Chat with Chris Chittick of Team Tornado Hunter

Chris Chittick

I’m excited to be able to chat with Chris Chittick.  A man of few word and great skill with a camera.  I first saw Chris on TV a few years ago and really liked his quiet presence and passion for what he does.  This year he teamed up with Team Tornado Hunter and I was thrilled.  He brings a new element to the team and they fit really well together.  This summer I really enjoyed watching the three of them banter back and forth while on chases.  Chris has been one of my favourite chasers for many years and I was honoured to be able to ask him some questions!

Thank you Chris for being willing to chat with me!  Tell us how you got into storm chasing and storm photography?

 I got into storm chasing back in 1998 as a hobby.  I fell in love with it in 2000 when I saw my first tornado in WY.  I didn’t start picking up the video camera until about 2008….I realized I have the photographic eye and have been in love with shooting and editing ever since.
You certainly do have great skill with a camera!  Do you only chase tornadoes or is it all weather you love to chase?
I chase all extreme weather from ice and snow storms to hurricanes to tornadoes.
Well, you’ll certainly get a chance to chase snow in Canada!  Can you tell us about the very first tornado you remember?
First tornado was in 2000 in south-east WY.  It formed over our heads and dropped just to our west close to some hills and I fell in love with it right there.

What made you get behind a camera when storm chasing?

I first picked up the camera in 2008 and shot some things then realized I was really good at framing and just shooting in general.

Did you then take classes on photography or are you self-taught?

I am self taught.  I learnt a lot on the road and being next to Discovery Channel camera operators for 4 years.

Chris Chittick strom

That’s a great way to learn!  What was the most memorable chase you’ve ever been on?

The most memorable chase I have been on was this year May 31, 2013 El Reno.  It was unbelievable.  The sights and sounds and smells.

That was an intense chase to watch, I can only imagine the intensity of being there.  Besides tornadoes, you’ve also filmed hurricanes.  What makes a hurricane so interesting?

Hurricanes are interesting to me because it’s a whole other beast…. new things to worry about, like how am I going to get this shot etc…..It’s basically a really big tornado.

Will you be coming up to chase blizzards in the winter?

I live in Regina now, so yes, I will be chasing blizzards with the team.

How did you wind up riding with Team Tornado Hunter?

I had met Greg a couple of years ago and thought he was a great guy.  I met Ricky last year in the U.S. Plains and couldn’t get enough of him.  So, this winter I left my old team and Greg reached out to me…next thing you know I’m living in Canada.

Tornado Hunter Truck

I had no idea that you’d moved to Canada!  Hope that you like it up here!  What was the scariest moment you’ve ever had chasing?

The scariest moments I have ever had chasing was in the earlier years when we didn’t know what we were doing out there.

You sure know a lot now!  What advice would you give to aspiring storm chasers/storm photographers?

Go to some spotter training courses and soak up as much knowledge as possible, or go on a tour with a respected tour company and ask lots of questions.

Great advice!  If you couldn’t storm chase, what would you do?

If I couldn’t storm chase I would be a camera operator for TV shows.

Is storm-chasing your full-time job?  What do you do in the off-season?

Storm chasing is my full time job.  In the off season I do speaking engagements and get ready for the next season.

I’m already looking forward to watching you guys chase next year!  What do you like to do when you’re not out chasing?

I like to play golf hang with friends and family and most of all hang with my girlfriend.

Thanks again Chris for taking time to chat with me.  I look forward to watching you and Team Tornado Hunter chase this winter and, most definitely, next summer!

You can follow Chris and his photography on:

TWITTER

FACEBOOK

TORNADO HUNTER WEBSITE

Also, check out my other Chaser Chats with Ricky ForbesCraig Hilts and Sean Schofer!

Chat with Ricky Forbes: Team Tornado Hunter (Part Two)

Ricky

Okay, without further ado… let’s get back to our chat with Ricky!  (If you missed Part One, click here to check it out!)

Ricky, are there times where you make decisions as the driver that it’s time to move locations (ex. If the storm is getting close)?

Those always are group decisions. We all have goals when out in the field, but there are limits as we all have families and want to make it home safe.

Tell us, what to you is the best and worst thing about chasing?

Best thing is that moment, that edge of experience, when you are beside that tornado seeing it’s powerful beauty and capturing that elusive shot we have travelled thousands of kilometres to find.

Ha, I don’t know if anything registers as the worst thing about storm chasing but the dry spells can hurt – driving thousands upon thousands of kilometres, week after week to have storms not produce hurts. Luckily those don’t come too often and don’t last too long. 

