Above Picture: A smiling Roger Jensen.
Although I never had the pleasure to know or meet Mr. Jensen, I have the utmost respect for him as a true pioneer of his time. Not only was he a remarkable human being according to many, but he also played a large role in the development of this hobby that allows us to witness the magnificent beauty of nature.
Since I'm unable to convey who Roger Jensen was or what he meant to so many people, I'll let the words of the chasers who knew him best do the speaking.
AN EVENING WITH ROGER JENSEN
by Tim Marshall from STORMTRACK Magazine
from 20th Anniversary Issue (November 1996)
Roger Jensen is a living legend in the storm chase world. He is recognized as one of the first chasers in the industrial age who traveled the back roads of North Dakota and Minnesota just to photograph a thunderstorm. Roger moved down to Texas this year in order to maximize his photographic opportunities with a longer storm season. He is glad to be away from the "Siberian Ecstasy" as he calls it. Fellow chasers Carson Eads, Bruce Haynie, Gene Rhoden and myself took Roger out to dinner recently and had a good chat about how chasing was in the early days.
So Roger, give us a little background about where you were born and raised?
I was born in Fargo, ND on September 5, 1933. I stayed up there until the fall of 1945 when my family and I moved north to Lake Park. I lived a lot of my life out at the farm raising wheat and milking pure breed registered Guernseyís. Eventually, in the latter 50ís, I went into greenhouse work and truck gardening (selling vegetables from a truck). I worked on the farm for 30 years raising all kinds of vegetables and flowers; anything you could raise and sell in Minnesota. Then, in the summer of 1974, we gave up the farm and moved to Detroit Lakes where I worked in a turkey processing plant for 11 years,
Tell me, do you still eat turkey?
Oh Geez, not unless its awful good. I spent enough time at ďTurkey Heaven".
So when did you get interested in storms?
Ah, when I was almost born. When I was going to school up in Fargo, I had a different interest than anyone else around. Most of the kids were scared of them, but when I was 8, 9, 10 years old, I just had a fascination about storms.
What did your mom and dad think of your interest in storms?
I was the only one in the family that had an interest in storms. They thought it was pretty unusual. My mother liked storms pretty good, but my dad didnít like them. My three brothers, Gordon, George, and Shannon were not very interested in storms.
When did you start photographing storms?
Oh, back in the early 40ís, I started out using Kodak box cameras; the 120ís and the 616ís, while we were at the farm. I started taking slides when I was working up at Mount Rainier during the summer of 1952. The camera I have now, a Miranda single lens reflex, I got that in the latter 50ís. I have Soligar lenses, a 24mm wide angle and a 75-300mm. I sent most of my film to Kodak by mail for processing. I request card mounts for my slides so I can write on them. I remember the storms in the summers of 46, 47, 48 like they were yesterday.
Do you have a tripod?
No, I just hand hold everything. I can hold the camera pretty steady down to 1/30th of a second.
What kind of film do you use?
I love Kodachrome 64. I like the characteristics of it. itís got a good color balance. I always use a warming filter or a skylight filter on all of my photography. For my zoom shots, I use a polarizer. I love to try to get sequences even if its far away thunderheads.
So when did you go out and start chasing storms?
Early 50ís. I took the Desoto out, it was nothing real fancy. The chase season was from mid-June to mid-August. If youíre lucky the season lasted that long. The last few years at Detroit Lakes, there wasnít hardly anything.
When was your first tornadic storm?
June 20, 1957, the Fargo event. Our farm was about 32 miles east of Fargo. It was a big and dirty thunderstorm backlit by the sun. I was tied up at the farm and couldnít chase it. There was a lot of damage in the Golden Ridge section on the northwest edge of the city of Fargo.
Have you ever corresponded with Dr. Ted Fujita who studied the Fargo event?
Oh yeah. They thought I was his brother there for years. He had three or four different secretaries that knew me. I have his research paper number 42 on the Fargo tornadoes. I thought he done a really good job on that.
Did you ever hear about the tornadoes at Dallas or Union City?
Yeah. Al Moller sent me a paper on the Union City, Oklahoma tornado back when they were starting to be good chasers.
