First tornado

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Todd Lemery

Staff member
Supporter
Jun 2, 2014
602
614
21
54
Menominee, MI
Seeing your first tornado is a lot like having sex for the first time. You’ll never forget it. Living in the Northwoods where you get a tornado around every 17th leap year is rough. When you don’t know what your doing, it’s even rougher. After years of trying to chase one down, one finally came to me. Around 1990 I was stuck at work while a pretty robust storm come through. I went on the roof (yes, I knew about the lightening thing) when the rain let up to watch. I was only up there for a minute or two as a beautiful funnel came down out of an almost rain free based and touched the ground. I looked on in amazement wondering if I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing. I couldn’t take a picture because cell phones were pretty rare back then and even if I had one they didn’t take pictures. It’s still burned in my mind anyway.
Afterwards I came down from the roof and told everybody. Not one person believed me.I think that’s because the tornado sirens never went off and we never got tornadoes. It wasn’t until it was reported on the news that people didn’t think I was crazy. What’s your first tornado story? 670914A7-54C5-4FF9-B7EB-A85D1A725C2D.jpeg
 
Dec 8, 2003
1,340
331
11
Southeast CO
www.youtube.com
June 10, 1999 I was in Denver but packed up to leave for home (NM at the time). I went to lunch with nothing but clear blue skies outside, but when I emerged from the restaurant I saw an appendage hanging low from a storm over I-70 and Colorado Blvd. I chased that storm out beyond Last Chance. I had to stop in Bennett for gas and a map! The whole chase lasted for over 3 hours, I saw tornadoes and gustnadoes, and right then and there I was a stormchaser forever. Here is one image from that day:

990610_2335Z (2019_04_05 18_51_53 UTC).jpg
 
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Jun 12, 2019
46
55
6
Michigan
Oh man! The nostalgia! July 2, 1997 for me. I wasn't even old enough to drive. Local news stations' weather cut-ins just turned into continuous coverage that went right through the evening news hour. As a budding weather nut, I remember being glued to the TV with my parents. We eventually got a tornado warning for our area (north of Detroit), and the storm environment outside seemed to corroborate it. My parents went to the (land line) phone to call my sister who was babysitting a few blocks over, and my brother who was at a friend's house, to tell them to get into the basement, so I used the opportunity to run upstairs to my room and look for it. My room faced north, and I was able to make out a low-contrast funnel about a mile away, over the trees. My parents came up and got me at that point, and we all went to the basement where I was subsequently grounded for a week. Turns out the funnel I saw was the beginning of an EF-0 that tracked about 10 miles, flipping a few mobile homes and injuring 11 people along the way. I managed to take a crappy low-res picture on one of those webcam/detachable digital camera things, but for the life of me, I can't find it. It may have been lost forever when we got rid of the old family Compaq computer. Anyway, turns out that event was part of a larger regional outbreak.

I didn't get serious into chasing until a decade later though, when I was in college. Turns out the end of winter semester classes lines up really well with the start of tornado season. So if you saved up your money throughout the year and could manage to push your summer job start date out a little, you could go chasing! I started doing that in 2007, with my first plains trip in 2008. Haven't looked back since.
 
The first one I actually saw was as a kid. April 24, 1993, just four days shy of my sixth birthday. We were moving into Tulsa and got caught up in the storm that spawned the Catoosa F4 that day. My mom was in her car a couple miles ahead of us and got caught up on the fringes of the F4 where I-44, Route 66, and US-412 (the old OK-33) meet. She may have been affected as well by the F3 that was spawned to the south as the first tornado was ongoing. We were just east of where the Creek Turnpike and I-44 now meet US-412 (this was a decade before that interchange was built) in my dad's old pickup and were likely on the fringes of the F-3. It was definitely an HP storm, as both tornadoes were heavily rain wrapped.

First one I chased was 13 years later, in 2006. A narrow F2 near Summer Shade, KY. I didn't have any kind of camera equipment at the time, although in retrospect I wish I had borrowed my mom's SLR that day. I don't believe there are any pictures existing of that tornado, and it was largely overshadowed by some that impacted the Nashville area. I doubt even many people still living in Kentucky remember that tornado.
 

