off by the police as there were power lines down, and diverted down a side road. We did have a good number of other chasers stop and talk with us, as well as a deputy who wanted to look at the radar. As we were heading back toward the closed off area, our director Todd, radioed to turn around immediately as we had hail coming at us. We quickly did a 180 degree turn and were just starting to get pelted as we drove away. We headed for Harper, Kansas as the storms were drawing more intense in that area. We were not able to get there before the tornado had lowered and hit the town. There was small damage to a building and lights were out. We got to the edge of that town to go south and were again turned around due to power lines being down.
After being cut off twice trying to go south to get out of the storms, we headed down a dirt road. This time, the police were not blocking the road, but a tornado had come through and taken down a number of large trees blocking the road.
We had thunderstorms about 360 degrees around us, which made for some spectacular lightning. As we were driving out, driving around the storms, we had lightning hit a post about 30 yards from us which made us jump. We got in to the motel that night at about 1:40 am and a total of 790 miles of driving.
We ran into the Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV) on a lunch stop as they were also checking the weather for pending storms. This is a steel clad vehicle that they want to drive into a tornado. I was able to run into a man driving who was a college student on my 2001 tour. Ben was now driving/navigating the Doppler on Wheels (DOW) truck. It was interesting seeing how they constructed the vehicle. It will run about 70 mph and weights 7000 lbs. They use the turret on top to take photos without having to get outside of the vehicle. We did run into him several times during the tour.
One of our first encounters with a large tornado was in Attica, Kansas as previous described, and we returned to the area a couple of days after the tornado had struck. You have seen it on the weather channel where the house had a tornado next to it and it lifts off into the tornado. The videographer will make $30,000 for that video per a person who sells a lot of video. I wish I had that shot. Here is a picture of the house. The night that it occurred, we heard the owner talking about how a previous tornado had wiped out their home, and they built this one with 1 foot thick walls. Unfortunately the roof was wood. The tornado ripped the roof and all the brand new furniture in it into the funnel. We saw them picking up parts of their lives in the surrounding fields. We had found insulation over a mile away.
The house's walls were all that were left.
On our travels, we had been near the Nebraska/Kansas border when we started running into tornados in the dark. As we were driving along, we had power lines down, and saw where a couple of homes had been wiped off the face of the earth. I found out later that a couple of chasers had helped pull 2 people out of one of the wrecked homes. We went as far as we could go before telephone poles and power lines down in the roadway made us turn around. We went back and parked next to a church in the parking lot. While there, we had the director call on the ham radio alerting us that if he said to bail out to lay against a small wall near the vans. He had a radar and could see the storm coming at us. We had high winds and rain that was coming down sideways. It was so powerful that the rain was coming through the side doors of the van due to the force. It was exhilarating but we didn't have fear for some reason. We also discussed the integrity of the van's construction and rollover tests on roofs. We had a deputy who jumped in the van to see the storm, and he was really scared. We showed him where the severe wind shear was and that it was likely a tornado. We were able to drive out during a break in the tornados and were driving down the road when lightning struck about 30 yards from us. Another reason to jump that night. We kept trying to go south to get out of the storm and ran into roads closed down due to power lines down, and we ended up trying a dirt road which had had a tornado come through and block the road with trees. It was a night to remember.
Lightning in the storm. House damaged by the tornado.
Saw mill hit by tornado. Picking through what was left.
Trees were hit by the tornado. Stripped of their leaves and bark.
Signs bent down due to high winds. House beyond trees missing roof.
House in field damaged. House in curve was badly damaged.
Power pole across the road where we drove. This is the remains of the pole.
Large amount of flooding was a problem. The storms seems to disorient both people and livestock. We had a calf from a feeder lot running down the center of the road, then into a fence, jumping it and heading toward the horizon. You see the bad side of the tornado, and try and not be like a gawker and intrude on their problems. It did appear that neighbors, and family all came to the victim's aid and that they didn't need any help from outside help.
Not all of the storms produced tornados. We were able to enjoy side trips when their wasn't any weather, and the day before we got into the severe storms, we had a good time in Council Bluff, Iowa at a casino. Some gambled, so just enjoyed the food, and some just rested.
Casino where we stayed next to in Iowa. The flag was flying straight out as winds picked up.
We had other diversions as we stopped and made farmers nervous.
We ended up on the Nebraska border and we spotted our first tornado of 14 for the day. We were able to stop for about 7 minutes and watch as the rope tornado went across the sky and then came down. It was amazing to watch.
We saw it and were mesmerized by the tornado as it came toward us.
We watched as it got closer and closer. I had to have a picture with a tornado.
This was the base of the tornado as it got closer to us.
We took off and kept observing different funnels as we drove. Some started producing multiple tornados. As dust would swirl up to connect to the funnel cloud making a tornado, we would just stare in awe. We had 3 on the ground at one time in one location.
This was a funnel forming looking to change into a tornado. We had 3 on the ground at one time in the right picture.
This tornado (left) was coming at us and was on the Weather Channel. We had other multiple tornados on the ground near us which we watched moving parallel to us.
This was a well formed tornado. It was trying to go for some trees, but as it got to a quarter of a mile from us, leaving was the safest thing to do. The picture on the right was the start of another storm.
As the 2nd 10 day tour started, we were talking of how great the 1st 10 day tour was. We knew they didn't want to hear that, so went on to find tornados for this tour. We were fairly lucky to find them and we had a couple from England who had stated if they saw a tornado, they would get engaged.
The happy couple after getting engaged. We sat on the side of the road which caused nervousness among local residents. The tours were made up a lot of British citizens with a few Australians as well. It was interesting to meet these people who had the same interest as we had.
We had our own Twister Sisters in the group. Being in the high winds tore the 2 gig antenna loose from the roof, and the strips were becoming wind indicators. (We used the antenna to transmit satellite TV to each van) We started getting indications of tornados and we were off again.
We were watching the tornados come down and then dissipate. We were watching the one on the right when it came toward us. Due to the earlier rain, we didn't have the dust spin up and all of sudden we heard the director hollering for us to get out of there. I had my head going into the van when winds about 80+ mph (my estimate) hit the door and slammed it on my head. I thought my ears had been ripped off (nice to have a hard head) but was able to get us out of there in time. I found a small amount of blood later on my head. (war wound) I can say it doesn't sound like a railroad train. It sounded more like a jet engine/growling animal. I would rate this as one of the high points of the trip. It was a small tornado, so don't think we would have been hurt if we had full force of it.
These are some of the chasers in the area. Usually, there were 100+ chasers in any one area. On the left is a rope tornado coming down.
It was not confirmed, but believe this was a tornado that hit Harper, Kansas. It was reported to be a half mile wide and a large portion of the town was hit. In the evenings, we would gather to enjoy liquid refreshment, and watch the lightning in the area. I will stop as this gets long and boring after a while.
Even the bathrooms at the airport are tornado shelters.
HOME Camera: Minolta Dimage 7i