Cloud 9 Tour Van Incident 5/4/22

May 4, 2021
11
21
1
Pennsylvania
I was chasing with Tempest Tours yesterday. At 8:35 pm we were pulled over on the side on the road while getting blasted by RFD winds and a white van passed by. At that point we were about 2-3 miles NW of the mesocyclone and our tour director was contemplating our next move. I think we went about another mile or two before turning around and abandoning the chase because it was getting dark and they didn’t want to chase without a good view of the storm. If that white van we saw was Cloud 9 (we think it was), they must have made the decision to keep going into the notch, thinking the tornado would continue its WNW motion. Obviously it was a very costly mistake, and they’re fortunate it wasn’t worse.
 

Mark Egan

EF0
Jul 13, 2017
34
41
11
Frisco
In the earlier days of storm chasing, that position was known as the "bear's cage." Chasing 101's first rule was, "never be in the bear's cage." I'm sorry that it seems to have been forgotten.
I don’t have much experience with chasing, but I understand why chasers position themselves in the bear’s cage: it can provide better contrast for photography/ videography/ visual (tornado seen against the brighter sky background outside the storm) - but that would only apply during the day. What’s to be gained by being in the bear's cage at night? The contrast effect is not there, right? Am I missing something?
 

John Farley

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Apr 1, 2004
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I was chasing with Tempest Tours yesterday. At 8:35 pm we were pulled over on the side on the road while getting blasted by RFD winds and a white van passed by. At that point we were about 2-3 miles NW of the mesocyclone and our tour director was contemplating our next move. I think we went about another mile or two before turning around and abandoning the chase because it was getting dark and they didn’t want to chase without a good view of the storm. If that white van we saw was Cloud 9 (we think it was), they must have made the decision to keep going into the notch, thinking the tornado would continue its WNW motion. Obviously it was a very costly mistake, and they’re fortunate it wasn’t worse.
Mitch, I don't know if you know the answer to this, but I am wondering if you know why your group was even on that side of the storm. North of the meso, left of the storm's direction, seems like a poor place to be any time. But now I hear that two very experienced tour groups were there, and I am wondering why. This was a long-track supercell and for that matter a long-track tornado, and it seems to me that the opposite side of the storm and meso would have been the place to be. And given that it was by then dark, that location makes even less sense to me. Any info you could provide on the group's reasoning, if you know, would be interesting to me to hear.
 
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May 4, 2021
11
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Pennsylvania
Mitch, I don't know if you know the answer to this, but I am wondering if you know why your group was even on that side of the storm. North of the meso, left of the storm's direction, seems like a poor place to be any time. But now I hear that two very experienced tour groups were there, and I am wondering why. This was a long-track supercell and for that matter a long-track tornado, and it seems to me that the opposite side of the storm and meso would have been the place to be. And given that it was by then dark, that location makes even less sense to me. Any info you could provide on the group's reasoning, if you know, would be interesting to me to hear.
Our tour group wanted to try and come up behind the storm to see if we could see anything, because they knew that the poor road network would not allow us to see the tornado again before it got dark if we dropped south again and got in front of it. They were hoping the RFD rain and wind would not be as intense as it was. We still had somewhat of a view of the mesocyclone but could not see a tornado.

It’s important to note that our tour never went east of due north of the meso/possible tornado. We were always behind it by at least a mile or two. They kept pulling over, partly to make sure we were safe if it indeed turned north. I think they made the decision to turn around when the meso was no longer visible, even with a high contrast camera, and they didn’t want to play around in the dark blindly. Our tour director said he wasn’t worried about getting hit by a tornado at any point, he was much more concerned about hail.
 
