Tornado Photos – Mapleton, IA Chase 4/9/2011

For those of you who don’t know, I am a bit of a storm junkie. Or, perhaps, a TOTAL storm junkie. I do some storm chasing when I get the opportunity to, and it’s becoming a priority for me this season. Any open days I have when the weather turns severe, I’m going to be trying to get out there.

So! This past weekend, I had the opportunity today to chase with Skip Talbot and Mike Boik. We got an amazing storm with a ton of great structure, and it spit out tornado after tornado. 🙂

Here are some of my favorite photos from the day! (Also, you can view the video Mike took here.)

*Edit: This blog post was put up the evening we got back, and at that point we were unaware of the damage caused to Mapleton. We were barely on the North side of town when we drove through it, and saw nothing more than tree damage, so we thought the town had been spared. It wasn’t until much later that we heard of the severe damage on the south side of the town. Of course, my heart and thoughts go out to all of the victims of this tornado.

~J

The radar.  The big cell is Severe Warned right now (the red box looking thing over it.)  We are the white dot with a little white circle around it.  Getting ready to be in great position!

Skip, our driver & navigator extraordinaire!  He has quite the knack for getting us where we need to be, and I feel totally safe with him at the wheel/ making the calls.

We pulled over to take a look at the storm structure as it started to really get organized.  Of course, it’s a nice quiet (momentary) photo op.  At this point we could really start to notice the outflow of the storm (wind) and things started to get pretty exciting soon after.

As we were driving down one of the roads, over the radio we heard, “Tornado!”  We frantically were looking out the windows trying to figure out where this tornado had touched down.  I started snapping some images out the left side of the car to see if I could capture anything.  The image below could be the start of something, if there was a funnel visible from another angle.  For us, we just thought it had to be some little gustnado (one of about fifteen or twenty we saw that day.)

Below is the field we stopped at, with multiple gustnados and we were unsure if any of them were becoming actually tornadic, or if we were just watching some sputtering around from the storm.  It was very intense, and I just kept wanting the storm to get it together and just tornado.  It was a gorgeous sight.

This sky was just moving and swirling and going crazy.  It’s a little scary, but totally amazing.

We ended up traveling down a crazy gravel road that had us behind hills, swerving around and really messed with our visibility.  As we finally pulled up over one of the hills after making it back onto a paved road, sure enough, “What’s that!?”  The tornado had gotten itself together.  Some of the most incredible moments followed.  When we pulled over, I got out of the side door of the van to take a few photographs.  There’s just nothing quite like the sound of a tornado.  It was in that field next to us, and it was some of the most peaceful and amazing minutes I’ve ever experienced.

This shot is a little more purple and brighter because somehow I got a shot right when there was a power flash.  Love it.

Mike had quite a dramatic experience being so close to such a large tornado (eventually it would be rated an EF3.)  This is a shot of him in the van after the experience.  Poor fella, all tuckered out. 😉

We capped off the evening photographing some lightening and the several night tornadoes that dropped down in the distance.  After reviewing the images captured, I count a solid five tornadoes for the day.  Other chasers report as many as ten for their counts.  It was truly an epic chase, and what a crazy way to start the season.  In April.  In Iowa, for goodness sakes.  Crazy!

Mary (A Merry Life) - April 10, 2011 - 9:17 am

This is so cool.

andy stenz - April 10, 2011 - 12:22 pm

dang! that is so cool.

Greg Meir - April 10, 2011 - 2:27 pm

Hats off to ya kid! Missing POP was worth it!!

Mandie - April 10, 2011 - 2:56 pm

What an awesome project- great images. Makes me wonder if these storms, as beautiful as they are, made a great big mess out of life for lots of people. 🙁

Michael Carlson - April 10, 2011 - 3:42 pm

Awesome catch! Are theses shots with you D3s?? I would love to see some metadata if so. – Good work and congrats!

Bill Hark - April 10, 2011 - 6:26 pm

Nice images. What type of camera, lens and setting did you use for the very good pics of the tornado with the road to one side?

Maggie Wright - April 10, 2011 - 7:30 pm

So incredibly incredible!!

Jenn - April 10, 2011 - 8:02 pm

D3s, 17mm, ISO 8000, 1/125 maybe? I need to check. 😀 thanks, guys!

luke - April 11, 2011 - 1:27 pm

Beautiful photos here! Mandie’s right – it might be nice, as amazing the experience was for you, to make note of the heartbreak suffered by a community full of real people. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like there were any serious injuries or deaths: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42513456

Sorry if I’m a hater…

Blog - April 11, 2011 - 7:25 pm

Not a hater at all. I just posted a link to the CNN clip. This blog post was put up the evening we got back, and at that point we were unaware of the damage caused to Mapleton. We were barely on the North side of town when we drove through it, and saw nothing more than tree damage, so we thought the town had been spared. It wasn’t until much later that we heard of the severe damage on the south side of the town.

Thanks for your comment!

Jenny - April 11, 2011 - 7:37 pm

Jenn, These are amazing pictures! When I saw that you were out chasing storms, I was already looking forward to the pictures. Beautiful!

Molly Marie - April 12, 2011 - 11:45 am

Awesome shots lady! Makes me want to watch the wizard of oz 😉

Harry Staab - April 12, 2011 - 1:17 pm

Amazing photos. Must have been quite the thrill.

craig john - April 12, 2011 - 1:32 pm

I’m so Jealous. Now I have to go back to watch Tornado Alley at the Imax Theater in Milwaukee. LOL …Have they (yet) determined the strength of the tornado? I imagine an f-3 if it tore up 60% of that little town.

Bob Beaverson - April 12, 2011 - 4:42 pm

That must have been an awesome time! Thanks for sharing the photos.

Jeremy Degenhart - April 13, 2011 - 8:08 pm

Great shots! I’m curious…not knowing hardly anything about photography…how did you get the night tornado shots that clearly? We were on the storm from inception as well, but only got video capture of the storms at night…I never even thought to try and take some photos.

Also, the shot of Boik was hilarious.

Robin Owen - April 19, 2011 - 11:33 pm

What an exciting story! I would have loved getting that close to a tornado! But no closer 🙂

bluzdude - May 13, 2011 - 2:49 pm

Tornados fascinate me, but also scare the living crap out of me. But I have to say that these shots are AMAZING. They totally knock my socks off. Your #58 looks like a special effects shot from Independence Day or something.

BTW, I found you through Bitchburgh.

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