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Tornadoes, ah those lovely tornadoes...

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Eileen Inkson | 19:30 UK time, Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Distance travelled ~ 552'669'600 km

(Eileen is the Assistant producer on 23 Degrees. From chasing the storms in the US to capturing the monsoon season in India, she has experienced a mixed range of our global weather)

As we drove through our 6th US state, our 5th consecutive day of torrential rain and the 17th playing of Stairway to Heaven from the cameraman's iPod, I wondered where it had all gone wrong... Just a week before, it was looking so promising. We were heading out to the USA's famous 'tornado alley' to shoot the ultimate weather phenomenon.

storm chase, 2011


With a mountain of water-proofs, an SUV the size of a small English village and a crash course in weather lingo (note - if you want to sound like a storm-chaser, just call rain 'precip'), we were ready to go and had visions of bringing home a Hollywood style twister... And we had reason to be optimistic. We were going on the road with one of the world's most eminent tornado scientists, 2 of his state of the art 'Doppler on Wheels' radar trucks, 3 scientific support vehicles and a team of professional storm-chasers. If anyone could find us a tornado, it would be this lot...

eileen inkson bbc 23degrees


But by Day 3, I realised I might have to revise the energetic, adrenaline-fuelled storm-chasing sequence I had in my head. It turns out that the real grunt work of tornado chasing is about as action-packed as a paint drying convention. Each morning our scientists would park themselves in the lobby of whatever glamorous motel we'd ended up in, fire up their laptops and stare intently at satellite pictures of weather. I mean it was pretty rigorous staring to be fair, sometimes with accompanying pointing and the occasional mumble about ridges and troughs, but not quite the gripping, high-drama telly sequence I'd had in mind...

tornado alert message


After an agonizing 3 or 4 hours of this (during which I'd only just manage to resist posting a photo of them on Twitter with the heading 'Storm-chasing - Not as exciting as you might think...') a decision would finally be made about where we should head to for the best chance of tornadic activity and we would hit the road.

bbc 23 degrees tweet


Ah the road. With romantic visions of how to make the perfect blend of 'classic American road movie meets classic force-of-nature movie' I knew things would start to look up once we hit tarmac.



And yet somehow, despite knowing that tornadoes are the product of 'severe thunderstorms', what I hadn't quite counted on was the rain. Not nice, gentle, intermittent British rain. No this was relentless, pounding, torrential rain that laughed in the face of our extreme weather gear.

But in true documentary filming style, we made the best of it and filmed whatever we could. Which was mainly our presenter Helen Czerski- in the rain. We filmed her walking, talking, sitting and driving in the rain. Looking up at the rain, down at the rain and through the rain. We had the makings of a truly great rain sequence totally covered...

By the beginning of Day 5, we'd driven over 2000 miles, but still no tornado. It was our final day on the road and we all knew it was our last chance.

By 6pm, we were ready to give up. We had a 5-hour drive ahead of us to reach Kansas City for our flight home the next morning. But there was 'one last storm' on the horizon that looked promising so we decided to give it one final go. We'd had many supposedly 'promising' storms already so expectations were low. But as we drove through the rain, a crackling voice came over the radio saying 'Tornado to our immediate North East - all vehicles use extreme caution'.

We turned a corner and there it was. A large, black, funnel-shaped twister travelling steadily across the Nebraskan countryside.

5 minutes later it was all over. But we had our footage, we'd seen a twister and were returning to London happy...


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