BILLINGS - Some of the first images of a devastating and deadly tornado that ripped through the Midwest are coming from a Montana man turned storm chaser.
Jordan Hall grew up in Eastern Montana, spent time in Baker, and currently has a father who’s a Columbus firefighter.
But he never thought his background and family ties to being a first responder would have come in handy when the tornado hit Friday.
“When that tornado first hit the ground, it was off to our west about five miles,” said Hall.
Hall is passionate about storms and moved to Oklahoma a few years back to be near to all the action. He works as a contractor, recording images of severe storms to sell to major network news organizations and so that scientists can study them.
But after last weekend’s deadly and destructive storms in the Midwest, he found himself not only capturing history from his lens but also helping in the rescue and recovery.
“So we got on the highway, pointed north and it actually crossed the highway about 50 yards in front of us,” he said.
His first-person video shows flashes of lightning and a scary tornado in the background.
“It was dark at that point, so you'd see it with every lightning flash, you can see get illuminated,” he said. “That was the start of that storm that tracked over 250 miles. So we were on that first tornado as it started its life lifecycle. It’s the same storm that went through Mayfield and did all that damage that they're still surveying today.”
The tornado ripped through Arkansas, first hitting a nursing home. That’s when Hall says their mission to record turned into much more.
“We were the first on the scene to that nursing home and that's when we just kind of put, we put the cameras down and started search and rescue,“ he said.
The death toll from the tornado that ripped through six states is still being assessed as of Monday, but during Hall's time searching for survivors at the nursing home in Monette Arkansas, a man in his 80’s died.
Through the lens of his camera, you can see the flashing lights of first responders on the scene and a person being carried away in a stretcher. Inside the building, water is falling and through an opened door debris is scattered all about.
In all his days chasing storms, Hall said this one was on another level. He recalls the twister moving fast.
“I don't think we're quite ready to see something so stout and violent right away,” said Hall. “And just long, so I think the intensity of it.”
Just a few days later, the intensity of the destruction is finally starting to set in just as the death toll from the tornado’s massive stretch ticks higher.
“It’s starting to hit me a little more today about what happened because you have so much adrenaline running through, but it was not a good situation at all,” he said.
But even still, he talks of a silver lining.
“I love to go out and chase tornadoes and severe weather because I love to see it, but you don't like to see what it can do to communities and people who just aren't expecting it. It's devastating and it's heartbreaking,” he said.
But looking all around he sees community members setting aside differences and pitching in to help, something that reminds him wholeheartedly of the small communities in Montana he’s grown up in.
“They’ve all come together to help each other out with what's incredible at the end of the day.”