Why hunt for tornadoes? It’s ‘the wonder of nature’ »Yale Climate Connections

Tribute to storm hunters

At its core, storm hunting is an extremely dangerous occupation, as witnessed by several incidents in late April and early May: Some storm hunters were killed or seriously injured, not by a tornado directly, but as a result of the countless hours of driving to successfully. meet and chase a storm through the landscape. Three Esperanto meteorology students from the University of Oklahoma lost their lives after a terrible accident near the Kansas / Oklahoma border. Shortly afterwards, a crash in Minnesota claimed the life of a meteorologist who had traveled all the way from Mexico to hunt, and a well-known scholar was seriously injured. Hunters are, after all, a small and tightly bound community dedicated to pursuing their passions and resilient to thoughts of fleeing a storm.

These early-season tragedies, so close and striking to such passionate lovers of weather, shook the storm-hunting community, sparking dialogue, soul-searching, and, for those who knew them personally, painful sorrow and fond memories.

I hope that the points captured in this post, and other parts of this ongoing series, serve as a tribute and memory of these individuals and their commitments to a better understanding of these violent, yet attractive, severe weather events … Charlie Randall

ON THE ROAD OVER THE AMERICAN WEST – My mother commented recently how surprised she is by my obsession with storms and tornadoes because of how completely terrified I was of them as a child.

I remember bits of this fear, especially involving night lightning and thunder, but not as much as she describes. A face of pure terror and confusion greeted her whenever the cacophonous tear of air molecules radiated her spectacle of sound and light through our house in rural Ontario. I would bend over on her knees and bury my head in her shoulders, doing everything possible to avoid the chaos. But somewhere along the way, that fear shifted to respect. I’ve read of others going through such a remarkable transition, and although I can’t remember exactly when it happened, a few occasions stand out.

Lightning whips from the CN Tower in Toronto, 2013.

When I was nine or 10 years old, a strong thunderstorm came through my hometown as I watched from the front screen door. With sheets of wind and rain working in tandem to transmit energy through the atmosphere, some of that energy lifted our blue nursery into the air. Appearing already in the air to my right and rapidly floating through the air, it swayed before ending up lodged in a neighbor’s tree.

That was the first time I remember seeing a wind do anything but whisper the leaves or playfully blow my hat off my head.

A few years later, on my birthday, my family and I were at my aunt’s house in Barrie, Ontario, when a tornado approached from the southwest. We had a clear sky where we were, and the tornado rose back into the sky before reaching the city. It hit a number of buildings, and some of the debris was sucked vertically high into the sky before falling onto the grass in front of the house. I watched a piece of pink insulation drift quietly on the ground, in stark contrast to the way it had certainly been forcibly torn from wherever it was.

The influence of the movie “Twister”

These events and a few others attracted me, locking me into an immortal obsession with the many mysteries and phenomena of the atmosphere. One such event was the movie “Twister”. For many people like me, it showed the most violent part of severe storms, and the not new but certainly unknown idea of ​​actually chasing the storms. As the leader of a group of scientists, the character of actress Helen Hunt Jo has many incredible scenes. But what really sums up the hypnotic element of tornadoes is when, with a tornado barring down on her and co-star Bill Paxton, she inexplicably begins to walk slowly towards it, muttering to herself ‘I want to see it, I WANT. TO SEE IT! ‘ Earlier in her life, Jo’s father was terribly sucked out of a storm shelter while she and her mother watched helplessly, and no doubt this trauma played a part in her desire not only to study them but to get as close as possible to the strange shape-shifting snake that took her father to heaven.

However, even if you have not experienced such a traumatic tornado, the sheer beauty and intensity of a tornado draws people from all over the world to the U.S. Midwest in the spring to take a dangerous chance to witness what is easily one of the most frightening things this planet has. has to offer.

Since coming to the United States from Toronto in early April, I have been chasing a dozen storms, mostly through Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Wanting most of us to witness a tornado, I also wanted to engage with local people and other hunters to get rid of what weather means to humans and why it affects so many deeply.

Lightning fills offshore storms early in the morning near Cameron Parish on the Louisiana Gulf Coast, 2022.

