Local storm chaser shares severe weather events on camera

Deadly Oklahoma tornadoes

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Central Texas is no stranger to various types of severe weather. This year brought its own unique variety of severe weather events. Not only for us here at home, but across the nation, as well.

Local professional storm chaser, Jeff Mangum, is part of a team that lives to capture these events on camera, even sharing his incredible footage with our KXAN weather team along the way. Mangum spoke with KXAN Meteorologist Natalie Ferrari, sharing his experiences, footage and the importance of chasing during severe weather events.

Ferrari: I know not too long ago you released a video of some of your most intense chases in 2016. I want to go ahead and recap some of those with you. The first one you want to start off with was the one in Oklahoma.

Mangum: May 9 was a very unique day. It wasn’t really predicted to be a huge day but as the day went forward, the convection seemed to be picking up as things heated up. Storms increased and we found ourselves on the first tornado of the day and it was intense. The first tornado we came to was in Wynnewood and Katie, Okla. The interesting thing about that tornado, from the minute it touched the ground, it had these four or five almost like fingers of vortices dancing around. As it moved in front of us, you could see debris being picked up. You could smell all the grass and all the trees that were being uprooted. That was maybe the sense that was really surprising to me—how much you could smell the grass and the trees. And unfortunately, it went from kind of a rural area to where it started hitting some homes. It’s a sinking feeling because you love what you’re seeing in terms of the power of nature, but you knew that it was affecting people. And you could hear the wind, so loudly that you could almost barely hear yourself think.

Ferrari: You say the first…how many did we end up with that whole day?

Mangum: That day, we came across five tornadoes that day. And the first one was the most powerful. It was rated an E4 tornado and was on the ground for 15-20 minutes and so we drove along with it for the majority of its life.

Ferrari: Of course, we want to stress also that you’re a professional storm chaser so this was a safe environment in the sense that you knew what you were doing.

Mangum: Absolutely. I spent the last 24-25 years taking classes, learning about where to be, what to be aware of, where to find our placement within the storm and how to read radar.

Ferrari: And then this happened all over again in Dodge City, Kansas. Want to talk about that?

Mangum: Yes, Dodge City was, for me, the most explosive day of chasing that I’ve ever had. There were reports of 8 to 20 tornadoes that day, I guess it depends who you talk to. I spotted 11. There were a few times where we saw two on the ground at the same time. And so, all within the same area, right around Dodge City.

Ferrari: This was an outbreak, so this was something that the Storm Prediction Center was keeping a close eye on. Is that what helped you to be there to catch it all?

Mangum: Yes, I was a little further south in Oklahoma early that morning. As the day continued and more forecasts came out, I found myself in Kansas and things just exploded. It was really interesting because in Kansas, the roads were often muddy and so your big task was not just staying safe from the storm, but staying away from being caught in a bunch of mud.

Ferrari: Bringing it closer to home, a lot closer to the Gulf Coast. Houston, they had their incredible flood this year, I want to talk a little bit about your experience there.

Mangum: Some of the conversations I’ve had with family and friends is that tornadoes don’t really frighten me as much, I’m kind of accustom to chasing those. Floods are unique. Especially the flood that was in Houston. There’s so much asphalt in and around Houston, that people aren’t even aware that there’s two, three, four feet of water. So you’d find people coming off I-10 and off of highways going 50, 60 mph into a wall of water. And so this happened repeatedly, tons of rescues, unfortunately quite a few fatalities. So a really intense day.

Ferrari: That’s home for me actually, so it hits home when you have an event like that and all your family and friends there. With that being said, the reason you do all this, you storm chase, it has a lot to do with giving people a perspective from your angle. Talk a little bit about that and why you wanted to be a storm chaser?

Mangum: I fell in love with storms at the age of 10 or 11. While everyone else was enjoying some other things, I saw a documentary on tornadoes and I was hooked. I think what stands out to me about storm chasing, there’s a few things for me. First, I’m infatuated with weather and certainly with storms. There’s something awe-inspiring and something even marvelous and beautiful about seeing significant stormy weather. At the same time, it gives an opportunity for meteorologists and for the community around to have what’s called “ground truth.” So you might see something on radar, but you need someone who’s actually nearby to verify what is seen on radar. Third, I love people. It brings you in contact with people who have experienced difficult things with weather. So it allows me to actually meet new people, care for new people, show compassion throughout the process. So I think there’s a few different reasons why I love chasing storms and spotting storms for folks.

Ferrari: Has anyone ever come across you and say “this is something I’m actually interested in doing or maybe aspiring to do it” and what would be some advice you have for them?

Mangum: I think first of all, I ask if it’s a passion, something that you love. Because everyone sees some of these storms chasing videos and think that’s how it typically is. Those are rare days. So it’s typically loving weather is typically days that aren’t the most glamorous it seems. And then I just encourage them to start seeking out training. The National Weather Service offers so many different environments to be trained on, storms and weather of all sorts. So I encourage them that way and as they do that, I think their passion and their hobby will develop from there.

Ferrari: Summarize your experiences in 2016 when it came to storm chasing, what is maybe the one thing you took away from your big events this year?

Mangum: I think this was the least amount of days I was able to chase over the course of the last few years, but they were explosive days. And none of the days seemed to have a prediction that they were high risk or even a moderate risk kind of day. And so I think it’s the kind of situation, with storms, is keeping your awareness with your local [television] network, making sure you’re aware what’s going on hour upon the hour because it shifts so fast. And each of these days that I chased were significantly explosive.

Ferrari: We here at KXAN absolutely appreciate what you do and you’re able to keep in contact with us and also help to get the word out to people, like you said “ground truth,” you give a totally different perspective. So thank you again for joining and we look forward to what 2017 will bring!

You can always train to be a storm spotter through the National Weather Service’s SKYWARN Program.

If you’d like to view more jaw-dropping storm chases, the entire two hour video of never-before seen footage is available to you at Tornado Trackers.