May 13, 2009 Kirksville Missouri Tornado

(mostly all horrible banded video captures from my way overpriced Sony HC1 hunk of junk)

The last time I saw a decent day time tornado was over 3 years before this day. April 6, 2006. Saw a good night time wedge March 28, 2007, but other than that VERY little in the way of tornadoes. It's too bad this ended with what would turn out to be the first killer tornado I've ever witnessed. It's odd being a chaser in this sense. No real way to put it into perspective, once it's hurting anyone, I don't think.

May 10, 2003 felt like a similar day as this one, not weather-wise exactly. The last time I'd seen a tornado then was I guess April 22, 2001, with 2002 being my only tornadoless year. Then I busted on the huge outbreaks of May 4th and May 8th. Just extremely frustrated by May 10th...another potential big day. That ended up being an amazing encounter and it was over in northeast Missouri near Hannibal.

Several points on this drive I thought about this and wondered, hummm, could northeast MO come through again. The fact 3 people died because it did, makes one think. At the same time, I don't know what to think exactly. Some of us are simply amazingly interested in such displays of nature...storms. I guess one was an 83 year old lady in her trailer. The other 2 I hear were an engaged couple in their home just nw of Kirksville. More on this aspect later here.

The target became fairly obvious by early afternoon with a warmfront/outflow boundary arcing nw to se through nc MO. Those work when they can at least get some heating or warm air advection on the cooler side. This happened. Storms fired to the west with two main supercells taking over west of Kirksville. Which to chase. Depending on how they are aligned, I'd say the north one actually pans out better than the southern. It's the lead one as the other often moves into air it impacted. That and you don't want a plowing rfd moving south ahead of the storm you are on. The lead one doesn't have to deal with that if it is happening with the other. If they are lined up differently, like north south, with south winds and not moving that fast, well the south one is clearly a better choice. Still, I didn't know which one to pick as they both were looking good. I thought, well I can do both if I get up to the north one now and at least look at it. Then if it sucks I can drop south or east for the next. If I picked the south one, while I was still in Macon I'd have nothing on the north one. I stopped several times on my way north though. I kept thinking, are you sure?

Finally I go and get to Kirksville and see it's a traffic light hell city. Some lights taking more than one turn of cars to get through. Lots and lots of lights, and lots of traffic. The storm was still lifting northeast but you knew if it was to be any good it would indeed make a good right turn. Sure enough, turns right and looks to just miss the city to the north.

I go west on highway 6 only to see you can't see out of the hills there. Soon a tornado was being reported on the storm. I was like, I can't see! I kept going and it wasn't improving and I was nearing the storm. I finally said screw it and went back to Kirksville where I knew I at least had a view. I saw the end of that tornado as I turned north on this road just west of highway 63 north out of the city. That tornado, small cone, was immediately replaced by the above. I think for a while that was just a really big and really low wall cloud. I kind of think this was all one tornado cyclone from Novinger through Kirksville, even though the NWS report calls it two.

Then it had this shape in the middle of it. For the longest time I had no idea if it was a tornado or not. The contrast from it being very rain wrapped was horrible.

Still out there moving east. Still hard to be certain what was in there.

Now I realized it was indeed a very large tornado. Behind the left tower.

It had very short periods of being visible at all. The rain/bad contrast was really not an issue north of it or south of it. All the precip was right around it.

Timmer and crew going north. They pulled over a couple hundred feet to my north. Don't know where they went then. I looked back over later and was like, where the hell did they go. I think they got right in the thing. Must have went up to that state highway B.

More visible again and getting closer. This whole time I'm shooting video, looking at the GPS over and over, doing a few stills...and really wondering where I go if it doesn't go to my north. It was visible so infrequently I really never took the time to use objects to see if it was going to the right enough. I just felt it was and it would JUST miss me to the north. The fear if it didn't was in the back of my head, because to flee south and/or east was filled with a city of lights and traffic. No big distance away either, like 1/4 mile would be the first stop...then a ton more to get anywhere of any distance. So it was firmly in my head but I wanted close footage. This would have been simpler to accomplish given about any other tornado. But more than that was my location on the west side of the city, with no room for error/recovery to a safer location.

Finally getting more visible. Some made issue of the lack of sirens when they went through town. I think they did as well as they should. They were blaring now. When they stopped they lit them right back up. I just don't know that a ton of people take them very serious though. Lots of people driving by here, not really seeming too concerned. If the sirens are blaring and there is a storm right there, maybe stop and look at things. Spinning rain is bad. (Actually now that I watch the video, the second blaring of the sirens ended before it was coming into north Kirksville)

My response to this bugs me some now. I remember stating on video about now, that I didn't think people had a clue that thing was there. I thought that but for whatever reason it never crossed my mind to stick my hand out the window and point to the west. I should have. I think I was really consumed with where I was supposed to even go myself. It wasn't taking long to close in now. I think I thought, well I'm parked here right by the road, with this video camera mounted to my window, if they weren't already aware it was there they'd figure it out. In the end if I was to do anything, it sure wouldn't be to stop someone and tell them where to go. Part of this was, right now it looked like it was just barely going to miss this location to the north, in a east-northeast motion. I kept looking at the radar update and it was taking the hook south of due east. Sometimes things are leaned over or pivoting around a common center. I wasn't terribly certain, especially watching that radar loop and rarely being able to watch the tornado, that it would go north of me here.

About to lose all sight of the thing, even this close now.

What I could see of it gave me the impression it was not going north of me anymore.

At this moment I can no longer see it at all...but I can now hear it! I was sitting there and all the sudden was like, what the hell is that. I've never heard a tornado before. I really didn't care to be hearing the thing now and not seeing it at all. This caused me to bail south, what little south I could achieve soon enough.

