A storm-chasing photographer was out in Iowa documenting a tornado when the car he was driving was struck and disabled by a bolt of lightning. The hair-raising incident was caught on multiple cameras.
“When I finally got my own car after college, I started living out my childhood dream of seeing tornados! Shortly after, my late grandpa gave me his Toyota Prius, and I was able to start chasing seriously now that I had a reliable car.”
Chasing Tornadoes in Iowa
On April 12th, Pi got into the Prius and started chasing severe weather in Iowa.
“I found myself near Palmer, Iowa, watching rotating dust spin up close to my car!” he says. “It turned into a photogenic tornado, and then churned up dust for the next 10 minutes! I was ecstatic!
“During the chase, I saw my buddy Chris Riske [High Risk Chris on YouTube] was there too, and was stoked he caught it as well! (He also drives a Prius so he’s not hard to spot, lol.)”
When the tornado disappeared, what replaced it was a wild thunderstorm.
“15 minutes after the tornado dissipated, lightning started bombarding the ground around me!” the photographer says. “I went ahead and cracked a window to hear the thunder better. Just then I found myself in strong straight-line winds.
“Things started blowing past me from a farmhouse and then I felt my car begin to rock! Fearing another tornado was right on top of me, I turned my car into the wind and captured a barn’s roof being shredded in the process. The wind began calming down, then BAMB! I saw a bolt in front of me and warning lights showed up on my dash.”
Pi had gotten struck by a bolt of lightning. The cameras he had with him managed to film the strike from his point of view, and Riske also caught the bolt striking the Prius from the other side of the road.
Unfortunately for Pi, the strike had left his Prius completely immobilized.
“I turned the car off and on, but the Ready light didn’t come on and I was stuck,” he says. “I was on the phone with my family filling them in on the awesome tornado I saw, so when the lightning struck my mom thought I got into an accident! Fortunately, the stereo rebooted and reconnected to my phone not long after.”
The Proof Was in the Footage
It took some time before it actually dawned on Pi that his car had gotten struck by lightning.
“I was confused! The thunder was loud, but I had heard doors slam louder than that, even though my window was still cracked open,” Pi says. “And if I saw the bolt how could it have hit my car? Maybe it hit just close enough to stun my car?
“I kept turning off and on but it still didn’t start the engine, so I went ahead and called Chris to see if he was still around. […] I told him I may have been hit by lightning, but it wasn’t until I got out of my car and we saw the antenna blown off did it sink in for both of us!
“Then I remembered, my ears did ring a little, and I did feel a slight shock in the air around me. Just took me a while to process the whole thing!”
The two storm chasers continued documenting weather together the rest of the night, and it wasn’t until the following day that they discovered their incredible footage of the lightning bolt.
“The next day [Riske] sent me the still of the strike, and I just gaped at the image!” Pi says. “He caught it on his Sony a7S III, and he recorded it at 4K60! As great as that was, I was a little disappointed he wasn’t recording at 4K120 with that fancy camera.
“That evening his photo and video blew up, and before I knew it my Prius had gone viral! I got my video posted the next day, but it wasn’t performing nearly as well. Even at 10th the amount of views, however, my video was still 20 times better than my other videos in no small part to his footage he let me use, so I couldn’t complain for long.”
A Prius That Has Seen Better Days
As for Pi’s Prius, it’s still non-functional and awaiting repair.
“So far, the dealer has replaced the ECM, a $900 repair and diagnostic,” Pi says. “With that installed, they now know of 3 ECUs that need to be replaced, but that would cost around another $2,500.
“With the car at 248,000 miles, I decided to tow back here to Colorado Springs. My sister has a truck and we were already planning a chase-cation next week so we’ll just grab it with a U-Haul and bring it back here to see if I can replace those ECUs myself, or have a place here to hopefully do it for cheaper. But it sounds like another diagnostic will be needed after that.
“Fortunately some friends are letting me borrow a beater for the time being.”