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

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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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Tornado Chasers Production Log #3: Joel Taylor Returns

Around the middle of April 2013, the production of Tornado Chasers was in limbo. We’d been on some tough busts already, and only had a skeleton crew. Reed kept our morale high with his enthusiasm and confidence about the season. “This is just a warm up,” he’d always say.

Terry Rosema, invaluable both in front of and behind the camera, had just arrived from Michigan. And another famous member of our crew popped up: Joel Taylor.

Joel, Reed’s well-known chase partner from Storm Chasers, had been a good friend of mine ever since our college days. Along with Reed, Joel was featured in my previous projects, Tornado Glory and Heaven’s Rage. He helped during our Kickstarter podcasts and I was looking forward to him coming back.

In case you’re not aware, Reed and Joel’s chasing relationship was rocky when Storm Chasers ended. Though they remained good friends, they’d finally driven each other up the wall when it came to chasing. Reed’s style was instinctive and aggressive, and Joel’s style was more deliberate and conservative. Joel and Reed “took a break” in 2012, and they were ready to give it another try.

Joel was ready to get back in the Dominator, though with some qualifiers. Because of his professional commitments, Joel only wanted to chase the “bigger” tornado events. Reed, however, wanted his driver to commit to every type of event, no matter the size. This set up an awkward situation where Reed and Joel had different expectations about their partnership.

When Joel joined us for the April 17, 2013 chase, he seemed to be his old chasing self. Except… he was frustrated that Reed’s crew had become such a “circus” and that Reed was on the phone constantly doing live reports. For Joel, chasing is a dedicated hobby that should be savored. For Reed, it’s a career with all of the deadlines and stresses that come along with it.

Even through the tension that day, the “old team” finally saw a tornado after sunset. At least I think we did. Reed was positive he saw it in the darkness — and reported it — but Joel was dubious. Regardless, it was our most exciting chase yet, and it also turned out to be the last one with Joel Taylor.

Joel did consider giving team Dominator another try. He and Reed agreed to touch base over a game of golf, but Reed showed up an hour and a half late. When he did show up, he brought his dog Gizmo along, and well… you can see it all in Episode 2, “Legends”. It was funny to watch the mayhem but I think that’s when Joel decided to chase independently for the rest of the season. I wish he had gone on one or two more chases with us, but in the end, I think it worked out well for everyone.

With Joel exiting the team, we had a new, surprise team member ready to go. His name was Jim Cantore. THE Jim Cantore of Weather Channel fame. He was a meteorological hero to the whole team, and he was ready to see his first tornado.

To be continued next time!

Ken Cole
Executive Producer, Tornado Chasers

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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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Tornado Chasers, Production Log #1: Kickstarter to Chase Season Kickoff

Thank you all for your amazing support of our series Tornado Chasers. We recently finished the last of our “bonus content” for the 2013 season, so at last this epic production has come to a conclusion.

Because we’ve received such a favorable response to our “Behind the Scenes” episodes, I’ve decided to write a weekly “production log” to complement the video material. Hopefully through these production logs, you’ll gain an entertaining perspective on the making of the show you helped to create, Tornado Chasers. Enjoy!

Tornado Chasers, Production Log #1: Kickstarter to Chase Season Kickoff

At the end of our intense, but massively successful Kickstarter campaign, Reed came up to me with rings under his eyes and a beaming smile. “We did it!” he said as he slapped my back before uttering one of his patented crazy laughs.

It was a proud moment for all of us. From Reed to Dick McGowan to Mike Scantlin to Joel Taylor, everyone associated with the organization worked hard to make funding for Tornado Chasers happen. Seth Deckard, who is behind the scenes most of the time, ran the podcasts and handled all the technical details. I breathed a sigh of relief that we almost doubled our goal. But I was anxious at the same time.

A week prior, we had learned that Chris Whiteneck, our executive producer for the 2012 season, wouldn’t be able to return to run the show this year. He would, however, be back as cinematographer – he’s really the best tornado/documentary shooter in the world. He’s a veteran Director of Photography of Storm Chasers, Dirty Jobs, Swamp People, Deadliest Catch, Ghost Hunters – you name it. His images have a magic look and he can capture personal moments during looming danger. Tornadoes don’t phase this guy.

In 2012, Whiteneck (or “C-dubs” as Reed calls him) asked me to come on board as an editor. Because of my background directing tornado documentary projects (Tornado Glory, “Heaven’s Rage”), Timmer asked me to step into the executive producer role for 2013.

So there we were. Reed Timmer was in KFOR President Wes Milbourn’s office, ready to sign on as lead Storm Tracker. I was there to propose a unique idea for the Tornado Chasers series – we could feature Reed performing his new TV job for KFOR on Tornado Chasers, showing the world how weather teams cover tornadoes in Oklahoma. Everyone loved the idea, and I’m very thankful we were able to secure that partnership for the series.

Though I’ll never forget what Mike Morgan said in that meeting, “Reed, we need the best weather coverage possible. One of these years, May 3rd will happen again.”

As April began, Whiteneck updated us that the earliest he could start was April 22nd. While last-minute schedule complications are the nature of the biz, this put us in an anxious spot because the only big tornado outbreak in 2012 was on April 14th– very early in tornado season. After that, the 2012 season went virtually silent. What if the same thing happened again in 2013?

