In the music industry one meets many colorful people, but pretty much everyone pales in comparison to Houston’s own Hank Schyma (AKA Pecos Hank). That’s because, in addition to being a rock star, Hank is a Texas Storm Chaser. Hank’s photography and video footage of violent storms, lightening, hurricanes, and tornadoes have been licensed by CNN, The Weather Channel, National Geographic, BBC, and a host of other high profile news and media organizations. Now Hank is interviewing with The Pink Armadillo to tell us about his recent trek to Canton, Texas. There he hoped to document a storm which became far more violent than anyone expected.
What initially drew you to look for tornadoes in the Canton area?
I was hoping to capture some lightning on video, and there was an off chance tornadic storms would erupt somewhere in East Texas.
Despite you expecting tornadoes, it seems like many residents didn’t. A lot of people were on the road or at events when the storms hit. Any idea why so many people were unprepared?
When you warn people over several states that there’s a five percent chance of tornadoes occurring somewhere, those odds are too low for the general public to concern themselves. Hail and strong wind were the primary severe weather hazards expected. But in that one little location near Canton, all the ingredients came together to unleash monster tornadoes.
I’ve seen mixed reports of anywhere between one to five tornadoes. How many were there?
I personally witnessed five tornadoes. Two wide, powerful, significant tornadoes, and three brief small tornadoes.
What made these particular tornado so destructive? I did notice the one in your footage is very wide and dark.
The answer to that can be very technical. Two of the tornadoes were very large and very powerful, earning preliminary ratings of EF4 and EF3. The atmosphere was lit to pop over many states, but near Canton, it did.
So you’re driving along and spot a destroyed house, and you spot a survivor. Tell us that story?
I was attempting to catch another glimpse of the heavily rain-wrapped tornado barreling over the trees. It was around 6:30 PM. A couple hours of daylight were left, but it was extremely dark. In my pursuit I came across the tornado’s wake. Snapped trees, tossed cars, and a damaged house.
I tried to enter the house, but there were power lines everywhere, some lying in the flood waters and mud. I checked the cars instead, one after another, dreading what I was going to find. Apparently the cars had been unoccupied.
Several other locals had made their way into the house and signaled there was nobody home. I decided to turn around and go back after the storm. When I turned around, I noticed another tossed car way out in a distant field. I didn’t even think to check the pile of two foot tall rubble. I had no idea it was once a house.
After splashing through fifty yards of mud, I was extremely relieved there was nobody in the tossed car. Walking back, I noticed somebody standing up in the rubble. At first I thought it was someone else searching and assisting. Then I saw the blood running down her head.
I yelled for help and four or five others came splashing over. Her husband was lying on a part of the cement foundation that was wiped clean, and he was moaning in extreme pain.
I couldn’t find a pillow or a blanket to put under his head, so I used a sopping wet paperback book. The hiss of gas was pouring into the air and stinging our throats and nostrils. Everything around us was mangled and sharp.
An ambulance was called, and I felt the best I could do was take the woman to the hospital myself. She didn’t want to leave her husbandm but I convinced Vicki it was the best thing we could do. More and more people were showing up and assisting. Firemen, locals, storm chasers, doing whatever they could; some directing traffic, some comforting the wounded, some searching, and whatever needed to be done.
The clouds above were starting to look more and more suspicious. I checked my radar app. Another possible tornado, and a wall of rain, wind, and hail would arrive in three minutes. I warned everyone, got Vicki in my car with the aid of another storm chaser, and headed out for a hospital.
Any idea how she’s doing now?
I chatted briefly with Vicki and had a long conversation with her daughter. Vicki is recovering from a concussion, and bad gash on the side of her face and skull. Her husband is slowly recovering from two broken neck bones and several other complications. They lost everything but their lives, and seem extremely grateful.