Tornado Chasing in Holyoke


Anyone who has ever chased a storm will tell you, ‘it’s all about luck’. You can never pinpoint where a tornado will pop up, you just have to be in the right place at the right time.

Of course, technology has made it possible for us to lock in to a certain area that’s riddled with activity, but Mother Nature is a beast – and her force can move faster than any computer.

My producers dispatched me to the eastern plains on Monday. Meteorologist Marty Coniglio suggested Photojournalist Andy Buck and I head to Burlington, near the Colorado/Kansas border.  He said the radar had picked up a bunch of activity out there and it would like stay throughout the evening.

Marty also suggested we not chase after any storm, because the cells were moving too fast. He said if we were lucky we would run in to something.

We took his advice and made the three-hour trek to Burlington. By the time we arrived at 6pm, a major storm had just pushed its way north. We ignored it and started interviewing people for our story.

Halfway through the first interview Andy and I received an e-mail from our 10pm Producer Will. He said a tornado had just touched down at Bonny Reservoir, about 20 minutes north of us. No damage was reported.

Andy and I discussed going north but figured our best bet was to stay where we were.

After our story aired at 10pm and we knocked down the satellite truck, Andy and I retired to the nearby Best Western Hotel in Burlington.

As usual, I couldn’t fall asleep – so I browsed through my e-mail. One viewer wrote, “Tornado swept through Holyoke tonight, a plane flipped over and there’s a lot of damage”.

I e-mailed our newsroom letting everyone know Andy I could shoot up there in the morning if the weather wasn’t too severe in Burlington. Our Assignment Desk liked that idea.

When we woke up, the weather wasn’t too bad in Burlington, so we loaded up the satellite truck and drove up north. The drive was windy, rugged and rigorous – but we arrived in Holyoke in an hour and a half.

We didn’t expect the damage to be as bad as it was. When we drove in to town on Highway 385 we saw a dozen electrical poles snapped in half like tooth picks. Further up, a tractor-trailer was lying belly up on the side of the road.

Once we arrived in town, we drove to the airport. That’s where we saw a plane flipped upside down near a damaged hangar. Up the road from the airport, a brand new pole shed had been torn apart.

The Sheriff in Phillips County told me the tornado likely originated near the shed.

Several people witnessed the funnel form and then touch down on the ground. They said it was a good size, but only lasted a short while.

During that time, the tornado was able to do enough damage to set some folks back thousands of dollars.

Luckily, no one was seriously hurt by the tornado.  However, had it formed less than a quarter mile away, two-dozen trailer homes would have been in its path. Had the tornado formed near them, I’m sure we would have had to report on some serious injuries – if not fatalities.

The last time someone died in a tornado in Holyoke was more than 50 years ago. Two people died on June 27, 1960.

I don’t know much about the victims from the 1960 storm, but I do know two vehicles were thrown more than a quarter of a mile.

Tornados are fierce, fast and furious. They’re not a force to be reckoned with.

People in Holyoke know that.

The Sheriff said it will take a while to rebuild from the damage caused by Monday’s twister, but he’s confident the entire town will come together to help out.

That’s the beauty of small towns.