The Elusive Tornado Hunt – Part I

You should have seen Felipe’s face when I suggested going Storm Chasing for fun. It wasn’t exactly one of boundless enthusiasm…but slowly he came round to the idea, or at least, resigned to it.

We went with an organised tour group, called Extreme Chase, so at least we were going to be in safe hands. After April, which was the deadliest tornado month on record, that was certainly important.

The evening before the chase, we met up with our guides for dinner.

The guys taking us on the trip were a couple called Shaun and Bridget, who

had been doing this for years. I generally consider myself a geek, but these guys put me to shame, reeling of times and dates of various storms, and pulling out videos of the events. At dinner, they mentioned that the best chance of seeing a storm the next day was in South Dakota, 900 kilometres away, we had to leave at 6:30am.

Day One

As someone who spent many a summer being taken down to the south of France by car, I can endure long car rides easily, so the next morning at 6:30am, I happily settled down for our long, long ride to South Dakota. At least without my father driving, I would be spared the sounds of ABBA for the entire journey.

We stopped only for petrol and bathroom breaks. Breakfast and lunch were both eaten on the run. After 500 kilometres of travelling, I realised that I was still yet to see a cloud, let alone a tornado, but we pushed on.

For 12 hours this was my view in the car:

This was the view from the window (there’s not much change to the landscape):

And this was us, happy and optimistic, squashed into the back of the van:

However, by 7pm it was getting dark and we realised that Mother Nature had won round one. The storms stayed away further west than predicted, so we stopped in a tiny place called Murdo in the middle of nowhere.

Randomly, in the car park we bumped into some other storm chasers who had also seen nothing that day, so we all headed to the one restaurant in the village to grab some food.

A bunch of tornado chasers together are a funny bunch, a bit like a group of obsessive football fans, talking about dates, times and places where the best tornado was spotted. I was vastly out-geeked!

Ironically, as we headed home, a thunderstorm cracked off overhead – typical!! Now it was dark, we couldn’t see what was going on in the base of the cloud. One of the chasers did say that there had been a tornado just 30 miles to the north of the town, but where he got that information from, I have no idea.

About Steff Gaulter

Al Jazeera English's Senior Weather Presenter
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