How close do you get?

What is the average closest distance you have photographed a tornado from?

  • Total voters

Jay McCreery

This will be my first chase season, and I am hoping to get some good shots of funnels, lightning and clouds. My camera setup (3D) uses two cameras with a spacing dependent on the distance to the nearest object in the frame. Clouds and lightning are usually around long enough to figure out the best setup. But I'm guessing optimal shooting of funnels may last seconds to a few minutes at best. Hopefully when it happens I'll be somewhat ready and not miss the whole event fumbling for equipment.

To maximize my chances of success, I'm interested to know what a typical minimum distance might be for shooting a funnel. Please vote your average experience (i.e. estimate the closest distance for each of your encounters, and then take the average of those numbers).
Might also qualify that with it rural or ripping through a city? I know myself I would approach closer in a rural environment than I would in an urban one. :wink:
Unless the tornado is not very photogenic and the video would look worse getting closer, I try to get as close as I possibly can. On May 15, 2003 the Stratford wedge from my perspectve (I was south) starting loosing it's contrast as we got closer, so we slowed down and kept a certain distance. It turned out to be a very smart decision.

I've always wanted to get extremely close to tornadoes, and I've accomplished this a few times now, and will continue to do so. The video is more exciting closer up, sure, but I live the experience.

Jim Bishop
Alright -- who's the chaser who _averages_ less than a quarter mile from a tornado? And I'm not asking about the guy who had one touchdown a block away ;>
I chose greater than 10 miles, since, you know, I haven't actually "caught" a Tornado. I have SEEN a Tornado, but I wasn't actively seeking one out.
I had to sit and think about them, but I voted "3-4 miles" for a career average. In the last few years that average has narrowed to around 1-2 miles.

My ideal distance is around 1-2 miles, leaning more towards 2 miles. I like to get the tornado documented on video, first and foremost. I'm not out there to get the "rush" of nearly getting into the damned things, nor am I trying to get the tornado and the entire storm in the frame. I like my wide shot to be the entire tornado and the wallcloud/RFD portion of the storm, so my zooms will highlight the funnel motions and any debris.

Of course, usually Ma Nature ends up deciding what my shot ends up looking like. I try to get into the best position I can for tornado documentaion, then take what the storm gives me. Sometimes it's a close-up encounter, sometimes it's a distant encounter, and still other times are middle-of-the-road encounters.

I've been as close as 150 yards and as distant as 25 miles (which is my best tornado video to date). I'm not concerned about the experience (just seeing a tornado is all the adrenalin I need, I appreciate them for the miracles they are) so I'll gladly stay 5-10 miles away purposely if it means I'm gonna get good video.

Getting close isn't on my agenda; you can't get all of the tornado on video from 1/4 away. The other thing is, I don't like to do my videoing while moving, if at all possible. Keeping a few miles between me and the tornado allows time for me to stop, set up the tripod, and focus on documentation. I'll watch the tornado with my own eyes while taping, but what gives me the "thrill" is getting good video, then watching it later. Seeing the tornado is just part of what I love, capturing it forever is the other.
Here goes:
First tornado I saw on May 5, 2002: approx 1 1/2 miles from it-night tornado

Second: May 7, 2002, 5 miles approx

Third (last): 3-4 miles at first and it neared our position till it was about 2-3 miles from us. Maybe 1 1/2. I would like to get close enough to hear the roar from one, and thats it. Like Shane, I have no desire to be (in) one. I would like to be near enough to a strong/violent tornado to hear the roar and see the debris
On the subject of proximity to a tornado.

I have seen a lot of storm structure in my short chase career, so I think it would be nice to get next to a high contrast tornado with a condensation cloud fully to the ground(within a mile but not closer than a half). I have seen a few tornadoes, but most of them were low contrast, "barely" tornadoes.

The Pierce City tornado from May 4th of last year was incredible to watch, even from our relatively far off position. I was a little disappointed that we couldn't get closer (Missourians drive pretty darn slow when a storm is around) but I still enjoyed a great view of the circulation hiearchy (meso/tornado cyclone/tornado) which I am sure I wouldn't have seen if I had been as close as I had wanted to get. However, it really would have been nice to get that sweet multiple vortex action on film...alas, it remains only in my memory. :p

Bottom line, it just depends on the situation...last year, I didn't really have any options to get closer to the tornadoes I saw. In the end, I believe road options dictate how close you will get. Of course, there are those wonderful days when you get to choose. :D
The only tornado I've ever gotten on video I was about 12-15 mi away from. I really haven't had a lot of chances to get close yet, but I'd have no problem getting closer, it all depends on the visibility, the storm speed, and the road network.
What exactly are we being asked here? Do you want the closest we've each been to come up with an avg? I don't get what exactly is being asked otherwise. We supposed to take the tornadoes we've seen...guess our closest point to each and average that? Or is this just an avg distance overall? Thanks,

My one and only tornado was 100yards away from me, and caught me by suprize, but that's the avg. as of now :)
My average over the last couple of years is 2miles down to a quarter of a mile. I do get to close at times, but that is how I like to chase, I dont recomemd this though, it is very dangerous.

Troy Choplin
Zoom on a tripod works wonders!
David Drummond

Chasers can get as close as they want. I really don't care about seeing a tornado 10 miles away. From 10 miles away I enjoy the awesome structure of the supercell. As for tornadoes; I enjoy getting really close to the tornado, but like others on here, I don't recommend doing so.

Plus, chasers that can't afford decent camera equipment must get close.