JP Egstad

Enthusiast
Apr 4, 2020
1
3
1
Chetek, WI USA
Lots of firsts here...first post on ST! My first chance to say thank you to all the folks who contribute here. Those contributions have allowed me to enjoy a passion that I'm not often able to actually participate in.

On May, 16 2017 the fact that I live in northern Wisconsin and (by choice) don't drive a vehicle didn't matter as a very unlikely set of circumstances delivered classic supercell right to my doorstep.

I understood the risk for storms that day was higher than usual and followed one particular cell after initiation closely on NWS radar. To my eye the storm appeared to be taking off in the typical NE direction and would miss my area by some 30 miles to the NW. I retired to my workshop and did my thing out there and forgot about the storm.

When the power flickered and the went out my attention to the weather returned. I powered up the wifi and notebook and was startled to see that the cell I had assumed would be to my NW had found a boundary and right turned itself to my immediate west. I had no visibility due to terrain and trees and was determined to get a look at something that happens so very rarely in these parts. There is a field to my north with good views to the west and so on to my trusty bicycle I went.

The storm came into view and what a sight it was. I had taken my point and shoot camera with me and I spent precious seconds attempting to photograph what I was seeing, seconds I wish I had not wasted.

This poor photo is of the storm is looking west at the point where the tornado has just exited the trailer park it had hit and was starting to cross a lake and downing many trees. The noise associated with the storm at this point really caught my attention as I was unsure what I was hearing but was sure I had never heard anything like it before.

ncekt.jpg
I decided to hightail it back home and slid into the driveway as the storm passed about one mile to my north.

My first and most likely last tornado. I waited 40 some years for this day and won't soon forget it!
 
My first video documented storm was the Ames Iowa Tornado, November 12, 2005. I was sitting on the county line watching it roll in. Ironically, the Iowa State Cyclone football game was going on....well, evacuating...

I'm pretty sure from my vantage point, I was getting some clear slot, low hanging scud junk, but it was still fun.

Crappy point and shoot video:
 
Jul 2, 2004
1,781
100
11
Hastings, Michigan
www.stormhorn.com
August 1996. That was the year when it occurred to me that I could actually do something about my long obsession with tornadoes, which started around age four. I'd been reading up on storm morphology, doing my best to acquaint myself with such (at the time) arcane terms and concepts as shear, instability, lift, moisture, and the whole schmear of indexes, and I'd done a few local chases with friends and fellow vorticianers Bill and Tom Oosterbaan. Then came the day.

It was hot and unbearably muggy that morning when I went to work at Zondervan. Dewpoints had to have been in the mid-70s. That lunch hour, the sky was full of cumulus when I stepped outside, and I happened to notice the upper parts curling over. I thought, Gee, I wonder if that's due to wind shear? I really didn't have a clue--I had so much to learn, and Michigan just isn't the best place to connect concepts to actual experience. But that afternoon was a good start.

About 4:00 p.m. I glanced out the wrap-around window to the south, and lo and behold, there was a wall cloud! I left work early and tore off in pursuit of the cloud as it headed eastward. Coming into Ionia, I thought I'd lost it, and I inadvertently wound up core punching to the north, then headed back west and south again, whereupon I once again gained a visual of the wall cloud. It was still quite robust. Farther east, as I chased down M-21 east of Muir, a jet of condensation whipped up out of the woods a quarter-mile ahead of me, but nothing more came of it at the time. I stayed in pursuit, chasing for maybe another ten or fifteen miles. Somewhere out in the open country north of M-21, I parked my car. I had a great, unobstructed view of the wall cloud, which was wrapping up nicely.

Suddenly a ghostly white, pencil thin tube materialized out of the cloud and began slowly marching across the landscape maybe two miles distant. It's hard to describe my thoughts at that moment. I was like, "Am I really seeing what I think I'm seeing?"

The tornado lasted maybe a minute, then dissipated, and the wall cloud became disorganized. I headed home, and on the way back, I encountered another supercell with a beautiful flying-saucer meso. But that one never put down a tube. I didn't care. I was ecstatic. All those years of wanting to see a tornado, and now I had finally seen one.

On the way home, I hit a deer and creamed the radiator on my 1990 Nissan Sentra. So right there you can see how dangerous storm chasing can be. ;)

It's true: That first tornado is one you never forget.
 
