Since I was a little boy I've been facinated, if not terrified, by tornadoes.
As an 11 year old boy growing up in Goldsboro, NC the March 28, 1984 tornado outbreak was not only the largest tornado outbreak in the state's history, it was close by, leveling part of nearby Mt.Olive and leaving me with curiosity that I haven't outgrown.
Growing up and working as a TV Photojournalist hasn't cured the curiosity...only inflamed it.
Fast foward 26 years, to the day, March 28, 2010.
It isn't my first go 'round with bad weather. I chased the one the hit Stoneville in 1998. I chased the one that hit Clemmons in 1998. I chased the one that hit Colfax in 2006. And in 1996 I remember accidentally driving headlong into a supercell with my 2 year old and (now ex)wife in the car.(note - I had my employer's permission to have family in car. I was the only photog at a very small shop) I digress.
I can't say I ever have that gut feeling or find myself in the right place, but I can always look back at the signals that might have helped my cause. The dog cowering in the corner for example should have been a clear indication that something was amiss in the atmosphere. That, or the competing meteorologists on mine and the other local news outlets yelling something about the sky falling.
Seriously, I've battled this urge before...do I stay put at home, or do I chase another storm that will peter out before the heater warms the truck up? (You ever notice how chilly it can get when these system's roll in?)
But this one was the real deal and as soon as I heard about confirmed reports of damage from the local authorities, I gave the radar on my cell phone a close look, plotted a conservative intercept of the supercell and left my wife in charge of the chili.
However, had I gone with my gut and drove more toward the front of where the storm was on my radar not only would I have had daylight left to get aftermath footage, I wouldn't have gotten stopped by dozens of trees (and one goosechase) on my chosen path into High Point.
When I arrived in High Point, I wasn't sure if I was in Ground Zero for what had just happened but I did know there were trees down everywhere and stunned people walking the streets in the heavy rain. And to make matters a bit more testing...2 more tornado warnings were issued as the storms continued to train along what I found out later was a west bound warm front that collided with east bound cold air right over our fair city.
I put together my video for the Sunday 10 o'clock news including working through road blocks and road closures to pick up this home video from Mickey Boylan of High Point who shot video as the tornado crossed about a mile in front of his house.
But the real answers came on Monday when the sun came up and my co-workers and I hit the streets.
There were way too many scenes of devastation for any amount of coverage to take in. Trees down by the hundreds if not thousands. Houses de-roofed as if by God himself. A family of 5 taken for the ride of their lives...almost to the death....escaping with just broken bones.
My obligation to my employer this day...catch up with the National Weather Service Meteorologist responsible for verifying the tornado and determining its power.
I met up with Meteorologist Jeff Orrock on Old Mill Road...ground zero of the High Point tornado. He told me how the winds were 120 to 130 miles per hour and later he discovered a mile farther north on this twister's course that it strengthened to an EF-3 tornado with a 138 mph wind speed.
Before and after meeting up with Mr. Orrock I gathered a fair bit of footage from the impact zones, trying carefully not to duplicate footage that our other crews had already shot...not and easy feat mind you.
This is what I came up with at the end of my work day....a look at how the NWS rates tornadoes. I also encourage you to check out the other coverage we provided and the pictures that people sent in.
As for catching that tornado in action with my own camera. There's always next time....or ya'll can buy me a storm chasing excursion in the midwest for my birthday.