A storm chaser/photographer will be at Vintage Stock, Joplin, at 2:30 p.m., Saturday to not only showcase his new book, “Blown Away: A Year Through the lens of the Tornado Hunter,” but also present a program.
The public is invited to attend.
In his book, Greg Johnson documented communities in “Tornado Alley” in the heartland of the U.S. that experienced fascinating, often devastating, weather first-hand in 2011 including the Joplin May 22, 2011 tornado.
“I have been doing it for about 10 years, but for the first seven or eight years, it was more of taking some vacation time, head down to tornado alley, go and take pictures in my backyard, that kind of thing” he said. “But two years ago, I made the decision – for a whole lot of reasons – but I made the decision to sell my business. I had three business that I operated. I sold those to pursue this full time. I come at this not as a meteorologist, but as a photographer.”
Working with a dedicated group of storm chasers, he photographed dozens of storms, driving inside active tornadoes in a specially outfitted “tornado truck.” The storms put these cities and towns in the spotlight on national news.
Johnson was in the area when the Joplin tornado hit.
“I had a request from a national media outlet from Canada to send a reporter and a camera man along on our storm chase,” he said. “So we took that opportunity… (It) was basically a two-week storm-chase through tornado alley. Our goal was hopefully to see and document at least one tornado on our trip. Little did we know that we would be thrust into the situation in Joplin. It was definitely not anything that we had planned upon. For the people who were on board with me who had never witnessd a tornado before, to have Joplin be on the menu was probably one of the most surreal experiences of any of our lives.”
“We were on a storm just south of the one that hit Joplin, but as the storm chasing community is very active on social media and that sort of thing, it was brought to our attention while we were actually driving there is this real nasty storm on the way and it looks it is about to make a direct hit on Joplin,” he recalled. “We started heading that way and start getting reports of the disaster that was happening. By the time we got there, basically every road into Joplin was impassible. By the time we got there, the roads were impassible, but also the authorities had actually blocked it off in many cases. We went in first light in the morning.”
During the Saturday event, Johnson will sign his books.
“It is a book signing and I will be doing a presentation as well. Now, I am not specifically talking about Joplin, I am more speaking about sort of my experience in going through the process,” he said. “At the end of the storm season, 2011 broke all of the records – from being the deadliest year, the most tornados recorded, the worst April on record, all of the records fell in 2011. At the end of the season, we sort of looked back on our experiences and at the type of photography that we were able to get during the season, and said I think we have enough here for a book. Certainly the Joplin experience was a big part of that because it was such a big story, and our personal experience, like anybody that was there. The only comparable imagery that I have seen is Hiroshima.”