Nov 13, 2007
41
13
6
30
Maplewood, NJ/New York City
My first was in Earle, Arkansas on May 2nd, 2008. I left Michigan that morning and drove down, seeing the end of the tornado near Turrell. Stupid trees got in my way, but the video was alright I guess.

This was actually one of my first ones too. Saw my true first one earlier that day near Marked Tree, AR then this a little later. My profile picture is it roping out.
 

Jeff Duda

Resident meteorological expert
Staff member
Supporter
Oct 7, 2008
3,305
2,048
21
Broomfield, CO
www.meteor.iastate.edu
My first tornado was one I did not chase. I was an undergraduate at the University of Iowa on 13 April 2006 when an F2 went right through the middle of town after dark on an exceptionally hot and humid day for early-mid April in Iowa. The event seemed to go on for a long time, too, since this was actually part of a small outbreak across C/E IA and into N IL, with several closely spaced tornadic supercells (one hit near my parents' house in Marion, IA, also).

I still remember watching the storm come in while standing out in the open near the Iowa River as it goes through campus near my dorm (I had no idea how to read clouds, so to me it was a nebulous, ominous mess).

Then I remember hearing the sirens go off, still well before the tornado struck, as I had KCRG-TV9 out of Cedar Rapids now wall-to-wall about all of the storms (not just the Iowa City one) and had some idea something bad was coming.

Then I remember the hail storm that preceded the tornado. Heavy golf balls. I stood in one of the foyers of my dorm building with the doors open watching the hail crack down. Stones were bouncing off the pavement and through the door, piling up in the foyer. Kinda funny watching students outside scrambling to run for cover.

What has been particularly indelible for me was the feeling in the air after the hail abated. It was dead quiet and still warm and humid, something that really perked me up (even in my ignorance in those days I still knew enough that something was up when a heavy precip core was not followed by a cool sensation). That's when I walked outside the other end of the building and onto a parking garage that sat on the side of the hill by my dorm (right next to the river, too).

That's when I saw it, illuminated only by lightning (frequently enough). I was totally mesmerized. Someone else had walked out with me to that same spot, but took off at some point while I was gawking. I could tell it was kind of moving towards me, but not directly. I figured in my head I needed about 30 seconds to run for the door to the dorm for cover if it threatened me, but alas it did not.

I watched it tear through campus and through downtown (the campus of U of I basically is fused with part of downtown Iowa City). I remember the sounds of debris crashing into stuff against downtown buildings. From eight blocks north of it at closest, it was a sound I had never heard before.

A few minutes after I was sure it had exited town, I raced up a set of metal stairs that served as an external fire escape for the next dorm building over and watched it rope out east of town (there was little cloud material between me and the tornado at that time). Normally, such an action would be severely frowned upon, but by this time people were now milling about, some combination of confused and excited, so I wasn't worried about getting in trouble.

I think a lot of people were still unaware that more storms were behind this first one. The sirens went off again less than an hour later as another, briefly tornadic supercell skirted just north of town. I remember seeing what I now know was the inside of the RFD clear slot, but at the time just seemed very eerie. I could not see below the trees to determine a tornado, but there very well may have been. Later still I remember looking over the river to the northwest and seeing a plume of something (smoke, vapor, I'll never know) angled off to the right several miles away. It was directly in front of another heavy precip core with frequent lightning, so at the time I thought it might be another tornado. Someone else mentioned it could have been a smoke plume from something struck by lightning.

-----------------

My first tornado while chasing is a bit more nebulous. I kind of saw things happening in Kearney, NE when it was getting hit on 29 May 2008, but I never saw the tornado itself, just some power flashes. However, I definitely saw the tornado that TWISTEX got a direct media probe hit on later that evening near Tipton, KS. That is likely my first official "chased" tornado. Thanks to @Tony Laubach I still have a copy of the video from that hit!
 
Jan 7, 2006
542
572
21
USA
www.skyinmotion.com
Mine was El Reno before it was cool, a.k.a. 24 April 2006. My first spring chasing, and probably within my first 5-6 chases overall. Fantastic backlit cone near sunset, followed by a photogenic anticyclonic spin-up. While not an exceptional storm or set of tornadoes by hardcore chasing standards, it was certainly beautiful and a euphoric experience. Not only that, but the 2006 season was so awful that El Reno wound up being arguably the best prize of the spring on the Plains. I think I was already destined for addiction beforehand, but that day cemented it.

