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Manitoba tornado ranks in top 5 for storm chaser

A large spruce tree lies beside the St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Virden on Tuesday following a monster storm Monday night.

MIKE DEAL/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

A large spruce tree lies beside the St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Virden on Tuesday following a monster storm Monday night.

The massive twister that ripped through southwestern Manitoba on Monday is on par with storms usually experienced in the United States’ Tornado Alley.

Professional storm chaser Greg Johnson and his crew tracked the storm for two days — making a beeline from the Mexican border to the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border in time to see the spectacular sight.

"This is by far the most interesting and the largest tornado we’ve ever seen in Canada, by a long ways," said Johnson, the star the television show "Tornado Hunters" to air on CMT this fall.

"I would rank it in my Top 5 tornadoes that I’ve ever seen — even including the United States, and that’s pretty big shoes to fill."

Johnson is based in Regina, and has been a storm chaser for 10 years. In 2013, he witnessed the largest tornado ever recorded in history, in El Reno, Okla. Last year, he saw twin half-mile-wide tornadoes in Nebraska, which was the first time that has ever been witnessed.

"So to include this one in the top four or five of all-time is pretty amazing," Johnson said.

According to Environment Canada, a large tornado developed just north of Pierson at 8:30 p.m. Monday and tracked northward. Incredibly, it was on the ground for 2.5 to three hours, with the last report received around 11 p.m. north of Virden.

"This is extraordinary, normally a tornado is on the ground for just a few minutes, so this was really quite the active system," said Natalie Hasell, warning preparedness meteorologist.

Environment Canada has started an investigation to determine the exact track of the tornado and determine a ranking on theEnhanced Fujita Scale. Damages reported mainly include toppled trees, fences, power lines and farm buildings.

Luckily, the tornado appears to have remained on farmland and not in populated areas, which the Tornado Hunter says is a blessing.

"Had it done so, I can tell you that the size of that storm was such that it would have been a catastrophic situation," Johnson said. "And we definitely would be talking about a different story today than the one we’re talking about."

When The Brandon Sun caught up with Johnson the day after the tornado, he said he was still on an adrenalin high.

"Generally in sort of mild tornadoes or even thunderstorms, it’s hard to actually see the movement of the clouds, but a violent tornado like this, the speed with which the whole system is turning is shocking if you’ve never experienced it before," he said.

At times, Johnson and his crew were within a hundred yards of the twister and he described the sound similar to a jet engine. At one point, it stretched at least a kilometre wide.

Johnson expects this tornado to be the subject of the "Tornado Hunters" series finale later this year.

"It was the type of tornado event that I would call the top one per cent because it’s very rare for a tornado to last as long and be as large as this one is," Johnson said.

Safety is of utmost importance, Johnson said, and their truck is essentially bomb proof.

"It’s literally a bullet proof truck with a roll cage, in case we do end up in the air," he said.

The truck is equipped with Doppler radar, which allows them to see inside the storm, and understand the threat level.

"All those things combine together to be what we think is a relatively safe thing to do … my mom disagrees," Johnson said with a laugh.

The storm chasers are also a link in the public safety chain. The moment they saw a tornado touch down, Johnson immediately called 911 so the information could be relayed to Environment Canada.

The storm, which included large hail and torrential downpours, left debris from Tilston all the way to Virden.

» jaustin@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @jillianaustin

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 29, 2015

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The massive twister that ripped through southwestern Manitoba on Monday is on par with storms usually experienced in the United States’ Tornado Alley.

Professional storm chaser Greg Johnson and his crew tracked the storm for two days — making a beeline from the Mexican border to the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border in time to see the spectacular sight.

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The massive twister that ripped through southwestern Manitoba on Monday is on par with storms usually experienced in the United States’ Tornado Alley.

Professional storm chaser Greg Johnson and his crew tracked the storm for two days — making a beeline from the Mexican border to the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border in time to see the spectacular sight.

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