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If You Love '90s Tornado Videos, Check This Out

I had the craziest experience on Friday.


If you're not in the mood for a quick read, skip to the bottom. I've shared the video down there and I do set the stage in the first 3-4 minutes. Otherwise, thanks for indulging me here on what was a serendipitous, full-circle moment for me.


So I'm giving one of my winter ag meeting disruptive weather talks down in southern Illinois on Friday morning. The event is being held in Fairfield, Illinois, and for a couple of reasons this little corridor of southern Illinois kind of feels familiar in a home-away-from-home sense.


Not far off to the northwest is the town of Flora where I had some distant relatives growing up. For a few years in my early childhood we'd make the drive down to Flora and spend a hot summer afternoon with the grandparents and cousins and all that extended family.


The other reason largely surrounds June 2nd, 1990. On that date, an outbreak of tornadoes occurred across Illinois and Indiana, several of which were violent, and many of which were highly photogenic. A lot of these tornadoes were tall, and plainly visible from many miles away thanks to optimal atmospheric conditions for classic, long-track supercells. That led to a high volume of home videos of the tornadoes that occurred on the 2nd, but one of those videos stood above the rest:


Davida Lesner and her family watched the F4 tornado near Albion, Illinois pass within a mile of their farm on June 2nd, 1990 filming one of the most famous tornado videos of all-time. The video appeared on Tornado Video Classics and just about every other VHS tape or cable TV program on tornadoes that came out in the flurry of tornado media of the mid to late 1990s.


Their video begins with the tornado in the distance approaching from the west-southwest across the open farm fields. Davida and her family deliver some incredible one-liners as the tornado passes near the farm and eventually disappears to the east. Another thing that made this video so unique was the dramatic horizontal vortex structure that often accompanied the tornado - this is a characteristic commonly associated with strong, damaging tornadoes.


I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that this was one of a few tornado videos that really shaped who I am today. The video came out in 1990, an early time in home videos for tornadoes so this was an instant-classic. The video came out right in that sweet spot in my early childhood where my curiosity around tornadoes was beginning to explode. On top of everything that is so crazy about the 1990 Albion tornado video is that it occurred in my backyard.


This wasn't another mythical monster from far off lands in Tornado Alley, a part of the Earth that still felt unreachable in my small, young world. This jaw-dropping violent tornado, one of the coolest videos I'd ever seen, was filmed on the same roads I was driving around on with my family. This kind of thing could hit my house! This kind of thing was out there waiting for me when I grew up and was able to drive! There was all sorts of crazy weather across the Globe, but this was my particular type of crazy weather, the type of crazy weather that I had access to, or that could one day come looking for me.


Let's jump from the early 1990s back to 2024, last Friday, down in Fairfield, IL where I'm up in front of the audience talking weather. I usually like to start my presentations with a little tidbit about current weather, or a fun piece of weather history local to the area that I'm in. So of course on Friday I share a couple images from June 2nd, 1990. I talk about how the violence of this tornado outbreak still stands up amongst the worst in history in the Midwest, and how much the tornado that impacted their community shaped me into the meteorologist I am today. Again, not to be hyperbolic, but I'm here in front of you all talking about the weather today no small part thanks to 'the tornado' as they call it down there.


Of course there was a small part of me that hoped somebody in the audience might know somebody who knew something and I might learn a little more about that outbreak, but I couldn't have imagined what happened next!


I'm in the back of the room packing up my bags, about to hit the road for home when a gentleman approaches me and says "Let's talk about June 2nd, 1990".


This is already getting wordier than I intended it to be so I'm going to get right to the point.


The man who approached me was Tony Jones, cousin of Davida Lesner (Jones) - the videographer of the infamous Albion tornado video, and current owner of the farm that the video was filmed on. He began giving me directions to the farm, but then offered to show me himself. My jaw was on the ground. I have spent hours and hours on Google Earth trying to find a farm that matched the farm in the video. Of course it's been 34 years since the tornado and the farm probably looked very different by now. I'll have you know that I did pick out the correct farm as a potential suspect, but there was simply no way to confirm based on current satellite imagery.


So I followed Tony out to the farmstead where the video was filmed and he showed me around. He then offered to drive me around to other sites nearby that were impacted by the tornado and gave me a bit of a history lesson.


Sometimes I feel like a goof carrying my camcorder around with me everywhere vlogging my work travel. Then, sometimes, I don't bring my camera with me and a once in a lifetime opportunity falls into my lap! I did my best to document Tony's stories on my iphone while he showed me around.


The story of June 2nd, 1990 as he told it... it was a Saturday, and the family had just been at a wedding at Bethel United Methodist Church just a mile or so up the road. They had all just returned home when the tornado began to approach from the southwest. Tony was at his home and snapped several photos as the tornado passed by. Davida was at her childhood home with mother Florence at the farm across the street and grabbed the camera and began filming the tornado. Davida has since moved away, but Tony now owns the house and farms the land.


This is where I stop talking and just let you watch the video. If you've read this far, feel free to skip the first 3-4 minutes of the video while I give the background story that you've already consumed.


One of the most serendipitous and full-circle moments of my life, for sure. I can't thank Tony enough for taking the time to show me around and tell me everything about his family's experience that day. I think we both got a kick out of it, to be fair, and I can't imagine the surprise he must have felt when his family farm showed up on the big screen in front of him at a regular ole winter ag meeting.




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