Encounter with a Tornado Part 2

The June 16th Wakefield Tornado

On June 15th I learned a new weather term: Helicity. If you think of a tornado as having a vortex oriented vertically, helicity is wind rotation that is horizontal. Why is helicity important? As a thunderstorm is forming and warm air is lifting, it pulls the horizontal rotation, bending it toward the vertical, aiding in the storm rotation from which tornadoes are born. On Sunday, June 15th the helicity forecast for Monday was literally off the charts. The attached image shows this forecast as bands of color. The red indicates the maximum amount the models can show which is 860 m squared/s squared. However, the red area is huge and we can only guess how much higher the value actually was.

Helicity forcast

Helicity forecast, red is extreme.


The whole day of June 16th seemed unreal to me. My chase partners Skip Talbot and Jennifer Brindly Ubl and I woke up to see storms forming in southern South Dakota. We knew this was not the tornado-forming variety, but we had some time on our hands, so we drove north to take a look. The storm was bordered by a dramatic shelf cloud that moved slowly toward us.

Shooting the shelf cloud. Photo by Jennifer Brindley Ubl

Shooting the shelf cloud. Photo by Jennifer Brindley Ubl



Footage of the South Dakota Shelf Cloud

Underneath this structure, the cloud above us was dark, rolling and churning with spooky turbulence. The day’s helicity was very evident. I’ve shot a lot of clouds but never seen such weird movement. For lack of a better term, I call this shot my Harry Potter sky, and I absolutely love the haunting effect.


Harry Potter Sky (clip A195-C037v3)

The violence of the storm overtook us and we took shelter at a gas station mini-mart, but again, this was only the prelude for the day, not the main event. Soon we saw a storm initiating in our target area a hundred miles to the south and rushed to meet it.

This radar image shows the storm and our relation to it.

This radar image shows the storm and our relation to it.

As we approached, I snapped this photo through the window.

As we approached, I snapped this photo through the window.

In a very rare occurrence, two large F4 (cause catastrophic damage) tornadoes had formed and were bearing down on the small town of Pilger while we were still driving towards it. The sight of these tornadoes was surreal, they were enormous! As we found a place to park, Jennifer, who had been watching the radar, confirmed that we were in the direct path of the closest twister, so we had only a limited time to film. The conditions were less than ideal as we were in the middle of a downpour. I set the Red Epic on a tripod next to the van but everything was getting soaked. Water was splashing on the touchscreen monitor and activating the menus.

I had no control over the camera! Had I come this far just to be thwarted by a technical glitch? After an agonizing minute or so, I did a re-boot. Finally, I got a few moments of precious footage before Skip noticed a new tornado forming above our heads. “We have to leave now!” he said, so I stopped recording, grabbed the tripod with camera still attached, pulled it in the car and we took off to the east.

Northern most Pilger Tornado on our first stop.

Northern most Pilger Tornado on our first stop.


We found a turnout a mile or so down the road with a clear view and no rain. The twin tornadoes that had hit Pilger had wound down, but the new twister was growing in size and strength. We filmed it as it crossed the road we had driven on moments before. It was a huge multi-vortex wedge-shaped tornado that later was shown to measure F4 in strength, just spinning in the field in front of us. Are we safe? Skip says we are absolutely OK in this spot, and he is describing the event for his video record, giving us a verbal play-by-play of every detail while we watched. I hear Jennifer Brindley Ubl’s camera snapping photos. With my Canon 24-105mm lens, I zoom in on the base of the tornado to catch detail of the multi-vortex. However, I am so overwhelmed I forget to check focus and a full minute of footage is lost to this error. My wide shots are sharp however, and soon I gather my wits and start checking focus on the subsequent telephoto shots.

Jennifer captures this photo of the debris cloud shortly after the tornado crosses the road.

Jennifer captures this photo of the debris cloud shortly after the tornado crosses the road.


Skip notices another tornado forming to the left of the large wedge. For the second time today, two tornadoes are spinning at once, one a skinny rope, one wedge, both in frame, both F4 in strength. It’s hard to judge scale, but they are enormous as they dwarf the power line towers underneath them.  A bolt of lightning shot from the larger tornado hits the ground between the two, like an epic battle scene.  It was a rare “positive” strike that is more powerful and longer lasting than the garden-variety “negative” strikes. It took a full 17 frames at 30fps to fade. The smaller tornado whips around the larger one at a ground speed of nearly 90 miles per hour. We watch it get swallowed by the larger wedge. Unreal.

