10 News viewers take risk, document St. Petersburg tornado

4:58 PM, Jun 25, 2013   |    comments
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A distinct funnel cloud dips down in this still image from video taken by Jim Kenefick.


St. Petersburg, FL -- "It's forming right over our head!" yelled Jim Kenefick.

But that didn't stop the St. Petersburg freelance photographer from shooting video of the dark clouds rotating above his head.

"We might want to go in and just get on the ground," he says in the video," but he doesn't stop rolling. "Look at the funnel, look at the funnel!" he yells.

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Kenefick's video, and more images like them that viewers shared with WTSP 10 News, are fascinating.

But the recent deaths of three professional storm chasers is also a reminder that the almost primal temptation to gaze at and preserve these awe-inspiring images can be dangerous, if not deadly.

"It was scary!" says Kenefick, "But at the same time it was just an awesome vista. I'd never seen anything like it and I just wanted to commit it to tape."

10 News Meteorologist Bobby Deskins says he gets it.

"I understand the curiosity. I love it. It's amazing," said Deskins, but he'd prefer people heed the weather warnings and get to a safe place rather than risk their safety.

There's a danger, says Deskins, that isn't always visible when standing directly beneath the spiraling clouds. A deceiving break in the funnel.

"So you'd think there's no wind, no tornado in there... when in fact there really was and it was down doing damage on the ground," said Deskins.

"I shoot with one eye open," jokes Kenefick," I was watching the ground as I was watching the viewfinder too."

But potentially deadly missiles can seemingly come out of nowhere.

Dave Kirlis, who lives just a few blocks from Kenefick, says he yelled to a neighbor just in time as the winds churned through his neighborhood, shredding a car port.

"I told him to get out of the way, there was some sheet metal blowing around and I told him to move," said Kirlis, "And this big piece of sheet metal that could have cut him in half came flying by... you know, scary."

Kenefick admits if another storm was spiraling overhead, he'd probably do the same.

"Maybe that makes me stupid," he laughs. "Probably does."

But as a photographer, he just can't imagine not taking the risk to capture something so rare, so close and so dangerous.

"If I had gone inside, I'd be thinking afterward, 'I missed it!' And you know... I don't want to miss it."

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