Local storm chaser shows Otter Tail County Tornado from up close

The images and videos we see come at great risk to those shooting them

The Morning News with Dave Lee
July 09, 2020 - 12:52 pm

A tornado tore through Otter Tail County in northwestern Minnesota Wednesday evening, part of a system of storms that left heavy rain, hail and wind across the north-central part of the state.  That tornado has left one person dead, and two others injured.

WCCO Meteorologist Paul Douglas described the weather as "erupting" over Otter Tail County.  Douglas said, "These were Kansas-sized tornadoes, some as big as EF-3 with winds estimated up to 165 mph. It was a reminder to me, that things can happen on fast-forward here in the Upper Midwest.  I was amazed how quickly these storms erupted.  You can't let your guard down, you can get big tornadoes even if it's just a severe thunderstorm watch, not a tornado warning."  

As deadly as the storms were, a group of people purposfully put themselves in harm's way in order to document them.  Local storm chasers descended on the area, shooting video and photos, and posting them all over social media.

Brad Nelson, who spoke to Dave Lee and Paul Douglas on the WCCO Morning News on Thursday told us this was the 100th tornado he has seen up close.  

Nelson, who's been chasing storms regularly since 2007, says, "Being number 100, being in my home state, and being that prolific of a tornado is pretty special."

Brad Nelson- Tornado 2
Brad Nelson at the Otter Tail County Tornado, July 8th, 2020 (Photo Courtesy of Brad Nelson)

There's obviously an inherent danger in chasing storms that can spawn such large tornadoes.  While the rest of us scurry to basements and try to avoid being in the path of severe weather, there are people like Nelson who put themselves as close as possible to life-threatening storms.  

How do they stay safe?  Nelson says it comes down to knowledge. 

"It's all about reading the storm", says Nelson.  "I've had years of experience.  I am a meteorologist and have that knowledge of what a storm is going to do.  A lot of these storms, they typically move southwest to northeast, but you really got to be careful, especially with these strong tornadoes like this.  They really can change direction, pick up speed, and I've seen that before."

Nelson added that this tornado wasn't that challenging to track.

"This tornado was kind of slow moving, and wasn't shifting paths all that much.  It was pretty much just a straight line.  So we were able to drive up right behind it, and view that tornado. And that's how we were able to stay safe.  It's just being in the right position, and thinking about three, four, five turns ahead."

You can view Nelson's work on his website here, of follow him on Twitter or YouTube.  

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