Tornadoes - May 24, 2010

Near Faith, South Dakota

A very close encounter with a long-lived (and photogenic) tornado in rural South Dakota

Faith, South Dakota Tornadoes You Tube

South Dakota does it again, for the second time in a week. I don't know what it is about this state, but they get some very photogenic tornadoes here.
Wow, what a day! When we got up this morning, we were expecting a tough chase day due to fast moving storms and a poor road network in western South Dakota. The Storm Prediction Center had already issued a moderate risk for severe weather, including tornadoes so all the ingredients were present, but the location was not ideal. The cell phone network there is also not very good, so we were worried about losing our data feed during the chase today as well.
A tornado watch was issued and storms fired up early in the afternoon so we got into position to try and find the best storm of the day. The strongest storm was to our southwest and was tracking just west of due north. We plotted a course to intercept it and before we knew it, a tornado touched down. We thought it would only last a few minutes but it just kept on going. At first it was distant, then it got closer and closer. It showed no sign of weakening at all as it changed shape from a cone to a wide wedge to another fat cone. It was on the ground for over 15 minutes.
I noticed that it was going to cross a road nearby so we packed up and went west. As we approached the spot where it was headed, a smaller satellite tornado formed and was orbiting around the larger one. We watched it kick up dirt a couple of hundred feet ahead of us, but the main tornado was now getting really close too. We stopped in front of a small church and let the tornado cross the road less than 200 yards ahead of us, passing just behind the church. It was still a giant cone and the inflow winds where we were increased to the point where I needed all my strength to open the van door! It was like being in a hurricane!!
Several of our group also noticed another satellite tornado that passed behind our vehicles. Most of us were too busy with the main tornado to notice it and I need to see if any of them have video to confirm it. It wouldn't surprise me considering how close we were. There was even some concern about the vans possibly blowing over, but they remained firmly on the ground.
If we had an armored car, we could've easily driven right into the tornado... Certainly not an option in our vehicles, but one local motorist must've had quite the scare. As we filmed the tornado approach the road, a car came at us from the west, it just barely missed getting crunched by the tornado. I don't know if the driver was oblivious to what was going on or if he saw the tornado and needed a change of underwear.
Luckily, the house was spared. After it passed, we back-tracked and followed it north. Over the next half hour or so, we watched this storm produce tornado after tornado, most of them were conical in shape, another one looked like a multi-vortex tornado, and later we saw a distant stovepipe shaped tornado. Some of these were difficult for me to document because I was driving the lead vehicle at the time, but others in our group were able to get video and photographs.
As quickly as the chaos started, it all ended when the storm died and others merged together. It was one of our best tornado experiences to be that close and feel the incredible winds as it cross right in front of us.
Even after years of doing this, I still get a thrill out of it when Mother Nature puts on a really dramatic spectacle.



The tornado in the distance approaching. It took on many shapes from fat cone to wedge and back.

We reposition to where the tornado is going to cross the road



The tornado approaches Our Lady of Victory church.

It spares the church, but the driver of this car narrowly misses being hit by the tornado!


Another large tornado spawned by the same storm, further north.