During the 2010 tornado, people risked their lives for the sake of the community, from the fire department opening the fire hall doors without power and stopping gas leaks to police officers spread across town in preparation and checking on people to friends and family members hoping to get through the downed phone lines to storm chasers and spotters planning for safety as devastation arrived. Matthew Koscielski, team lead/founder of M&M Stormchasing, WCCO weather watcher and Skywarn ARES member, was one of the storm chasers who watched and reported as the Wadena tornado came through town. Below is a timeline of his day as a storm chaser.
Editor’s note: The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Searched local National Weather Service outlooks, storm prediction outlooks and local media weather as well as talked to fellow chasers to form a "battle plan." We all agreed that everything pointed to the Dakotas and Minnesota for June 17. And most of us were in agreement Minnesota would be the "hot spot."
5 a.m.-Checked weather sites and got into contact with some of my fellow chasers to see what their plans were as the data hadn't really changed much. Something in my gut told me to stay near home in the Bertha and Wadena area. I double checked my equipment including an amateur radio, weather radios, weather apps, first aid kit and vehicle and started to monitor the weather through the day.
1 p.m.- I started to notice storms popping up in the Dakotas, and called my brother Micah Pope and discussed our "battle"and safety plan. We decided Ottertail, Wadena and Todd Counties may see a tornado or two from the tracks we were seeing on the radar. Micah set up in Bertha and I set up in Wadena.
3 p.m.- As storm chasers and Skywarn spotters, Micah, my step-father David Pope and I decided to drive around a bit to find our ideal location to view the incoming storms and finally decided to have them sit in the New Life Church parking lot in Bertha, as it had the best view. I decided to head north on Hwy 71 towards Wadena.
4 p.m.- I ran quickly home to get my wife Gina and run her into work at Larry's Pizza. And that's when it started. My weather radio was going off, what seemed like every 10 seconds, amateur radio chatter of tornadoes west and south of us near the Dakota border. As I was driving up Hwy 71, I kept my eyes on the skies as they grew darker and darker, and the atmosphere started to get thicker and thicker. I could feel the energy in the air, and could tell something was brewing as I watched the clouds continue to grow. I pulled into town, dropped off my wife and stopped by to talk with a friend at work, and advised him to keep a close eye on the weather as I had a bad feeling it would get nasty. All of a sudden, I heard over my amateur radio that the Stormchasers form Discovery Channel had spotted a tornado near the Almora area.
5 p.m.: I started to head south out of town on Hwy 71 towards the Todd/Wadena county line as that would be my spot to watch the storms. All I remember was how black the sky looked. Almost as black as a cloudy night. And how the clouds were all moving this way and that. And I knew somewhere close a tornado was about to form. That's when my amateur radio went off again, a possible tornado forming over Wadena. I pulled over just south of the old drive-in theatre and saw the tornado. I grabbed my radio and confirmed it and asked for them to relay the info back to the NWS and local authorities. I watched awestruck as this big black grayish beast that had an awful roar to it headed north through town. My first instinct was "Oh my god, this is not good." I could barely make out the sirens through the sound of the wind. And I was praying people were getting into shelter like yesterday instead of waiting.
5:30 p.m.: I called off the chase as it is my personal policy to insure people are OK. I raced back into town to check on my wife. She was OK and we decided to drive around and survey the damage and see if anyone needed any type of medical help. It looked like a bomb went off in town. This house gone, this one no roof, this one untouched, this business nothing but dust. I was trying to gather as much info and photos to assist the NWS in determining the magnitude of the storm before people started to clean up. Unfortunately we couldn't continue for too long as we needed to give way to professional emergency crews. I heard from Micah and David that they could see and hear the Almora and Wadena tornado.
8 p.m.- I sifted through my pictures and sent them into the NWS along with a follow-up to my amateur radio info I had reported and called it a night.
I joined Todd County Emergency Management to provide back up communications for the next few days during the cleanup and recovery efforts.