Far from storms and out of the television screen, a Tornado Hunter whirled into Vanderhoof’s schools this January.
Ricky Forbes, driver of the North American storm chasing team Tornado Hunters, spoke to students in Vanderhoof’s elementary and secondary schools — including W. L. McLeod, Evelyn Dickson, and Nechako Valley Secondary — from Jan. 19 to 22 about storm chasing and tornado formation.
It’s the team’s first venture into B.C., as school talks normally take place throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan, Forbes said.
“It’s easier to book school talks where it’s part of the culture, where students can relate with their own storm stories,” he explained.
While Forbes and the team chase storms for seven months each year, with their television show Tornado Hunters airing each fall and school talks during winter, it was an opportunity to visit his family on his mother’s side in Vanderhoof, he said.
In two-hour sessions, Forbes shared with the audience photos and videos of extreme weather that the team took — including lightning storms, dirt devils, and twin tornadoes that emerged in Nebraska in 2014.
He also explained how tornadoes form from supercell storms, including its different phases and types, as well as how to differentiate them from thunderstorms.
“We’re looking for an alien ship parked on top,” he said, comparing diagrams and photos from the teams’ past storm-chasing experiences.
Forbes also told the audience an incident where he and the team was caught in a storm by mistake.
“Storm chasing is fun, but we don’t want to be too close,” he said. “As soon as we hit that point, we know we’ve made a mistake.”
The team found a ditch in time to wait for the moment — lasting for one minute — to pass, so winds would pass over the truck instead, Forbes explained.
“It was very scary, and I don’t want to be inside again,” he said.
Students also had the opportunity to see and climb onto Flash, the team’s tornado truck equipped with weather monitoring gear and storm-resistant coating.
The Saskatchewan-born storm chaser was first invited to join the team four years ago by photographer and team leader Greg Johnson, who was looking for partners in crime for pursuing extreme weather, Forbes explained.
Though he graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in finance, he realized he didn’t want to become a stock broker or banker, he said.
“I wanted to do what makes me happy,” Forbes said, as he now dirt bikes, snowboards, snowmobiles, and pursues other adventure sports during the off-season.
“One of my favourite parts of storm chasing is sharing exciting stories about storms and his career,” he said. “Kids then come telling me they want to do storm chasing.”
Covering over 250,000 kilometres across three provinces and 26 states to chase over 75 tornadoes in the past years, Forbes’ favourite moment is “when all hell breaks loose,” he said.
“All of a sudden, four fingers [of the storm] launched out of the sky,” Forbes said. “You get to see what no one else will see, Mother Nature. It’s pretty neat to be part of something like that, and then you get to share that passion with others.”
For Grade 6 student Kiya Giesbrecht from Evelyn Dickson Elementary, the presentation was interesting with the extreme weather photos.
Her favourite part was seeing how the truck gets destroyed, and learning about weather, Giesbrecht said. “I’ve seen one episode, and I couldn’t find the channel again,” she added.
Filming will start again for the Tornado Hunters in March. This year, half the season will take place in North America’s storm region, Tornado Alley, while the other half will include various extreme weather locations around the world, including typhoons in Japan, tornadoes in South America, as well as other weather systems in Europe, Forbes said.