Tracking a twister: How an untrained storm chaser captured this stunning tornado photo

Adam D. Young
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Ryan Reese isn't exactly a storm chaser. He works in a cotton gin. 

But after 7 p.m. on Sunday evening, the Lamb County man said he went from waiting for his kids to get out of a Sunday evening church activity to tracking down a tornado, capturing some stunning images of the well-defined, dark twister as it traveled over farmland - just missing his house - but thankfully not causing any other damage in rural Lamb County.

By Monday, Reese's photo was all over social media and had already been on TV weathercasts, documenting his unexpected adventure during several days of potent severe thunderstorms on the South Plains and across West Texas.

A tornado was spotted in a line of thunderstorms Sunday evening northeast of Sudan, Texas.

Reese recalled getting a message from his friend John Robison, KCBD's chief meteorologist, about the severe thunderstorm developing over the area. Reese said he could see the wall cloud and was trying to get a photo or two to pass along, and pursued the storm in his vehicle for a bit.

"My son came with me and we just followed that wall cloud," Reese said.

Reese said he has a little experience knowing what to look for in thunderstorms after taking a storm spotter class online through the National Weather Service, but admitted he's not a trained storm chaser.

He recalled telling his son, "It's about to make a tornado," just as the twister was dropping from the clouds and making contact with the field northeast of Sudan, Texas.

He said the tornado wasn't on the ground long - less than a few minutes - but they followed it as it traveled east-southeast.

Despite the close appearance in the photo, Reese said he doesn't think he got closer than about six miles to the tornado.

"I wasn't worried about it - it was just pretty cool to see it make - to see what the weather was doing," Reese said.

They continued following the storm as it approached his house, and he began to worry the tornado could re-emerge and threaten his home.

"It went right over the top of our house," he said. "I called my wife and told her it's moving in that direction, and she said it looked like it was moving right over the house."

Luckily, the tornado didn't cause any damage.

But the storm it was in - which the National Weather Service in Lubbock had issued a warning for - dropped what Reese estimated to be egg-size hail on his property, and by Monday he was having his roof looked at for possible damage.

Charles Aldrich, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Lubbock, said his office had seen Reese's photo and other images and videos from that storm, but he wasn't aware of any tornado-related damage. His office hadn't rated the storm by Monday, but Aldrich said similar tornadoes that don't cause any reported damage are typically categorized as EF-U or EF-0 on the Enhanced Fujita scale. Reese, for his part, said he thought the tornado had the potential to be around the EF-1 level, which have winds in the 86 to 110 mph range and cause moderate damage.

Reese said he captured the photos on his iPhone. He didn't even use a filter.

"It was just pretty impressive," he said.