Girard, IL Tornado – Storm chase log 4/19/2011

Today I had an amazing backyard storm chase with my friend, brilliant navigator / forecaster  & skilled chaser, Skip Talbot!

What started out as an unsure day developed into a less than hopeful situation watching storms start to fire pretty far west of where we initially targeted. Here are some shots of the chaser convergence before we jumped up and out of there.

Skip making sure the dome is ready to rock:


Installment #2 of my Locals Portrait Project…

Skip made the call for us to cruise out to try to catch the cells popping up, and we crossed our fingers that they would stay discreet. Here is a quick shot of the cell as we approached it.

As we were moving near the cells, between two lines, we noticed a lowering off the back end of the storm we were interested in. Sure enough, there was a whisping of white beneath it and it became our bonafide tornado.


The fact that I caught a power flash in a still only further pushes my notion that it was magic that caused this whole thing to happen the way it did.  It was bizarre and awesome.

You can see in the photo above how the tornado started to really lose its structure for a minute.  Because of that I wasn’t really expecting it to fully get its act together for too terribly long.  We followed along with it for a while, and drove through the small town of Girard. As we came through on the other side, the tornado reared its gorgeous head, and crossed right in front of us over the road before dissipating in the field to our right.

From another chaser, I have found out that there have been reports of:  7 houses damaged. 2 destroyed, 2 people extricated, one injured to some degree.
Our hearts and minds go out to the people affected by this tornado, as with all severe storms we encounter.  We were initially of the thought that this tornado passed on the north side of town, but apparently it hit some property and did some major damage.  🙁  Thankfully, there are at this point no reports that I am aware of involving fatalities.


You can see how quickly it got super dark.  It was 4:30PM at this point, but these images feel like it was the middle of the night.  Yes, you read that right:  It was 4:30 in the afternoon, people.  CRAZY.  This storm was mean and ominous feeling, and the cone stood out with its white structure, thankfully!  For photo geeks, I was shooting the following images with:

D3s | f/2.8 | 24-70mm 2.8 at 24mm | ISO 6400 – ISO 20,000 | 1/80 – 1/160th

Those ISO numbers should show you two things:
1) How freaking AMAZEBALLS the D3s is in low light, and 2) Just how DAMN DARK it was in there.


Shot with a 24mm lens, this really makes it seem like the tornado was further from us than it was.  (Sorry, Mom & Dad, but we were safe.)  😉  To give you guys a bit better perspective of the distance, we were estimated to be within about 800 – 1000 feet of the tornado.  This was the closest myself, or Skip had ever been to a tornado.  (And he’s been chasing for something like 8 years.)

If you guys want to see how insanely close Skip & I got to this tornado, you can watch this incredible footage from Dave Marshall and Allan Detrich.  You’ll see the tornado at 2 minutes.  Around 2:27, you can see the white van we were in drive into the frame.  o_O.  This will also show you just how dark it actually was where we were.  Absolutely crazy.

As you can see comparing the above image with the image directly below here, the RFD (rear flank downdraft) was extremely strong, and it pummeled toward us at a crazy speed.  (scroll to the very bottom of this post to see a GIF that shows the motion of the RFD, it’s crazy.)

So, Skip turned the car around immediately and we went to see if we could cut through the cell to our south and get a better visual to see if anything was happening on the other side of it.


Unfortunately, we were met with a crazy core punch (not so much hail, but wild intensely strong winds, and torrential rain) – it cut our visibility to nothing.  At one point the wind switched from non focused random garbage bursts and drafts to a very focused pull, and Skip realized we were approaching the inflow of the storm.  He made the quick call that we were probably approaching a strong tornado within a mile or two, and he turned us back around to drive back away from the core.  Sure enough, several of our fellow chasers sent in reports of a strong (and gorgeous) tornado on the other side of where we were.  You can click here to view some of that awesome footage by our friend Adam Lucio!

We at that point decided to call it a day after our awesome tornado encounter.  After we’d been driving for about 20 minutes, we drove past a huge field with tons of really large chunks of scrap metal.  Then, we saw a ton of cops and a fire truck & ambulance at this farm house, and noticed some pretty significant damage.  I would guess the crumpled heap on the left was at one time a silo.  It was a sobering reminder, again, of the strength and destruction these tornadoes can hold.  Hopefully everyone in the house was unharmed.


Here are some Animated GIF files of the tornado crossing the road! 🙂

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *



There was an error submitting your comment. Please try again.

F a c e b o o k
L i n k e d i n