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.
Executive Producer, Tornado Chasers