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The Bennington tornado: a rare storm photography classic
HD EXPEDITION VIDEO: Clear sound of the large and roaring Bennington tornado: Watch Video
While most tornado intercepts are unforgettable, the excitement and novelty of past experiences do fade away somewhat over time. That has changed for me this year with the Bennington tornado. The more I think about and revisit this event, the more outstanding it becomes as time goes on.
The footage of the June 23, 1998 tornado near Columbus, Nebraska, shot by a local resident as it charged straight at his farm, is considered by many (and me) to be one of the best tornado video sequences in existence (search for it on Youtube). No other video I'm aware of so dramatically and clearly captures the loud roar of a large and violent tornado. The Columbus tornado itself was a massive high-contrast beast, with the visual just as powerful as the audio. To bear witness to such a potent sensory spectacle of nature is the 'holy grail' of storm photography. I and many storm photographers have dreamed of seeing something like Columbus one day.
Other past events that come to mind when talking about 'classics' in the genre of significant tornadoes include Dimmitt, Texas on June 2, 1995; Bowdle, South Dakota on May 22, 2010; Manitoba, Canada on June 23, 2007; Roanoke, Illinois on July 13, 2004; and Manchester, South Dakota on June 24, 2003. At the time, I knew that the Bennington tornado was going to place as possibly my favorite intercept of all time - but as I have time to reflect on the event, I realize that it will rank prominently among the classics of the ages. This tornado was a Columbus/Manchester/Roanoke - matching those events at times in size, sound and contrast.
Bennington was the 'gold standard' of massive, high-contrast tornadoes - one of the largest you'll ever see with such clarity. It produced a roar similar to the Columbus tornado, which I heard clearly at the time and which my video camera's microphone also picked up (the clip is linked above). The parent supercell was a nearly stationary, easy-to-intercept storm, allowing storm photographers time to get into position well before the show began. And once the tornado developed, it remained steady in its various stages for unusually lingering intervals, allowing plenty of opportunity for numerous stills and video compositions. It is exceptionally rare for a storm and significant tornado to be that cooperative on so many levels.
Seeing and capturing the Bennington tornado was a privilege and blessing that very well may end up being the pinnacle of my lifetime of storm photography experiences. I hope that many storm photographers new to the hobby who saw this tornado realize how truly remarkable of an event this was, and how difficult it will be to top! Those who were blessed enough to witness both the Rozel (May 18) and Bennington tornadoes will likely go many, many years before another season's catches come close.
As I've gained the increasing realization of how impressive this event was, I've gone back and looked closer at/reworked some of the video footage and photos from that day. I'm giving everything extra attention in editing and processing, and here are a few of the results that will hopefully visualize why I feel the way I do about this event.
Reprocessed stills: Most tornado stills must be shot at high ISOs to remain sharp. This introduces noise that is difficult to mitigate in post-processing. This week, I invested in a quality denoiser plugin to rework these images:
Video: This clip captures my best moments with the Bennington tornado, including the sound of the roar that was loudest from my vantage point toward the beginning of the tornado's life. Here are my favorite still frame captures from these sequences:
The full expedition log, with all of the images from this event, is here.