Tornado Chasers Production Log 9: El Reno

Everything felt “off” on the morning of May 31st, 2013. The Storm Prediction Center had issued a “PDS” Tornado Watch (Particularly Dangerous Situation) for central Oklahoma — the same area that had been devastated less than two weeks earlier. Gathered at Reed Timmer’s home in Norman, OK, the whole chase team was acting strangely. Hardened chasers like Dick McGowan vowed to abandon the chase to rescue pets if necessary.

Reed himself was especially direct and blunt about how bad the day could be (as seen at the beginning of Episode 11, “Nemesis, Part 1″). “It’s gonna be bad today, real bad,” he said. Our Director of Photography, Chris Whiteneck, was concerned about his fiancée and baby, who didn’t have access to a tornado shelter. Shooter-producer Jason Bagby offered to let them use his shelter if necessary. The mood was a weird form of suppressed panic.

We started driving north through Moore, where traffic was crawling as rubberneckers gazed at the damage from the May 20th tornado. It was very ominous, and there wasn’t much conversation in any of the vehicles on the way to these storms.

On this day, Whiteneck was riding in Dominator 2 with Reed, Sean, and Seth Deckard. Seth is our wiz programmer at TVN, responsible for creating almost everything you see on our site, TVNweather.com. Because Mike Scantlin was out of town, Seth stepped in to run our live, streaming internet video. Bagby was shooting Dick, Dick’s girlfriend Shalyn, and Terry in the SUV. I was shooting in Dom 1 with Connor and Ray Bohac, our Kickstarter backer who had returned to chase with us.

I have trouble remembering what exactly happened on this day until we stopped in front of some windmills in the countryside north of El Reno. For what seemed like 20-30 minutes, we watched three discrete storms merge together into one dark mass. The sky was electrified. We should have been excited in this situation, but we just weren’t. No one, not even Reed, was having fun or cracking jokes.

As for the shooters, we just focused on capturing the beauty of the scene. There was so little banter, however, that Bagby, Whiteneck and I started shooting each other to get the “behind-the-scenes” perspective (some of this footage appears in “Behind the Scenes, Part 2″).

After Reed’s “phoner” with KFOR, we were off and we knew this was the point of no return. We were going to see something today, and it was probably going to be bad. We just had to hope that the tornado would stay away from major populations.

We briefly chased some red-herring funnels, and Dom 1 accidentally backed into the SUV — luckily both vehicles had steel and/or Linex coatings! We finally journeyed to the southernmost circulation, west of El Reno, where the rain cleared and we could see the entire side of the supercell. The sight of this storm made our jaws drop. It was beautiful and fearsome, everything that gets a storm chaser’s blood pumping.

Reed charged directly toward the developing circulation. Things were happening fast, and we needed to get there as quickly as possible. While driving toward the huge, rotating wall cloud, little wispy fingers started to appear and disappear underneath. These were the initial “spin-up” vortices, and when you see them rotating underneath a broad wall cloud, it’s a sign that a large tornado is imminent.

The frustrating part about shooting in Dom 1 is that there’s almost no visibility from the backseat. The windows only roll halfway down, and the steel armor blocks the view forward and back. I had to stick my head and the camera outside of the vehicle to get a good view (definitely not safe in this situation). Luckily, Bagby and Whiteneck had a better field of view in Dom 2 and the SUV.

All of us shooting, including Terry Rosema, were breathlessly trying to capture these strong, fully-condensed suction vortices. Two vortices appeared for one second, and in the next second there were eight on the ground simultaneously.

Reed stopped the caravan twice, and the second time he stepped outside of Dom 2 to stand on the road. The dancing vortices had crossed, and the situation was so loud and chaotic that Reed didn’t notice a baseball-sized hailstone crashing 15 feet away from him. Dick blared the horn to warn Reed. Then Dick bailed.

At the beginning of the day, I had told Dick to stay right behind Reed. In the past, if Dick didn’t agree with Reed on how to chase, he would leave the team and chase solo. Today was too important, I told him, and we couldn’t get separated. He agreed and promised to stay behind Reed.