While I was ready to go as a shooter-producer, I wanted to always have at least two shooter-producers in the field at any given time. Reed is too unpredictable, and has too big of a “chaser circus” for one shooter to cover. Throw a tornado into the mix, and that’s almost too much for even someone like Whiteneck to handle by himself.

The models starting pointing to April 9th and April 10th as being potential outbreak days. On top of that, Good Morning America’s Ginger Zee was interested in chasing with Reed during the upcoming outbreak.

It looked like an exciting chasing event was coming together, one that would make one or two good episodes of Tornado Chasers for sure. Except…I didn’t have a production team yet.

To be continued next week!

Ken Cole
Executive Producer, Tornado Chasers

Tornado Chasers

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The Future of Tornado Chasers

Fans of Tornado Chasers, we want to thank everyone who watched for making the series a phenomenal success – a truly groundbreaking series.

We’ve been asked about whether TVN is producing a season of Tornado Chasers in 2014 and we want to confirm that production of Tornado Chasers has been put on hold for this year.

As you can probably guess, producing Tornado Chasers is an enormous undertaking. In fact, we’ve just finished producing all of the content for the 2013 season. We’ve learned that we’ll need a bigger production budget to hire the necessary crew to bring you the show in a timely manner.

So this year we want to focus on spreading the word about the amazing 2013 season of Tornado Chasers. We want to reach out to new fans and grow our audience. Then in 2015, we’ll be in a great position to launch a Kickstarter campaign for a new, big season of Tornado Chasers.

Thank you to everyone for their patience, passion and support.

 

If you would like updates on future developments and how you can spread the word about Tornado Chasers, subscribe to our mailing list.

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Android Live Storm Chasing App Released

We have released an Android app for our Live Storm Chasing service. This app provides a user friendly way to watch live chaser streams on your Android device. Previously our mobile website did not include a status of whether the chaser was disconnected or streaming, which can create confusion when a stream is disconnected. Since all the streams depend on sometimes unreliable wireless connections to publish them to our servers, they do go offline from time to time. With the Android app you’ll be able to see when a stream disconnects and simply switch over to another chaser who has good wireless data at the moment.

Android Google Play

The app does not currently have push notifications (Google Cloud Messaging) so you’ll need to follow us on Twitter to know when storm chasers are active. We also plan on adding that feature soon.

As always keep in mind that if you hear no audio it means that chaser has chosen not to stream with audio. Also note that storm chases do not happen all the time so if you see no one in the app it means no one is streaming.

 

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March Weather Summary

The “polar vortex” pattern continued to dominate the Midwest to the Northeast U.S. and southeastern Canada for most March, with hot and dry conditions proliferating the widespread drought conditions and wildfires from the Desert Southwest.

drought

 Powerful snowstorms hammered the Great Lakes Region to New England on March 11-13 and March 23, with over hurricane force winds and blizzard conditions in eastern Cape Cod with the latter system.  A raging blizzard is also closing out the month of March across much of the Dakotas into northwest Minnesota on the cold side of a powerful storm system that will bring tornadoes to the southern Plains to Dixie Alley the rest of this week.

blizzard

In terms of tornadoes, the month of March was relatively quiet compared to recent years, aside from the recent March 27 outbreak in northern Missouri where a damaging tornado destroyed multiple homes near the Trenton, MO area.  It looks like this event was the first sign of a major pattern shift that will impact North America, leading to a very active severe weather pattern across the Tornado Alley for the rest of spring and summer.  El Nino conditions continue to intensify in the Pacific, which will only enhance the severe weather pattern this spring.  Stay safe this storm season, and make sure your weather radios are charged up!

DOMINATE the storm

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iOS Live Storm Chasing App Released

We have released a Live Storm Chasing iOS app, this app is a universal app and works on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch with iOS 6.1 and greater. This is the first ever live storm chasing app for iOS and it provides a really easy to use native experience for browsing and viewing chaser’s live streams.

The app also has push notifications to you can be alerted when there is an active storm chase. You will only receive one automated push notification per chase day but in the case of a tornado on a live stream you may get a manual push notification letting you know what streams have a view of the tornado.

When viewing a live stream you can rotate the device to landscape orientation to toggle fullscreen. The resolution of each chasers stream is dependent on their network ability in the field and the quality will vary from chaser to chaser depending on what kind of equipment they are using.

ios screenshots

We have an Android version in development and it will be released soon. It will also provide push notifications and similar experience to the iOS app.

We still provide a mobile web experience in addition to this app, our mobile web streaming is compatible with iOS, all versions of Android including those without HLS support, and Blackberry.

UPDATE: We have released a native Android Live Storm Chasing app, read more about it in this post.

 

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Instagram Photo Contest Winners

Thanks to everyone who entered our February photo contest on Instagram.  It was extremely hard to narrow it down to just five photos with so many quality entries.

First Prize – SLXtreme 5 iPhone case and three giftable Tornado Chasers season passes.

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Runners up (in no particular order) – One giftable Tornado Chasers season pass

repost 4 repost 3 repost 2 repost

Thanks again for participating and making this a great winter photo contest.

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