May 3, 2009 discussion, lead

Contributed by John Woods

Well, it happened.

No, not a car wreck.  And no, I didn’t get a “dewie” after a long day of covering car wrecks.

I was assaulted.

And by a girl, none the less!  Well, I guess “technically” there is no gender, because I was assaulted by Mother Nature (insert collective groan)…

[flashvideo file= image= stretching=fill volume=90 /]

Here’s that day in a nut shell…

Reporter Marcus Moore and I were out at the Kansas Speedway to slap together YET ANOTHER economy story.  The angle this time?  How racing events bring jobs to KC… compelling, I know.  However, the approach of inclement weather changed our fate, and we were sent to capture the storm.

This chase started just like the hundreds before it:  drive toward the convection, find the updraft, try to stay parallel to it – and by all means – stay ahead of it.

We did all of this… except for that last part.  Initially, when we found the rotating part of the storm, we did stay well in front of it as it dropped the tornado.  It was only moving 35mph and nearly parallel to I-70, so we had quite a bit of time to move when it grew close.  We would drive, stop, shoot, let it creep to within a mile of us, and repeat.

After about three or four cycles of repositioning, the tornado finally crossed the highway behind us to the north side of I-70.  I thought “Great!  We don’t have to move as fast because we’re in the clear.”  Bad idea.  As you can probably tell from the video, we were not in the clear.  I had forgotten that just ahead of us, I-70 jogs back to the north.  On top of that, the tornado changed direction.  It turned back southeast… it came back across the highway… and it passed over my reporter and I.

And what’s worse is that I let it happen.  I could have avoided the entire situation.  We didn’t need to be that close.  We could have stayed ahead of the storm.  But we didn’t.  Why?  Because I became overconfident.

There’s something about being behind that lens.  I almost feel detached from reality.  You can be taping something a block away and feel like you’re miles away.  I mean how imposing can a little black-and-white screen be?  When I’m looking through that viewfinder, I feel pretty safe.  And to feel that way is stupid, I know this.  But there’s a sense of comfort behind the camera.  It’s been my home away from home for years now.  I know it.  I’m familiar with it.  It’s been a pain in my neck, an ache in my back, and I swear it’s made my right eye nearsighted, but I love it.

Of course, there are no excuses.

A camera is not a bullet proof vest, or a bodyguard, or a “get out of danger free” card.  It’s a hunk of plastic and glass.  Let’s face it – I knew better.  I had chased storms safely for 16 years.  I knew the danger, and I went in anyway.  I made a bad decision, and because of that decision, we became the news.

So is this why “becoming the news” is one of our greatest fears as journalists?  Not all news is bad news.  Do we associate being on camera with only the horrifying events that we cover instead of the wonderful ones?  Or are we camera-shy to a fault, where we actually take a job behind the camera to ensure that we don’t end up in front of it?  Maybe it’s the simple fact that if you get in an accident with a big name reporter, the headline will read “DIRK IRONCHIN* (and one other) INJURED IN CAR WRECK”.

* my apologies to any reporter with the same name as my fictional example.

Either way, I’m just lucky that neither of us were injured or (God forbid) killed.  Hopefully, 16 years from now, I can once again proclaim that I’ve been chasing storms SAFELY for 16 years.

Oh, and I’m suing the hell out of Mother Nature.  Hey, assault is assault!  If anyone knows her current address, I’d appreciate an email.


iphone-0821John Woods has been shooting news since 2002 – currently at KMBC in Kansas City. KC is also where he found my soon-to-be wife. Woods loves the midwest because his passion is storm chasing – he’s been doing that since he learned how to drive. His craziest assignment was chasing down a fugitive who befriended a prison volunteer and escaped by hiding in a dog crate.


  1. Goldendrilla says:

    If you were tracking the storm why were we not hearing locations and landmarks being called out for viewers? Seasoned chasers would never let the storm overtake them to the point of being in danger of becoming disabled or having to leave the vehicle for shelter. While the video is compelling, the service to the viewer is not done after the storm has passed, rather while the storm is on-going.

    Do you have streaming capabilities in your vehicle? If not you should look into it. With a tornado warning and you on the storm the station should be on-air warning the public. This is where TV stations become the most effective conduit for life-saving information about severe wx. Watching the beam spin just because its an outlying area does not convey the tornado is on the ground, with you there live video would be more effective. Viewers don’t understand the green, red and yellow globs on the screen…they do believe the funnel on the ground.

    I know many markets downplay severe wx and many overkill it. The bottomline is KC has enough severe to put a emphasis on it and cordinate coverage.

    In addition, the tornado risk should have been highlighted for that day. Does your wx dept. highlight severe wx potential days? Do you have a storm crew that is prepared to chase? Goto to check the convective outlooks for severe wx that may cover your area. These outlooks are updated daily from the Storm Prediction Center and can give you and your viewers days-in advance heads-up to what may be coming as far as a severe threat.

  2. […] raw-tape soap opera.  From KMBC Kansas City, via, courtesy Lenslinger.  Click here to read photographer John Woods’ first-person […]

  3. Woodsie says:

    Goldendrilla – I appreciate your interest, but you sure are assuming alot in your post… and what you are assuming is obscenely incorrect.

    We were not the only crew on this storm. We had three crews on the ground, and one in the air. The video posted here is only from one crew that was on the ground. During the tornado, our chopper was reporting live on air it’s location, speed, and direction of travel. The chopper was relaying real time position, giving the public an accurate and reliable warning before, during, and after the funnel was on the ground. Those of us on the ground were merely there to get video of the tornado – which we did.

    I’ll admit – we got closer than we wanted to. But to assume that I am not a seasoned chaser is unintelligent on your part. I would say you were ignorant, but you knew better. Also, it’s just plain LAZY of you to post a reply without doing your homework. One quick check of our website would have cleared up alot for you.

  4. Goldendrilla says:

    Looks like we’ll have to agree to disagree although 16 years of chasing equates to a Seasoned pro IMO.

    You stated,”Let’s face it – I knew better. I had chased storms safely for 16 years. I knew the danger, and I went in anyway. I made a bad decision, and because of that decision, we became the news.”

    I missed the other crew & copter video online or off the feeds. However if there were others on the storm was there a need to commit to the storm so closely without a mile by mile phoner that would have likely enhanced the coverage?

    I do applaud the fact you stopped to check on the others on the highway.

    Not here for a pissing match, just noting the importance of safety and that leaving your vehicle is never a good option.

    Good luck in your future endeavors.

  5. Joshua Jenkins says:

    Wow! back on the West Coast we freak if there is a lighting bolt in the sky ! ha ha. I love shooting weather! stay safe yo!

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