But at this moment in El Reno, he decided to flee and abort the chase. In retrospect (and I’ve told Dick this), it was the smartest move he could have made. The SUV didn’t have steel armor like the Doms, and could easily have been tossed by the tornado. Or have its windows blown out by hail.

With Dick gone, Connor, Ray and I (in Dom 1) pulled up behind Dom 2. The next eight minutes would be more dangerous than any of us realized. The Doms drove east along Reno Road, trying to keep pace with this tornado, which had quickly grown into a wedge. Reed and the rest of us watched as the wedge grew to become a mile wide. Or so we thought.

To be continued next time.

Ken Cole
Executive Producer, Tornado Chasers

2013 Season
2013 Bonus Content
2012 Season


S2B1 – Tornadoes of 2013: The Ultimate Cut

S2B1 - Tornadoes of 2013: The Ultimate Cut
The first bonus episode cut from the 2013 Tornado Chasers footage (previously called Tornadoes 2013: Raw and Uncut) contains over 80 minutes of extremely high quality video from multiple camera angles of all the major tornadoes chased by TVN during the 2013 production season. Shot with cinema cameras and delivered on our streaming and download platform that meets or exceeds the highest quality of Netflix and other streaming services, you won’t be able to find a better value anywhere else. You can get this episode by itself or as part of the Tornado Chasers Bonus Pass.

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Tornado Chasers Production Log 8: Tornadoes in Kansas

On the morning of May 25, 2013, a weary chase team gathered at Reed’s house around 6:00am. Everyone had somewhat digested what had happened to Moore on May 20th, and the crew was ready to head for a chasing campaign in northern Kansas. This would also be a “break” from Reed’s demanding job as a live correspondent for KFOR.

One great addition to the team this time was Justin White, or “rocket man” from our 2012 season (Episode 7, “Rocket Time”). Justin is an old friend of Reed’s from Science Olympiad, and he invents new ways to launch Reed’s probes into tornadoes. Plus, he’s an entertaining character onscreen, bringing a lot of passion and positive energy to the chase.

Reed’s hope was to have Justin personally launch a probe into a tornado. The plan was to head up to Kansas, where Justin could chase with the team for 2 days. If all went well, Justin could fire the probe canon and launch the “Wing,” Reed’s remote-controlled plane that was constructed by Ray Bohac during Episode 5, “Warning, Part 1.”

So Dom 2 and the SUV headed for Kansas, fully armed with science artillery. I should also add that Dom 3 was being repaired and having its Linex (Kevlar coating) applied to its steel armor. Kevin Barton had left for Michigan to oversee this with Mike Scantlin (which is why they don’t appear for the rest of the season).

Meanwhile I stayed back in Norman, undertaking the tedious task of cataloging and backing up all of the footage from the previous week. So I experienced the chase through phone calls from Whiteneck and Bagby.

May 25th phone call from Whiteneck: “Hey man, it was a bust today. Some pretty storms, but dude, Reed TOTALLY crashed his plane. It was hilarious. The thing was in the air for seriously 10 seconds before it got destroyed.” (You can see this event in our bonus episode “Storm Science, Part 2: Experiments and Safety.”)

May 26th phone call from Bagby: “Another bust. Beautiful supercell. Connor got Dom 2 stuck in the mud. Oh, and the air canon fired INSIDE the SUV when Terry was sitting in there. It blew out the window. Terry’s okay. Justin had to go home.” (You call also see this in “Storm Science, Part 2.”)

May 27th phone call from Whiteneck: “Dude, we’re just stuck out here. Dom 2 has been stuck in the mud for 5 hours. Yeah, we saw a wedge today. But I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this mud. We’re in the middle of nowhere. We did run into Tim Samaras earlier.” (Episode 9, “Stranded”)

May 28th phone call from Bagby: “(gasping for breath) We were 10 feet from a mile-wide wedge. Reed was screaming for the trucks but they didn’t come. I tried yelling to Reed but the wind was too loud. He said to jump in the ditch. I don’t know what to think anymore.” (Episode 10, “Overtaken”)

Bagby had just experienced his first out-of-vehicle encounter with a tornado, and it was a doozy. Reed and Bagby were 100 yards away from the intense Bennington, KS wedge. Luckily, it remained absolutely stationary but it had expanded and threatened to overtake them. I received a similar call from Whiteneck, a tornado veteran, who was also rattled by Bennington.

