Tornado Chasers Getting “Too Close” In Their Hunt for Dramatic Imagery

There has been a series of devastating tornados in the American Midwest recently, and one of the emerging trends — especially in this social media era — is the hunt for dramatic photographs and videos. Earlier this week we wrote about how one particular filmmaker created a tornado-proof vehicle to capture footage from directly inside funnels.

That filmmaker is backed by the Discovery Channel and has the funds and know-how to do things correctly (i.e. “safely”). On the other hand, there is also a new generation of storm chasers who are getting closer and closer to the storms in ordinary vehicles; the video above is one example of when people take their cameras too close.

The footage was captured yesterday by meteorology students Brandon Sullivan and Brett Wright near Union City, Oklahoma. The description reads:

Brett and Brandon got extremely close to a violent tornadic circulation that produced multiple tornadoes in very close range… The team was hit by inflow jet winds into the tornado and their vehicle received damage as a barn was completely destroyed. A hay bale came barreling across the road and was tossed into their car.. The team is very fortunate to live to chase another day… Incredible storm chaser traffic prevented an escape from the tornado like normal..

In the video, we see the windshield of the team’s vehicle shattered by the debris. We also see Sullivan repeatedly checking the framing on his DSLR as he’s screaming for Wright to outrun the storm:


Here’s video footage recorded from the car behind Sullivan’s, which can be seen passing Sullivan’s car in his video:

One problem is that newer storm chasers may not have a grasp on how close is “too close.” Sullivan tells the TODAY show that although they were half a mile away from the funnel itself, they were too close — the winds were still powerful enough to cause major damage.

Another man named Tim was driving home from work when he decided he wanted to approach the storm with his camera (not knowing that a tornado would soon develop):

I was acting silly, Driving home from work, I didn’t think it was really going to be a tornado, but it was, I turned the corner and there it was. I had a kind of gallows laugh and humor, I am an example of what not to do. Please heed warning, go to the basement.

How close are storm chasers getting to the storms they’re trying to capture on camera? Here’s a map captured by storm chaser Justin Hobson and shared over at the Washington Post:


Each one of those red dots is a storm chaser. “Several of them were within the tornado core, demonstrating highly questionable judgment,” the Washington Post writes. The paper calls yesterday, “The day that should change tornado actions and storm chasing forever.

It points to another storm chaser who got too close yesterday: Mike Bettes, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel. After getting caught in the tornado, their SUV went airborne, tumbling 200 yards from the freeway onto a field. It was all captured on camera:

Ironically, Bettes spoke out two years ago on air about how storm chasers are going too far for dramatic imagery:

An increasing trend I see happening is chasers try to get as close as possible to one-up their competition and cash in on dramatic video. And the one thing I always hear from professional chasers is how safety is their number one concern and warning the public is their number one priority. Me? I call BS on that one. While you’re being hit by debris and being flipped by your car by a tornado, you’re not very concerned about your safety or anyone else’s. You’re setting a bad example for a young generation of chasers who follow your lead.

After miraculously surviving his near-death experience, Bettes posted a message on Facebook saying, “Hopefully our mishap will teach us all to respect the weather & be responsible & safe at all costs. I thought I was doing the right thing, but obviously I wasn’t. Lesson learned the hard way.”

Update: CNN is reporting that three storm chasers were among those killed by Friday’s tornado.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Mark!

  • Richard Horsfield

    Darwinism in action…

  • Hell’s Donut House

    I would endorse theis phenomenon if even one of these goobers had camera skills that equalled their stupidity.

  • Vitaliy Piltser

    “Go go go,we’re gonna die!
    *opens the window* LOL

  • a reasonable person

    Just another oroud byproduct of reality tv. Unimmaginable stupidity. Did it ever occur that posting 5hese really bad and worthless videos promotes this insanity even further? Sysme on you news people for continuing to be a terrible example. Do not post these videos. You are thr reality tv that sucks the life and decency out of us all. Have a little common sense newspeople. You are promoting wreckless narcissism. Tell the story without the video that helps to encourage the self destructive behavior

  • Brent Busch

    They about got ass-packed by that other SUV at 2:00 too.

  • Mantis

    Everybody dies sometime. You can die climbing a mountain, chasing a tornado, or to the sound of your own fading heart monitor while plugged into a bunch of machines. It’s your own choice how you want to live.

  • Scott M.

    Good post, but the video work is apallingly bad. If you’re going to risk your life to get the shot, GET THE SHOT.

  • pourio

    That guy is one annoying guy. Also, I thought this was about capturing tornados, not GoPro view of screaming idiots.

  • Terry Alexander

    the people that willreally get rich on this are not the idiots who think they are great videographers – it will be all the lawyers chasing enyone they can blame after someone actually dies – and you know blame will not fall back on the families that raised them!

  • Fuzztographer

    They risked a horrifying death for that PoS video?

  • Caca Milis

    Here I was watching a nice quiet video then he shouts “Brent GOOOO!” I can see someone doing a spoof of this in the future

  • Amazed

    I love how he decides to put his seatbelt on near the end. I wonder if these clowns realise what their families must feel watching their irresponsible antics.

  • jas

    I agree with all of these posts but I do love the close up footage of these massive storms. Go, just go, go faster. Sorry, that’s not funny…

  • Jay

    Please dont share photos or videos with water mark on the middle. It is reducing the viewers enjoyment.

  • Jake

    These jobs are best left to Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt.

  • Atlanta Owner

    I’m just going to say that I would have had to b*tch slap that queen in the passenger seat within 11 seconds.

  • Michael Palmer

    Am I the only one who wanted to slap over-dramatic shouty guy in the first video?

  • Mark Zimmerman
  • Sid Ceaser

    This is the appropriate response. After that movie came out, I imagined hundreds of idiots with spinning lights on their cars and trucks blaring Van Halen at top volume chasing twisters. Obviously true.

  • I speak Jive

    I picture the scene from airplane where people were lining up to slap that lady who was freaking out.

  • shaky cameraguy

    I commented something similar from the earlier post here on PetaPixel. I understand things are unpredictable and there is a lot of debris flying around, but risking your life for that?
    The other post I commented on, the guy apparently did a IMAX film, but used a PSO shaky cell phone video to promote it, awesome [sarcasm implied]

    Sad to see people died in this but I can see their loved ones saying the same thing.

  • Vieux_Foque

    He had the camera trained on himself, he was holding the mic in a position to capture his voice (with the wind buffer on the mic). He was yelling at his buddy to drive when the buddy was actually driving. This guy was posing for his fifteen minutes of youtube fame.

  • James Cook

    While it’s true there are glory hounds out there who just want a high-priced video (hey, it’s a living and they’re only risking themselves) I’d like to point out that Tim & Paul Samaras and Carl Young, who were killed in the Reno, OK tornado, were scientists passionate about deploying data gathering devices so that tornadoes could be better understood and forecast.
    They were committed to risking their lives in order to try to save countless other lives.