Storm chaser Aaron Jayjack has seen a lot of storms in his two decades-plus of hunting down the atmosphere’s fury. But little compares to the chase he embarked on in August, when he encountered what some are calling the “best tornado” of 2020.

The deadly twister formed Aug. 7, 2020, near Scarth in southern Manitoba, Canada. It posed elegantly against a backdrop of sunshine and otherwise tranquil skies, slowly churning up the landscape before obliterating a farmhouse and claiming two lives.

The vicious vortex was rated a high-end EF3, with winds estimated near 160 mph. Jayjack at the time found himself up close and personal with the tornado, and his reports and images went viral on Twitter.

Now, storm chasers and meteorologists are reveling in viewing a new batch of high-definition panoramic footage that Jayjack recently released.

The video, a roughly 20-second time lapse, depicts a wide-angle view of the parent storm responsible for producing the picturesque tornado. Jayjack was there from the rotating storm’s inception, following it as it dropped its fatal tornado and eventually withered and died with the setting sun. His video reveals myriad meteorological mechanisms at play to generate the violent atmospheric maelstrom.

“There was a pair of storms from the northwest that a came out of Saskatchewan,” recalled Jayjack, who had started chasing storms about 20 miles south of where the tornado eventually touched down. “[Those first storms] failed, but I could see [a] storm to the northwest.”

A weak boundary trailing behind that storm generated a “flanking line” of new thunderstorm updrafts that fed into the main storm. But one of the fledgling updrafts showed signs of developing into a storm of its own.

“It looked really good,” recalled Jayjack, who hung south to watch the nascent storm. “It ended up taking over and becoming the dominant storm. I would call it a [low precipitation] supercell.”

A supercell is a solitary thunderstorm that rotates, fed by a corkscrew-like spiraling updraft of warm, moist air. Some supercells produce blinding curtains of rain and hail that obscure the updraft. But not the one Jayjack was monitoring.

“The rain was well to the north,” he note. “The was some hail as well. We were in the [forward flank downdraft].”

That’s the part of the storm northeast of the updraft where precipitation falls.

This entire turbulent region of clouds marks the thunderstorm’s updraft; the rain and hail would be located out of frame to the right, marking tranquil weather south of the storm. Often, the southernmost cell in a line of storms will become the most potent, because it has direct, uninterrupted warm inflow from the south.

This entire turbulent region of clouds marks the thunderstorm’s updraft; the rain and hail would be located out of frame to the right.

Just to the left of the tree in the foreground, a more concentrated area of rotation can be seen. That’s where the tornado will eventually develop. It’s easy to spot a slice of brighter skies circulating inward from the left; this is the “clear slot,” a battering ram of cool, dry air that descends from the back side of the storm and helps tighten rotation.

Moments later, the tornado touched down, whirring against a backdrop of blue skies and chirping birds.

“It was a serene experience,” recounted Jayjack, who marveled at the otherwise soothing scene. “If you looked in the other direction and covered your ears from the roar, you could be a hundred yards from the debris cloud and have no idea.”

At first, the tornado appears as an inverted cone hovering above a whirl of dust on the ground, its circulation invisible. That’s a testament to how dry the low levels of the atmosphere were. Eventually, the twister strengthens as it approaches the road, its central air pressure dropping enough to condense water in the air and form a full funnel.

When Jayjack pans his camera to face north, the distant whitening of the horizon is visible on the right as a shaft of hail descends from the clouds. It’s at this point that Jayjack retreats south.

“My fiancee was with me, so I wanted to be a little extra safe,” said Jayjack, whose son, Jett, was born just two days later. “I didn’t want to get them too close to the tornado.”

The slow-moving funnel was barely scraping along at 3 or 4 mph, but it intensified as it crossed the road and zeroed in on a farmhouse; Jayjack captured the moment the structure was obliterated by the tornado’s fierce winds.

It was later learned that a pair of 18-year-olds — Carter Tilbury and Shayna Barnesky of Melita, Manitoba — were killed after pulling their vehicle over at the farmhouse to ride out the storm.

“It was such a visible tornado, but they were at that farm that got hit,” said Jayjack. “They were just unfortunate they had stopped there for safety and ended up getting hit. If they would have stopped a hundred yards in either direction, they would have been fine. But people panic, and they don’t know what to do.”

Jayjack and his fiancee returned to the farm immediately after it was struck and called emergency officials, who transported a 54-year-old man to the hospital after he suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

Despite the power and beauty of the tornado, Jayjack recognized its danger; he says his goal is to help protect people through his coverage.

“I tweeted out a warning video for people downstream of [that farmhouse],” Jayjack recalled. He said he aims to both inspire people to appreciate the beauty and respect the danger of Mother Nature.

Shortly after striking the farmhouse, the tornado roped out, catching the sunlight in its dizzying dance to dissipation.

“The other thing that was remarkable: There was no multiple cycles,” said Jayjack, impressed by the quick ramp-up and collapse of the storm. “It spun up, it shot up, merged into that storm, started rotating, and within 17 minutes the tornado was on the ground. ... Then it was all over with. It petered out east of that farm after it got hit. Another storm didn’t continue to form off the flanking line.”

Jayjack is among a handful of full-time storm chasers, earning his living through a partnership with MyRadar Weather Radar. Initially, he attended Purdue to study meteorology, switching to computer science before beginning a career in technology.

“I did computers working in electronic arts for a while, and so I would chase off and on here or there,” Jayjack explained. “But as the years progressed, I wanted to see more and go further.”

Beginning in 2010, he began venturing on multistate chases, electing to chase full time in 2015. Since then, Jayjack has chased major hurricanes, destructive twisters, floods, blizzards and everything in between.

“I’ve seen a lot of spectacular tornadoes over the years, but I’d say this one was the peak,” he said of the Scarth tornado.

And after putting 60,000 miles on his Subaru Crosstrek last year, he’s ready to hit the ground running once again this season.