What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you on a storm chase?

I would have to say it was seeing that 2 ton Grain Truck flying through the air while inside the El Reno tornado, definitely was a once in a lifetime experience.

That would be surreal!  What advice would you give aspiring storm chasers?

First off, just start interacting with other chasers via social media. It’s a small community and everybody is very friendly – just happy to have another face out on the chase! Ask a lot of questions and do lots of research to stay safe. A storm is an amazing sight but can get dangerous very fast, know your approach before you go. Also team up! Either invite friends to come or join others – it is safer to work as a team and makes for more fun in the downtimes.

Are ‘chase crowds’ a problem in Canada?  Have you faced scary/frustrating situations with ‘chase crowds’?  How do new chaser/spotters avoid becoming part of the problem?

In Canada there is next to no “chase crowds” or “chaser convergence” which is awesome. In the states, primarily the heart of tornado alley, we come to crowds with hundreds of cars. They can be very dangerous situations and we do our best to avoid these convergences.

To avoid being apart of the problem I guess would be to also stay away from convergences.

This is a tough question but do you have a favourite photo from any of your chase days? 

That’s like asking someone to pick their favourite child! Just joking around but that is a tough one. There are so many factors and emotions tied to each photograph on what it took to get that shot. If I had to pick I would have to say it was the Great Bend tornado as it crossed the road right in front of us. I feel that picture tells a story of how close we are and the effort it takes to get that shot that nobody else is getting.

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Team Tornado Hunter is a pretty awesome group! Tell us what you like most about the guys you chase with?  What are some of their best qualities?

Do I have to lie? Ha, just kidding. These guys are my best friends and I wouldn’t choose anyone else to chase with. We have many laughs and lots of fun. Don’t get me wrong we definitely have our bickers but who doesn’t when you spend this much time together?! 

Greg is a solid dude through and through that is out to be the best of his practice and I really admire that. He is an amazing photographer that has a knack for always getting the shot and it’s cool to be apart of that process. Besides snapping shots Greg is a great father, friend, public speaker, and more. It is definitely a treat to be in his presence.

Chittick is the man. He is a storm chasing vet that is out there to capture the biggest and baddest storms and he is relentless in that chase. He has an awesome demeanour about him that is second to none when we get into the storms and he is a great friend to have on the road. 

Ricky Forbes&Greg El Reno

What, if anything, do you wish would change in the way people think of storm chasers?

You know I think people have a pretty accurate view of what we are out there to do. We are out to first inform the public via live reports and our live feed. Second we are there to document these storms. We are always received very well by the public.

Has this been a disappointing storm year for you, at least locally, or are you still pretty pleased with how it’s going?  (there’s my optimism refusing to accept it may be done)

Ha, this is another tough one! It was a slower year for storms for sure. They started a month late, missing April, and there were quite a bit fewer than last year – accounting for both the States and Canada. That said we had a great year, caught some amazing storms, had some amazing experiences and there’s always next year!

Some people don’t know that chasing isn’t your full-time job, even in the summer.  Can you tell us a bit about Danger Dynamite?

Sure! Another one of my passions is being a computer geek. When I’m not chasing I am glued to a computer screen Monday to Friday doing graphic design and coding websites. It is definitely a change from the desk to tornadoes but website design allows me to pursue my adventurous lifestyle so I maintain it for now!

You have some pretty awesome hobbies, can you tell us a bit about what you do in your free time?

If it’s not tornadoes or websites I do my best to expose myself to as many adventures and travels as I can. For my summer free time you can find me paddle boarding, white water kayaking, rock climbing, downhill mountain biking, sky diving, hiking, running and more. Then the winter is generally snowboarding, skiing, big mountain ski-dooing, and anything else that gets the adrenaline going. I really enjoy pushing the limits and always make that a regular part of my life.

You can check out a first-hand account of one of Ricky’s adventures here!

Ricky Forbes

Ricky Bike Quote

Besides storm chasing, what would you consider your next most extreme hobby?

I’m not too sure what compares to storm chasing. Fear factor wise I’d say the next contenders are sky-diving, rock climbing, and big mountain ski-dooing.

Ricky Rock Climbing

How many hours, in an average season, would you say that you log on the road?

I’m not too sure. I can tell you that last year we put on 90,000 km and this year so far we have done about 40,000 km. But we are only driving about half the time so many hours on the road! 

Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions Ricky!  I love getting to know more about storm chasing and on the great people who spend their summers chasing amazing storms!

Your most welcome! Thanks for the questions! 

