On Saturday Morning July 13, 2013 Environment Canada issued a tornado watch for the Southwestern part of Manitoba. A group of fellow photographers had planned to head down to Northern Minnesota to shoot some abandoned buildings. When my fellow chase partner and photographer saw the watches we decided to change our plans and head to South Western Manitoba to do some storm chasing.
Four of us left Winnipeg around 130p that day. Storms were predicated to fire around 5p that day. We travel with a laptop that has GPS and radar. We use GRlevel radar it shows us the size of the hail and any rotation that maybe in the storm. One of the most useful things that GRlevel allows us to do is to have our GPS location in relation to where the storm is. This helps us stay out of the bear cage (this is the area of the heaviest rain and largest hail) on the other side of the bear cage is were the tornado would be. This is very helpful when out in the field.Once we arrived in Virden, MB which is an hour west of Brandon, MB we check the radar to see the progress of the storms. The 1st storm in the line of cells was the cell to watch at that moment but we had received reports of baseball to tennis ball sized hail so we wanted to stay away from the core of that storm. We decided to head south down highway 83 towards Melita this would give us the best advantage point as the storms were currently moving to the East (they started out moving North East). We found a nice canola field in between the towns of Pipestone and Melita. We stayed there for about 1/2 hour shooting the advancing storm. The images below are of a shelf cloud. Shelf clouds are at the front of the storm and have very high winds in there so we couldn’t stay in that location for much longer.
After checking the radar there were 5 or 6 supercells all lined up in a row and the majority of them had rotation in them (meaning that they had the potiental to produce a tornado). The cell that was closest to Pipestone MB had the strongest rotation. We decided to head further south. We passed the town of Meltia and notice that the storm had started to head towards us. A quick check on the radar told us that the storm had change directions yet again this time they were moving southeast. We found another canola field and train tracks and starting shooting again. We notice a second storm coming towards us. We stayed in this location for about 20 mins and decided to head back North past the town of Melita to where the storm was weakest and ride out the rain.
After we waited out the rain we headed back up highway 83 as we got closer to the Hwy 2 junction and the town of Pipestone we started to notice down trees on the highway. They were completely blocking the southbound lanes. We saw an RCMP officer near the train tracks and decided it would be a good idea to let them know. This is when I noticed the train track crossing lights had been damaged. The officer started to point out to me the additional damage and said that they believed a tornado had been through the area. There were pieces of a metal shed that had been crumpled into a ball and were stuck in a farmers fence.
As we started driving towards the town of Pipestone we notice more damage. Luckily no one was injured or died in the storm. I believe the people of Pipestone played a big roll in keeping people safe. There were a lot of people that were staying in trailers and the residence took those people into their basements with them, which I believe prevented injuries.
We started heading back home down HWY 2 once we passed the town of Souris, MB we were treated to a beautiful rainbow and Mammatus clouds. A great way to end the chase day!
As of the writing of this blog Environment Canada has yet to confirm whether or not a tornado had hit the town of Pipestone or if it was straight line winds(these types of winds can cause damage like a tornado would) There was one person that had reported seeing a tornado 20 km from Pipestone but I haven’t seen any photographs of it. The storm that went through Pipestone was consider a HP (high precipitation) supercell so if there was a tornado chances are no one saw. This is why theses types of storms are incredibly dangerous. Environment Canada has estimated from the damage that winds were anywhere from 100 km – 170 km/hr. Environment Canada is currently looking at the radar history to determine if it was a tornado that hit Pipestone.
I am an amateur storm chaser and my goal is to become much more knowledgeable about storms so that I can continue photographing the amazing structures that these storms have to offer.