Jan 16, 2009
696
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Kansas City
I posted my experience chasing this tornado in the report thread for 5/4. I was also on that road though I stayed more to the west/SW of the tornado to avoid any issues with it changing size/direction. I know data was an issue around this area for some to include me. This is another reason I stayed back more than I would have if I had data and if it was still light out. This tornado was loud and wind directions clearly showed about where the tornado was even without knowing exactly where it was. I made sure I was just out of the danger zone as best I could tell but it was obvious that moving forward needed to be slow or not at all.

I do not know the vans situation .... maybe they thought they were way more in front of it than they were. If so I figure they thought they had a good spot to view it from a point SE once they turned away from the path. They were obviously not far enough away and took a glancing blow as it was lifting. There might have been other reasons that the van could not get further in front like traffic, the town, whatever. We do not know everything that lead to this but I know at night WAY MORE caution is required.

If you chase long enough you will make a split minute decision eventually that you will regret but hopefully it is a minor one like mine and not like the tour groups. All in all I stay out of the cage at night!
 

Dave C

EF2
Jun 5, 2013
151
251
11
Denver
www.davidcrowlphotography.com
I don’t have much experience with chasing, but I understand why chasers position themselves in the bear’s cage: it can provide better contrast for photography/ videography/ visual (tornado seen against the brighter sky background outside the storm) - but that would only apply during the day. What’s to be gained by being in the bear's cage at night? The contrast effect is not there, right? Am I missing something?

Defnitely agree with you about night time, not a lot of point in getting that close or in the possible or actual path. I find the best views for viewing and photography day or night are often from the southeast or south (not in path) when a tornado is not wrain wrapped, from where a tornado often is brightly illuminated (reflected sun by day and lightning by night). People venture into the cage when they cannot otherwise get any view at all due to rain or scud, or because they like the thrill of being in or near the path. People have started to view all hook slicing as safe and normal and really just downplay all the risks of positioning that close. From the cage you usually have huge precip on one side and a tornado on the other, which is a lot to manage if anything goes wrong. From the southeast or south parallel to the hook, you have none of those problems as long as you keep enough distance. Near particulary intense storms and in poor roads, data, visibility, etc. I have no idea why anyone would want to chase in essentially a small box (notch) and hope it agrees with their road options, etc. vs backing off a bit.

A lot of talk goes around about expecting this or that direction when chasing that close, and it is not incorrect. Realistically though, ANY direction shift at ANY time is possible. Look at Greensburg or Manitoba or a ton of other storms showing loops and reversals of very powerful tornadoes without warning. Not to mention satellites, debris, etc. The fact is, people get some experience and think they are in control, but nature is in control. Standing off far enough to allow human response time to the unexpected is the only sensible thing, especially when running a tour where completely inexperienced people are trusting they will be lead safely near these storms. Just because soemone signs a waiver doesn't mean they expect to get hit. I've seen the 'they knew the risk' defense and completely disagree. People see a waiver as standard business stuff. Very few of us actually expect after signing a waiver to get hit by a tornado, have a parachute fail, bungee cord break, etc.

What really perplexes me is how people are obsessed with the tornado only (counting them, only chasing days that have tornado potential, etc)) and they thrive on the competition of it all. What happened to seeing what you can safely and enjoying nature? There are a lot of beautiful things to see around storms even when you cannot see a tornado. It all really resembles the dopamine loop of social media attention; a mindless obsession where common sense is rejected for the addiction and the attention.

Tour groups are the one place I would expect rigid control and adult responsibility. It is sad to see business success put over safety. I know several chasers I talked to ended their chase this same day at dark when they realized the roads, data, and situation were all getting bad. How does a tour operator not realize that this is a good time to call it a day after decades? I sure hope there is some explanation other than bad decisions. It seems many veteran chasers all end up forgetting to fear the storm enough to make good choices. It reminds me, again, to step up my own safety thinking and not get complacent just because I have become used to being near dangerous storms.
 
Mar 26, 2022
73
39
6
Saratoga county NY
People have started to view all hook slicing as safe and normal
....
I sure hope there is some explanation other than bad decisions
I agree, I was shocked at the number of chasers hook slicing through hurricane force wet RFD with no visibility, I had thought after el reno 2013 people would have realized the danger of hook slicing, but it seems not.

