June 6, 1996 Chase

This was an impromptu chase. I wasn't planning on becoming a storm chaser, I had just wanted to see a tornado with my own eyes since I was a little kid. Over the years I had been presented with opportunities to catch a twister in real life, but something had always gone wrong and kept me from it. However on this day, my fortunes would change and thus - change my life forever.

Greg Clark and I had been working as landscapers for a man named Robert Westbrook. We had been working in the backyard of a nice older couple, whose daughter was getting married in a few weeks (in that same backyard). On this day, at around noon, I noticed puffy cumulus clouds developing rapidly all over the sky. Though at the time I had never really chased and had zero experience, living in Oklahoma my entire life had schooled me on severe weather to a point. I understood what those clouds meant, and mentioned to Greg that we should probably be on the lookout for storms later in the day.

Right on cue, at around 3pm, severe storms began to fire all around us. At first Greg ignored it while I kept a watchful eye, but when a close lightning strike spooked us both, we decided to call it a day early. I told Greg "we should go out and try to see a tornado."  I didn't think he would be interested, but he was. He even suggested we stop by his mother's place and grab her video camera. I hadn't even thought about trying to videotape a tornado, but the idea was wildly appealing to me. I'd always been a natural and a ham with a video camera, and I'd always been crazy about tornadoes. Merging the two had never occurred to me, but it suddenly made sense. We drove to his mom's house, grabbed the vidcam, then drove across town to my house to grab a television weather update so we'd have our bearings before leaving. After slipping in a puddle while running to the truck (going airborne in the process and landing smack dab in the middle of said puddle), we were on the road on our very first chase. We had no experience, no equipment, and no clue.

We simply drove south from Norman, down I-35, towards the town of Washington, where the storm had been approaching when we last looked at television. We hit heavy rain, and all I knew at the time was tornadoes form in the rain-free area. We decided to keep driving until it stopped raining. When it did, we took the next exit, which was OK59 east heading towards the town of Wayne. We drove about a quarter mile east of the interstate, when I noticed a lowered area to our south. We stopped right there, and I started rolling the video.

The lowering continued while I shot video, and not long afterwards a small tornado appeared. At first it was difficult to make out, but then it gradually became more distinct. I couldn't believe what I was seeing ("is that what I think it is?"), but after years and years of failure, I was seeing (and videotaping) my very first tornado. My penchant for zooming manifested itself early, as I zeroed in tight for a close-up of the tornado. Of course, as I was zoomed in, I got excited, lost the tornado in the shot, and by the time I recovered it had vanished. But I had just seen my first tornado, even though I still wasn't convinced I had. We continued east on OK59 towards the southern end of Wayne, where we sat watching and not knowing what we were seeing. After about ten minutes, we decided to head south towards Paul's Valley.

We made a big circle through Paul's Valley, down to Wynnewood, back east to I-35, and then finally back north past where we'd seen the tornado. We stopped along the way to shoot vide of a double rainbow, and afterwards heading back home, were treated to a beautiful sunset. I still wasn't convinced we had a tornado, but we were convinced enough of a funnel to take the video to Mr. Bill's (our favorite watering hole at the time) that night to show friends. They all said it looked suspicious and that we should take it to the news. I had plans the next day, so I thought nothing of it.

Upon returning home the next evening, I had about ten messages from Greg. They all sounded excitable and urgent, and I feared something bad had happened. As soon as I showered and dressed, I raced up to Mr. Bill's to meet him. When I walked in, I found Greg and several of our friends partying and having a great time. Greg had taken our video to KWTV, and they aired it. We had in fact captured a tornado, and now hundreds of thousands of people knew we had. As soon as I learned the news, I was overcome with a feeling of accomplishment, happiness, satisfaction, excitement...like I'd never experienced before. I raised my glass and proposed a toast: "From this moment on, my life is dedicated to chasing and documenting tornadoes on video."

 And the rest, as they say, is history.