London, Ont. native recounts being hit by EF-3 tornado
Tornado season in Texas has had a busy start and a veteran storm chaser from London, Ont., found himself right in the middle of one of those twisters last week.
Brian Spencer admits he was shaken by the incident but it hasn't diminished his passion for the chase. Spencer is a 15 year veteran of storm chasing, having spent the last 11 years in the southern United States.
"The ingredients were right and we knew it was going to be an active day," said Spencer as he described conditions on Wednesday near Lockett, Texas.
He also knows things can change fast in active weather situations and that’s exactly what happened.
"We knew the tornado was to our south but it all just happened so quick,” said Spencer.
Spencer was driving the van for Cloud 9 Tours, a company that specializes in storm chasing excursions.
The tour company owner, Charles Edwards, was in the passenger seat and four clients were in the back. They were travelling through a violent storm with high winds and hail, but twisters form at the edge of storm systems and they could see a large tornado to the south, running almost parallel to their vehicle.
The first sign of trouble came when a large piece of corrugated metal from a nearby farm struck the passenger side of the van.
It was clear the storm has shifted quickly and the tornado was coming at them.
Spencer immediately turned the van into the wind and dropped the nose of the vehicle into the ditch, knowing that if it was broadsided by the high winds it could be flipped.
"When you're facing the tornado it should essentially push the front end of the vehicle farther down into the ground so no wind can actually lift it up. That's the key and that's what saved the day for us,” said Spencer.
Still, there were some hair-raising moments.
The van did lift and spin slightly and debris broke a window on the passenger side of the van, which resulted in many other windows blowing out of the vehicle.
"Once those windows were blown out, all that pressure was now pushing on the inside of the van to the driver side windows. So, that's why we lost most of those on the driver's side of the van," said Spencer.
The tornado was category EF-3, with winds ranging from 220 to 265 kilometers per hour. It stayed on the ground for about 58 minutes and — at its maximum — was about 600 meters wide.
The tornado travelled about another five kilometers after hitting the van and then dissipated.
In the end there were only a few minor injuries, and mostly from flying pieces of glass. Spencer says the passengers, mostly storm-chasing veterans themselves, were none the worse for wear.
"They just love us so much, and the hugs and everything after — it's just, 'Thank you, thank you.' It comes to experience and a fear and respect for mother nature,” he said.
But, the incident hasn’t affected his passion for chasing, and Spencer was back on the chase the next day.
"We're only here for a short time. Let's live our best lives,” he said.