Brandon Clement is taking storm chasing to new heights. Tuesday afternoon, he shot this epic video of a tornado near Hickory, Okla. But it wasn’t an ordinary video. He got this footage from a drone.
“I’ve been working on getting that shot for about three years now,” said Clement, who has been chasing storms since he was a child. “I’ve probably done a half-million miles chasing across the country by now. But this one is pretty special.”
The twister in Clement’s video touched down a little before 12:30 p.m. Central time in south-central Oklahoma, around 10 miles east of Interstate 35. Like the trunk of an anteater on its lunchtime prowl, the funnel drifts carelessly northeast, dancing elegantly for Clement’s camera.
“It wasn’t an overly strong tornado and didn’t do any damage, so my reaction seeing this was pure joy,” Clement said.
The drone captures the details of the twister remarkably well — its view unobstructed by rain or hail. In most storms, the “rear flank downdraft” would swirl curtains of rain and hail around the vortex, shrouding it from sight. But not with this storm. There wasn’t even any wind to jar Clement’s drone — making Tuesday’s supercell a “perfect storm” in his book.
It was that humidity that allowed clouds to form close to the ground and made a prominent “condensation funnel” around the tornado’s low-pressure column. It’s the condensation cloud that makes the tornado visible even if it’s not picking up dust or debris.
The tornado winds are tightly coiled about a narrow center as it crosses a roadway, weaving in between two utility poles. Only then does its scale become apparent — probably just 20 feet wide at the base!
Just before the tornado crosses the road, several rapid white flashes can be seen whipping around the right side of the tornado. These are smaller whirls within the main funnel called “subvortices,” and they are akin to miniature tornadoes rotating about the main funnel — they can do additional damage.
Toward the end of the video, the tornado begins to lean right. That’s a surefire sign it’s about to decay. When the parent cloud “outruns” the vortex at the ground, the tornado’s demise is imminent — although in the process it stretches the funnel, briefly boosting winds before the funnel withers away.
And though this tornado is gone in a flash, it’s certainly not forgotten. In fact, Clement will probably remember this day forever.
“I grew up in south Louisiana chasing hurricanes, and then became interested in tornadoes,” he said. “In the years since, I’ve captured floods, hail, fires, volcanoes, blizzards and everything else. But this is something that’s been in the making for a long time.”
The footage has left many meteorologists in awe.
“Some of the most amazing tornado I’ve ever seen!” tweeted Rick Smith, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Norman, Okla.
“Perspective of a tornado like you’ve never seen before!” tweeted the Weather Channel’s Stephanie Abrams while including a link to the video. “Seriously, never seen before!”