I knew that our guys had captured amazing footage, but I was nervous about how the team seemed to be “pushing the limit.” When everyone arrived back in Norman (safe and sound), there was a lot of reflection on chasing boundaries. Even on the morning of May 31st, Sean and Terry were still thinking about their close call in Bennington, KS (beginning of Episode 11, “Nemesis, Part 1″).

We couldn’t have known that morning, but May 31st turned out to be our worst nightmare.

To be continued next time.

Ken Cole
Executive Producer, Tornado Chasers

2013 Season
2013 Bonus Content
2012 Season

Tornado Chasers

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Tornado Chasers Production Log #7: Disaster Returns to Moore

Around 3:30am on May 20, I dragged myself out of bed to drive down to Reed’s place. I’d slept for a solid 2 hours, which was the norm for this crazy week. If you watched our 2013 season of Tornado Chasers, you know how challenging it can be to get Reed out of bed. It’s even tougher when you’re half asleep yourself.

Every news network on the planet wanted to interview Reed for his Edmond-area intercepts from the day before — that meant we needed to get to KFOR before the morning news. We climbed in Dom 3 and drove north on I-35, through Moore, before sunrise. I remember Reed and I talking about how peaceful everything was just before dawn.

After 6 solid hours of interviewing (I was shooting Reed so Whiteneck and Bagby could get some extra sleep), we made our way back to the circus of Reed’s house. Everyone in the world was there: dozens of chasers, Ginger Zee, and even a neighbor who brought Gatorade and bananas and just started to clean Reed’s house (as seen in Episode 7: “Home, Part 1″). Everyone was there but Cantore.

All of the shooters were fried, but we knew the forecast was huge for tornadoes. This could easily be the biggest day yet, and pure adrenaline (plus coffee) kept us alert. There was a bit of confusion over when we were leaving and where we were going.

The “chaser circus” is great proof of Newton’s First Law: a circus at rest stays at rest, unless an outside force acts upon it. When Cantore arrived and Mike Morgan told us to move, that spurred everyone into action.

Chris Whiteneck again climbed in Dom 3 with Reed, Sean, Cantore, and Mike. Jason Bagby had the pleasure of riding in Dom 2 with our special guest, Ginger Zee, as well as Connor and Terry. I teamed up again with Kevin, Ray and Bill in Dom 1.

This is a strange thing to say given the events later that day: everyone was in a giddy mood. Almost carefree. The previous day, May 19th, was such a successful chase, and we warned a lot of people in process. On the production side, we captured the entire event with 14 cameras, professional shooters, the whole shebang. There was a good chance we could top that on May 20.

We stopped and fooled around at a gas station for too long. We made silly jokes. Then we climbed in the Doms and headed south, away from Norman and Moore.

It happened pretty quickly. We were chasing some decent-looking storms in south-central OK when a tiny storm popped up southwest of Moore. We didn’t really pay it much attention. After all, it was just another storm on an outbreak day.

But it tightened up fast, and a tornado warning was issued for the Norman/Moore area. That’s when the first pang hit in the bottom of our stomachs. Instead of driving two hours south, we could have stayed at Reed’s house and watched this thing develop.

Oh well, we thought. That’s just part of chasing. But… this storm looked really good on radar, with a strong hook developing.

The data coverage in our area was so horrible that we only got updates every 5 minutes or so. It was very easy to not “think” about that storm heading toward Moore. Ray’s friends were texting him screenshots (our only way to get updates) of the giant tornado being broadcast live on national networks. I remember Bill getting texts from his friends saying that the tornado was “looking like May 3rd again” and heading into Moore.

Kevin and I quickly agreed that if was truly as big as May 3rd, we wouldn’t want to be there. A large tornado going through an urban area is a horrible thing and emergency crews would be busy on the scene. With the news pouring in quickly, I got a call from my sister, Jes, who asked “have you heard from Dad?”