One early experience came when I was returning north from a storm watch in the U.S. As I crossed the border into Canada, a stone-faced border guard asked me the nature of my trip. When I said storm-hunting, the storm of authority evaporated, and she looked at me with a curious plot and wide eyes. “Really?” she asked.

We immediately immersed ourselves in our mutual fascination with the weather, and she, with more vulnerability than I expected from a border guard, confessed that although it fascinated her, the wind specifically terrified her. “It’s so loud and loud, and when I hear it knocking on the side of the house or something, it leaves me so anxious.”

“I see!” I replied, acknowledging how crazy it is that this mostly invisible force can so often not be a nuisance … yet other times, it can keep one overnight or, at worst, wipe home from its foundation. Although the wind terrifies her, we shared our mutual excitement and respect for the sky, leaving us with a beautifully connected human moment … about something non-human.

Powerful overflowing cumulonimbus clouds are visible above an ambush cloud at dusk in Kansas, 2022.

During my weeks of storm hunting across the United States, I have also witnessed how deeply ingrained storms are in people’s daily lives in what is one of the world’s most severe weather-prone areas. Driving backwards in Arkansas chasing a tornado-alerted supercell, I noticed members of an entire family on their front lawn; grandparents, parents and children all together, looking at the sky taking the power of a passing storm.

In Kansas, I met two adult sisters and two twin girls who were all riding together on a single ATV from their house about a mile down the road to get a better view of the storm. Evidently caught up in the weather, they seemed even more caught up in the large amount of storm-hunter traffic they found on their normally deserted country roads.

A family in Kansas is watching a tornado-warned storm pass in front of them. They had left their house to see the incident after lightning struck near their home.

This town fascination with the influx of hunters who are now following most storms around the country was evident in Arkansas a few days later as well. I stopped at a tiny bar to use the toilet between two tornado-alerted storms fighting for dominance. When the patrons inside, drinking beer and playing pool, found out I was from Canada, they were so shocked that he took out his phone and said, “Oh, I have to show you!” I spared him and motioned for him to come out, where I gave a brief overview of the interaction of the two storms occurring before us.

Many locals are very aware of the storms; Few hunt, but few do. In North Texas I was talking to a young mother with her two young children in the back seat of the car. “I didn’t have a babysitter, and they love to go out for the‘ naders ’,” she said as the older of the two girls happily jumped in the back seat. Quite touching to me, this site shed light on how the brightness of these weather phenomena really affects people of all ages.

I later met two older gentlemen who told me stories of how they used to chase storms when they were younger, most likely in the mid-1990s. One was on his way home with food and did not stay long because his wife was wondering where he was. However, he said he had to stop and look around a bit, feeling the pull of nature’s wonder and not being able to look away.

A stormy backcourt creates a high wall of clouds in Kansas in 2022.

It’s the complete spell of storms for so many aspects of society that has been one of the most striking elements of my travels across the United States But, ultimately, my time “down here” in the states is about tornadoes.

All the severe dangers within supercells are fascinating. From the torrential downpours that can create flash floods within minutes to hail the size of a baseball that either buries itself deep in the mud, explodes hit by an asphalt road or shatters windshields as it ends its downward journey from high to high. en. the sky with speeds of up to 90 mph.

Most fleeting, violent and alluring, however, is the tornado, still somewhat scientifically enigmatic. After weeks of endless driving, lack of sleep, and several beautiful storms that left me feeling so close, I finally managed to witness an incredible tornado in the dusty North Texas scrubland in and around wind turbines near Lockett, Texas.

More on that will come with my next post on this site.

Initial stages of a tornado supercell near Lockett Texas. Dirt feathers are visible being pulled into the storm due to its lower pressure and ability to suck air from all radial directions.

Charlie Randall is a Canadian photojournalist, former meteorological student and, now, an avid storm hunter traveling through parts of the United States observing extreme weather and its aftermath.

Editor’s Note: Photos and captions in this series by Charlie Randall unless otherwise noted. Look for his next post about the fulfillment of his dream of his first tornado hunt … in Texas.

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