Ricky making the wake

I hope that you enjoyed this chat with Ricky and will come back for the others!!  UPDATE: Check out my other ‘Chaser Chats’ HERE!

You can find Ricky here:

Twitter

Tornado Hunter

Danger Dynamite

Instagram: @ForbesRicky

LinkedIn

~Sarah

Chat with Ricky Forbes: Team Tornado Hunter (Part One)

RFD Ricky

You’ve all heard me talk about team Tornado Hunter and how much I look forward to the summer storm chasing season.  These guys are awesome.  Okay, in all honesty I’ve only met Greg, but I hope to remedy that sometime soon.  I’ve chatted with Ricky a fair bit and I am so glad that he agreed to be part of this blog series!  In fact, he’s going to lead the way in what I hope will be a good bunch of storm chaser chats!

Hey Ricky, thanks for being willing to answer a few questions for me!  I’m a pretty big fan of storm chasing and I’m excited to chat with you about it.

Tell me, what drew you to storm chasing?

Originally it was the elusiveness of catching a storm and the majestic beauty of Mother Nature. Now it’s all that plus the adventure and friends. It has become one of my favourite pastimes.  

It does look awesome!  I can’t wait to get out there next year!  Do you remember the first tornado you ever saw in the field and can you tell me a bit about it?

I’ll never forget it! It was the Great Bend EF-4 of April 14, 2012. It produced 12 tornadoes over a 3 hour period with little damage to a few farm yards and no one injured. At points we were within 100 yards, right beside it, hearing the whistling roar, seeing debris flying everywhere, and other points we were sitting still watching it off in the distance only to meet up with it again. It was the best day for a storm chaser. I was definitely spoiled.  

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That would have been amazing to see!  How did you end up teaming up with Greg?

I got in touch with Greg through a mutual friend. Originally I was meant to go out in the backseat handling the computer and camera gear – and immediately got put in the driver’s seat! It’s been a great trip and only getting better.

I know that you are an integral part of the team and that there is more to your role than just driving ‘Flash’ to the storm, can you tell me what your role involves?

Behind the scenes I handle all aspects for the website – it’s my profession in the off-season so I am the go-to guy for that. On the road it is also my duty to share our adventures real-time with social media as much as I can, as Greg and Chris are busy capturing the storm.

On the live feed we often see Greg giving you directions on where to drive.  Does he make that decision alone or do you guys discuss it before you head out for the day?  Is it always a group decision when you are debating on staying with your current storm or chasing another more promising one?

Lots of times those directions are last minute decisions. We can have a general idea before the storm of our road networks in relation to where we think the storm will be, but that all changes once the game starts. Factors such as the storm direction, high traffic areas, damaged roads, etc. impacts our directions. Once in the moment it is very much up to Greg and Chris on what they think the best routes are as my focus is on driving. 

It is always a group decision on deciding whether to leave a storm or stay on a storm. We all bring our different backgrounds and experiences to the table and we quickly discuss all factors to make a smart decision.

It’s awesome how you guys work together so well!  If you can narrow it down, what was the best chase you ever had?

That’s a tough one! It would have to be the first tornado I ever saw – the April 14, Great Bend tornado. There was so many amazing moments and sights we got to see. At one point we were on a closed off freeway with the tornado slowly circulating over top of us, moments like that take your breath away. 

This year you had some pretty intense experiences.  Was El Reno the most intense chase that you’ve ever been on?

El Reno was the most intense situation I have ever been in! That tornado was later declared to be the world’s largest tornado on record and for good reason. The way it moved and built so fast was unreal. 

In the El Reno situation, when you found yourselves in a very dangerous situation, what went through your head when you knew it was up to you to get the team away from danger?  Did you just rely on instinct at that point?

That’s a tough one, gives me the chills a bit thinking back to that moment. The roar of the tornado was all around us, our ears had popped from the pressure change, buildings were be torn apart and being thrown into us, and our exits were blocked. I hit the sketchy ditch as our last resort and hammered on the gas. We lucked out making it through there, at one point all of our tires were off the ground. While in the ditch we saw a large 2 ton grain farm truck fly through the air and land in the ditch, barely dodging it bringing us out of the ditch and on our way to safety. Literally felt like a moment out of Twister. 

I remember that on the live feed.  My heart was nearly stopping and I wasn’t even there!

I’ve really enjoyed Ricky’s answers to these questions!  

Check out Part Two of this awesome chat: here

Find Ricky here:

Twitter  

LinkedIn 

Danger Dynamite

Tornado Hunter

Instagram: @forbesricky

Also, check out my other Chaser Chats HERE!

Thanks for coming by!

~Sarah