That hit me like a freight train. At this point, with our horrible data coverage, we were trying to figure out exactly what path this tornado was taking. Ray and Bill were trying to contact all of their friends. My dad lived in Moore, and I didn’t know if his house was in danger or if he was even home. I tried calling his cell and land line, but no one picked up.

All of the Doms pulled over. We shared all the info we knew, and Reed relayed the on-air KFOR audio describing what had been hit. It looked like my house might have been wiped away, and that my dad’s house was in the damage path.

I was getting queasy and I felt very conflicted. My job was to stay with the chase, with the production. I knew that I couldn’t do much good by heading back to Moore (it would be almost impossible to enter), and I should continue to shoot the chase. But I felt like I had to try and get into Moore somehow and find my dad. Whiteneck told me, “Ken, you should go back. We can cover the rest of the chase.”

Connor and Terry volunteered to drive back with me in Dom 2. The moment those guys agreed to come back was one of the greatest moments of relief of my life, and I’m very thankful for them. We picked up my sister, and thankfully got a call from my dad: he had survived and made it to a neighbor’s house.

In Episode 8: “Home, Part 2″ you see exactly what we saw entering Moore. Even after all of my years studying and filming tornadoes, I hadn’t seen anything quite like this. One striking thing about the tornado damage was that each house looked like it had been scrambled in place. Then on top of each “house pile” the tornado had placed an upside-down car. It was very eerie.

Reed and company had continued to chase, but it was soon apparent that there was only one big tornado story. Ginger and Cantore needed to get back to Moore. Even as Reed continued to chase into the evening, there wasn’t any conversation in Dom 3. All of the in-cabin footage shows hours of stunned silence among the chasers.

One of our assistant editors, Heidi Farrar, was chasing the Moore tornado and documented its chilling approach on video. She also witnessed the destruction in real-time. The mother of our assistant editor Jacob Bartels was seriously injured when the tornado leveled her home in Moore. In addition to 350 injured, 25 people had died from this tornado including 6 children. This was the first time a tornado had affected so many of us directly.

While my home was still standing (the tornado passed about half a mile to the north), power was out and the police blocked off access to the neighborhood. Looting is another dark part of a tornado’s aftermath, and the authorities didn’t want to take any chances. So I went down to Reed’s and stayed there for the next few days. I was able to transfer and view all of the footage we’d shot this past week, and also connect with my family.

Meanwhile Reed kept chasing. It was the only thing he could do. He was getting angry that news networks wanted him to go to Moore, stand in front of the damage and do live interviews. To him it felt exploitative and opposite to his mission. “We’re storm chasers, not damage chasers. We need to worry about new tornado threats,” he’d say.

By May 25th, Reed was preparing to journey north into Kansas. Little did he know that bigger tornadoes awaited.

To be continued next time.

Ken Cole
Executive Producer, Tornado Chasers

2013 Season
2013 Bonus Content
2012 Season

Tornado Chasers

 

 

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Android Live Storm Chasing Update Released

We released a new version of our Android Live Storm Chasing app. The main feature of this new version is push notifications via Google Cloud Messaging, this brings a really great feature to Android that was previously only available in iOS. It means you will get push notifications of active storm chases as well as notifications for extraordinary events, such as an active tornado on a stream. This update also includes several key fixes and some very minor improvements.

Streams will still go down because of wireless network conditions in the field so please keep this in mind. When this happens you just switch to a different chaser and wait until the one you want to watch comes back online.

However some users are experiencing issues with the third party media player we are using. We are using this media player because the native media player in Android didn’t fully support HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) until version 4.0 and up, which allowed us to bring the app to older versions of Android. However this has caused issues in video playback, in particular native crashes that represent bugs in the third party player we are using. In the next update we may retire this media player and use only the Android media player available in the SDK, meaning the app will only be available to Android 4.0 and later.

It is unfortunate that the Android ecosystem is so fragmented, with most users not on the latest version of Android but we feel it would be better to target up to 15% less of the Android user base rather than all of our users have to put up with the stability issues of the third party player. We hope that eventually these 15% will move to new devices and this will not be an issue, until then they should be able to run the older version of the app without any problems.

