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Roy Janni’s rare footage of tornado still in demand

Photo courtesy of Roy Janni This photo, taken from Roy Janni’s video of the March 29, 1998 tornado, shows the massive size of the funnel. The flash in the miiddle is the spark from a power line as the tornado passes by.

NEW ULM — The torandoes that hit Comfrey and St. Peter affected hundreds of people. Everyone who lived through it can remember where they were during the tornado, but few have the footage.

Roy Janni managed to do something no one else could. He successfully filmed the tornado as it passed by Hanska.

In 1998, he was living on farm 10 miles south-southwest of New Ulm and four miles north of Hanska. From this location he filmed the massive tornado as it passed 1.5 miles west of Brown County Road 13, and half mile south of County Road 22.

It started as a typical Sunday in March. Janni was at home with his wife Helen and son Matt. Looking back he compares the conditions to the weather Brown County experienced during last year’s eclipse. It was warm all day but a little clammy.

There was no hint of a storm coming. By late afternoon Janni was on his computer trying to finish his taxes when the TV warned of a nearby tornado.

The Janni family began checking to see if they could spot the tornado. They saw nothing at first but Matt suggested they record the storm in case something happen.

Today, most people carry a video recording device on their phones, but 1998 video recording equipment was rare and few people carried cameras with them everywhere. Janni had a camera ready because he used it a few days earlier to film a science fair at the school.

Looking back, Janni wishes he had switched the settings on the camera. It was still set up to tape an indoor science fair. Despite the video limitation of the time, Janni was able to record rare and scientifically valuable footage of the tornado.

Janni recorded the storm from his deck. He started by pointing the camera at large storm cloud and waited to see if a funnel cloud would emerge. What Janni did not realize is this massive cloud WAS the tornado.

Typically a tornado’s funnel is less than a hundred yards in diameter but the Comfrey tornado was over a mile wide. On that day many mistook the tornado for a dust cloud or a fog bank.

This large tornado was actually multiple tornadoes merged into a single mass, Janni learned later. Janni’s footage does show a couple smaller funnel breaking off from the main storm. For this reason Janni’s footage would prove valuable to meterologists. After the storm it was theorized this tornado was actually multiple tornadoes, but the videotape confirmed this hypothesis.

The footage also shows the destructive nature of the twister. At one point the tornado passed over powerlines followed by an erruption of sparks. It was around this time the Janni family decided to stop taping and seek shelter.

From the basement they could only listen to the storm. Rain and hail pounded the Janni farm, but there was little wind.

After the storm passed by Janni began to film again. According to his camera’s time stamp they were in the basement less than 10 minutes.

The storm had dropped softball sized hail, few tree branches and knocked out the power but overall there was minimal damage to the farm. Janni and his family drove around the area videotaping the damage in the aftermath. Downed powerlines block access to a few roads and prevented them from driving far, but the damage to neighboring farm sites was extreme.

In the aftermath of the storm there was debris scattered across fields across Brown County. Janni and his son assisted with some of the cleanup efforts on neighboring farms. He was able to provide a tractor and trailer to haul away garbage.

Over the next few days all the local news outlets were trying to get footage of the storm. At the time, Janni did not think his footage was anything special, but WCCO TV was interested. He had already made a copy for his older son Scott who was in college at Mankato State University. A professor had requested a copy of the tape.

Once WCCO TV broadcast the footage Janni started receiving further requests to use the footage. The early requests were from news outlets, but other times the requests were from educators or people researching tornadoes. These requests came from all over the country and even a few international requests.

It was not long before the National Weather Service (NWS) requested a copy of the footage for use in their SKYWARN classes.

Janni was even visted by Meteorolgist Todd Krause from NWS in the Twin Cities. Krause brought radar images of the storm to explain the unique nature of the storm and the “fish hook” effect that blocked Janni from the full effect of the storm while he filmed by creating a storm shadow. Anything in this shadow was spared the destructive forces of the tornado. This was also why Janni was able to film the storm at all. Others in the storm’s path tried to film it but the rain and wind prevented them from getting a clear image.

During Krause’s visit he also viewed the destruction caused at a nearby farm site and determined this twister was an F4.

Two individuals Dustin Schneider, 6, and Louis Mosenden, 85, were killed as a result of the tornadoes.

Mosenden lived only a mile from Janni. The tornado was almost on top of Mosenden’s home when Janni started filming.

In the years since the devastating tornado Janni has become something a tornado buff thanks to conversations with several experts over the years. He has participated in SKYWARN training and signed up to be a tornado spotter.

Janni has made dozens of copies of his twister video and even converted it to DVD format. Every so often he receives requests for the footage from interested parties. Janni never charged anyone for use of the video except to cover the cost of the tape and to send it. Some insisted on paying more for the footage, but any money he did receive was donated to the victims of the storm.

Janni no longer lives on the farm outside Hanska. He sold the farm six years ago and now lives in Courtland with his wife in Courtland.

Asked if this experience has made him more nervous about extreme weather, Janni said it didn’t make him more afraid but it did make him more alert.

“I recognize the signs of tornadoes,” he said. “You learn to respect them.”

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