Sorting through rubble in what used to be the town of Vilona, Ark., tornado chaser Greg Johnson was looking for bodies with his team.
Last spring, during the night, a tornado ripped through Arkansas town of Vilona and flattened houses and businesses, destroying lives.
Johnson, along with Ricky Forbes and Chris Chittick, were the first responders to the scene. They were nearby chasing the same storm that ended up killing multiple people.
“We were the first ones on the scene and the only ones there to help — in the beginning anyways. We did search and rescue all night. That was probably the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” said Johnson.
“But I’ve seen that similar scene so many different places, it’s hard to say which one was worse than the other.”
On May 13, 2013, Johnson and his team were trapped in the middle of the El Reno tornado while filming a scene for the pilot of their upcoming television showTornado Hunters, airing on CMT this fall.
It ended up being the largest tornado ever recorded at 2.6 miles wide.
Stuck in the storm, debris was flying around their truck. A barn ended up blowing up near them with pieces hitting their vehicle and piling over top of them.
“It was the most terrifying thing ever,” said Johnson. “Unfortunately we got stuck in that, but we survived it. Some of our friends weren’t quite so lucky and some of them got killed in that tornado.”
This type of destruction is what scares Johnson the most.
“I get scared all the time. Not necessarily for my own personal safety, but whenever I see a small town getting destroyed or a farmyard going up in the air, you get very worried about what’s actually happening. Did somebody lose their home or their life? And we see a lot of that.”
For Tornado Hunters, Johnson and his team travelled through Saskatchewan, Texas, Nebraska, Iowa and Mexico to chase perfect storms.
“This is pretty much the best job in the world,” he said.
Johnson wasn’t always a storm chaser. He started off as a photographer and fell in love with prairie thunderstorms. In the summertime during his time off he would take photos of storms just for fun.
Four years ago he had the opportunity to sell his business and pursue storms full time.
Then a few years ago he met Forbes. They hit it off and he became the driver for the team.
Chittick is from Michigan and has been chasing storms for 15 years. He used to appear on the show Storm Chasers on Discovery Channel, which is how he and Johnson met.
All three have been friends for a while, so it was a natural move to team up.
Last week they finished wrapping up filming on their show. They spent 10 straight weeks focusing on the weather.
Now that they’re finished, their time off is not spent any differently.
Today Johnson and his team are headed to chase the storms that will be sweeping through Southern Saskatchewan.
Right before he headed out, he told the Times-Herald he lives for this kind of danger.
“You never know what’s going to happen. That is a type of day I live for,” said Johnson.
For the past four days, he was working non-stop following the forecast here in the province.
He looks at different weather models and tries to map out what location has the most likelihood of a tornado.
Throughout the days he continues to monitor his radar, and when he sees a storm they fire up their vehicle and head toward its direction.
“We literally drive as fast as we can to get there. The number one fear in people is public speaking and number three is tornados. And that’s what I do for a living. I’m a public speaker and I chase tornados. I’m living the dream,” Johnson said.
For more information on Johnson, his team, or their upcoming show Tornado Hunters, head to www.tornadohunter.com
Mickey Djuric can be reached at 306-691-1263 or @Mickey_MJTimes.
Storm chaser, Greg Johnson of Regina, assures people storms are nothing to be afraid of.
“Like anything else, it’s all about education. Pay attention to warnings and watches from Environment Canada. If there is a warning in the area, take the right precautions,” said Johnson.
Johnson says tornados are extremely rare, and the province has seen only about four this year.
“When you see how vast the province is and how few tornados we get and how short our season is, and you add all of those things up, you realize there’s not much to be afraid of.”
Despite being afraid or not, it’s always good to be prepared. Johnson helps us with some tips on how you can stay safe from summer storms:
-During a thunderstorm, seek shelter indoors and stay away from windows. Do not hide under or near trees.
-If it is lightening outside stay indoors or in your vehicle. Lightening can strike up to several miles away from a storm so avoid trees and stop golfing. And remember, it does not need to be raining for there to be a lightening risk.
-If there is a tornado in the area get underground immediately. Do not hide under a highway overpass.
-If you’re nearby a tornado while driving, stay in your vehicle with your seatbelt on and drive away if possible. If that is impossible, last resort is to get to a low spot like a ditch.