Courier-Post columnist Danny Henley now has a deeper respect for powerful tornadoes.
During the course of my photographic career I’ve added to my portfolio dramatic images of lightning, flooding (river and flash), rainbows, fog, snow, ice and even a partial solar eclipse. But there are still more photos I’d like to take.
Included on my photography “bucket list” are:
• A brown bear(s) in a natural setting.
• An active volcano.
• Lightning striking something (preferably not me.)
• A tornado.
To capture the grizzly bear and volcano shots will require taking extended trips to places like Yellowstone Park and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
Capturing a photo of lightning zapping something will take more luck than anything else.
As for photographing a tornado, while Northeast Missouri is not exactly the heart of Tornado Alley, periodically they do touch down in the heartland.
Certain ground rules I’ve set for myself in regard to storm photography will make my quest more difficult.
No. 1, I won’t go after a tornadic storm at night. Why? Because you couldn’t see the “beast” unless it is illuminated by lightning.
No. 2, since hail frequently accompanies storms that spawn twisters, I’m not about to risk having my family’s newest vehicle resemble a dimpled golf ball. I was a lot bolder when still driving my old, hail-pinged Ford Aerostar van.
No. 3, recognizing my quarry. After years of watching storm-chasing shows, I’m pretty confident I know what a tornado looks like, but a delay in recognition could mean the difference between getting a great photo and an all-expense-paid trip to Oz.
When a tornado warning has been issued in recent years I typically find out where John Hark, Hannibal’s emergency management director, is storm spotting and go there. My rule of thumb is: If he runs, I run.
My desire to photograph a tornado has been tempered after seeing for myself what one can do. No, I’m not referring to the aftermath in Hannibal following last year’s May 20 storm, which packed winds up to 100 mph. I’m talking about the damage left in Washington, Ill., in the wake of the Nov. 17, 2013, storm that featured winds around 200 mph.
On our way home recently following a trip to Wisconsin, my wife, Nancy, our daughter, Anna, and I stopped off in Washington to see my son, Caleb, who lives in that community near Peoria. It was our first trip to Washington since its tornado.
As we rolled into town, aside from a couple of splintered trees and a rug remnant hanging high in a tree, we saw little evidence that a powerful EF4 tornado had marched through the heart of a town.
After hooking up with Caleb, he took us on a tour along the tornado’s path. It was an eye-opening experience. When we were there, it was just past four months since the storm had roared through and it is still very much a community in recovery.
On that sunny Sunday afternoon, best suited for relaxing, people could be seen working on damaged homes, or in lots where homes once stood. The most moving photo I took that day was of a woman, obviously lost in thought, sitting with her dog on a concrete slab where obviously a house once stood.
As one would expect, structures on the storm’s outer edge still featured tarp-covered roofs, boarded-up windows and peeled-back siding. Just across the street in many instances, just foundations remained.
At one house, all that stood was a front door and its framing. Most everything else was gone, except for an obviously dented kitchen stove that had been blown God only knows how far.
On some lots, heavily-damaged houses still stand. It made me wonder if their owners lost their lives, or just their will to start over in that spot. Those sites, however, were the exception rather than the rule.
Since November, there have been times when I’ve wished I’d been with Caleb, with my cameras in hand, as he stood and watched the tornado forming. But now, with the deeper respect I have for these fierce storms, chances are I would have joined my son in seeking cover.