Android Fragmentation

Until the next release we hope you enjoy this new update. The push notifications should be very useful now that storm season is winding down and chasing becomes more sporadic.

 

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Production Log #6: Three Dominators Intercept Multiple Tornadoes

By May 19th, the entire production crew was on adrenaline. After prepping and shooting for 12-16 hours each day, the shooters needed to organize their data cards, clean their equipment, and hand everything to Terry Rosema. Terry, who had been shooting and chasing each day, also had the job of labeling and securely storing all of the audio/video data. All of a sudden, this chase season was in full swing.

Because today looked like a major tornado day in central Oklahoma, it would be the biggest production day yet: all three Dominators in the field, Reed reporting live to KFOR, and Jim Cantore riding with Reed to report live on the Weather Channel. Add another wrinkle to the scenario: Cantore, who needed to be at Reed’s house in Norman, OK, was anxiously sitting in the Atlanta airport as of 11am thanks to a plane delay.

Reed donned his blue KFOR polo shirt, and downed copious amounts of caffeine (as seen at the beginning of Episode 5 “Warning, Part 1”). This might seem extreme – and it was – but keep in mind that everyone had slept a total of 7 hours in the past 3 days.

By happy coincidence, today was also Ray Bohac’s birthday. He had just seen his first tornado two days ago, but we were all hoping to get Ray another tornado for his big day. We even stuffed some balloons in Dom 1. If Cantore managed to arrive for the chase, he might see his first tornado as well.

By 2pm we couldn’t wait for Cantore any longer. Storms were about to initiate and KFOR’s chief meteorologist Mike Morgan needed Reed to be in the field. The crazy caravan of Dominators pulled onto the highway, shocking all of the surrounding drivers who fumbled to take snapshots with their smartphones.

When we approached our developing supercell northwest of Oklahoma City, I started getting text messages from Cantore’s Weather Channel producer, Michelle. They had just landed and rented an SUV at the airport – the plan was to meet up with us on the road and get Cantore into Dom 3.

What followed was a mad dash of trying to guide Cantore to Reed in the middle of the chase. Their cell signal didn’t allow for a sustained phone call or data – they could only communicate via text. Through a stream of about 300 text messages I tried to give them directions down rural roads with names like “N2830.” My biggest fear was that they’d drive down a dirt road in the middle of a rain core and get stuck.

Our supercell quickly went tornado-warned, and miraculously Cantore caught up with us. He jumped into Dom 3 right as the atmosphere kicked into high gear. What followed was sustained tornado event which we couldn’t have anticipated. While live on KFOR and The Weather Channel, Dom 3 (along with Cantore) intercepted its first tornado – an EF-1 – just east of I-35 in Edmond.

All cameras were rolling in all cars, and all of our shooters were in top form. Mike Scantlin used the top hatch on Dom 3 to shoot the tornado crossing I-35. The toughest part of shooting good tornado video is keeping your emotions in check and not allowing yourself to “feel” anything. You have to concentrate on framing, focus, and exposure instead of the excitement (or fear) of the moment. As shooters, we knew we could trust our chasing partners to look out for our safety.

The same supercell put down a second tornado, which Dom 1 (my vehicle) intercepted. With Kevin Barton driving, and Bill and Ray watching up close, we drove through a wide area of airborne debris. We didn’t know at the time, but Reed was screaming at us to slow down. Soon enough, Sean and Reed took matters into their own hands and sped around Dom 1 to intercept in front of us. In the span of 30 minutes, Dom 3 had intercepted two tornadoes.

Terry Rosema, as we discovered later, had captured these stunning moments on video by hanging out his passenger-side window. However, this tornado wasn’t finished and it wasn’t dissipating. Within minutes, this tornado – without a fully condensed funnel – was tearing buildings apart. The funnel started to extend to the ground and broaden into a mile-wide wedge.

