It was a presentation that had lots of flash, dash and bash that everyone seems to love.
Ricky Forbes, one-third of the now-famous Canadian storm chasers called the Tornado Hunters, was at St. Augustine School on Wednesday, Dec. 9 to give about 100 Grade 4 to 6 students a glimpse into what it’s like to run toward some of the worst weather you can find in North America along with the science behind it all.
Forbes, who is from Saskatoon, has been chasing tornadoes for four years alongside his partners Greg Johnson and Christ Chittick – both of whom hail from Regina and have 10 and 15 years of chasing storms under their belts respectively. Their television show – Tornado Hunters – has been broadcast for three years now and doesn’t feel like work for Forbes.
“We are the only professional storm chasers in the country and, like a lot of people, we used to stop and watch these large storms. The difference now is that we look to see if it’s a super cell thunderstorm and then try to find out what is going on inside of it,” Forbes told the students.
“I do get scared, terrified sometimes and we also need to remember we are not bulletproof, but it’s that pushing the limits and feeling of excitement I get that keeps me doing it and makes it not feel like work.”
Forbes wasn’t dragged into storm chasing, it was simply another adrenalin-fueled activity he was attracted to like a few others that he already loves including skydiving, snowboarding and mountain biking.
“This past year, we were on the road for seven months straight, chasing storms for 12 to 16 hours a day. It’s something I love to do, but the one thing I miss is the time I’m away and miss things such as family time and other events,” he added.
Much of the presentation focused on showing the students how and why tornadoes occur, along with a few photos, videos and stories from Forbes about some of his experiences chasing storms.
He mentioned that much of Alberta – except some southern parts of the province – is outside what is classified as Tornado Alley – but that an average season will see Alberta get about 15 to 20 tornadoes, the majority of which land in fields and aren’t destructive. Tornado Alley is a wide swath that runs north covering most of Texas and the plains in the United States right up to include a large chunk of Saskatchewan along with areas of Alberta and Manitoba.
“This area has the right ingredients – flat land – along with the right weather conditions. However, some huge and devastating tornadoes can occur outside that area,” Forbes said, such as the two of the worst in Canadian history – the 1987 Black Friday tornado that hit Edmonton and the one that hit Pine Lake in 2000.
Forbes then talked about a couple of his most memorable tornadoes – one from this past summer in Alabama, where four separate tornadoes formed from one cell then merged into one and another from a couple years ago where they ended up inside the middle of the storm.
“The one from this summer was one of the largest I ever saw – it was like it had four fingers that all converged into one tornado,” he said.
“And the most extreme storm was back about two summers ago, when we ended up near a huge storm and got out to take some photos, then next thing you know we had to get back in the truck due to the rain and hail. But we couldn’t go anywhere so we rode it out, then everything went calm and we got out only to lose my hat with the updraft winds. It was the most amazing and terrifying at the same time. We were inside the storm for about two or three minutes.”
The most amazing thing for the students was learning about how tornadoes form as well as getting to see the truck used to chase the storms.
For Forbes though, who does about 200 of these kinds of school presentations each year, it’s a blast seeing how the students react to learning more about the science behind tornadoes and severe weather.
“It’s cool and fun to see their faces and a blast to be able to talk to them,” he said.