I want to preface decisions I made this night will continue to play in my mind for a very long time. This blog is not about tornado counts or bragging rights, it’s about 1 chase and 1 decision that sets off a chain of events Brent Koops, Cory Watkins and I will will never forget and has changed the three of us forever.
We starting planning this chase on Tuesday and Cory made arraignments to fly from OK, to SD and arrive Friday evening. He made it as far as MSP and had to spend the night at the airport for a flight out in the morning. Picked him up at the airport about 9:45am and the journey began. We first stopped at the pizza ranch in Rock Valley, IA and met up with the rest of the group Brent, Joe Miller, Joe’s wife Jill and Greg Rardin for lunch and make our final plan for the chase. Joe selected Onawa, IA as the perfect staging area for our chase to begin.
We arrived at a gas station just off the interstate where we met up with Ben Holcomb and Scott Bennett and shot the breeze waiting for storms to fire up. Other chasers arrived and everyone was getting jazzed about what was to unfold. Models looked fantastic, SPC had a moderate risk for the area.
I’ve had the flu since our KS chase a week prior and should not have even been there but we all knew it would be big. However I for one was not expecting that what would later unfold would affect me on so many levels. I should have known though after a large bee (the only bee) landed in my shirt and stung me in the back, mother nature was not going to be very kind to me.
Towers popped up and we all took off a through the next hour we all jockeyed around for positioning and as the storm took off and went tornadic the group pretty much put their own strategies in play and we all broke apart.
I will fast forward past the positioning details and get right to the tornadoes we encountered. We were just between Ida Grove and were heading toward Arthur when everyone’s worse nightmare happed. We were struck by a tornado! This is the moment we went from chasers to chased. A moment earlier we were watching a funnel/tornado form just off to our left. It was like watching through the strobe light. 1 second it would appear touching and then next not so much. While watching this we continued on not paying attention to another merging cell. There was a pick up a couple of hundred yards or so in front of us when suddenly he stops on a culvert bridge right in front of us and debris suddenly flowed across the road like a blinding sheet as we were pushed to the right, we could barely see the truck.
The car began to shake violently and the reflectors on the side of the bridge were twisting back and forth looking like blinkers flashing on and off. The car lifted slightly in the rear and was pushed further to the right. Just at that moment the rear window imploded and sent glass and debris flying into the car. All of this happened extremely fast and immediately after the window blew I stomped on the gas and got out of it. We drove like a bat out of hell for about 2 miles and stopped to see what had just happened and to make sure we were all ok. It was amazing not a cut or bruise on any of us. But this is what we saw from the back window.
We continued to track this storm that appeared to be dropping tornado after tornado. As we continued on this storm we could see a wedge forming. To top it all off data was non existent but we could clearly see the wedge and headed toward Newell. This was bad decision number 2. At night perspective changes and distance and timing are all out of whack. We missed our east west and found ourselves staring down this wedge. That’s a slight stretch, but we were close enough to notice the air was filled with the smell of pine. You could smell the trees being ripped up. Cory called 911 and reported our location and the damaging tornado. This is when the chase stopped. We knew what this tornado was doing and we rushed to Newell and expected the worse was coming. We sat just looking south out of town and the power went out. The tornado was tearing up farm homes. We punched up through the hail core to get back around and on the damage path and helping people as we found them. We lost a few minutes in the hail but were able to get back on things.
We found an older couple where the tornado chewed through a tree grove on their property. Large trees moved more than 10ft but luckily the home was spared.
A little further down the road was another home that was badly damaged. Other chasers had arrived moments earlier and pulled the man from this badly damaged home. I was amazed that the grass a completely flat pointing towards the home. I looked as though a steam roller flattened it.
We continued check homes on the way to Virina where we encountered more damage. We checked in with the fire dept. on the scene and we were told of a command post location and to check in there. It wasn’t there. That’s for another blog because many doubt my actions this night, but it’s on video.
At the end of this chase we are thankful to have survived and the 3 of us have bonded like brothers. I cannot even begin to describe the emotions I went through on this chase as we went from chaser to victim.
Here are a few shot of the car
This is not something I ever want to do again. God had his finger on the car and he chose to spare us.