These images show the positive lightning strike between the two tornadoes.

These images show the positive lightning strike between the two tornadoes.


The twister gradually moves to our northeast and becomes partially obstructed by higher ground in front of us. Skip suggests we re-position to get a better view. So once again, we hop in the SUV, this time following the tornado, which is to our front and left. The twister is becoming rain-wrapped, and we lose sight of it in the precip haze. Eventually we find a perch on the top of a hill, this time getting a wider view of the storm. The tornado is gone, but we have an amazing view of the rotating cloud structure. I see dirt spinning up underneath, the sign of yet another tornado forming, but the motion disappears quickly. Still, it’s enough for me to count as I keep a tally in my head. I’ve seen 5 tornadoes today.


A196-C002v3 (coming soon)

Other storm chasers park nearby and I recognize John Williamson, whom I had chased with before. It’s always like that with this community, you constantly meet your friends while on the road. John points at a funnel cloud to our west. It is a skinny tail dropping out of a little white puffy. Jennifer snaps a photo and someone remarks, “The parameters are so crazy today, it’s like every cloud gets a tornado!”.


Funnel Cloud Photo by Jennifer Brindley Ubl.

Funnel Cloud Photo by Jennifer Brindley Ubl.

We decide to end the day with a dinner in Sioux City and talk about our adventures. Truly an amazing day. Later in my hotel room, I agonize over footage lost to soft focus, finding it hard to get the proper perspective that I have also captured some amazing images. My heart goes out to the people affected by the storms that hit Pilger and Wakefield. Artbeats will be making a donation to StormAssist whose proceeds go to the victims. Looking back, I am also grateful for Skip Talbot and Jennifer Brindly Ubl for having me along. It won’t be my last trip with you both!



To view clips: http://www.artbeats.com/storms2014

To view demo reel: http://youtu.be/exxyB6pG60s





CSC award recipient Pasha Patriki talks with Artbeats

Q: When did you begin shooting?

A: My career in film began in 1999 and since 2003 I have been professionally shooting stock footage.


Q: What is your favorite subject to shoot?

A: Actually, dramatic scenes with actors are my favorite.

Firemen walking on a street

FF-FH100-15 – Firemen walking on a street


Q: Which camera(s) do you prefer for shooting stock footage?

A: My camera of choice is Red Epic, for it’s versatility and quality.


Q: What’s your favorite clip that you currently have represented in the Artbeats FootageHub?

A: It’s unfair to ask a parent which one of his babies is his/her favorite. 🙂

Woman dancing on an urban rooftop

FF-FH101-07 – Woman dancing on an urban rooftop


Q: What advice can you give to shooters who are just getting started in the stock footage industry?

A: Shoot as much as you can, the best you can. Learn the rules. And then break them.


FF-FH101-29 – Fans at an outdoor concert


Q: What’s the best or worst thing that happened to you on a shoot?

A: Best – Having a world-known icon unexpectedly sign your release form.


FF-FH101-34 – DJ at a disco


Worst – dropping camera into radioactive pool of water.


FF-FH103-31 – Teacup and saucer fall in slow-motion


Q: What is the one thing you wished you’d been able to capture?

A: There is not ONE thing I wish I could capture. This is an ongoing list that transforms together with our world.


About Pasha Patriki:

Pasha Patriki

Pasha Patriki

Since he was 4 year old, Pasha was determined to become a filmmaker. Growing up in Moscow, Russia, he started learning the craft by playing with his grandfather’s Super9 camera. Already then Pasha was striving to create narrative pieces, not just home movies.

After moving to Toronto in 1996, he started working on various film sets as a lighting technician, simultaneously studying in the Film & Video production program at York University. Today – 15 years professionally in the business – Pasha’s work as Director of Photography has been recognized in Canada as well internationally

Almost every year music videos lensed by Pasha receive nominations at Much Music Video Awards. Pasha has shot videos for notable Canadian artists like Hedley, Billy Talent, Down With Webster, Carly Rae Jepsen, Mariana’s Trench, Finger Eleven, Anjulie, and many others.

In 2014 – second year in a row – Pasha is nominated for the Best Cinematography at the CSC awards. Last year it was two nominations – one of them landing as an award for Music Video category. Pasha Patriki is a full member of CSC (Canadian Society of Cinematographers) as well as an IATSE 667 Union member in the DOP category.

Review Pasha Patriki’s footage here.