I also have a really hard time seeing how anything other than bad decisions would cause a tour van to be driving east on US-70 in that storm at that time
 
Apr 25, 2022
14
53
1
North Carolina
Defnitely agree with you about night time, not a lot of point in getting that close or in the possible or actual path. I find the best views for viewing and photography day or night are often from the southeast or south (not in path) when a tornado is not wrain wrapped, from where a tornado often is brightly illuminated (reflected sun by day and lightning by night). People venture into the cage when they cannot otherwise get any view at all due to rain or scud, or because they like the thrill of being in or near the path. People have started to view all hook slicing as safe and normal and really just downplay all the risks of positioning that close. From the cage you usually have huge precip on one side and a tornado on the other, which is a lot to manage if anything goes wrong. From the southeast or south parallel to the hook, you have none of those problems as long as you keep enough distance. Near particulary intense storms and in poor roads, data, visibility, etc. I have no idea why anyone would want to chase in essentially a small box (notch) and hope it agrees with their road options, etc. vs backing off a bit.

A lot of talk goes around about expecting this or that direction when chasing that close, and it is not incorrect. Realistically though, ANY direction shift at ANY time is possible. Look at Greensburg or Manitoba or a ton of other storms showing loops and reversals of very powerful tornadoes without warning. Not to mention satellites, debris, etc. The fact is, people get some experience and think they are in control, but nature is in control. Standing off far enough to allow human response time to the unexpected is the only sensible thing, especially when running a tour where completely inexperienced people are trusting they will be lead safely near these storms. Just because soemone signs a waiver doesn't mean they expect to get hit. I've seen the 'they knew the risk' defense and completely disagree. People see a waiver as standard business stuff. Very few of us actually expect after signing a waiver to get hit by a tornado, have a parachute fail, bungee cord break, etc.

What really perplexes me is how people are obsessed with the tornado only (counting them, only chasing days that have tornado potential, etc)) and they thrive on the competition of it all. What happened to seeing what you can safely and enjoying nature? There are a lot of beautiful things to see around storms even when you cannot see a tornado. It all really resembles the dopamine loop of social media attention; a mindless obsession where common sense is rejected for the addiction and the attention.

Tour groups are the one place I would expect rigid control and adult responsibility. It is sad to see business success put over safety. I know several chasers I talked to ended their chase this same day at dark when they realized the roads, data, and situation were all getting bad. How does a tour operator not realize that this is a good time to call it a day after decades? I sure hope there is some explanation other than bad decisions. It seems many veteran chasers all end up forgetting to fear the storm enough to make good choices. It reminds me, again, to step up my own safety thinking and not get complacent just because I have become used to being near dangerous storms.
This is a good point being on the south side. That is what I typically try for. I also like to get some of the structure as well. That is how this shot was taken. We were actually slightly behind the storm on this though. It was either this or get cored on roads farther north:

t4.jpg
 

Jeff Duda

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Oct 7, 2008
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My two cents.

If you choose to stay on a bad road track just to keep with the storm, you are not making the best intention to be safe.

Not all storms are chaseable. Sometimes you just have to let them go. If you feel the need to put your life in danger just to stay on a storm, it may be time for you to re-think your life choices.

I see this in many other driving scenarios (not related to storm chasing) - some driver who is clearly insufficiently skilled or too afraid to push forward snarls up traffic or causes an accident because of poor driving...when the alternate is for them to never get on the road in the first place (or...take public transportation or have someone else driving). You do not have a Constitutional right to drive on public roads! Driving is a privilege conferred on you by individual states. To maintain that privilege, you must always demonstrate that you know how to handle your machine when using the public roads. Otherwise, get off the road.

