Alberta's 'Chuck Norris of lawnmowing' stayed calm as tornado with 175 km/h winds bore down

He’s now known in Germany as the "the Chuck Norris of lawn mowing,” but Alberta’s Theunis Wessels says the picture that took the internet by storm of him cutting the grass while a twister cuts a swath behind him, doesn’t tell the whole story.

Photo taken of man mowing lawn with twister in the background went viral over the weekend

Dramatic timelapse of Alberta twister

5 years ago
Duration 1:56
Residents in Three Hills, Alta., snapped shots of a tornado as it ripped through the area Friday evening. (Video: Vance Neudorf)

He's now known in Germany as the "the Chuck Norris of lawn mowing," but Alberta's Theunis Wessels says the picture that took the internet by storm of him cutting the grass while a twister cuts a swath behind him, doesn't tell the whole story.

Theunis's wife, Cecilia Wessels, snapped the shot on Friday evening as the tornado passed near their home in Three Hills, Alta. It quickly touched off a storm of its own on social media.

The twister touched down near the central Alberta town — about 130 kilometres northeast of Calgary — just after 5 p.m.

But the skies were clear when he started mowing the lawn, Wessels told The Homestretch. That soon changed.

"When I started the whole process there was nothing, nothing in the sky, suddenly I saw this whirlwind," he said. 

"I was watching it and keeping a close eye on it, and just seeing where it was going. I didn't see any danger, it was so far away."

German newspaper Der Spiegel called Theunis "the Chuck Norris of lawn mowing" and actor Zach Braff used it to take a shot at U.S. President Donald Trump.

The tornado reached a top speed of 175 km/h and reached a scale rating of EF-1 (Enhanced Fujita Scale), Environment Canada says.

The EF-Scale ranges from 0, for a tornado that pushes over shallow-rooted trees and causes some damage to chimneys and signs, to 5, when houses are lifted off their foundations, vehicles are thrown 100 metres or more, and trees are uprooted and carried long distances.

The strongest documented tornado in Canada's history is the one that hit the southern Manitoba community of Elie on June 22, 2007, according to Environment Canada. It is the only officially confirmed F5 tornado.

The Elie tornado stayed on the ground for 35 minutes and had wind speeds in excess of 420 km/h. No one was killed or seriously hurt.

Cecilia Wessels says the sensation caused by the picture has been "strangely exciting and weird and crazy."

"The comments are fun, but it's actually a lot of work to stay ahead of this beast we've created."

Cecilia said at the time, she wasn't scared of the approaching funnel cloud.

"It was just exhilarating, it's the first time I've ever seen something like that and I just wanted to share it with my family," she said on why she grabbed her camera instead of running for cover.

"He seemed pretty calm and being married to him forever, I know he stays calm in the storm and makes calculated decisions, so I just trusted him."

Damage from the storm was limited — an empty grain bin was thrown some 400 metres, while semi-filled grain bins were shifted, a barn roof was damaged and an RV was destroyed.

​With files from The Homestretch