How did you get to know David Hoadley and STORMTRACK?
I don't know how I found out about Dave or STORMTRACK. When I became aware of him, I wrote him and started getting STORMTRACK; it was just a newsletter then. I didnít become aware of other storm chasers until David Hoadley began publishing STORMTRACK.
Did you like the TWISTER movie?
It was pretty good. I liked the ending with the big wedge tornado.
Tell me about your big tornado day?
It was June 28, 1975. I got a mile wide tornado near the town of Felton, Minnesota. Itís a little farming town about 20 miles northeast of Fargo. That was a Saturday afternoon and severe weather lasted well into the night. I got up there just because of the thunderstorm activity and the severity of it. I wasnít expecting a large tornado but that turned into a doosey. It moved north-northeast at about 5 mph and it was on the ground at least 25 minutes. There was no tapering to it at all; it was just a great big monstrous thing. It wiped out about seven or eight farms.
Have your pictures ever been published?
Yeah, Yeah, in Tom Grazulisís Significant Tornadoes book. That book is a doosey. He sent me a video and a poster at that same time. Dr. Richard Scorer used several of my slides in the publication CLOUDS OF THE WORLD. I sold him pictures, oodles of pictures back in the 70ís when I was working at ďTurkey Heaven". I have an article in the Correspondence section of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Volume 54, No. 1. My wedge tornado appeared on the cover of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Volume 58, No.6 along with my lengthy account of the record floods and storms in the summer of 1975.
Do you have lots of slides?
Thousands of them. They are in trays, in boxes. I spent about a month labeling all the boxes for my move down here.
Have you taken many slides other than storms?
Oh god, Iíve taken many pictures of clouds like interesting cirrus formations - like cirrocumulus. Iíve seen oodles and oodles of cloud formations.
Were you ever interested in meteorology?
Yeah, Yeah, it goes along with the interest I had in storms. I learned to read weather maps from pilot manuals that my brother Gordon got for me back in the 40ís. Gordon was in the marines. I never did go to any meteorology schools.
What do you think of all this storm chasing mania going on with hundreds and hundreds of people chasing storms?
Iíve been giving this a lot of thought. I hope they are out chasing for the same reasons we are out chasing.
And what is the reason why you chased storms for 45 years?
Gosh, its for the awe at what your seeing. I was born loving storms. I became aware of this by the time I was in the third or fourth grade. l realized right away that I was different in that way and its been my strongest interest all my life. Geez, Iíve had lots of hobbies and interests in my life thatís come and went. I liked trains and planes but that lasted for about five or six years.
Roger Jensen -- a friend
by Dave Hoadley from the WX-Chase list (May 14, 2001)
Like those who knew him, I was surprised and saddened to hear of Roger's passing. It was good to see him again at last year's storm chase picnic at Tim Marshall's home.
I first met him one night in 1989, after a Minnesota storm chase, at his nursing home in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. We had corresponded for several years, and I had been duplicating slides that he sent of nearby storms. It was late and I almost didn't stop --didn't want to disturb him, but took the chance that he was still awake. He was.
Roger was very enthusiastic to see me, and we spent an animated hour talking storms and looking at each other's prints. He proudly showed his old 35mm Miranda camera and lenses, with appropriate battle scars from years of chasing. Despite the loss of a leg to diabetes and a table full of medications, he was completely up-beat and positive. It was a good visit.
We continued to correspond, as he wrote of attempts to get moved to a nursing home in "good old Tornado Alley." I was skeptical if he could accomplish that on his own, but through some miracle he did (I believe Gene Rhoden helped) --and got moved to a nursing home near Sherman and later Terrell,Texas. He was so happy ! In addition, some of the chasers, including Carson Eads, Bruce Haynie, Tim Marshall, and Gene, took him to dinner and to storm chase picnics. After many long winters in Minnesota, he had finally reached a life-long destination and was included --and accepted as one of their own -- in the world of storm chasers.
We continued corresponding until about a year ago, when he stopped writing. I still have many of his letters, which were laboriously hand written--margin to margin, top to bottom, front to back, with a squeezed in line or two up the sides (often one last thought to pass along).