Furthermore, avoiding these scenarios is not a matter of "I'm going to plow as hard into the hook as I can and hope every other aspect of this scenario bails me out." It is not anyone else's (including Mother Nature's) job to bail you out of danger when you engage in risky behavior. The more important thing is avoiding getting into this situation in the first place. That's why you give the storm more room when the scenario includes:
-at night
-poor road network
-low-visibility/high-precipitation
-volatile/extreme environment

What this chase crew did was reckless and could have gotten people killed. And IIRC, this is not the first time that particular brand has been involved in dangerous circumstances. See the end of this video for example:
 
Last edited:

Jeff Duda

EF6+, PhD
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Oct 7, 2008
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We broke off our chase after Truscott/Crowley. There is no point to chasing in the dark IMO. I personally like seeing the structure with the Tor so also no need to "zero meter" for me (you are also not going to sell any footage with every chaser in the Plains on the same cell). Of course this is only my personal choice. My only regret yesterday was not being in the right spot to send out the drone. That screaming inflow would have ended that idea real quick.
Good on you! Great points, too. I haven't seen a single quality image or video from that tornado. So all these people risked their asses for what...no paydays as far as I am aware.
 
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Jul 5, 2009
1,381
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
Jeff, I completely agree with you, I don’t think our opinions differ much… My post was perhaps poorly worded, I was just objectively speculating that this thought process could have been a factor in the incident. I know it sounds like I was empathizing with it, and I probably was, but more so just understanding that it is a temptation that exists when we weigh all the variables making chase decisions… I wrote that it is HARD to choose to give up on the storm, but I have done it lots of times… I‘m also not trying to say “I was talking about others, *I* would never do that,” because I know I have done it - but NOT when the risk was THAT high- i.e. HP, large violent tornado, impending darkness, chaser convergence (not to mention being a tour operator and responsible for many other lives). There is a continuum to the level of risk… Analogous to the way I might empathize in general with the temptation to get close to a tornado, or to exceed the speed limit, but would certainly not endorse those actions in an unsafe scenario. If you knew me, I think you would agree I am a relatively conservative chaser and have missed things (or failed to get closer even when I could do so) because of it.


A poor road network likely contributes to incidents like this... Even the best intentions to be safe, fail when there just aren't enough road options... When the choice is to use the one good road that allows us to stay with the storm despite the dangers, or pretty much give up on the storm by ending up hopelessly out of position, it is very hard to choose the latter...
This is where you and I differ in opinion...as do many others apparently. If you choose to stay on a bad road track just to keep with the storm, you are not making the best intention to be safe.

Not all storms are chaseable. Sometimes you just have to let them go. If you feel the need to put your life in danger just to stay on a storm, it may be time for you to re-think your life choices.

I see this in many other driving scenarios (not related to storm chasing) - some driver who is clearly insufficiently skilled or too afraid to push forward snarls up traffic or causes an accident because of poor driving...when the alternate is for them to never get on the road in the first place (or...take public transportation or have someone else driving). You do not have a Constitutional right to drive on public roads! Driving is a privilege conferred on you by individual states. To maintain that privilege, you must always demonstrate that you know how to handle your machine when using the public roads. Otherwise, get off the road.

Furthermore, avoiding these scenarios is not a matter of "I'm going to plow as hard into the hook as I can and hope every other aspect of this scenario bails me out." It is not anyone else's (including Mother Nature's) job to bail you out if you engage in risky behavior. The more important thing is avoiding getting into this situation in the first place. That's why you give the storm more room when you're talking about
-at night
-poor road network
-low-visibility/high-precipitation
-volatile/extreme environment

What this chase crew did was reckless and could have gotten people killed. And IIRC, this is not the first time that particular brand has been involved in dangerous circumstances. See the end of this video for example:
 

Bobby Little

Supporter
Mar 18, 2013
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eagle, michigan
Traveling east on 70 it seems there
Would have been a visual right before dark looking south. The radar showed that tornado had changed to the north. Loss of service? Thought it would continue parallel with 70? Thought They were east ahead? We were just south of Vernon on 183 waiting.. then calling it off.
 
