Most drivers, if they spotted a tornado ahead of them, would turn around and flee the other way.
It’s a pretty safe bet that Tanner Charles would drive straight at it.
Charles is a storm chaser — someone who monitors conditions to find the biggest, baddest weather events so he can take photos and videos to post on social media.
Sometimes, he gets lucky — if you want to call it that — and pinpoints the location of a big tornado as it touches down.
But on days such as that, his gain often is someone else’s loss.
That was the case March 31, when he crossed paths with an EF4 tornado near the rural farm community of Hedrick, Iowa.
An EF4 has wind speeds of 166 to 200 mph.
Charles posted a video to YouTube, where it has over 2 million views.
At the beginning of the clip, he stopped his car on a country road and geeked out over the sight of a weather cell evolving into a tornado over the farm fields dotted with groves of trees and the occasional farm structure.
“Oh my gosh! Wow!” he exclaimed, pointing out the telltale signs of weather trouble brewing for his audience.
“Look at that inflow tail, going right into the storm, right here,” he said, indicating the right side of a huge, dark, billowing mass.
“Rapid rotating wall cloud right here,” he said, pointing to the center. “The whole thing’s rotating.”
Then he became aware of the speed of the storm and realized he needed to start driving again.
“Wow, I need to get ahead of this thing. This thing’s booking!” he said.
Not long afterward, the camera caught a funnel cloud poking out of the sky.
“A tornado on the ground!” Charles exulted. “Beautiful tornado!” Then he gave a war whoop, exclaiming, “Wow!”
He continued driving and filming as the tornado rapidly gained in size.
“Gotta be very careful as we come up here on this thing,” he said as he drove closer to the edge of the whirlwind.
“Oh, my gosh!” he yelled, more than once, sounding almost gleeful.
At one point, he cried out to heaven on camera as he saw the storm approaching a town: “God, please spare this town, God.”
While following close behind the storm — so close that debris was still flying across the road not far in front of him — he came upon a pickup truck stopped in his lane, facing the wrong way, toward his car.
A man stepped out of the truck and approached Charles’ car.
“You OK?” Charles shouted, over the wind.
The man nodded and gave a thumbs-up signal, but as he approached, he yelled, “That’s my parents’ house.”
Charles offered a ride, and the man, later identified as Wayne Sanders, went back to his truck to get his wife and dog. As Sanders opened his truck door, the video showed the truck’s air bags had deployed.
“They were trying to get to their parents’ house before the tornado hit,” Charles told the outlet. “They didn’t realize how fast the tornado was moving.”
The passengers directed Charles toward the parents’ home.
When he saw the damage, the storm chaser sounded frightened.
“Oh my gosh!” he prayed aloud. “Lord, please, in the name of Jesus, I pray that they be OK, that they be all right.
“In the name of Jesus, Amen.”
As they drove closer to the wreckage of a house, he repeated the plea to God several more times as he saw bowing walls with siding ripped off. The home’s roof was gone.
Wayne Sanders jumped out of the car and ran inside.
Charles followed and found Wayne’s parents, Clarence and Nancy Sanders, were in surprisingly good shape. They had taken shelter in a bathroom in the center of the house as the storm demolished the structure around them, according to The Epoch Times.
“They said they barely got to the bathroom before it hit,” Charles told the outlet.
“Every other room I looked at, the roof had caved in. There were wood beams on the ground … even in the living room there was stuff scattered throughout, it was just the bathroom that was fine. They’re really blessed.”
He invited the now-homeless couple to take shelter in his car.
“Oh thank you God,” Charles prayed, telling the couple, “I’m just glad you guys are OK.”
Charles titled the YouTube video his “Most Emotional Storm Chase Ever.”
“The tornado was rated an EF4 (170 mph) and was on the ground for 50 minutes,” he posted. “In total the storm system caused 90+ tornadoes across 10 different states, with 130 people injured and 32 fatalities.”
In an update a few days later, he said the couple was “doing fine but a bit shaken.”
A GoFundMe has been started to help them with living expenses and rebuilding.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.