48 Hours accompanied them. Producing this story involved going along for the ride, which turned out to be very, very long. Producer Diane Ronnau and Associate Producer Stuart Miller filed this first-person report about their experience.
Our tornado adventure began innocently enough, at the National rental car booth at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. While filling out the paperwork for our Chevy Suburban truck, the rental agent told us that if we drove more than 3,000 miles, we would be charged 35 cents for every mile. Three thousand miles, we thought! How could we possibly drive more than 3,000 miles?
Well, 11 days and 5,000 miles later in Denver, we knew. When you're tornado chasing, you're really tornado chasing.
Our little jaunt through the Midwest covered 11 states and two time zones. We drove through the state of Nebraska five times - in two days. We drove on dirt roads and cobblestone roads, through deserts and forests, in sunshine and rain, at night and during the day, and, well, you get the picture.
Along for the ride were cameraman Mark Smith, his wife Tricie Chua, who was the sound person, and Correspondent Harold Dow.
When you're on the road for that long, you learn a lot of things about yourself, your country and your co-workers. For example, at Mount Rushmore, we stopped on the side of the road to pet a herd of wild donkeys. We'd never seen a herd of wild donkeys before.
That was interesting to us, as was a conversation we had with a farmer at a truck stop in North Dakota. On his farm, he had a problem. Grizzlies were eating his cows. Grizzly bears were his problem. We live in Manhattan (New York, not Kansas), and we've never had a grizzly bear problem or even known anyone who had a grizzly bear problem.
Mostly, we drove through beautiful country and had beautiful weather. You know the song America? Well, it's the real deal! We hit the spacious skies in Sidney, Mont., the amber waves of grain near Liberal, Kan., and while we didn't see the purple mountains majesty, we did see the Badlands of South Dakota.
At a restaurant in Amarillo, Texas, we saw something else memorable: a 72-ounce steak. If you ate the whole thing you didn't have to pay for it. We decided to pass.
The scenery was simply stunning, but as beautiful as it was (our favorite was South Dakota, which is pretty no matter where you are), we couldn't lose sight of our mission: to keep the front windshield absolutely clean at all times. There was always the chance that we would have to shoot a tornado through the window on short notice. With the dirt and bugs on these back country roads, keeping that glass gleaming was easier said than done.
Through the first week we had great weather, which was bad news. Our hopes oseeing a tornado were fading fast, along with the group's. We downgraded our hopes, from seeing a powerful tornado to simply getting some rain.
Heck, we'd have even settled for gray skies. But then, after a week of exhausting chasing, the moment of truth arrived! Outside York, Neb., we finally saw what we were looking for: a small, skinny tornado, which touched down in the middle of a field. The group was ecstatic, and so were we.
Mission accomplished. Time to go home. Hurricane season is right around the corner.