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Storm Chaser: Firsthand Account

Storm Chaser: Firsthand Account

A former storm chaser recounts being in the path of a tornado.

Storm Chaser: Firsthand Account

Friday, August 25, 2017 - 11:00

Emilie Lorditch, Staff Writer

(Inside Science) -- No one wants to be in the path of a tornado, but scientists sometimes become storm chasers to research extreme weather. Hear one former storm chaser recount her experiences being the path of a tornado.

Jennifer Henderson at the University of Colorado is a CIRES Postdoctoral Fellow with a group called Western Water Assessment. She talks about her past storm chasing days.

"As a volunteer who was driving some of the storm chase vehicles for the Virginia Tech field experience, we’ve had a lot of really exciting, kind of visual experiences seeing tornados from a distance. And the one that I remember most was in 2008. We were driving vans through WaKeeney, Kansas, and we looked up at the sky and there was this kind of blistery cloud that was descending from the sky, and our storm chase leader, he turned off down a dirt road and there was a whole bunch of chasers there -- this ‘chaser convergence’ as they call it. And we sort of parked and thought we were going to watch this lovely tornado descend and maybe cross the field in front of us. But we weren’t expecting that we would get some of the winds and what they call the bear’s cage. So, the tornado comes down; it crosses in front of us, and the winds that are getting entrained around the tornado are pushing hail pretty quickly. And so we’re getting pummeled with quarter-sized hail.

"And it was a little bit of a terrifying experience. We were safe, but we’re watching this tornado go in front of us and hearing all of this hail hitting our vans, all the chasers are trying to bail because, not that we were in danger from the storm of course, from the tornado winds at least specifically, but we were in danger of losing windshields. So, we’re backing out of there and driving as quickly as we can, away.

"We eventually backed our way out of that storm and got to a place where we could watch kind of the lightning spider in the sky from a safe distance and tell our war stories of how we almost, you know, ended up in a tornado -- not really, but that’s how we felt. So, it was a really exciting time, but our chase leaders, you know, after that, they emphasized that that was an unusual situation that they couldn’t anticipate because you can’t anticipate what’s going to happen in the near environment of a tornado."

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Author Bio & Story Archive

Emilie Lorditch is the assistant news director at AIP.