Vess rests baton for tornado tracking
By Tim Emmons
Queen City High School Band Director Billy Vess rested his baton for a chance to take a tornado tour during the month of May.
Before school officially ended, Vess was treated to a week’s worth of driving and storm chasing with Spring Weather Productions out of Omaha, Nebraska -- and it wasn’t his first rodeo.
“I have done this before but nothing materialized,” Vess said. “My wife (Michelle) made this a combination birthday/Father’s Day gift for me because she knows that weather fascinates me and I’m an avid storm chaser who loves to look at the scientific aspects of it. When the rest of my family runs inside from a storm outburst I stay outside to watch how it develops.”
The tour was provided by Spring Weather Productions’ CEO and Founder Scott Nicholson, who studied Atmospheric Sciences at Creighton University.
Vess rode along with Nicholson and three other riders, including a television meteorologist from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“I made the 11-hour drive to Omaha and from there we went on to the Sturgis area in South Dakota, chased a few storms in Colorado which were busts, and chased a big storm through Kansas which ended up spinning directly above us but never turned into a true tornado,” Vess said. “Sometimes you roll the dice on which storms to follow and you are either rewarded with tornado action or nothing at all. We chased a storm for four hours but it didn’t produce any twisters.
“We experienced tons or rain and hail throughout the storm chases, got to see one touch down and go back up in a 15-minute span and nearly had a head-on collision with a car driving through the storm with no headlights on,” Vess recalled. “Scary about the near collision, and the tornado was very intense.”
Vess said that while exciting, some parts of the job -- for those who brave it -- can put you on high alert.
“We caught up with the storm which produced the tornado that hit Elk City in Oklahoma and the wind was whipping at 40 to 50 miles per hour, and when the wall cloud was forming we could hear it whistling above us,” Vess said. “Four of the five of us had never seen a tornado in real life and that close, so we were pretty excited.”
Vess also pointed out that sometimes the storm chasing scene can get crowded in a hurry.
“There is a certain app that most storm chasers use and you can look at the computer screen and see hundreds of people converging on one storm for the chance to see a tornado,” Vess remarked. “It can be dangerous with all of those people crammed into one area, especially if a tornado drops and you can’t get out because your exits are blocked by other motorists.”
All in all, Vess enjoyed the trip and looks forward to going back.
“I love it and will definitely do it again,” Vess said. “It’s expensive but it’s 100 percent worth it if you love it like I do. I will never forget this trip.”