Most people head south to sit on a beach, but I was looking for something a little different. Storm chasing in Tornado Alley has been on my bucket list for a long time, so I decided to pack my bags and get up close and personal with some of the most powerful storms on the planet. I flew into Oklahoma City May 12 and things turned active a few days later.
What happened in the next few days was always eye-opening, sometimes beautiful and sometimes scary.
I also learned about storm chasers and how important they can be, confirming to the weather office that a tornado has touched down and making sure people in the next town have advanced warning.
My trip also gave me first-hand insight into the power of these tornadoes, and how they can tear through communities like Moore, Oklahoma, causing millions of dollars in damage and death.
First chase day with Reed Timmer's Extreme Tornado Tours. It has a great forecasting and chase team, headed by meteorologist Dave Holder along with Matt Phelps, Blake Knapp and Shanda Hinnant. The crew has seen hundreds of tornadoes between them. This is the first big super cell over Texas. A capping inversion prevented this storm from really firing up.
Another supercell over Texas. It made for a perfect shot with the sun setting in behind it.
The mammatus clouds in Texas that evening were spectacular.
Mammatus clouds are produced by turbulence in the atmosphere and are often associated with severe weather.
A long, gruelling drive from Texas to Nebraska was well worth it. We arrived just in time to see this amazing shelf-cloud/gust front.
Note the dust being kicked up in the distance under the cloud. Very strong winds were on the way and we could see them coming!
Yours truly, getting up close and personal. (Courtesy Nigel Miller)
Video of pre-gust front
Here comes the dust storm!
Video: Dust storm
Chasing in South Dakota. This storm dropped some huge hail on us.
Video: It's hailing!
Golf-ball sized hail.
Spectacular South Dakota with rain curtains on the right side.
South Dakota. Of the states I visited, certainly my favourite.
With the storm regenerating, back to chasing!
This storm turned into a beautiful mothership-type storm, with an amazing wall cloud.
The mothership has arrived!
Ready to be 'taken.' :)
Chasers love to chase in Kansas. It's wide open and flat. You can see the storms from a long way and they most often touch down in open fields. With GPS and radar right inside the vehicle, you can keep yourself at a safe distance while chasing.
Video: We arrived at our location nice and early, right under a developing supercell. In just a few minutes, the winds really became intense and we found ourselves looking straight up into some nice low-level rotation. A lowering cloud base and low level rotation is a good sign of tornado development, so we decided to get out of there and find a safer location.
The view from the distance was well worth it. Unbelievable rotation overlooking the town of Ransom, Kansas.
This storm had great low-level rotation and very impressive inflow as well. How it didn't tornado, we still don't know.
Video: You can hear the tornado sirens wailing in nearby Ransom. Meanwhile, the birds are chirping!
This storm didn't tornado, but it produced an amazing hail shaft. Note the white streak in the rain curtains to the right.
We decided to bail on the first storm and haul it south to chase a developing storm. Time was against us. However, we arrived JUST in time to see our first tornado. Really a perfect EF0 tornado, out in the middle of field, in the middle of nowhere.
Beautiful tornado at sunset. (Courtesy Nigel Miller)
It lasted only a few minutes.
But wait! It's back. A very narrow spinning vortex returned for a few snaps, only for a moment. (Courtesy Nigel Miller)
The last gasp of our first tornado. (Courtesy Nigel Miller)
Just like that, it was gone. Check out the lightning I captured in the top left corner.
We knew this Sunday would be a busy day. And we started chasing by 2:30 p.m. Lots of low-level rotation in our first storm.
And just like that, our first tornado of the day. The worst part, this EF1 tornado had touched down in Edmond, which is a populated suburb north of Oklahoma City. Thankfully, no one was killed.
Video: Storm chasing in a populated area is dangerous. Exit routes can be crowded with cars. You can hear the urgency in meteorologist Dave Holder's voice, when he says it's time to go!
The storm was south of the us the whole time. However, we weren't taking chances. Red lights and traffic meant the tornado quickly caught up to us!
Our second tornado of the day near Arcadia, OK. This one lifted off the ground before I could take a decent picture. The NWS rated it an EF0.
The storm regenerated and we could see the low-level rotation as we chased it. However Oklahoma terrain makes chasing tricky. Hills and trees get in the way! We took a chance and headed down a dead-end road, towards the tornado. It paid off as we witnessed this intense EF3 Tornado. (Courtesy Nigel Miller)
Video: My two-minute video shows a close-up look at one of the most intense storms on earth. Halfway through, it appears the tornado is breaking up and dissipating, which offers a glimpse at all of the multiple suction vortices inside the large wedge.
Thankfully, this powerful storm ripped through a rural area. Some homes were destroyed, but no one was killed.
In this photo, you can see the intense vertical and horizontal vortices. They are basically violently-rotating tubes of air, which are being pulled into the tornado. This is very rare sight, and a sign of a very intense tornado. (Courtesy Nigel Miller)
When you are chasing with guys who've seen 40-50+ tornadoes, and they say this was the most intense tornado they've ever witnessed, you know it was a big one. (Courtesy Nigel Miller)
Our EF3-producing storm. An amazing supercell. But that was it for tornadoes from this storm anyway.
A new storm we began chasing near Prague, Oklahoma. This storm was quickly intensifying. You can see the lowering at the base of the storm. The low cloud - the front & middle - is only 'scud cloud.' However, the lowering near the rear of the wall cloud certainly had our attention.
Video: This video shot while were driving through Prague, Oklahoma gives you a great perspective of what it's like to live in one of these towns with a tornado on the ground and the sirens blaring. A freeze-frame at the end also gives you a quick peek at tornado number four for the day.
Again, the downside of chasing in Oklahoma. This storm produced a second tornado, our fifth of the day. By the time we were in a safe location and I could actually capture it on camera, it had lifted. Still, this might have been the most impressive storm structure of the entire trip.
The backside of the impressive supercell. You call this a 'pancake stack.'
A great end to a successful chase day.
Ryan & Reed- The day was capped off by a meeting with Reed Timmer. One of the best storm chasers on the planet, Reed has witnessed hundreds of tornadoes and intercepted dozens in his 'Dominator' vehicles. We had the chance to show him our footage of the EF3 tornado. Some storm chasers are out there doing very important scientific research on these unpredictable storms.
The next day was filled with nervous energy. We knew Monday, May 20 would be big. We knew Oklahoma City was in the crosshairs, but we just hoped the storms would dodge the populated areas.
We started the day chasing with the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore, Good Morning America's Ginger Zee and Reed Timmer and the Dominators.
This cell was showing serious potential. Low-level rotation and a lowering wall cloud.
The radar in the vehicle showed us the worst-case scenario happening with a storm just to our north. When you can see the 'debris ball' on the radar, you know the tornado is large and on the ground. It was heading straight for Moore. All we could do was hope it wasn't as bad as it looked.
By the time we made it back to Moore, grabbed some better footwear and a cooler full of water to bring along, darkness had set in. It was so quiet.
The next day I jumped on board with the CBC News Network crew and we headed in. The destruction in the daylight was unlike anything I had ever seen. Note the piece of metal wrapped around the hydro pole, which had been completely sheared off.
It was hard to envision that a subdivision once stood here. Now, only rubble and destruction. It wasn't surprising to hear that the NWS rated the Moore Tornado an EF5. It will go down as one of the strongest storms to ever hit the United States.