The next part was especially difficult – we crossed the tornado’s damage path and observed homes that were either partially or fully destroyed. The first instinct was for everyone to abandon the chase and conduct search and rescue. We shooters followed to document the search, which for me was a highly unnatural act. I wanted to put my camera down, however I’ve always felt that it’s just as important to document a tornado’s damage as the tornado itself. There’s a tendency to think that tornadoes are exciting and thrilling, but viewers need to understand that tornadoes have a very real dark side.

Everyone pitched in, including Cantore, and thankfully there were no injured people. However, there were tragic injuries to livestock, including a cow that was trapped under a metal fence (as seen in Episode 6, “Warning, Part 2”). We were able to get the cow on its feet, but it had a punctured lung and probably didn’t have much longer to live. I debated about whether to include this scene in the final episode, but in the end I decided that it was important for the audience to see everything we witnessed.

KFOR quickly needed us back on the chase – Shawnee, OK was now tornado-warned. We drove as fast as possible to Shawnee, and arrived just in time to see a white stovepipe tornado crossing I-40 into Shawnee. The news was not good. This EF-4 tornado had destroyed many homes and caused one death. We dropped Cantore off so he could cover the story for the Weather Channel, and planned to meet him the following day.

As eventful, draining, and tragic as this day had been, the following day, May 20th, looked even bigger.

To be continued next time.

Ken Cole
Executive Producer, Tornado Chasers

2013 Season
2013 Bonus Content
2012 Season

Tornado Chasers

 

 

Posted in Tornado Chasers

Production Log #5: Attack of the Tornado Helix

Around 2 o’clock in the afternoon on May 17th, Reed was still sleeping — he hadn’t rested the previous night because various early-morning news shows had requested live interviews (very common during storm season). Dick McGowan, Reed’s driver, had taken him to these interviews and was totally exhausted.

Conditions were quickly looking better for tornadoes in the afternoon, even though the Storm Prediction Center had only issued a 2% risk (usually crummy). Mike Scantlin and Sean Schofer rounded up the troops, trying to get everyone out of bed. Dick decided the tornado risk was too low — better to rest up for the following day, May 18th.

While Reed was dragging himself out of bed, our top Kickstarter backers — Ray Bohac and Bill Beach — arrived at the house. Ray and Bill had won the top reward: a week of chasing in Dominator 1, driven by its engineer and builder, Kevin Barton. Very cool. I was excited to be shooter-producer with them in the original Dom.

As an emergency replacement for Dick, a young meteorology student named Connor McCrorey had just left his job at Pizza Hut to drive Dom 2. Whiteneck and Bagby arrived, and set up the GoPro cameras in their vehicles (Dom 2 and Dom 3, respectively). Terry Rosema armed himself with his video and still cameras. This was our first all-out production day. Hopefully we could get our first undisputed tornado.

It was fun riding down to Texas with Ray, Bill, and Kevin. It’s a proven rule: people who are passionate about weather instantly get along with each other. Riding in that car felt like a road trip with old buddies. Ray and Bill were dreaming of seeing their first tornado on their first day. Sometimes, dreams come true.

In Young County, Texas, we stopped under a supercell with a beautiful rain-free base — the sun was low enough to shine below the base (amazing). A tornado slowly touched down a few miles away.

Whiteneck was in full shooter-producer mode, covering Reed’s educational beats and failed quadcopter launches. Bagby and I were covering the tornado and all other chasers. Terry and Mike Scantlin focused on the tornado itself. Everyone knew his job, and we were seamlessly operating as production “machine.”

After watching a “baseball bat” funnel rotate directly over our heads we chased the intensifying tornado for an intercept. This skinny tornado, now into its final “rope” stage, morphed into a dance of helical suction vortices. Even Reed had never seen anything like it. It would become the inspiration for the name of Episode 3, “Helix.”

Unfortunately, this tornado ripped through some houses — we quickly abandoned the chase to help. I will confess, though I’d chased for 13 years, I’d never seen up-close, immediate tornado damage. Thankfully everyone was okay, but the sudden damage this tornado caused was sobering and removed any excitement we’d felt minutes ago.

As the day wound down, we shooters felt like we’d passed a big, mid-term exam. Whiteneck, confident smile on his face, showed off his footage of Reed running up to the camera with the tornado whipping behind him. Bagby, Scantlin, Terry and I were similarly pleased with the footage we shot. Maybe this signaled a major turnaround in the tornado season.

