Stormchasers featured at free weather event

 Posted By: Camila Orti

The Regional Severe Weather Seminar in Saline County featured storm chasing teams and one of their heavy-duty vehicles.

The free event kicked off at 12:30 Saturday at the Saline Center Hall, about 11 miles west of Wilber. Organizers say more than 300 people were in attendance. Emergency management crews, professional storm chasers and community members came together for a day packed with information.

“If we gave everybody, including the public, the same information that we’re giving the spotters, the safer they are,” event coordinator BJ Fictum said.

Among the presenters was the Iowa Storm Chasing Network (ISCN), who shared what it was like to chase the twin tornadoes that tore through Pilger on June 16.

“It was really unique to have such strong tornadoes side by side, that’s a storm that we haven’t seen the likes of in maybe 50 years,” lead chaser for the Iowa Storm Chasing Network Ben McMillan said.

It was McMillan and his team’s video that was broadcast live nationwide that night. The EF-4 tornadoes were only two of five that the team saw touch down within a couple of hours.

“It was about as much as we could handle as storm spotters because you had so many violent tornadoes happening at once,” McMillan said.

Besides their stories, the storm spotters brought a new vehicle that will take their chasing to the next level. They call it Dorothy.

“We’re pretty excited to get this out, gets a lot of looks driving down the road, lots of cell phone pictures,” Daniel Auel said.

Auel helped design and build the tank-like vehicle out of a service van with a fellow ISCN member. Auel says Dorothy weighs around 10,000 pounds, is reinforced with two layers of steel and will allow the team to get closer than ever to severe storms. The vehicle has hatches on both sides that come up so the chasers can take photos and record video of storm destruction. Auel says the idea is to then slow the footage down, and analyze how a structure comes down to improve construction methods.

At the end of the day, it was clear- Dorothy was the star of the show.