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The Gearzette


- June 06, 2024

​While chasing, filming, and doing live podcasts of storms up and down the notoriously dangerous Tornado Alley last year, Canadian Ricky Forbes did over 60,000 miles in his ready-for-action Ford F250. Front Runner recently spoke to Ricky about getting caught in the world’s biggest tornado, his well-kitted F250, and why he likes to get up close and personal with tornadoes.  ​

Tell us about where you live and how you got into storm chasing.

I grew up on the Prairies of Canada, and that’s where I live now, in a small town of no more than 1000 people, with nobody around us for miles. So, we can go off-roading and quad-biking whenever we want; I’ve always loved all sorts of outdoor activities. ​

I wanted a job with maximum income and time off, so I got into drilling and underground mining. I’ve always had a passion for photography, videography, and travel. One day, someone suggested I chase storms and tornadoes like in the movie Twister in 2012, I did my first storm chase and saw a tornado. I was hooked. ​

© Ricky Forbes

Are you addicted to chasing tornadoes?

It’s heaps of fun, so after 12 years of doing it, I keep returning. They’re the most terrifying and beautiful things that I’ve ever seen. It truly feels like you’re seeing beings from out of this world. You can stand alongside true giants for a short time, and in that brief encounter, life seems to stand still. I get awestruck every single time.​

© Ricky Forbes

Is road-tripping for a living fun?

I love the road trip aspect of storm chasing. I live in the northern tip of Tornado Alley, and while last year's most enormous tornado occurred in Canada, 95% of my storm chasing is done in the US. I cover over 60,000 miles yearly in 20 states, so I meet people from all walks of life and experience many different landscapes. ​

Every single day of storm chasing is different. You must show up as if it’s the biggest day of your life because it might just be. Everyone must be sharp and do what they need to; it could mean the difference between life and death. ​

© Ricky Forbes

The biggest challenge must be to capture footage that accurately depicts what you see.

I initially went storm chasing for the adrenaline rush, but now the challenge is to capture the moment so that it conveys the magnitude and beauty of my experience to those watching. I used to show the raw footage to my family, and their facial reactions were a good indicator of what they liked. ​

In my second year of storm chasing, I accidentally got my truck in a picture, and people loved it because it gave them the perspective of how close we get to the storm. We also started putting people in the shots. I like to give the whole aspect of the storm, not just the damage on the ground but also where the tornado meets the clouds. ​

How has social media impacted what you do?

Social media has changed the way we document storms. People want authentic reels that could’ve been shot on their iPhones. Live streaming has become a big thing in the storm-chasing industry. It's like doing a live podcast, where the listeners or viewers occasionally see some storms. ​

© Ricky Forbes

Any tips for budding storm chasers? ​

You can’t storm chase by yourself and need a team, as you must constantly read the weather while someone else reads the road maps for an exit strategy because tornadoes can change course. The driver must only focus on the road because often you find yourself in rain and hail. ​

Oklahoma is in the heart of Tornado Alley, and car accidents between the many storm chasers are common. On a big storm day, everybody comes out and wants their 15 minutes of fame and that moment of being there. ​

Good storm data and predictive technology are cheap so everyone can be a storm chaser. Inexperienced storm chasers can quickly get into trouble if they don’t know what they are doing. ​

© Ricky Forbes

Tell us briefly about your current ride and why you chose it for storm chasing.

I went for the F250, which replaced my old F150; the truth is, 95% of the time, it’s too much, as there are guys chasing storms in much smaller or regular cars. However, we need to go where the storm goes, and when the associated rains come in, they will wash away roads and create that tacky, clay mud; if in an F150, you can quickly get stuck.​

When you put yourself before a storm, vehicle failure is not an option.  Last year, we ploughed through two-foot-deep mud like a tractor; nothing stopped this truck. I also like to be a resource for others and often help pull people out who are stuck; you can’t just leave them.

You have a Front Runner Roof Rack on your truck. Does that help you when chasing storms?

I have a big lightbar on the front of my rack, and then I also put Wolf Pack Pro storage boxes on the rack. However, when we go storm chasing, everything on the rack must come off, or it will get ripped off.

What tires are you running?

We spend 95% of our time on the highway, but as I said earlier, losing traction or getting stuck isn’t an option, so we run a 37-inch General Tire Grabber X3, which pulls us through tough mud and snow.

© Ricky Forbes

What was your scariest storm chasing moment?

In my second year of storm chasing, we got caught in a tornado, which turned out to be the world’s largest. It was 4 km wide on the ground. Usually, you can see where a tornado ends, but not on this one. It felt like the sky had fallen to the ground. ​

We were inside for about 45 seconds, but it felt like forever. I was the driver and could see it lifting tractors and combine harvesters off the ground. Then, it started to lift homes, and they approached us.  This filled me with incredible sadness. I was only 26, and this was not how I had wanted to die. Other people in the group started to say their goodbyes. I had a rule with my Mum that I would call her before the big ones; I hadn’t called her before this one.  ​

The tornado started throwing objects against us, and one of the windscreen wipers snapped off. I could barely see because of the water and mud. I put us into a ditch because, on the road, a tornado will lift or flip a car. I remember looking out the window and seeing a two-tonne farm truck floating in the air and landing in front of us. I dodged it and ramped out of the ditch and back onto the road, and that was it; the tornado was gone. ​

Finally, we stopped and watched it disappear in the distance. Some big-name storm chasers were killed in that very same tornado.