Jan 16, 2009
696
811
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Kansas City
Traveling east on 70 it seems there
Would have been a visual right before dark looking south. The radar showed that tornado had changed to the north. Loss of service?
70 had heavy rain plus hail was there too so a view was highly unlikely especially with limited lightning. I stayed on 70 hoping as I slowly went east that the cell would eventually be north of me enough to see it. I was not taking the chance of getting into that cell too far and getting hit.

As far as loss of service I had that happen to me but with that loss and being at night it made more sense to hold back and wait.

Another thing to note is that this storm changed speed a few times during the day something that people needed to consider later at night too. If you THINK you are just ahead of of it you might not be that way long.
 
May 4, 2021
11
21
1
Pennsylvania
Just came across this summary of their encounter with the storm. Even if they weren’t in chase mode at the time it still seems incredibly risky to drive through the core of a tornadic supercell on your way to the hotel. Surely they knew what they could be getting themselves into, even without the radar updating. They could have waited 15-20 minutes or so to be sure the storm had passed Lockett and Vernon and this never would have happened.

 
Mar 26, 2022
73
39
6
Saratoga county NY
Just came across this summary of their encounter with the storm. Even if they weren’t in chase mode at the time it still seems incredibly risky to drive through the core of a tornadic supercell on your way to the hotel. Surely they knew what they could be getting themselves into, even without the radar updating. They could have waited 15-20 minutes or so to be sure the storm had passed Lockett and Vernon and this never would have happened.

So they hook sliced while relying on radar and not checking the timestamp? This sounds like a terrible way to go back to your hotel
 

Todd Lemery

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Jun 2, 2014
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I like to take people out who have never been chasing before and the one thing I hear a lot is “I want to get into a tornado” or some variation of that. It doesn’t sound like anything like that happened with that tour group, but it makes me wonder if trying to impress others makes some people do things they normally wouldn’t do. Warren especially has talked about that fairly recent trend of people tempting fate trying to copy something they saw in a video. If they’re relatively inexperienced I could really see how they might feel overly confident about how things might go and think they’d be the man around town if they pulled off a sweet intercept of driving into a tornado.
I hope there is never a tour group operator that succumbs to peer pressure. Jeff had a great quote that only marginally has anything to do with what I was talking about. “Some tornadoes are just not chaseable” That’s a good one to remember when deciding whether to pull the pin on the day or not.
 

John Farley

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Apr 1, 2004
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I appreciate his honesty about what happened in the report, but it was extremely poor judgement to take that route relative to the position of the storm, even if he did not know it had turned left. As others have pointed out, leftward turns are not that unusual, and even if that had not happened or happened to a lesser extent, he could very well have been going right into a serious hail core. I hope newer (and some older) chasers learn from this incident: do not do this kind of thing.
 
Mar 26, 2022
73
39
6
Saratoga county NY
If they didn't learn from El Reno when three of the best were killed by a left mover, they sure as hell ain't going to learn from reading their survival story and the attention it brought them.
After El Reno there was lots of misinformation in the media, it was portrayed as a storm that was so freakishly unusual it killed experts who did not take risks, despite the face that there have been plenty of other wedges that change speed size and direction, and those killed were making risky maneuvers (no disrespect to anyone killed, some of them were great researchers, I'm just trying to point out that the lesson that should be learned from their deaths is "beware of maneuvers that may put you in the path of a tornado without you realizing, and unpredictable tornado behavior" and not "that one tornado was so weird there was no way to avoid it, but I can assume that will never happen to me")
 