2006-04-24_6204.jpg

2006-04-24_6241.jpg
 

Michael Towers

Supporter
Jun 28, 2007
304
128
11
Machesney Park, IL
May 29, 2004, bittersweet day as I left my initial target SW of Wichita for western Oklahoma. Initial target experienced the Harper/Sumner tornadofest, mine some not so spectacular tornadoes but I did get my first two and they will forever be spectacular in my eyes. Crappy screen grab below near Geary, timestamp is wrong.

09.jpg
 
May 10, 2007
46
3
6
68
North Little Rock, AR
I got paid to see my first tornado. It was February 22, 1975, and I was an intern on duty at the NWS office in Little Rock. Several of us at the office stood on the roof of the old terminal building at the Little Rock airport, which was the official observing site at that time, and watched as the tornado moved through the western part of Little Rock. The tornado (rated F3) then continued on across the Arkansas River into North Little Rock. Ironically, the tornado eventually passed within a couple of miles of where WFO LZK is now located.
 
Jul 2, 2004
1,781
100
11
Hastings, Michigan
www.stormhorn.com
Jeff Duda, I remember the Iowa City tornado. Bill Oosterbaan and I were chasing that day. We'd already witnessed one brief cone and then gotten cored as another one passed south of us near Van Horne. We were just getting used to interpreting the radar velocity product, and on the way heading back toward Iowa City, we noticed a couplet crossing the road in front of us. It was dark by then. A minute or two later, a power flash lit the funnel to our east. It was a spectacular sight and a bit grim, since we knew it was hitting the town.
 
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JeremyS

EF3
Mar 12, 2014
262
338
11
Omaha, NE
My first tornado(es) happened on 6/17/10, the day of the southern Minnesota outbreak. I had been chasing since 2007 and hadn't had any luck. I had mainly done a few local chases for those first few years, except for one overnight trip to Kansas where I managed to miss the Quinter tornado and all the others from that outbreak.
I had a buddy start coming with me in 2009 and neither one of us had ever seen a tornado before. Well, we ended up having a great first day as I believe we saw somewhere between 6-8 tornadoes.
I've included the video below where we both saw our first tornado. Yep, we were pretty damn excited! :)

My other two videos from that day. Thank god I have a better camcorder now.
 
Jun 16, 2019
14
25
1
New Zealand
My birthday, May 7th, during my first chasecation in 2015 was a day of firsts.
First funnel cloud, was hoping it would touch down in the wind farm 😅
ACD8E7FF-CDF6-46B6-B8BB-9AF3FECA4DD8.jpeg

Shortly thereafter was this mighty EF-0, technically my first tornado
BAB682E9-3401-4C7F-93D9-0BD887236F4D.jpeg

And not long after that, this was the one that sealed my birthday
EDFC07AB-ADD5-4C7F-811F-11015EE018FD.jpeg
There was even a bit of multi-vortex action 24D25022-7FF5-4856-9520-C37185077A4F.jpeg
All in all it was a pretty good 35th birthday 🎁😂
 
Sep 7, 2013
640
470
21
Strasburg, CO
My first tornado was one I did not chase. I was an undergraduate at the University of Iowa on 13 April 2006 when an F2 went right through the middle of town after dark on an exceptionally hot and humid day for early-mid April in Iowa. The event seemed to go on for a long time, too, since this was actually part of a small outbreak across C/E IA and into N IL, with several closely spaced tornadic supercells (one hit near my parents' house in Marion, IA, also).

I still remember watching the storm come in while standing out in the open near the Iowa River as it goes through campus near my dorm (I had no idea how to read clouds, so to me it was a nebulous, ominous mess).

Then I remember hearing the sirens go off, still well before the tornado struck, as I had KCRG-TV9 out of Cedar Rapids now wall-to-wall about all of the storms (not just the Iowa City one) and had some idea something bad was coming.

Then I remember the hail storm that preceded the tornado. Heavy golf balls. I stood in one of the foyers of my dorm building with the doors open watching the hail crack down. Stones were bouncing off the pavement and through the door, piling up in the foyer. Kinda funny watching students outside scrambling to run for cover.

