- Associated Press - Saturday, August 22, 2015

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - Joe Gatelli is the kind of guy who keeps six portable weather radios in various spots of his house, loves nothing more than checking out radar patterns on his nifty iPad app, and who once won a trivia contest hosted by the public television show “Weather World.”

Those who know the South Scranton resident know his love of weather runs bone deep. For years, the now-retired teacher got to share that passion with students in his physics class at Scranton Central and West Scranton high schools.

No doubt, his enthusiasm rubbed off on a great number of people, including his daughter, Jeana Gatelli.

With her serving as his faithful sidekick, Mr. Gatelli recently had the opportunity to check off one of the major items on his bucket list when the two spent a week chasing tornadoes out on the Great Plains.

Three days into their trip, they hit pay dirt in Simla, Colorado. There, they watched five Enhanced Fujita-1-scale tornadoes over an hour span. During that period, they were witness to the extremely rare sight of two tornadoes hitting the ground at once - the fabled “double tornado.”

Their guide, renowned tornado chaser Warren Faidley, kept them at a safe five-mile distance from the action.

“It wasn’t like ‘Twister,’” Ms. Gatelli said, referring to the popular 1996 film about storm chasers. “We would have liked to have gotten closer.”

They couldn’t quibble about much else, though, given that Mr. Faidley told them afterward, “You guys saw more than anyone I ever took.” After all, some don’t see any at all.

“We were very lucky to see what we got to see,” Mr. Gatelli said.

Finding a guide

Mr. Gatelli had been pondering a storm-chasing trip for years, well before the phenomenon came into vogue thanks to “Twister” and TV shows like “Storm Chasers.”

“If you’re a weather junkie, it’s one thing that’s on your list,” Mr. Gatelli said.

Mr. Gatelli’s wife, former Scranton City Councilwoman Judy Gatelli, thought the idea was bonkers, and told him so. His daughter, however, was intrigued.

“Because of my dad, I’ve always been interested in weather and science,” Ms. Gatelli said, before adding with a laugh, “Nobody else had the cajones.”

Finally, they committed, and began planning for the trip about a year ago.

After researching tour guides, they went with Mr. Faidley, a photojournalist whom many consider the first person to pursue a full-time career as a storm chaser. Mr. Gatelli had been highly impressed with Mr. Faidley since seeing him speak at Penn State Worthington Scranton campus many years ago.

Mr. Faidley’s expertise doesn’t come cheap. A tour with him runs about $10,000.

“But what we liked about his (tour) was that it was only Jeana and me, and not some big bus tour,” Mr. Gatelli said.

He and Ms. Gatelli set off on their trip on May 31. They flew into Amarillo, Texas, then drove up through the Texas Panhandle, into Oklahoma, then Colorado.

“It’s flat as a pancake,” Ms. Gatelli said of the terrain.

“But we were actually 5,200 feet above sea level,” Mr. Gatelli said. “It’s the front range of the Rockies.”

‘Hotbed of activity’

They arrived to what Ms. Gatelli called “a hotbed of activity.” They and Mr. Faidley met up with a number of other storm chasers, most of them well seasoned.

The group included Stan Rose of the National Weather Service, and a guy who had built his own storm-chasing tank.

“They all seemed to congregate in the same places,” Ms. Gatelli said.

The next couple days were spent traveling to different locales with conditions ripe for a tornado. Excursions didn’t start until early afternoon, given the storms typically build off of the Rockies between the hours of 2 and 4 p.m., Mr. Gatelli said.

These locations weren’t big population centers by any stretch. The scenery mostly consisted of cattle farms and wind turbines, Mr. Gatelli said. Because of heavy rains, the ground was a lush green.

“We could see Pikes Peak from where we were,” Ms. Gatelli added.

Mr. Faidley’s gadget-filled SUV featured state-of-the-art GPS mapping and two radars for up-to-the-minute storm tracking.

“The Weather Bureau info would come in and every minute or two you’d have a new picture,” Mr. Gatelli said. “It’s as close to live as you can get.”

Mr. Faidley was “very careful” throughout, Mr. Gatelli said. While radar has helped significantly in the tracking of storms, tornadoes often don’t “go by an exact set of rules,” said Mr. Gatelli, mentioning three noted tornado researchers who were killed not long ago due to a tornado that took an unexpected path.

Showtime

For all the moving around, the Gatellis and Mr. Faidley didn’t see much at first. They’d set up at a good spot, and tornadoes would be in the vicinity, but they weren’t visible on account of the high precipitation producing what chasers call a “rain wrap.”

“We saw them, but we didn’t see them,” Mr. Gatelli said. “Low precipitation is what you want.”

That’s what they got on their third afternoon out, when the skies quickly turned ominous, and the temperatures went from warm to jacket-chilly in an instant. Some storm chasers went off to another spot around the Nebraska-Kansas border, but Mr. Faidley had “a good gut feeling” that the tornadoes would come down in Simla instead, Mr. Gatelli said.

His intuition proved correct as a “caterpillar line” of vehicles formed to watch the first tornado drop from its wall cloud and develop into a swirling funnel.

An exhilarating rush of adrenaline washed over the Gatellis as they took in the multiple-tornado show over the next hour. At several points, Mr. Gatelli found himself yelling out, “C’mon, baby!”

When it was over, the other chasers cheered on the two newbies.

“We were tearing up,” Ms. Gatelli said.

“It’s like when a rookie hits his first home run, and everyone else is happy for him,” said Mr. Gatelli, who was wearing a “PSU storm chaser” T-shirt that he got through the university’s celebrated meteorology department.

Like the veteran storm chasers he met on the trip, Mr. Gatelli said he’s now completely hooked on the experience.

“I can’t wait to go back.” he said.

Contact the writer: [email protected], @jmcauliffeTT on Twitter

Tornado facts

. Tornadoes are found mostly in the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains.

. With 47 per year, Oklahoma has the highest average number of tornadoes.

. Sixty-nine percent of tornadoes have winds of less than 100 miles per hour, although they can be far stronger. Violent tornadoes, with winds greater than 205 miles an hour, account for just 2 percent of all tornadoes, yet cause 70 percent of all tornado deaths.

. Most tornadoes are less than 1/4 of a mile wide on the ground, but can also exceed 1 mile in width

. The average speed of a tornado is about 35 miles an hour. However, they can remain almost stationary or move as fast as 70 miles an hour.

. The average tornado moves from southwest to northeast, although they can move in any direction and even change direction.

. In the southern United States, peak occurrence of tornadoes is March through May, but they can occur anytime.

Source: National Weather Service

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Information from: The Times-Tribune, https://thetimes-tribune.com/


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