Last edited:
Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
After El Reno there was lots of misinformation in the media, it was portrayed as a storm that was so freakishly unusual it killed experts who did not take risks, despite the face that there have been plenty of other wedges that change speed size and direction, and those killed were making risky maneuvers (no disrespect to anyone killed, some of them were great researchers, I'm just trying to point out that the lesson that should be learned from their deaths is "beware of maneuvers that may put you in the path of a tornado without you realizing, and unpredictable tornado behavior" and not "that one tornado was so weird there was no way to avoid it, but I can assume that will never happen to me")
Agreed, Tim Samaras and team specifically tried to get as close as possible to deploy probes, so they did take risks, but in the media narrative their expert level of knowledge still made it highly extraordinary that this could happen; and it never had happened previously… The problem is that now we have chasers trying to get that close not for research but for adrenaline and fame, mostly without the experience and knowledge that Tim, Paul and Carl had…

I think the extraordinary nature of El Reno was not so much the motion, but the sudden expansion in size, and the fact that the whole meso essentially became the tornado… what would normally be viewed as the broader circulation wrapping rain around the tornado, was itself at tornadic windspeeds… As Dan Robinson described it, “I could see that the rain curtains were moving at tornadic speeds and were actually inside of/part of the tornado, not just the 'benign' outside rain wrap.” The parameters were so high-end that day, and there’s a bias toward assuming a similar storm evolution won’t happen on a more “normal” chase day.

Tons of great insights on El Reno here 2013-05-31 EVENT: KS, OK, MO, IL
 

Warren Faidley

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May 7, 2006
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I'm always amazed at the footage people post online. As some of you know, my wife is an attorney who previously worked for a major insurance company. If you are involved in a serious accident while chasing, the first thing attorneys do is gather extensive information off social media. There are individuals and companies that specialize in gathering data. A lot of them are ex-intelligence officers. It will blow your mind what they find, even if you thought you deleted all the bad stuff. Some very well-know chasers have a file of negligent behavior that would fill a 1TB drive. I'm surprised sponsors risk promoting them, given their history and the potential liability. TWC learned the hard way and have avoiding chasing since the last disaster.
 
Mar 2, 2004
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I'm always amazed at the footage people post online. As some of you know, my wife is an attorney who previously worked for a major insurance company. If you are involved in a serious accident while chasing, the first thing attorneys do is gather extensive information off social media. There are individuals and companies that specialize in gathering data. A lot of them are ex-intelligence officers. It will blow your mind what they find, even if you thought you deleted all the bad stuff. Some very well-know chasers have a file of negligent behavior that would fill a 1TB drive. I'm surprised sponsors risk promoting them, given their history and the potential liability. TWC learned the hard way and have avoiding chasing since the last disaster.
I just wonder how much of that ever gets beyond "hey, look what this moron did"... there are literally SO MANY INSTANCES, even as recently as whats-his-nuts in Iowa who not only posted his incredibly idiotic driving, but put his holyness up on pedestals claiming how he was the best chaser ever CITING that insanity. That is just one of countless instances that appear online. But what is really happening to these guys?

Answer: Swarms of followers, increased attention, more clicks, better video sales, and sponsorships, paying gigs.

Not Answer: Tickets, repercussions of any kind, banned from chasing, driver's license revoked, arrested, fined, severely injured or killed.

Unfortunately the only time we get an acceptable outcome to these things is when someone is killed. And as we've CLEARLY been seeing, even that isn't enough to tame the beast. The problem is there are no consequences to this? And factor in social media, where hordes of enablers are condoning this reckless behavior, which just further feeds the beast. Why should they behave? What incentive do they get? Less clicks? Less followers? Less video sales? Plenty of veteran chasers like myself out there who have some incredible work put out there that will never see the levels of "attention" because it lacks the, whatever the hell you want to call it, that garners that reaction. I just saw a recommended post in my YouTube feed that's thumbnail was an idiot kid hanging out the window of a moving car pointing at a tornado behind him with the most idiotic screaming expression on his face.

It was 244K views in 9 days... double what my Pilger video has had in almost 8 years.

And you know exactly why LOL