Now, as I reflect on our association over the years, I imagine Roger on his last few "chases." Tim told me that on active days, he left the nursing home (sometimes without permission), carrying lawn chair and camera, and walked on a prosthetic leg several blocks to a nearby, open field, where he sat down and waited for the storms.
Roger Jensen didn't acquire a long score sheet of tornadoes. To my knowledge, he never visited the chase temples at NSSL or OU. No matter. He started chasing before some of your parents had even met -- and with many fewer advantages (education and resources) than most. But he did his best. And he succeeded.
When the rocking chair finally claims me, I hope to have one-half of his boundless enthusiasm and dedication. We were graced by his presence, and the chasing community would do well to remember him -- whenever it gathers to recall the good times and its heritage.
by Jon Davies from the WX-Chase list (May 11, 2001)
It's been a busy week for me, so I've been slow to respond to news of Roger Jensen's death.
He certainly was the first storm chaser, followed by Dave Hoadley and Neil Ward. I consider them the First Generation, the guys who started this whole thing about intercepting and learning about storms in the field.
Roger and I had several sets of correspondence about the Hesston tornado back in 1990. He was really interested in that event and I made copies of photos and sent them to him when he was still living in the northern plains. I remember being fascinated by his great photos of a huge tornado near Moorhead, Minnesota in June of 1975 (see Grazulis' SignificantTornadoes pg 1177) when they appeared in the Bulletin of the AMS. I was in college when those appeared and had no idea how to storm chase. The whole idea of going to the storm instead of the storm coming to you seemed incredible.
I hadn't corresponded with Roger for a long long time, and feel very bad about that.
Don't know if Aaron Blaser shared this with the group, but he took a historic photo of Roger (in the middle), Tim Marshall and Dave Hoadley together at last year's Storm Track picnic. I've posted that shot at:
Roger Jensen is a founder of storm chasing, and all the younger generation of chasers should remember him. He is an important link in our history, part of our roots. Roger, you will live on in our memories.
The Passing of a Chasing Pioneer
by Shane Adams from Passion Twist
Mr. Roger Jensen recently passed away, at the young age of 68. I had the pleasure of meeting him at last year's Stormtrack Picnic, and although I know he'd told them a thousand times to a thousand different people, he sat with me and answered every question I had, and recalled every chase I was curious about, just like it was yesterday. The thing that really struck me about him, and I've said this a few times since I met him, was the look he would get in his eyes as he recalled a chase memory. They would sparkle, the way a child's eyes do on Christmas morning, the kind of sparkle only joy, in its purest form, can create. Roger had a genuine passion for storms and chasing, that ran through every fiber of his being. He wasn't about numbers or equipment, or even money - he just loved to sit and watch a storm do its thing. Despite only having one short hour to meet and get to know Roger out of his 68 years, the man made quite an impression on me. He never realized it, but in that one hour he gave me something that I can keep forever - that passionate spirit . I'll probably think about Roger from time to time, whenever I'm out there roaming the Plains, wondering what it was like for him so many years ago when the land was his, with only the storms to contend with. Wherever he is now, I'm sure he'll look in on us all from time to time - and when we're having a bad chase or even a bad year, maybe sprinkle a bit of that trademark joy and happiness our way. He will be missed.
by Todd Atchison from the WX-Chase list (May 9, 2001)
It is a sad day, my prayers are with the Jensen family. I never met Roger in person, but he ALWAYS took time to return a letter, so I felt as though I knew him personally. I felt a close tie to Roger, being from Fargo, and I think he liked to be kept up to speed on some of the events occurring on his old chasing grounds.
The 1975 Felton, MN tornado he photographed was the same storm that inspired me at the early age of 5, and I caught my first tornado (it was in the rain there somewhere) just miles from the spot where Roger photographed the Felton tornado.
His excitement for chasing came through loud and clear. No one could mistake his dedication. He wasn't out to get the most, the best or the first... he was just out there for the love of the storm, whatever that brought to him.
Simplicity...car, camera, man and storm on the wide open Dakota plains.
I will miss his letters, but it is nice to know that we will all have someone looking out for us out there on the road while chasing. On your next chase when you see something that inspires awe, think of Roger.