PDS: A Particularly Dangerous Situation
June 17 was a day that brought an adrenaline rush and devastating human impact for storm chasers and weather spotters in the area.
The "Storm Chasers" season finale featuring the June 17 Wadena area tornadoes will air at 9 p.m. local time on Wednesday, Dec. 1 on the Discovery Channel.
The fourth season of "Storm Chasers" premiered Oct. 13.
Part of a press release on Discovery's website reads, "This season, viewers witness how the courageous STORM CHASERS used science to save lives last spring, which was one of the most violent storm seasons on record."
The action during the "Judgment Day" episode, previewed by the Pioneer Journal, starts in Jamestown, N.D., where the reality-documentary cast learns that the day has been labeled a PDS, or Particularly Dangerous Situation.
"Everybody was pretty much on the same storm," storm chaser and IMAX filmmaker Sean Casey told the Pioneer Journal.
Casey, extreme meterorologist Reed Timmer, severe weather engineer Tim Samaras, and the others were aware that June 17 was going to be a historic day. At the same time, they were fresh off other adventures from the last seven episodes.
"The day before we were chasing over in the Black Hills of South Dakota. And so we drove until 3 a.m. to get into position for Minnesota. We woke up at 6 a.m. and then started driving north," Casey said. "We were beat down."
The beginning shows three storm-chasing vehicles racing to get to northwest central Minnesota.
"You have weather models available to you the day before and that day," Casey said, explaining why they chose this particular spot on the map. "We just picked the area that looks like it has the best parameters. So when a storm does form in an area, you pick the area that will probably produce tornadoes."
But with obstacles like vehicle trouble in Fargo and getting caught in road construction, not all of the storm chasers made it in time to catch the brunt of the storm as tornado warnings were announced for Douglas County and Otter Tail County.
Even though tornadoes struck much of the upper Midwest, the episode revolves around the pair of multi-vortex EF4 tornadoes that struck the Wadena area.
The episode is packed with intense 911 calls, attempts to intercept tornadoes, a horse fleeing the storm, familiar roads, Channel 5 news footage, shots of Wadena itself, and of course the destructive storms and ensuing damage.
"That day was the biggest chase day of my life. And I've been out there for 12 years," Casey said.
He described the first tornado his group had encountered, which was very wide with a long track and about seven miles away from Wadena.
"It was putting down all these multiple vortices, and one time it had five little vortices on the ground at once," Casey said.
The shape changed into a wide wedge, leaving a path of destruction.
"There were actually trees dominoeing behind our tank," Casey said.
Afterward, the group tracked the tornado to hit Wadena.
"We were on the east side of Wadena and saw the tornado forming south of town and drove into town as it was entering town," Casey said.
It was a noteworthy chain of events for Casey and the other storm chasers.
"It was a day where we saw every, pretty much every type of tornado. We saw multi-vortices tornadoes ... and those vortices combining into a strong tornado and chasing that tornado in close proximity for a lot of miles. We were on that storm for a good 30 minutes. And of course, being in the path of that thing, that was quite memorable," he said.
On at least one point, they filmed a tornado passing next to them.
"The entire frame was filled with this monster tornado, hundreds of feet away," he said.
Casey also confirmed a rumor that the tornado chasers had pulled a local survivor from the rubble.
"After it went through Wadena, we stopped and turned around, went back into town, and started looking for people," Casey said.
The first house they approached had partially collapsed, and Wadena resident Rod Tucker was pinned down with an injured back. A patrol officer arrived, and they put Tucker on the stretcher board to get into the ambulance.
Brushes with mortality are part of the storm chasers' lives, and on May 26 their teammate and meteorologist Matt Hughes had passed away due to causes not related to their line of work. A previous episode entitled "Dedication" was aired as a memorial to him.
"Matt had died about a month before then, so at first it was an emotional shock. It was devastating for our team to lose Matt ... It was really hard to be out there. And we for a while there had lost heart. But towards the end of the season, we weren't going to quit. Matt in my opinion, his presence was with us on that day in Wadena," Casey said. "And in a way that was kind of a day of redemption for our team."
The day was turbulent in many ways.
"It was the exhilaration of the chase and of course then again that day turned into more tragedy. It was a roller coaster day," Casey said. "After Wadena got hit, and we started ... pulling out Rod and going house to house and seeing the devastation, it brought us back of course down where you witness the dark side of what we do."
The "Storm Chasers" finale is probably not the last of June 17 to be seen on screen.
"For the last eight years, I've been trying to finish this IMAX film on tornadoes," Casey said. "That was probably the most active and violent day that I've ever experienced over storm chasing for a total of 12 years. So a lot of footage from that day will be in the film."
More information on the show and clips from earlier episodes of "Storm Chasers" may be found on dsc.discovery.com/tv/storm-chasers/about/about.html.