As I drove south I get hit by rain bands right away. I looked west into the field and could see things flying around above the ground out there a ways. It quickly takes the fun out of things, when you now are to believe a tornado is going to rapidly follow you into a city.

Having to stop behind a car that may not know to be in a hurry isn't enjoyable either. Being close to a tornado you can see, is much better than further from one you can't see. I really really wasn't liking it.

I went past highway 6 because I wasn't sure going east to the stop light was a wise choice. I could only gain a couple short blocks south more, but this felt like a better move. The tornado is right there out my passenger window behind and left of the flag. I really couldn't see this myself, as I'm holding the camera over and pointing back some. I could only lean over real quick and try to see.

Up to that stop sign now, this road running more se-nw(note there's a truck right there going nw). This is not far from where I was first filming yet. It's only 3/4 of a mile from where I was parked. When I left that spot is when I lost it, right after it appeared to stop moving left to right...all while the radar motion had the storm going ese. My brain was thinking.....it's going se into town. That would mean it was coming down this highway. I didn't figure I had ANY time to stop and watch to see again, now that it was visible. Could be a life and death difference if one did and was wrong, just because the drive away fast option does not exist in a city of traffic. So I never looked to see what it was doing now. I turned left into Kirksville and was looking around for where I was supposed to get out of my car and hide. I did not want to be in my car at the stop lights if it was moving into town. It is a very short distance behind me here. It apparently has to be about 1 mile away here. Looks closer, but I think by the path it took that it can't be. Then again, as it was shaped now, I could see it having been pushed a bit south for the moment then balance back out and go more north.

This is the same vehicle I was behind when stopping at highway 6. They went like they were going to turn left and go east on highway 6, but also thought better of that and yanked it back right to continue straight south for the added couple blocks....so evidently they knew it was over there. I'm now going se behind them into town, not bothering to try and look for the tornado now. It was now just a matter of get the hell out of dodge. Hands down the most fear I've had chasing. Easily the dumbest thinking I've ever done. It's funny though, when you are and should be most scared...it's not so bad. When you have a very legit fear, your brain occupies itself with responses...so it just kind of doesn't seem as bad as other fearful times. If that makes any sense. Like the knowledge that you can't do a damn thing now helps somehow.

In reality it wasn't moving more into the heart of the city now. It was moving into the city around 1 mile away from me. In hindsight of course I'm pissed I didn't get better video of it, once it was finally closer. Having it vanish again, then hearing it for the first time right after that....with no open escape route....I shouldn't be too hard on myself. I never should have opted to just stay on the west side of a city.

A is the parking lot I was shooting video from. B are two buildings that had their wall and garage door blown in(100 feet away I guess). C is the car dealership with all the damage and tossed cars. From the yellow highway 6 line at the bottom to St Hwy B at the top is what one mile is. Image makes it look like highway 6 to Millan Rd is a square mile grid, but it's not, it's about a half mile. When I went south I crossed highway 6 to a se road just off the image.

The stills really sucked for the most part. Here is one, the rest are obviously crappy video captures.

I only wonder about the one thing on this one and that was me really not doing much to point it out to people driving by. Last year, or the year before, when I was up at Devil's tower, a storm got tornado warned and was heading in the general direction, as I was up walking around the tower. The whole way down I kept informing people. More than not they gave me stupid looks and did not care, even the guy carrying a baby. I am just not certain why I didn't think more to try and point this one out to those that maybe didn't know, even if the sirens were blaring away and it was out there in the open, though rain wrapped. I think it must have been because I was parked right there with a video camera mounted to my open window pointing at the thing. Probably more than that, was my mind kept repeating to me how screwed I'd be if I had to bail south. That little tidbit really was occupying my mind. It's just weird to me for some reason. I guess I see so few tornadoes as it is, then figure in most are easily seen and/or not heading towards anyone I can inform....that position is as uncommon as they come to me(hidden tornadoes approaching an area with people I could inform). 10 years chasing now and only now have I seen something that took another's life. It would not be at all easy to learn you could have saved someone's life by simply pointing out your window at the tornado as they go by. Thankfully that didn't happen here, but it still bugs me my mind was so occupied to not think to do it. The one thing I would not have felt comfortable doing would be telling them where to go here. I was extremely unsure where I wanted to be. But in the end, that initial guess on where this rarely visible thing was going, was right on. I'd just hate to suggest to someone they go here and be wrong.

I learned one thing on this one that I already knew. Don't intercept with potential escape route issues. Didn't kill me this time, but one, I didn't get anything great anyway and two, very little would have to change here for it to have ended up badly. The one thing I kept thinking to myself, as I tried to convince myself I would end up fine there, with no escape route to the south or east(at least of any speed) was that most tornadoes like to hook left at the end of their lives...if they do any hooking. It was kind of like I was counting on that. But anyway, the second I could hear it and not see it, I did not continue to roll the dice. It passed close enough to that parking lot I was in, to blow in the wall and garage on the buildings right next to it. The idiot in me though continues to think, damn it, I could have had amazing video there and lived. Oh well I guess, there will be more options to do so much more safely on. At the same time, I was prepared to sit there and let it go just past me to the north. A switch is thrown though, the second you can't see it and think you'll just wind up filming yourself some rain, as you potentially get tossed around in the thing in your car.

I may add a small youtube clip if I get time. Really, for watching the thing come at me for over 20 minutes, I don't have a ton of interesting video of it. Just a couple smaller parts as it nears, then I blow getting anything good as I bail from the hidden in rain tornado...only for it to show itself again as I'm driving away and not thinking I have time to look. Yeah I'll drive myself nuts over yet another blown opportunity.