By Joel van der Veen
CRAIK — For Chris Chittick, following his dream has taken him to some close calls.
On May 31, 2013, he and his crew were tracking a pair of tornadoes near El Reno, Okla., when the two twisters merged into one.
The resulting storm was two-and-a-half miles wide, the widest ever recorded.
With their camera still running and thousands of people watching the live stream online, driver Ricky Forbes steered their truck into the ditch — their best hope of avoiding the storm.
The truck continued rolling with debris flying all around them, including a two-and-a-half tonne farm truck.
Chittick caught some air as the truck went over a bump, inadvertently closing his laptop computer and cutting off the stream suddenly.
His mom, who was watching online, called him moments later: “I think it’s time for you to grow up, get a real job, become a teacher, baker, whatever.”
But he said he has no plans to give up the life of a full-time storm chaser, saying that even near-misses like the El Reno storm have only served to increase his curiosity and passion.
Chittick, a member of the team from TV’s Tornado Hunters, visited Craik School on Monday morning.
Students, staff and visitors got to see video footage of some extreme storms, along with firsthand stories from Chittick’s unusual career.
They also got to check out one of the two trucks used by Chittick and his team — outfitted with custom equipment and covered with a bulletproof Kevlar composite material.
Chittick, a native of Michigan who now lives in Regina, has been observing nature’s might up-close for nearly 20 years.
He began chasing storms in 1998 while still a university student, driving west during his summer breaks. He spotted his first tornado in southeast Wyoming in 2000.
“I’ve been hooked ever since,” he said. “I’m a big believer in following your dreams, following your passions.”