Mike Scantlin and Dick McGowan got into some argument over the phone that night. I don’t even know what happened: was Dick sore that he missed out on seeing this tornado? Was Mike gloating a little too hard? Regardless, Dick “quit” the team and went rogue for May 18th.

I’ll briefly touch on May 18th: riding high from the previous day, we bucked the prevailing wisdom and chased in Oklahoma instead of Kansas. It turned out to be a comically bad bust for us. Dick, however, went to Kansas and saw the best tornado of his life. You can see the whole story in Episode 4, “Payback.”

However, it was difficult to get too depressed about missing Dick’s tornado — the models were indicating massive tornado potential for May 19th and 20th. And Jim Cantore was coming back. The season was alive and kicking.

To be continued next time!

Ken Cole
Executive Producer, Tornado Chasers

2013 Season
2013 Bonus Content
2012 Season

Tornado Chasers

 

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Tornado Chasers Production Log #4: Legends Collide

The beginning of May 2013 saw the unveiling of Dominator 3 – the new, tornado-intercepting, DeLorean/Batmobile tank backed by Sean Schofer and engineered by Kevin Barton. To celebrate, KFOR shot a special TV promo with all three Dominators and “Chopper 4” flying above. As seen in Episode 1 “Liftoff,” this was the ultimate storm team.

Chris Whiteneck, our director of photography, had finally arrived and was deep into refining the “look” of the season. The guiding photography principles for 2013 were: cinematic and warm. A planned team of three story shooters, along with Terry Rosema and Mike Scantlin, would work together to achieve this look.

It was great to have Whiteneck back – he always brings a personable, professional attitude to a shoot. And he always gets amazing footage. While I had worked with Whiteneck extensively in the edit room in 2012, this was the first time I had the opportunity to shoot with him in the field – which was very exciting.

While it was a lot of fun shooting Reed and team goofing around during downtime, we had a continuing problem: lack of tornadoes. The fear was that this would be another “2012” where we had to rely on the story of the “grind” and flashbacks to prior seasons. That’s okay once in awhile, but we knew our Kickstarter backers wanted something more than that.

So around May 5th, we got a call from The Weather Channel – Jim Cantore was flying out to chase with us on May 8th and May 9th. To say we were ecstatic would be an understatement. For those of you (very few, I’m sure) who aren’t weather fans, Jim Cantore is one of the biggest weather personalities alive today. His in-studio presentations and live reporting have defined a generation, influencing many meteorologists and chasers (including everyone at TVN).

When he arrived with his Weather Channel news crew, he was exactly like his TV persona. The guy is seriously built, and could probably deadlift one of the Dominators. His personality was pure energy – putting him, Reed and Dick McGowan together was fantastic. They all played off each other naturally. Episode 2 “Legends” really captures the fun, easygoing energy of those days.

Unfortunately, May 8th and 9th were major busts. Well, I take it back… there was a nice rainbow on May 8th. Cantore had such a good time, though, he vowed to come back for the next system – after all, he had never seen a tornado in person, and had always dreamed of witnessing one up close. If I we could capture Cantore’s first tornado experience on our series, how amazing would that be?

The other exciting part of the May 8th and 9th chases was that our third shooter-producer, Jason Bagby, had officially signed on board. Bagby had worked with Chris Whiteneck on Ghost Hunters, and had shot a lot of doc-reality TV, so he was an ideal fit for our show. In a way, it was good that those days were busts, giving Bagby some warm-up time before the significant weather events.

Over the next week, it became clear that a major storm system was heading to Oklahoma, arriving in full force on May 18th. Preparations began on May 16th, assuming May 17th would be a “down” day, where we could focus on meeting our top Kickstarter backers, and gear them up for the action on May 18th.

You know what they say about assumptions. May 17th turned out to be the first unforgettable day of 2013.
To be continued next time!

Ken Cole
Executive Producer, Tornado Chasers

2013 Season
2013 Bonus Content
2012 Season

Tornado Chasers

 

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