What has been particularly indelible for me was the feeling in the air after the hail abated. It was dead quiet and still warm and humid, something that really perked me up (even in my ignorance in those days I still knew enough that something was up when a heavy precip core was not followed by a cool sensation). That's when I walked outside the other end of the building and onto a parking garage that sat on the side of the hill by my dorm (right next to the river, too).

That's when I saw it, illuminated only by lightning (frequently enough). I was totally mesmerized. Someone else had walked out with me to that same spot, but took off at some point while I was gawking. I could tell it was kind of moving towards me, but not directly. I figured in my head I needed about 30 seconds to run for the door to the dorm for cover if it threatened me, but alas it did not.

I watched it tear through campus and through downtown (the campus of U of I basically is fused with part of downtown Iowa City). I remember the sounds of debris crashing into stuff against downtown buildings. From eight blocks north of it at closest, it was a sound I had never heard before.

A few minutes after I was sure it had exited town, I raced up a set of metal stairs that served as an external fire escape for the next dorm building over and watched it rope out east of town (there was little cloud material between me and the tornado at that time). Normally, such an action would be severely frowned upon, but by this time people were now milling about, some combination of confused and excited, so I wasn't worried about getting in trouble.

I think a lot of people were still unaware that more storms were behind this first one. The sirens went off again less than an hour later as another, briefly tornadic supercell skirted just north of town. I remember seeing what I now know was the inside of the RFD clear slot, but at the time just seemed very eerie. I could not see below the trees to determine a tornado, but there very well may have been. Later still I remember looking over the river to the northwest and seeing a plume of something (smoke, vapor, I'll never know) angled off to the right several miles away. It was directly in front of another heavy precip core with frequent lightning, so at the time I thought it might be another tornado. Someone else mentioned it could have been a smoke plume from something struck by lightning.

-----------------

My first tornado while chasing is a bit more nebulous. I kind of saw things happening in Kearney, NE when it was getting hit on 29 May 2008, but I never saw the tornado itself, just some power flashes. However, I definitely saw the tornado that TWISTEX got a direct media probe hit on later that evening near Tipton, KS. That is likely my first official "chased" tornado. Thanks to @Tony Laubach I still have a copy of the video from that hit!
Jeff...this reads like a novel. Nice!
 

Shawn Connelly

Enthusiast
Jun 4, 2019
5
7
1
Miami/Detroit
Oh man! The nostalgia! July 2, 1997 for me. I wasn't even old enough to drive. Local news stations' weather cut-ins just turned into continuous coverage that went right through the evening news hour. As a budding weather nut, I remember being glued to the TV with my parents. We eventually got a tornado warning for our area (north of Detroit), and the storm environment outside seemed to corroborate it. My parents went to the (land line) phone to call my sister who was babysitting a few blocks over, and my brother who was at a friend's house, to tell them to get into the basement, so I used the opportunity to run upstairs to my room and look for it. My room faced north, and I was able to make out a low-contrast funnel about a mile away, over the trees. My parents came up and got me at that point, and we all went to the basement where I was subsequently grounded for a week. Turns out the funnel I saw was the beginning of an EF-0 that tracked about 10 miles, flipping a few mobile homes and injuring 11 people along the way. I managed to take a crappy low-res picture on one of those webcam/detachable digital camera things, but for the life of me, I can't find it. It may have been lost forever when we got rid of the old family Compaq computer. Anyway, turns out that event was part of a larger regional outbreak.

I didn't get serious into chasing until a decade later though, when I was in college. Turns out the end of winter semester classes lines up really well with the start of tornado season. So if you saved up your money throughout the year and could manage to push your summer job start date out a little, you could go chasing! I started doing that in 2007, with my first plains trip in 2008. Haven't looked back since.
This is my 1st storm too!! I remember seeing the funnel near I-96. I was always watching Chuck Gaidica on Local 4 weather as a kid. I would be glued to it my parents said. This storm made all the books and TV shows become real. I'll never forget it.
 
Jun 1, 2008
536
487
11
Chattanooga, TN
www.linkedin.com
My first tornado was a birdfart in 1996 west of Hutchinson KS. We'd daychased from KU. More precisely it was between Abbyville and Partridge the day before Twister opened. Nice timing.

First tornado of interest was Wichita-Haysville May 3, 1999 - a day which also lives in infamy for Oklahoma.