The Stories Behind the Storms: Tornado Hunter Chris Chittick

            Chris Chittick's career is exciting and unconventional.

            Chittick is a stormchaser, videographer and TV star, and has been documenting extreme weather in North and South America since 1998. Since then, he has witnessed 455 tornadoes and 12 hurricanes and has starred in two television series- the Discovery Channel's “Storm Chasers” in the U.S. and currently, CMT's “Tornado Hunters” in Canada-along with team members Greg Johnson and Ricky Forbes.

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            “I do video work and weather forecasting, Greg does still pictures and helps with weather forecasting and Ricky's our driver,” says Chittick.

            The team travels in a sponsored and specially-modified Ford F150 dubbed 'Flash II.'

            “We have two trucks,” says Chittick. “The second one is called Flash II. It's a 2015 F150. It has an external roll cage and it's customized with-among other things- bigger wheels. It's sprayed with a Kevlar composite material. It's literally bulletproof, and we shot up our old truck in Texas on the show  to test it and everything just bounced off.”

            “We go through six or seven windshields a season, though,” he adds. “We've all been hit by hail and it hurts. Throughout my career, I've broken toes, fingers and even a collarbone, all from being hit by hail.”

            “I went to university and actually earned a business degree,” says the Spring Lake, Michigan native. “A friend of mine was studying meteorology and we spent about two weeks stormchasing in an old car that was basically held together by duct tape.”

            “I saw my first tornado in 2000-in southeast Wyoming. I moved to Norman, Oklahoma in 2004 and put together a stormchasing team and company. With that team, we did a show (“Storm Chasers”) that aired for five years on the Discovery Channel.”

            “About 3 ½ years ago, I left that team and I was heading back to Michigan. Greg Johnson offered me a job as a videographer with his team in Regina. I never planned to move to Regina. I just thought I'd be there for the storm season,” smiles Chittick. “But I met my future wife, Chelsea and we have a three-month-old son, Jaxson and here I am. I'm still getting used to Saskatchewan winters, though.”

            “And now that I'm a dad, I might change the way I do things,” he adds. “Previously, my safe zone was 100 yards away (from a tornado); now it might be 200 yards, but we'll see. In our world, there are a lot of ups and downs just like any other profession, but when nothing happens and it's a typically beautiful day weather-wise, we call that a Blue Sky Bust. So we take precautions, but we do document extreme weather... ”

            Chittick chases storms in both North and South America and says: “During our winter, it's storm season in Argentina. There's a place near Buenos Aires and in the southern hemisphere, storms move in the opposite direction that they do here in the northern hemisphere.”

            “And,” he adds, smiling. “There's no speed limit there.”

            Wherever they occur, tornadoes come in all different shapes and sizes, explains Chittick. “There are three main shapes. Wedges are two miles wide and they stay that size all the way down to the earth's surface. A stovepipe-or cone- is a cone shape. And a needle stays skinny, but it also stays strong. It may look wimpy, but it isn't. They look like a figure skater skating and spinning along the ice.”

            “A parent tornado can be moving at 200 miles per hour, but inside, it can contain mini-tornadoes that can travel between 400 to 600 miles per hour,” he adds. “That's why you can see one house with no damage and next door, another home is gone, ripped off its foundation.”

            Chittick says that Canada's tornado season is typically in July and August. “In North America,  tornado season begins in Texas and Oklahoma in March and moves with the jetstream up north. Tornado Alley refers to Texas and the area along the Mexican border and up to include Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.”

            “ We're typically first on the scene,” says Chittick. “We call in storm reports and if people are affected, we drop the chase and go into search and rescue mode. We're trained as first responders and we'll knock on doors and do first aid and whatever else we can until real help arrives.”

            “Like any other job, we have goals. Our job is to capture high-quality footage and still pictures, but calling in storm reports and going into first responder mode is what we do first. People always come first. We make our money selling footage, but our first priority is always helping people.”

            “Our biggest tool is our cellphones and of course, our vehicle,” says Chittick. “Wherever we are, we call 911 and let them know how big the tornado is, how fast it's going, and what direction it's going.”

            Tornadoes in Canada and U.S. are measured by the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which rates the intensity of tornadoes based on their size, strength and the damage they cause.

            “An EF0 is the weakest,” says Chittick. “And an EF5 is the strongest. With an EF5, you're looking at a tornado that's at least 235 miles per hour, plus wind speeds. That's a tornado that could completely take a house off its foundation.”

            Of the over 400 tornadoes he's witnessed, Chittrick says a few stand out.

            “In Pilger Nebraska, it was a twin tornado day. That was a cyclic supercell- a tornado producer- that puts multiple tornadoes on the ground from one storm. This hit the town of Pilger. The tornado sirens went off just 10 or 15 minutes before the tornado got there, so thankfully, no people were hurt. But the town had to be rebuilt.”

            “We actually went back there a few years later to see how they were doing,” adds Chittick. “But I still remember how eerie it was- hearing the tornado sirens and not seeing a single person there.”

            “The other noise we hear a lot is the sound of a tornado- and the only way I can describe it is that it sounds like a jet engine.”

            “In Dodge City, Kansas on May 24, 2016, we saw 13 different tornadoes from 13 different storms. That's the most different tornadoes I've seen in one day.”

            “And on July 27, 2015, near Tilston, Manitoba, we tracked the largest tornado of that year in Canada,” says Chittick. “It was a nighttime tornado and when a tornado drops then, it's really scary, because people can't really see them easily. Nobody was injured or hurt- the radio folks did a really good job of warning people.”

            “I've seen large farm equipment, horses, trains, animals- you name it- blown around by tornadoes. The weirdest thing was a minature donkey on the roof of our truck.”

            “In Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky, we see nighttime tornadoes at about 5 or 6 p.m. We call it 'Happy Hour.'”

            “On May 31, 2013, we witnessed North America's largest tornado,” says Chittick. “It became 0.5 miles wide in less than 30 seconds and quickly became 2.5 miles wide. We aired some footage on 'Tornado Hunters' and we literally saw a 2 ½ ton farm truck fly through the air. We were also livestreaming it and as we were driving along, trying to avoid it, I flew up and my butt hit the laptop and it slammed shut. That's all people saw, was this abrupt end of this chase. One of those people was my mom and later she said: 'I think it's time for you to grow up and get a real job.'”

            When asked, Chittick says that he will take his son on the chase “maybe when he's about twelve,” adding, “When they ask him at school: 'What does your dad do?' he can say: 'My dad's a tornado hunter.'”

            For more information or to book an appearance by Chittick, check out: www.TornadoHunter.com

             

             

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