Tornado Chasers, Production Log #2: The First One’s A Decoy

As April 8 – 10, 2013 approached, we were facing the first potential tornado outbreak of the season and we were missing our Director of Photography, Chris Whiteneck. On top of that, Ginger Zee and ABC News wanted to fly out to chase with Reed. We needed to act quickly to get a makeshift production crew together ASAP.

Desperate to make something work, Reed and I called another former colleague from Storm Chasers, Sean Stack. Stack, a veteran shooter-producer, had worked with Reed and Whiteneck for years. He was actually one of the main shooter-producers assigned to Tim Samaras during Storm Chasers. Stack graciously agreed to fly out to Oklahoma for a few days to help shoot, hoping to see a little action in the process!

When Stack arrived in time for our first big chase, April 8th, we were fired up and anxiously looking forward to capturing our first tornado. We broke out our new Canon C100 cameras, started fine-tuning the equipment, and shot everything/everyone.

Let me take a second to thank our amazing Kickstarter supporters again – because of their generous funding, we were able to acquire much-needed equipment upgrades, including the C100 cameras. These cameras utilize a cinema “Super35” chip in a very low-profile, run-and-gun form factor. Basically, these cameras allowed us to get movie-quality footage in harsh, fast-changing environments where most cinema cameras would be too clunky to use.

Armed with our rockin’ cinema cameras and GoPros, we were off on our first chase! What I remember from that first day was the absolutely beautiful sunset. There were a couple of puffy clouds too. That’s it. It was perhaps one of the most classic “clear sky busts” I’d ever witnessed.

So far, Stack hadn’t seen the action we promised him.

The next day, we caught up with some rain showers southwest of Norman. Ugh. Just a nasty, boring bust. We were 0-2 and had one big shot left.

April 10th was shaping up to be a big chase day in the Ozarks, and Ginger Zee confirmed that she’d meet up with us in Little Rock. The last time Reed and Ginger chased in the Ozarks, they saw a tornado together, so we were convinced she’d be our “good luck charm” and turn our fortunes.

We begrudgingly woke up at 3am and started out toward Little Rock. Ginger and crew were there to greet us, and the mood immediately lifted – Ginger is a multi-talented, gifted meteorologist and a great friend to the TVN team. It felt like the magic was going to happen, despite our horrible chasing area: The Ozark Mountains.

By the way, I hate chasing in the Ozarks. I hate hate hate hate hate chasing in the Ozarks, and I know I’m not alone. Imagine trying to track tornadoes through winding, hilly roads, tall trees, and horrible data reception. If there is a tornado, you’ll only see it if it’s right in front of you. Not ideal.

On this day, we had one moment of pure excitement. We somehow found a clearing right in the path of a TVS (Tornado Vortex Signature). We all stood breathlessly, waiting for the circulation to emerge from behind a mountain. Sean Schofer was readying his quadcopter. Reed and Ginger were running up and down hills trying to get a glimpse.

Suddenly the circulation emerged and wrapped up, and we could have sworn we saw ground circulation, but there was no condensation funnel. So technically we saw a tornado, but it was very hard to see on video.

Production-wise, this was a “maybe” day. If we had a slow, tornado-less 2013 season, this would’ve likely become an episode. However, I was hoping we’d never have to use it (and we didn’t have to).

Sean Stack did an amazing job shooting and producing, and it was too bad we never had any “episode-worthy” moments from the days he shot. He headed back to LA, and we headed home to start preparing for the next round of chasing.

That’s when I got a call from Joel Taylor. He was ready to come back to the Dominator, and join the Tornado Chasers crew. I was excited to have Joel and Reed back together again, and it felt like everything was falling into place. What could go wrong?

To be continued next week!

Ken Cole
Executive Producer, Tornado Chasers

Tornado Chasers

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2 comments on “Tornado Chasers, Production Log #2: The First One’s A Decoy
  1. Jeremy May says:

    Hi Ken have you ever thought about putting together the footage from the Ozarks chase with ginger and having it as a bonus episode. I know I and the fans would love to see it, thanks ken hope to hear from you

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