August 16 1997
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Date: 8/16/97

From: Paul Vincent Craven

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Starting from Indianola, IA:

Val (my wife) and I saw storm cells going up to our south-east (about 100-150 miles), and soon they started to anvil. A check of KCCI's Doppler showed the strongest returns in our county however! I didn't see much of that cell though. I was interested in what was SE of us. When I went back outside after checking the radar, the cells to the SE had tops overshooting the anvil.

I called my dad on the radio and said to load up his less-than-a-week old Chevy Blazer and lets go! I didn't think the cell over us would amount to much. It didn't look very violent. So my dad, my wife, and I started south of Indianola on 65/69. I thought we would get into the good looking cell from the SW. It was headed NE about 10 mph, so that would be a good place to be I thought.

Well, we quickly forgot about that cell, when we topped a rise and saw a funnel cloud to our SW on the ground with debris! Of course, we were in the wrong position to be viewing this tornado, as it was moving NE, directly towards us. Luckily, this was a slow moving storm, with the tornado moving only about 10 mph. So we stayed just ahead of it during the rest of its existence.

My camera was not ready to begin with. I could not open that bag fast enough. With my first few shots I got off it became obvious that 100 ASA film was inadequate in a moving vehicle. I grabbed a roll of 400 ASA, scattering film all over the truck. I tried to get it loaded in the camera, but the tripod interfered with my getting the back closed. Finally, I managed to get the back closed, and snapped one my first good shots:

We called it into the local ham and county fire department frequencies (my dad works part-time for the county, and can do this). We could here that they were doubting our report. "Perhaps it was a cold air funnel instead?", some thought. While they said that, we were seeing this:

Of course, with as many fruit-loop reports as they get, it is no wonder that were questioning the reports. That is, after all, what we pay them to do.

We got to a good spot and watched the funnel dissipate, reform, hit the ground, then dissipate, etc. Great contrast for phtography! Range was about a mile or so at the closest. I actually thought it was farther away, but further analysis of the photos show I was wrong. My dad had the best guess while we were out. The tornado was definitely small, although still demanding caution.

We moved as the tornado was tracking NE, right towards us. Soon it did not appear any more. The wall cloud was still awe-inspiring though!

Not to mention the inflow band (beaver's tail):

Eventually the wall cloud started to soften up, and lost any major rotation. It had some slow low level rotation that continued for a while, but spread out a great deal. Good evidence we would see no more tornadoes from this wall cloud.

We chased it and another wall cloud that formed well past sunset. Constant lightning kept it illuminated. No more funnel clouds, which was good though. This line moved across the Iowa State Fair and the Knoxville National Sprint Car championship. Both of which had at least 20,000 people!

Things learned/observed:

  • Keep fast film in your camera when you start out. You can always put in slower film if you have time to get out and set up a tripod.
  • 400 ASA is a bit grainy on enlargements. Get out and use good slow film from a tripod if you can.
  • The back seat of a SUV is great for setting up tripod. You can also switch from one side of the vehicle to the other as the need dictates.
  • Keep track of where you are at all times. When you spot a tornado on the ground, the last thing you want to do is search your map and try to figure out where you are.
  • Don't have your driver to operate the radio, or do anything but drive. It is difficult for a mere mortal to watch the tornado, navigate, drive, and operate the radio at the same time.
  • When your spouse recommends getting a video camera, and brings you home faster film than you wanted, chances are she knows best!
  • Don't go to the Target in Southridge mall in Des Moines to develop wx photos. I took some non-tornado pictures there. It wasn't a pretty site.