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Friday, December 30, 2005

About that photo...

If you'll look at the upper left corner of this page, you'll see a photograph of a massive tornado. That photo was taken from a vidcap of some chase footage I shot on April 6, 2005.

A brief story of the day: I woke up and helped get my kids ready for school. My wife was working as a teacher's assistant at the time, so she took the kids and headed out. When the warnings started coming out to our west, she called me to make sure I had heard. I assured her that I was gathering my stuff up at that very moment. First through town to top out the gas tank (I had a good hour before it would be near), then out onto the rural county roads in a carefully-calculated intercept route.

A couple of "sidebar" points:

First, it's really exciting to be coming through town, amped up about heading into a tornado-spawning thunderstorm, and hearing the sirens going at full-tilt warning people to take cover.

Second, chasing tornadoes in Central Mississippi has its own set of challenges that separate the experience from that of chasing in the Great Plains--in particular, numerous hills, curves, and trees. A knowledge of the territory gained through my years in EMS helps a lot, but there's still a bit of apprehension when you know a tornado that has done considerable damage already is roughly a mile to your west--and your view to the west is currently completely obscured by trees.

I stopped briefly to admire the storm, and looked for indications of its motion. Being in a cellular-free area, my only information about the tornado's whereabouts came from my weather and FM radios. Fortunately, radio stations around here take severe weather very seriously.

I made my final move, one that brought me to within about a half mile of the storm's projected path. As the trailing edge of the storm became visible over the horizon, I began filming. The tornado had left an intermittent path of roughly 40 miles already, and hadn't completely dissipated. Before my eyes, an obvious cone of rotation seemed to dissipate, but it was merely revealing itself to be a multiple vortex tornado, an assembly of five to six tendrils of rapid rotation within a much larger structure. As those vortices converged again, the tornado took on the form you see in the photo, and held this structure as it moved out of sight. Alas, I didn't pursue the storm further, because of another twister that was forecast to come much closer to my home and business, so I turned South to see what would develop there. No funnel there, but I'd see one more funnel cloud later that afternoon that wouldn't become a tornado.

In all, we had around five tornado warnings that day, and there was some damage in my county. Most of the damage was near White Oak in Rankin County, where one community took some pretty heavy damage from the storm I caught on film.

The remainder of the season was relatively uneventful, and I wouldn't have any more good footage until my Florida vacation the third week of June.

But that's another story.

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